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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 4

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

Verses 1-11

The Ark of the Covenant in Camp

v. 1. And the word of Samuel came to all Israel, it was heard throughout the nation and served for the guidance of Israel, the people accepted it without question as the Word of Jehovah. Now, Israel went out against the Philistines, who at that time were their oppressors, to battle, and pitched beside Ebenezer, a place between Mizpeh and Shen which was afterwards given this name, 1 Samuel 7:12; and the Philistines pitched in Aphek, also some distance west or northwest of Jerusalem.

v. 2. And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel; and when they joined battle, the charge being made from both sides at the same time, Israel was smitten before the Philistines, they were worsted in the encounter; and they slew of the army, while the Israelites were trying to hold their line of battle, in the field, out on the plain where the battle was fought, about four thousand men. They did not, however, put the Israelites to rout that day.

v. 3. And when the people were come into the camp, in an orderly retreat, withdrawing their forces before the superior strength of the enemy, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us today before the Philistines? They felt that this was the only explanation of. their failure, for they had apparently undertaken the campaign at the suggestion of Samuel. Let us fetch the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh into us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies. Instead of turning to the Lord in true sorrow and repentance over their sins, the people placed their trust, in a superstitious manner, in the material vessel, as in a fetish. Their faith was obscured by this heathenish feature. It was in vain for them to trust in God, when they were not purged from their sins.

v. 4. 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, the very name intimating their hope that God would join their forces by this mere outward act on their part; for God had revealed Himself to Moses from the cover of the ark, from between the cherubim, Exodus 25:22. And the two sons of Eli, Hophin and Phinehas, were there with the Ark of the Covenant of God, men whose acts in desecrating the Sanctuary of the Lord were notorious.

v. 5. And when the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord came into the camp, borne an the shoulders of the reprobate priests, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again, resounding and reverberating from the shouting of the army.

v. 6. And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, the confident cry of victory, they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood, found out, that the ark of the Lord was come into the camp.

v. 7. And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. Like all heathen, they had a superstitious fear of the supernatural, also of the deities of their enemies. Moreover, the Philistines feared the power of the God of the Israelites all the more, since the fame of His powerful deeds in former times had come to their ears. And they said, in consternation and fear, Woe unto us! For there hath not been such a thing heretofore. This expedient had never been adopted by Israel before this.

v. 8. Woe unto us! Who shall deliver us out of the hands of these mighty Gods? These are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness. As heathen they speak of the true God in the plural, and in their excitement they express a confused view. by combining the recollection of the plagues in Egypt and the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea into one statement. But the very fear, consternation, and despair of the Philistines encouraged them to make a last supreme effort to break the power of Israel.

v. 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! A decisive victory on the part of Israel would have turned the tables and made the Philistines tributary, and the fear of such a contingency was another factor in strengthening their arms.

v. 10. And the Philistines fought, in a bitter attack; and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent, back to his home. And there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen, a total of thirty thousand (for Israel had no cavalry).

v. 11. And the ark of God was taken, as a welcome prize; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the guardians of the ark, were slain. Thus the Lord gave His people evidence that He had indeed withdrawn His merciful presence from them, in spite of the fact that they had the ark in their camp. This is a serious warning to all who boast of their orthodoxy in a mere fleshly manner. relying upon this fact to give them a standing before God, just as many have the name of Christ in their mouths, but are far from accepting Him as their personal Savior. God wants true repentance, faith, fear of His Word. A dead orthodoxy without true piety of the heart avails nothing.

Verses 12-22

Death of Eli and of his Daughter-In-Law

v. 12. And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, which was now in utter rout, and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes rent and with earth upon his head, as signs of a sudden deep grief, in which the heart is rent with sorrow.

v. 13. And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching, straining his feeble eyes as much as their remaining strength permitted; for his heart trembled for the ark of God, especially since it had been taken without divine permission, and he was its real guardian, responsible for it. And when the man came into the city and told it, brought the news of the defeat of Israel's army, all the city cried out, in sorrow, fear, and dread.

v. 14. And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, What meaneth the noise of this tumult? The very sound of the cries filled him with grave forebodings. And the man came in hastily and told Eli.

v. 15. Now, Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim that he could not see; they were set in the lifeless, motionless appearance found in the extremely old, just before total blindness ensues.

v. 16. And the man said unto Eli, I am he that came out of the army, and I fled today out of the army. He was in a position to give authentic news. And he said, What is there done, my son? What news is there? What happened?

v. 17. And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken. The fugitive poured forth his news in four sharp sentences, every succeeding blow being harder, until the force of the message reached its climax in the crushing report that the ark was lost to the enemies.

v. 18. And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, all the other blows having been expected by Eli, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, evidently at the entrance to the court of the Tabernacle, and his neck brake, and he died; for he was an old man and heavy. It was the beginning of the divine judgment upon Eli and his family, although he himself seems to have died in the fear of God. And he had judged Israel forty years.

v. 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, literally, "turned upon her in a sudden attack," came upon her prematurely.

v. 20. And about the time of her death, for her strength was not able to bear the blow, the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast born a son, the message being intended to comfort and strengthen her. But she answered not, neither did she regard it; she entirely ignored this information, since her mind was occupied with the more serious matter of the ark.

v. 21. And she named the child Ichabod (not-glory), saying, The glory is departed from Israel, is carried into captivity, because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father-in-law and her husband.

v. 22. And she said, repeating her complaint in a dull repetition, as though unable to grasp the magnitude of the horror which had come upon Israel, The glory is departed from Israel; for the ark of God is taken. "With the abandonment of the earthly throne of His glory the Lord seemed to have annulled His covenant of grace with Israel; for the ark, with the tables of the Law and the mercy-seat, was the visible pledge of the covenant of grace which Jehovah had made with Israel. " (Keil. ) The account of this death contains a great deal of comfort for poor sinners. He who in the hour of death clings to the Word of God and the covenant of His mercy dies a blessed death. God's Word is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/1-samuel-4.html. 1921-23.
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