Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Tim. 2:15

King James AV1611


First Samuel

First Samuel was taught by Dr. James Modlish


Chapter Four


When four thousand soldiers of Israel were slain on the battlefield by the Philistines, the big question was, "Why has God done this to us?" (4:3). The elders of Israel recalled victories of earlier generations, like the siege of Jericho (Joshua 6), when the ark of the Lord - a chest containing the ten commandments, Aaron's rod, and the pot of manna, was given a prominent place in the midst of the Israelite hosts. Hence the elders advice to bring the ark into battle.

Was the prophet Samuel sought for counsel at this time? It is interesting to note the absence of his name from (4:2-7:2). This is probably even more significant when we see the passage preceded by the statement in (4:1), "And the word of Samuel came to all Israel." Samuel's commission was well known; to show the deplorable condition of the Israelites it is interesting to note that he apparently was not consulted, in fact the Israelites fail to go to the Lord in prayer concerning their plight.

Samuel is a tremendous type of the Lord Jesus. He is mentioned as a child in chapters (1-4:1); then there is a notable absence of his ministry; we pick him up again in (7:3), where Samuel is an older man performing his public ministry. Samuel was presented to God as a Nazarite, commissioned by God as a Prophet, and served God as a Judge.









The Israelites committed a most serious error in thinking that the ark itself had some strange magical powers. This raises the issue of religious symbols. The term points to visible signs of God's invisible presence and His redeeming grace. Tokens of God's presence and blessing abounded in the worship of Old Testament times. In dealing with Israel, God made Himself known through signs and symbols. In twenty-two verses the word "ark" occurs twelve times. In fact for the next few chapters it becomes a central concern and theme.

The children of Israel made a horrible mistake. They thought the ark could save them. Today we have white unleavened wafers, miraculous medals and statues of St. Christopher that supposedly perform miracles. The error progressed something like this: God is in the ark; God is the ark; the ark is God! Hence, they relied on the ark as a substitute for the Lord who cannot be contained in a little box.

You might note a similar happening in (2 Ki. 18:4) where the children of Israel had begun to worship Moses' brazen serpent. (Num. 21:9). All pagan idolaters are counting on an "it" to save them whether it be education, welfare, the state, the wafer, baptism, church membership, or some other "it".


II. "...THE ARK OF GOD WAS TAKEN ..." - (5-11)

The ark of the covenant was the principal part of the tabernacle. Without the ark, which was the symbol of God's presence, the tabernacle was like a body without life, and its whole service rendered useless.

The ark was not lost by accident. Under Samson the Philistines had only been temporarily subdued. The Israelites went forth in battle against them, but we hear nothing of their asking counsel of the Lord. Their shallow spirituality deceived them. They had lost the concept of a personal loving God and replaced Him (because of their ignorance and formalism) with a wooden box covered with gold.

The scripture says that the Lord "dwelleth between the cherubims." What was between them? (not under them) ... air! God is not containable. We might add here that if Hophni and Phinehas were a fair representation of the "priesthood," there was a dearth of spiritual counsel.

God did not back his people (Deut. 28: 15,25) because of their sin. Judgment must begin at the house of the Lord. God honors the Philistine's manly attitude towards battle (vs. 9) more than Israel's hypocritical idolatry.



Eli, as we have already seen, made some very serious mistakes in raising his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. But we must not pass over lightly the fact that Eli loved God and was indeed a godly man.

Eli was not superstitious. He was not trusting in the ark for a victory, he personally was worried about its safety and well-being... his heart "trembled for the ark." It is obvious that Eli was well aware of the folly of Israel's "St. Christopher medal." Eli, being an old man and retired from the ministry, was certainly overlooked when advice was needed, after all what 'would an old man know?! Apparently a lot more than the young men.

Note (vs. 18). When Eli receives the news of defeat, it is not the death of his sons or the defeat in battle that causes him grave concern, it is the loss of the ark that brings about his death. Eli believed God's predictions concerning his sons. (1 Sam. 2:34; 3:13,14,18). It was the humiliation and reproach brought upon his God that sent the man into shock.

The Psalmist said, "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow..." Psalm 90:10. Eli was ninety eight (vs. 15), certainly his end was in labour and sorrow.

It is interesting to note that Eli's daughter-in-law responded much the same way he did (vs. 20,21).



The chapter begins with Ebenezer and ends in Ichabod. "Ebenezer" means "the rock of my help"; "Ichabod" means "the glory is departed." Whenever God's people place their trust in symbols, signs or things (its) as a substitute for God, they run the risk of losing the glory of the Lord.

The word Ichabod once figured prominently in religious life of London. At the City Temple, Joseph Parker had become a famous pulpit orator. One day in a burst of eloquence, Parker declared that if anyone ever preached any other gospel at the City Temple, someone should write across her portals the word of doom, "Ichabod!" Some years later throngs of passersby were startled to see painted across the front of the Temple, "Ichabod." The cowardly deed of those vandals would prompt us to meditate ... Is it not possible that the most spiritually minded congregation may lose her glory by forgetting the person of God and replace him with rituals, signs and symbols. If we look forward to chapter seven, we shall find the record of a sweeping victory on the field of that former defeat, and thus its name "Ebenezer," rock of my help (1 Sam. 7:12).

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