Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 4

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

Verses 1-22

1 Samuel 1-4

(with Judges 21:16-25 )

I. With all his virtues and natural advantages Eli had one great fault. He was a good man of the easy type; the kind of man who makes an admirable servant, who does his duty to perfection so long as his duty merely troubles himself, but who has not force of character to interfere with others; to command, to regulate the conduct of others, to incur the ill-will of others. An amiable indolence overspread his whole nature. He was one of the men who have great faith in the power of things to right themselves, in the virtue of leaving things alone, of letting nature take its course. Accordingly he let his own life and fortunes drift and become entangled with the wreck of other men's misdeeds, and so came to the end he did.

The character of Eli is far from uncommon, and a far larger amount of disaster is produced in the world by such softness than by deliberate wickedness. There are times in most lives when the current of circumstances sets strongly towards sin, and when a man will certainly sin if his rule of life has been to avoid all that is painful and to choose what will for the time give him security and ease.

II. The vices which Eli suffered in his sons did not terminate in themselves, but had the effect of making the worship of God abhorrent and despicable in the country. This may be done not only by the sensuality and greed of the clergy, but in other ways as well. The carelessness about truth, which merely preaches traditionary opinions, brings God's service into contempt; the indolent formality which accepts stereotyped phrases of devotion or of sentiment and puts no meaning into them; the wrangling and hastiness in discussion which show that love of party is stronger than love of truth; the preaching of doctrine which lowers men's ideas of God and righteousness; these and many such things make the worship of God contemptible.

III. While God punishes the existing priesthood, He adds a promise of raising Himself up a faithful priest. This promise was fulfilled, first of all, in Samuel, who, though not of the priestly line, did serve in the house of God, and offered sacrifice by an exceptional and special consecration. In Samuel, the asked of God, there is a type of the readiness with which God can provide men for His service; men different from and unaffected by the times in. which they live; men who can grow up pure amidst corruption, who can shake off the ignorance of their teachers and rise above all their contemporaries, who are as truly sent by God as if they were sons of a Virgin or of a Hannah.

M. Dods, Israel's Iron Age, p. 149.

References: 1Sam 1-3. S. K. Hocking, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. v., p. 26; E. Conder, Drops, and Rocks, p. 103. 1 Samuel 1:3 . Sermons for the Christian Seasons, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 669. 1 Samuel 1:5 . Expositor, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 55. 1 Samuel 1:9-28 . F. Langbridge, Sunday Magazine, 1885, p. 670. 1 Samuel 1:15 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi., No. 1515. 1 Samuel 1:20 . Parker, vol. vi., p. 218; Expositor, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 57; I.Williams, Characters of the Old Testament, p. 160. 1 Samuel 1:27 . J. Van Oosterzee, The Year of Salvation, vol. ii., p. 417; Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 265. 1 Samuel 1:27 , 1 Samuel 1:28 . J. Vaughan, Sermons to Children, 4th series, p. 331. 1Sam 1-4. R. S. Candlish, Scripture Characters, p. 299. 1 Samuel 2:1 . H. Thompson, Concionalia: Outlines of Sermons for Parochial use, vol. i., p. 216. 1 Samuel 2:1-27 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 283. 1 Samuel 2:2 . Parker, vol. vii., p. 56.

Verses 10-11

1 Samuel 4:10-11

I. Look first at the connection between declension and defeat, at the root of the calamity which befell the nation and the dishonour to the cause of God. There was a deep moral apostasy. (1) The character of the priesthood had become thoroughly corrupt, and this is one of the most ominous signs that can appear in any society. (2) Another feature of declension in the people of Israel was that they had changed their religion into a formal superstition. After their first defeat by the Philistines they began to think of higher help. But it was not of God they thought, the living God, but only of the ark. The ark has been changed into a fetish; the name of it is to be their deliverer. When religion comes to this, it sinks into a hideous idol, and the petrified shell must be broken in pieces if the spirit is to be saved. (3) There is a further stage in the ark's history before it reaches its lowest fall. It has been dissociated from the living God, and has become not merely a common, but a desecrated, thing. To redeem the Israelites from their error, they must learn that the ark is powerless if God forsakes them, and that the symbol cannot save without the living presence. In this stern lesson God uses their enemies as teachers. In this case the Philistines were on the better side. It was not man against God, but man against falsehood under His name, and the battle ended as one might anticipate. Natural human courage proved itself stronger than corrupted religion, and hypocrisy was broken and scattered.

