1 Samuel 4

In this chapter,

Not only were the people to learn that the Lord had departed from them, but Samuel also was to make the discovery that the deliverance of Israel from the oppression and dominion of its foes was absolutely impossible without its inward conversion to its God. (K-D)

Samuel is now recognized in all Israel as a prophet from God. How old he is here is not known, but he is probably quite young. In Old testament times, a man did not enter into his life's work until the age of 30, but I doubt Samuel is that old.

God is now going to fulfill his twice delivered words of judgment against Eli and his household — Eli's sin was that he honoured his children over the Lord by not doing what he could to restrain them, 2:34 & 3:11-14. Remember, at least one of the boys has a family, for his wife later dies in childbirth.

Vv. 1-3

1) It was at Samuel's word that Israel went to battle against the Philistines, and Israel was smitten – 4,000 were killed.

Note that though the Lord sent Israel into battle against HIS enemies, Israel was soundly defeated, and many lives lost. The question immediately arose, "Where is the Lord? If he is in this, then why were we defeated?"

There are times when the Lord sends his people to their own destruction. He does it so that the results of their sins may catch up with them. And here the whole nation will start paying the price for Eli's sin of not doing what he could to restrain his grown sons.

Note again that the father is the one held responsible for their actions; their mother is not even named.

This presents questions for which I have no answer: How much responsibility did the nation of Israel have for Eli's actions concerning his sons? How much of society's destruction today is because God's people refuse to instruct their children properly in the ways of the Lord? How long before the Lord sends America, a supposed Christian nation, into a battle designed for its destruction? Maybe the War of Northern Aggression was such a war.

At they very least, as previously mentioned, parents must do what they can to restrain their children.

The nation was judged for David's sin of numbering the people, 1 Chronicles 21:1-7. However, David numbered the people because God moved him to do so, so God could judge the people, 2 Samuel 24:1 — see my notes there. The people had done several things to bring about God's anger, particularly taking part in Absolom's rebellion and latter, in Sheba's rebellion.

Therefore, implied is that the nation did something to bring about God's anger against them as he moved against Eli. The book of Judges closes with this statement:

In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes. (Jud. 21:25.)

According to the dates in my "World" Bible, Judges closed c. 1406, and Samuel opens about 235 years latter, c. 1171. I realize that is not accurate, but it gives us an idea of how much time is between the two books. Thus we have a couple hundred of years that started with every man doing what was right in his own eyes. No telling what kinds of evil the people got involved in during those many years.

In other words, Eli judgement was God's means of judging the nation, as was David's judgment in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21.

Maybe some reasons Israel was smitten in this chapter:

A) Samuel was the last judge, and he anointed both Saul and then David as king over Israel. Note the reason the people desired a king: they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. (1 Sam. 8:9.) The people wanted to be like the pagan nations around them, and have a visible king. Chapter 4 could be God's judgement upon Israel for rejecting him as its rightful King.

We must conclude that Clinton, and those following unless there is a revival, is God's judgment against America for rejecting Christ as King.

B) The priests had replaced God's word with custom, and the people allowed it — in fact, they loved it. (1 Sam. 2:13. Cf. Jer. 5:31.) Those customs also caused them problems with the Lord.

Custom replaced law. Falling before their enemy, rather than turning to God's word, they turned to custom, i.e., "The Ark will save us," rather than, "Let's see what the Lord requires, so he can save us."

C) V. 3, Israel's religion had degenerated to plain old idolatry. It was known throughout Israel that the word of the Lord came through Samuel, but they did not check with him, v. 1. Rather, they acted according to their feelings about the matter, and took the Ark to battle.God allowed the entire nation to pay the price for Eli's sin, as it reverted to idolatry – it looked to the ark of God to save them rather than to the God of the ark to save them. Though the idolatry was under the guise of worshiping God, it was still idolatry.

A probable reason the Ark is missing today is because people would worship it as the source of power instead of the Lord God.

Vv. 1-3 presupposes that the people were confident enough they had the Lord on their side that they boldly went to war against a far superior force. And when they were defeated, they still had confidence the Lord was with them.

The people knew why they were smitten before their enemy – that is, the Lord was not with them. But notice the question: Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us this day...

