Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 4

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Ebenezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek.

The word of Samuel came to all Israel. The character of Samuel as a prophet was now fully established. The want of an "open vision" was supplied by him, because 'none of his words were let fall to the ground' (1 Samuel 3:19); and to his residence in Shiloh all the people of Israel repaired, to consult him as an oracle, who, as the medium of receiving the divine command, or, by his gift of a prophet, could inform them what was the mind of God. It is not improbable that the rising influence of the young prophet had alarmed the jealous fears of the Philistines, who, having kept the Israelites in some degree of subjection ever since the death of Samson, were determined, by a further crushing, to prevent the possibility of their being trained by the counsels, and under the leadership, of Samuel to re-assert their national independence. At all events, the Philistines were the aggressors (1 Samuel 4:2). But, on the other hand, the Israelites were rash and inconsiderate in rushing to the field without obtaining the sanction of Samuel as to the war, or having consulted him as to the subsequent measures they took.

Israel went out against the Philistines to battle - i:e., to resist this new incursion.

Ebenezer, [ haa-'Eben-haa-`eezer (H72)]

Aphek, [ 'Apeeq (H663)]. Both words are preceded by the definite article. Aphek, which means 'strength,' 'firmness,' is a name applied to any fort or fastness. There were several Apheks in Palestine. Many consider this Aphek to have occupied the site of the modern village el-Fuleh, the Castellum Foba of the Crusaders, or its neighbour, el-'Afuleh, in the plain of Esdraelon (the valley of Jezreel) (Robinson's 'Biblical Researches,'

iii., p. 176; Wilson's 'Lands, of the Bible,' 2:, p. 89; Drew's 'Scripture Lands,' part 3:); but the mention of Eben-ezer determines this "Aphek" to be in the south, near the western entrance of the pass of Beth-horon, and consequently on the borders of the Philistine territory. The first encounter at Aphek being unsuccessful, the Israelites determined to renew the engagement in better circumstances.

Verse 2

And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 3

And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.

Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us. Strange that they were so blind to the real cause of the disaster, and that they did not discern, in the great and general corruption of religion and morals (1 Samuel 2:1-36; 1 Samuel 7:3; Psalms 78:58), the reason why the presence and aid of God were not extended to them. Their first measure for restoring the national spirit and energy ought to have been a complete reformation-a universal return to purity of worship and manners. But instead of cherishing a spirit of deep humiliation and sincere repentance-instead of resolving on the abolition of existing abuses and the re-establishing of the pure faith, they adopted what appeared an easier and a speedier course-they put their trust in ceremonial observances, and doubted not but that the introduction of the ark into the battlefield would ensure their victory. In recommending this extraordinary step, the elders might recollect the confidence it imparted to their ancestors (Numbers 10:35; Numbers 14:44), as well as what had been done at Jericho. But it is more probable that they were influenced by the paganish ideas of their idolatrous neighbours, who, in order to animate their soldiers and ensure victory, carried the statuettes of their gods in shrines, or their sacred symbols, to their wars, believing that the power of those divinities was inseparably associated with, or residing in, their images.

In short, the shout raised in the Hebrew camp, on the arrival of the ark, indicated very plainly the prevalence among the Israelites at this time of a belief in national deities, whose influence was local, and whose interest was especially exerted in behalf of the people who adored them. The joy of the Israelites was an emotion springing out of the same superstitious sentiments as the corresponding dismay of their enemies, because they evidently trusted in the material ark instead of in God; and to afford them a convincing though painful proof of their error was the ulterior object of the discipline to which they were now subjected-a discipline by which God, while punishing them for their apostasy by allowing the capture of the ark, had another end in view, that of signally vindicating His supremacy over all the gods of the nations.

Verses 4-6

So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 7

And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore.

God is come into the camp ... Woe unto us! For there hath not been such a thing heretofore. The ark was always carried by the priests in the van (Numbers 10:33; Joshua 3:14); and, with one solitary exception, when the attack upon the Amalekites and Canaanites was made in spite of an express prohibition of Moses, it was invariably carried with them in their early wars. But when they had become settled in Canaan, and the ark was established in Shiloh, the practice of carrying it to the battlefield had been discontinued, until now that ignorance and superstitious fear revived it.