II. Look next at God's victory. It is when men think they have gained a victory over God that they are on the edge of sore disaster. What to do with God is the world's great trial, as what to do with Jesus was the difficulty of Pilate. For the world cannot make God to its mind, and in the end the world cannot do without Him. It carries His ark hither and thither, seeks to bring Him to the level of its own conceptions, to subject Him to its own idols, but finds in all its efforts no true rest till it suffers Him to take His own way to His throne. Notice: (1) The only obedience which God accepts is that which is given Him out of love, and for His own sake. (2) If the ark is to find its true place, it must be committed to the hands of men who love it.

J. Ker, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 162.

References: 1 Samuel 4:10 , 1 Samuel 4:11 . Outline Sermons to Children, p. 37. 1 Samuel 4:12-18 . J. R. Macduff, Sunsets on the Hebrew Mountains, p. 62. 1 Samuel 4:13 . R. S. Candlish, Scripture Characters and Miscellanies, pp. 320, 336; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 365; W. Morley Punshon, Four Popular Discourses, 2nd series, No. IV. 1 Samuel 4:21 . Parker, vol. vii., p. 60.

Verse 22

1 Samuel 4:22

We do not know her name, nor her years, nor her previous career, this poor brokenhearted woman who died with these words on her lips. No doubt her short life had had its blinks of sunshine, but she abides in our memory an image of the deepest tragedy, and after these few minutes of supreme anguish she goes back to the silence whence she came. There is something that comes very straight to our sympathy in the picture of one fairly beaten, one who has quite given up, brokenhearted. It was not with this woman the passing despondency through which human beings get again into the cheerful sunshine. With her it was the last of this life; and thus giving up, she died.

I. We see in the wife of Phinehas both piety and patriotism.

Putting aside her own individual losses, she summed up what had killed her in one woeful wail: "The glory is departed from Israel, for the ark of God is taken." There are some, indeed, who, in circumstances as desperate as those of Israel on that black day, would have risen to the need of the occasion and gone, with heart and soul, to the work of setting things right again. Such was Luther; such was Knox. But there are few indeed to whom God has given such strength and courage.

II. The great lesson conveyed by the text is that the glory of a nation depends on God's presence with it; that is, on its religious character, on its solemn holding by what is right and abhorring what is wrong.

III. The glory was departed from Israel when the ark of God was taken. That was the emblem, the flower, the culmination, of all the national faith and consecration. The loss of the mere wooden chest was nothing, except as a reminder of the vital and essential loss of God's presence which had gone before. It is the Spirit that quickeneth; it is the earnest reality of the worship that alone avails; the outward form, except as it expresses the spirit and is instinct with it, profits nothing at all.

A. K. H. B., The Graver Thoughts of a Country Parson, 3rd series, p. 57.

References: 1 Samuel 5:2-4 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii., No. 1342. 1 Samuel 5:4 . A. Scott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 237. 1 Samuel 5:7 . J. Ker, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 162. 1 Samuel 6:9 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 257. 1 Samuel 6:20 . Bishop Thirlwall, Good Words, 1876, p. 17. 1 Samuel 7:3 . Parker, vol. vi., p. 269. 1 Samuel 7:8 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. xi., p. 140. 1 Samuel 7:12 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix., No. 500, and Morning by Morning, p. 365; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 201. 1 Samuel 7:15-17 . G. B. Ryley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 206 1 Samuel 7:17 . Parker, vol. vii., p. 61.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 4". "Sermon Bible Commentary".