The question was an empty question, for they wanted no answer. It was simply a statement; they did not ask the Lord through a man of God: Samuel or a priest. Rather, they tried a new thing, the ark – it may save us out of the hand of our enemie. Custom had replaced the Lord God with a relic or a representation of the Lord.

How many people have I met that when things go against them, rather than stopping long enough to see if there is sin in their lives, they simply try a new religious procedure? They switch churches or even switch religions until they find one that suits their fancy.

People will ask, Why Lord? But they make no effort to find an honest answer from the Lord. They simply ask the question to be asking it, not really wanting an answer.


I have been ask "Why Lord?" by people, yet when I try to answer it the way I might see things, it is obvious they do not want an answer. They only want to ask the question to be asking it; then they want some religious experience to go through to ease their minds.

V. 3, there was no feeling of remorse nor spirit of repentance – in fact, remorse nor repentance never entered into their minds after the death of so many people.

Their answer was to take the ark of the covenant of the Lord with them to battle, believing the presence of the Lord was bound up in the ark. IN OTHER WORDS, the outward show of more religion will solve one's problem, rather than a change of heart toward the Lord and toward sin.

He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them. (Ps. 145:19 [69:35].) For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us. (Isa. 33:22, &c.)

Note that the people identified the ark as the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts. But they recognized the Lord in title only, for they had clearly departed from the covenant law of the Lord, or they would not have been smitten before their enemies.

It may save us... The Roman religion is built around convincing people that "holy" relics will save them, and the Church controls the relics.

Rome is not the only one with this problem. Even good sincere Bible believing people are caught in the same trap, e.g., our religious activity will save us (church attendance, giving, &c.); our jobs will save us; our education will save us; our retainment plan will save us; our government will save us, &c.

Hope in human activity replaces the power of God, who acts according to his word.

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: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God

Note: The ark was recognized as the place where the Lord dwelt between the cherubims. Yet the two wicked sons of Eli were the guardians of the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts. The people knew what kind of men Hophni and Phinehas were, yet they permitted them to guard the ark.

IN OTHER WORDS, the people saw no problem with these wicked men being in this very close service of the Lord. They were no better than Eli, who made no effort to separate the wicked men from the close service of the Lord.

Many today see no problem with wicked people "serving the Lord," as long as the ‘motives' are good. Sodomites and pedophiles are permitted to be "pastors" and "priests of Rome." Adulterers, Whoremongers and thieves are allowed to remain in places of church leadership. Far too many times there is no connection between men's evil deeds and the Lord's service. WHAT KIND OF WRATH IS BEING STORED UP FOR SUCH ungodly associations?

No wonder the people made no connection between their sins and their defeat when Eli refused to remove the evil sons from their place of authority.

TODAY – no wonder that people cannot make the "cause and effect" connection when "religious" leaders refuse to make that connection – wicked men attempting to guard the sacred things of the Lord. God will not permit any kind of victory over the enemy when such things are done.

V. 5, shows us the strong confidence of Israel, but Israel's confidence was in the wrong things. No matter how sincere or confident people may be, there is "death in the pot" unless the confidence is in the right thing. Sincerity never saved anyone. People must act according to God's revealed truth, or they will perish.

Vv. 6, 7, heard the noise,.. said, God is come into the camp. The pagans had more confidence in the Lord than did God's people; they knew the power was in the Lord, but Israel depended upon a representation of the Lord. However, the pagans can be excused for viewing Israel's God as being represented by the ark, for their gods were understood to be represented in their idols.


Some time ago there was a story of a tavern in Florida. The people tried everything they could think of to get rid of the tavern, with no success. Then they decided to pray that God would remove it. Lightening struck the tavern, and it burned to the ground. Insurance refused to cover the tavern, looking upon the lightening as an "act of God." So the owner sued the church, claiming the cause of the destruction of his business was the prayers of the people. The people then went to court, and said their prayers had nothing to do with the lightening. The tavern believed in the power of God more than did the people. (Obviously, the money involved influenced the belief on each side.)

V. 8, they got their story mixed up (the story at this point is over 300 years old), but they had more faith in the power of God than did Israel.

However, I would say that custom along with no clear preaching of God's word over the years allowed the person and power of the Lord to be replaced with a representation of the Lord, the ark.

