The Philistines Capture the Ark
March 26 - Nº 85 1 Samuel 4
The Philistines originally came to Israel from the Greek island of Crete (see Amos 9:7). Crete was known for its military strength, and these new immigrants brought their military expertise with them. They were determined to take over their new land, and the Israelites failed to drive them out. Near the end of Eli’s rule as high priest, the Philistines began to attack. The Israelites sent troops in response. The first skirmish did not go well for God’s people. Four thousand of them were killed on the battlefield.
The leaders of the Israelite army knew they needed help. But instead of talking to God, they decided to carry the Ark from the Holy of Holies onto the battlefield with them. With the symbol of God’s presence so obvious, they felt that He would be obligated to fight for them. So, they sent men to the Tabernacle in Shiloh to get it. Eli’s two evil sons, Hophni and Phinehas (see #84), agreed to transport it to the front lines. When the Ark arrived, the Israelite men cheered so loudly that the ground shook. This frightened the Philistines. “A god has come into their camp!” they exclaimed. “We’re doomed! They had heard how Israel’s God had helped them defeat the whole Egyptian army and win many other battles. But instead of running in fear, they decided to fight even harder. Israel was defeated again! This time 30,000 Israelite soldiers were killed! Among the dead bodies were those of Hophni and Phineas. Worst of all, the Philistines captured the Ark of the Lord! One of the soldiers immediately ran from the battlefield to Shiloh to share the disastrous news. When the townspeople heard it, there was a huge outcry of shock and fear. Eli, who had opposed the idea of taking the Ark into battle yet allowed his sons to take it, was sitting by the side of the road in a chair waiting for news. When he heard the uproar, he wanted to know what had happened. He was elderly and blind and completely confused by the chaos. The messenger ran over to him and breathlessly reported, “I have just come from the battle line. The Israelites have been routed by the Philistines. Your two sons are dead, and the Ark of the Lord has been captured!” When he heard the news about the Ark, Eli fell backward off his chair. Since he was a very heavy man, the fall broke his neck. He died there by the city gate. As the high priest of Israel, it had been his responsibility to care for the Ark. Because of all the horrible news that day, one of Eli’s daughters-in-law went into premature labor and gave birth to a son. Before she died from complications, she named the baby Ichabod, meaning “without glory.” She said, “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured.” She didn’t realize that God’s glory could not be confined inside a gold box.
Have you ever tried to “guilt” God into fighting for you and then wondered why He seemed to help someone else instead—someone who didn’t even know or love Him? Sometimes God lets others grab the victory so that He can grab our attention. He wants us to focus on Him and His real glory—not on what we want Him to do for us.