Verse 8

Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods? these are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness.

Who shall deliver us out of the hands of these mighty Gods, [ haa'ÂȘlohiym (H430) haa'adiyriym (H117) haa'eeleh (H428)]? This word is connected, not with plural verbs only, but with participles, adjectives, and pronouns in the plural; and though frequently translated Gods in our English version, is really and in all respects the same as what in other instances is translated God. Though here rendered "Gods," it is "God" in the preceding verse (cf. Pye Smith's 'Scripture Testimony,' 1:, pp. 379, 380: see 'Introduction').

Verse 9

Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 10

And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen.

There fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. The slaughter in ancient warfare seems, from the records of profane as well as sacred history, to have been often immensely greater than in modern times, since the introduction of gunpowder and artillery. And in the nature of the case it must have been, when the soldiers of opposing armies met in close combat, man engaged in mortal strife with man; and when the weapons, too, were tipped with poison, the result could not be otherwise than a fearful carnage. The great numbers, then, of the Israelites who are recorded in this passage, as well as in similar ones, to have fallen an battle, and which have called forth the sneers of the infidels as gross exaggerations, are, from the character of the context, perfectly credible; and the statements of the sacred historian are not only in the present instance corroborated by the testimony of Josephus, but harmonize with the recital of Herodotus and other historians, as to the vast mortality that frequently marked the battles of antiquity.

Verses 11-12

And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 13

And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out.

Eli sat upon a seat by the way-side. The aged priest, as a public magistrate, used, in dispensing justice, to seat himself daily in a spacious recess at the entrance gate of the city; and in his intense anxiety to learn the issue of the battle, he took up his usual place as the most convenient for meeting with passers-by. His seat was an official chair, similar to those of the ancient Egyptian judges, richly carved, superbly ornamented, high, and without a back. The calamities announced to Samuel as about to fall upon the family of Eli were now inflicted by the death of his two sons, and after his own death, by that of his daughter-in-law, whose infant son received a name that perpetuated the fallen glory of the Church and nation. The public disaster was completed by the capture of the ark, which made God, according to pagan nations, the captive of the victorious Philistines (cf. 2 Chronicles 25:14). The images of the pagan gods were in the portable shrines they carried with them to the battle: and although the ark had no image, yet God was believed peculiarly to inhabit it, so that the capture of the ark was regarded as the conquest of Him. Poor Eli! he was a good man, in spite of his unhappy weaknesses. So strongly were his sensibilities enlisted on the side of religion, that the news of the capture of the ark proved to him a knell of death; and yet his over-indulgence or sad neglect of his family-the main cause of all the evils that led to its fall-has been recorded as a beacon to warn all heads of Christian families against making shipwreck on the same rock.

Verses 14-17

And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, What meaneth the noise of this tumult? And the man came in hastily, and told Eli.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 18

And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.

He had judged Israel forty years. In the margin of the King James Version it is stated, 'He seems to have been a judge to do justice only, and that in southwest Israel.' On what grounds this assertion was made does not appear. But it is destitute of foundation; because nowhere are we informed that Eli was invested, as preceding judges, with a merely limited or local jurisdiction-while his filling the office of high priest gave him an authority and influence over the whole country.

Verse 19

And his daughter in law, Phinehas' wife, was with child, near to be delivered: and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father in law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her.

His daughter-in-law, Phinehas' wife ... bowed herself and travailed. While in some parts of the East parturient women anciently gave birth to their offspring in a standing posture (see the note at Genesis 25:26), in others they are accustomed to bring forth kneeling, as is still the custom in Abyssinia (Ludolph, 'History of AEthiopia,' 1:, 15).

Verse 20

And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast born a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 21

And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband.

She named the child I-chabod, [ 'Iy-Kaabowd (H350), inglorious].

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.