V. 9, servants unto the Hebrews. The world would rather do anything, even die, than be subject to godly rule. However, the were exceptions, i.e., the inhabitants of Gibeon, Joshua chapter 9. What Gibeon did when he submitted to Israel was wholly by the sovereign grace of God. See my study in that chapter.

I will have to admit that the Hebrews' rule at the time of Samuel was probably not very godly.

Vv. 10, 11.

1) Israel was smitten rather than the Philistines. Israel's cause was just, but the sin in the camp caused God's hand to be against his people, giving the enemy the victory. Thus a good cause does not guarantee success, nor does confidence in one's abilities and strength.

Deuteronomy 32:30 How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had shut them up?

Israel shouted while the Philistines trembled, but the shout was a hollow show, for the Lord was against them.

2) The ark was with them, but its presence was a false assurance, for the Lord was not because of sin. Religious forms and rituals will not save one in the time of need; only obedience to the Lord will deliver from the enemy.

Interesting note: Listening to the radio for a few minutes last night (January 11, 2000), I heard R.W. Shambach telling his listeners that if they would only send him $20 for a video tape, all their problems would be solved. The tape was his message on "praise." He said that when a person learns to praise the Lord properly, all their problems will be solved.

And again: I heard another slick tongue on TV. His message was that if one has enough faith, all his financial worries would be solved. And the way to increase your faith was to promise to send him the first $1000 the hearer received, and the hearer would learn that the Lord does indeed send in the money needed.

Of the many unscriptural position of the above two illustrations, I will only mention a few:

A) Neither speaker mentioned anything about removing sin from one's life, and obeying the Lord's commands.

How many times have we heard these TV preachers preach hard against sin, especially if they depend on their TV income to pay all their bills? There are a few who are supported by their churches who will come down hard against sin, e.g., James Kennedy. But I have noticed the charismatic speakers emphasize some kind of mystical faith that is exhibited by how much money you send to them.

Praise is not defined as an emotional experience, but a very practical one, e.g.,

Psalms 119:7 I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.
Psalms 119:164 Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments.
Psalms 119:171 My lips shall utter praise, when thou hast taught me thy statutes.
Psalms 119:175 Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; and let thy judgments help me.

Praise to God not only involves the heart and mouth (words from the heart), but also involves obedient actions. It is impossible for sinners, lost or saved, to truly praise God. That is, it is impossible to praise God without turning from sin.

Proverbs 28:4 They that forsake the law praise the wicked: but such as keep the law contend with them.

B) Praise must be based in obedience, or it is praise to the wicked. True praise to our God is based in holy fear of him:

Revelation 19:5 And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great. Proverbs 16:6 By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.

C) "Send me your money, and your money worries will be over," was the message of the second man. However, he said nothing about getting out of and staying out of debt and not spending more than you make. He said nothing about confessing the sin of greed and covetousness that got the people into trouble.

D) The Christian God, to these men above, is simply a god to come running to the aid of those who "believe" in him. They have clearly changed the very first question of the Catechism:

Question #1: What is the chief end of man? A. Man's chief end is to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31), and to enjoy him for ever (Ps. 73:25-26).

They have changed it to,

Question #1: What is the chief end of God? A. God's chief end is to glorify man, and to enjoy him (man) for ever.

I am continually amazed at the number of people who will send in their money to these charlatans who operate in the name of Christ.

3) The ark of God went with Israel to battle, but they trusted in a form of Christianity while denying the power thereof, which comes from obedience to Christ and his entire word.

Trust it, the ark, rather than the Lord, and die. (Pro. 16:25.) It seems right to trust the things of v. 3, above. Israel, and Eli's sons, trusted in the external marks of being God's people, and they perished. The Lord has not bound himself to external signs and symbols, but to his law-word.

4) As priests, the boys were in charge of the ark of God. They saw the ark of God as a means of livelihood – a means of support for themselves, in a manner they enjoyed. So they defend it with their lives. Such a "fallen" trust is common today as "Christian" workers are in the ministry for the benefit for themselves – it provides a good living.

5) God's word to Eli begins its fulfillment as his two evil sons are killed. The boys are the ones who took the Ark into battle. Thus being close to the Lord in a physical sense, physically involved in the Lord's work, will not spare one in the time of judgment.

