After losing to the Philistines, the Israelites bring the ark with them into battle. They are routed and the Philistines capture the ark. Eli and his daughter-in-law die when they hear the disturbing news.
The Israelites celebrate prematurely: “When the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord entered the camp, all Israel burst into a great shout, so that the earth resounded.” (v. 5)
III. Important Verses
3-4: When the [Israelite] troops returned to the camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD put us to rout today before the Philistines? Let us fetch the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD from Shiloh; thus He will be present among us and will deliver us from the hands of our enemies.” So the troops sent men to Shiloh; there Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were in charge of the Ark of the Covenant of God, and they brought down from there the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD of Hosts Enthroned on the Cherubim.
5-8: When the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD entered the camp, all Israel burst into a great shout, so that the earth resounded. The Philistines heard the noise of the shouting and they wondered, “Why is there such a loud shouting in the camp of the Hebrews?” And when they learned that the Ark of the LORD had come to the camp, the Philistines were frightened; for they said, “God has come to the camp.” And they cried, “Woe to us! Nothing like this has ever happened before. Woe to us! Who will save us from the power of this mighty God? He is the same God who struck the Egyptians with every kind of plague in the wilderness!
9: Brace yourselves and be men, O Philistines! Or you will become slaves to the Hebrews as they were slaves to you. Be men and fight!”
20-22: As she lay dying, the women attending her said, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not respond or pay heed. She named the boy Ichabod, meaning, “The glory has departed from Israel” — referring to the capture of the Ark of God and to [the death of] her father-in-law and her husband. “The glory is gone from Israel,” she said, “for the Ark of God has been captured.”
1-2. First loss against the Philistines
3-4. Israel decides to bring the ark into battle
5-9. Israelite pride; Philistine fear
10-11. Second loss to the Philistines; Eli’s sons die; The ark is captured
12-18. Eli dies when he hears of the occurrence
19-22. Eli’s daughter-in-law dies in childbirth
Chapter 4 relates how the Philistines capture the ark. Why was the ark brought to battle? Many verses in our chapter – and the rest of the Hebrew Bible – indicate that the ark was considered an extension of God’s personality. For example, vv. 7-8 quote the Philistines: “The Philistines were frightened; for they said, “God has come to the camp.” And they cried, “Woe to us! Nothing like this has ever happened before. Woe to us! Who will save us from the power of this mighty God? He is the same God who struck the Egyptians with every kind of plague in the wilderness!” Additionally, the book of Numbers relates that when the ark would move the people would address God himself: “When the Ark was to set out, Moses would say: Advance, O LORD! May Your enemies be scattered, And may Your foes flee before You! And when it halted, he would say: Return, O LORD, You who are Israel’s myriads of thousands!” (Num 10:35-36). Similarly, the ark was the place to speak to the lord: “Then all the Israelites, all the army, went up and came to Bethel and they sat there, weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening, and presented burnt offerings and offerings of well-being to the LORD. The Israelites inquired of the LORD (for the Ark of God’s Covenant was there in those days, and Phinehas son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest ministered before Him in those days), “Shall we again take the field against our kinsmen the Benjaminites, or shall we not?” The LORD answered, “Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hands.”” (Judg 20:26-28) Thus, it seems that the Israelites wanted God himself to take up their fight.
In their search to find ancient Near Eastern sociological parallels to the ark of the ancient Israelites, scholars have studied the qubbah, a pre-Islamic tent shrine of the Arab bedouin. Seow writes: “The qubbah (cf. Num 25:8) was carried from place to place by the nomads; it led the tribes in their search for water and campsites, was used for divination, and functioned as a war palladium. It was made of red leather (cf. Exod 26:14) and contained two sacred stones (betyls)… According to Diodorus Siculus, the Carthaginians also had a “holy tent” (hiera skene) which they carried with them to battle (Diod. 20.65). An altar was located near this tent shrine. Philo Byblius, quoting Sanchuniathon’s “Phoenician history” (ca. 7th century), speaks of an ox-drawn shrine among the Phoenicians (Praep. Evang. 10.12; cf. 1 Sam 6:7, 11; 2 Sam 6:3).” (Seow, C. L. “Ark of the Covenant” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1 pp. 386-393)
Seow continues: “There is a strong tradition in the Bible linking the ark with a tent. Referring to the capture of the ark by the Philistines (1 Sam 4:1–7:2), one text speaks of [God’s] forsaking “the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent where he dwelled” (Ps 78:60–61; cf. 1 Sam 2:22)… According to one source, it was David who built a tent in which the ark was enshrined (2 Sam 6:17; 1 Chr 15:1, 3). Nathan’s oracle is explicit that [God] (i.e., the ark) had not remained (yaœs¥ab) in a temple but had been moving about “in a tent and in a tabernacle” (2 Sam 7:6). According to 1 Kgs 8:4 (cf. 2 Chr 5:5), Solomon brought the ark in procession with the “tent of meeting” and other cultic appurtenances—as if the tent which sheltered the ark was brought into the sanctuary along with the ark.” (ibid.)
VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 15 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr. “1 Samuel,” Anchor Bible vol. 8 (New York: Doubleday, 1980)
Seow, C. L. “Ark of the Covenant” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1 pp. 386-393
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