6) The battle was in the open (13:5, 2 Sam. 1:6) where the Philistines could use their chariots. Israel was forbidden to have chariots. Because footmen were powerless against chariots without God, this insured Israel would only go to battle and win if they were right with the Lord. (Ps. 78:60, Josh 11:6, 17:16-18.)

7) Not only did they lose the battle, but they lost the ark of God. Idolatry renders God's people powerless in the fact of the enemy.

The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion. (Pro. 28:1.)

God's people could have used chariots, means forbidden to them, and they still would have lost the battle, for their enemy was not the Philistines, but God.

8) Or using chariots, they might have won this engagement, which would have led to more problems. Sadly, it seems today that God's people use more of the world's means than they do the Lord's power, cf. v. 3.

1. God's people are much involved in idolatry.
2. They go to battle against the heathen.
3. They go using pagan means.
4. They may win a small skirmish or two (they will lose the war).
5. They believe they have the God of the Ark with them, on their side, because they saw some results when actually the only reason for the results was because they learned how to use the horses and chariots effectively — the heathen's weapons which are forbidden.
6. Why do God's people use forbidden means?
a. Because to get God on their side they are going to have to clean up the camp, and get sin and idolatry out. It is easier to buy some horses and chariots than to be honest and clean out the camp.
b. But maybe they are not even saved, though sincere in their profession. So they know no means of victory other than horses and chariots, the world's methods.
c. Then again, they may not know the truth of the matter, for lack of honest teachers.

9) 30,000 footmen fell, and the ark was taken:

[A] practical proof to the degenerate nation, that Jehovah, who was enthroned above the cherubim, had departed from them, i.e. had withdrawn His gracious presence. (K-D)

We should note here that believing in a merely historical Christ will result in death and destruction today, no matter how much one may preach, teach, hear, read, talk, discuss and dispute about him. Without Biblical trust, including turning from sin and obedience to his word, in him, there is no hope. His power to work comes from the inside of his faithful people, not from the outside of an individual.

Vv. 12-18

Bad news travels fast. A runner came from the battle, which was about 42 miles away (Gill), bearing the sad news of Israel's defeat, and of the many dead.

1) Eli's heart trembled for the ark of God rather than for his sons. He obviously knew of his sons' wickedness, and expected God's movement against them. However, in the prophecies, nothing had been said of the ark of God.

2) Despite his serious fault concerning his children, he loved the Lord and was genuinely concerned about the ark of God.

Note, however, that his concern for the ark of God did not cancel out his hatred for God when it came to his children. Love for the Lord in one area will not influence the Lord to overlook evil in another. We cannot "store" up righteousness in one area, so we can sin in another.

3) The runner brought the news of the defeat to the city, and the people raised a cry of anguish.

Notice the difference between this situation and the situation with Joshua, Joshua 7. Joshua cried out to the Lord, seeking to know why the Lord delivered them to the enemies. That is not what was done here. Joshua cried out over the loss of power with the Lord; the people here cried out over the lose of power over their enemies, and over the loss of the ark, a symbol of their God.

4) Eli enquired about the noise in the city. The runner hurried to Eli, and gave him the sad news of the slaughter of thirty thousand footmen, the death of the sons and the loss of the ark of God. It was the news of the loss of the ark of God that caused Eli to faint, not the news of his sons.

5) The word of God is clear, particularly in the New Testament — Church leadership is based upon godly leadership in the home.

And he died being 98 years old, and having judged Israel 40 years.

Observation: I wonder how Eli became a judge in Israel. We really have no record of God speaking through him. We do now, however, from his attitude with Samuel that he was a godly man, except in the matter of his sons. The sons were grown men who acted like pagans, and he did nothing to hinder them.

Eli stands as a warning to all heads of Christian families (and congregations) — overindulgence by the head leads to the destruction of the family and of society.

Matthew Henry points out that the ark of God never returned to Shilo, and the city dwindled away to nothing:

All the city cried out (#1Sa 4:13), and well they might, for, besides that this was a calamity to all Israel, it was a particular loss to Shiloh, and the ruin of that place; for, though the ark was soon rescued out of the hands of the Philistines, yet it never returned to Shiloh again; their candlestick was removed out of its place, because they had left their first love, and their city dwindled, and sunk, and came to nothing. Now God forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, they having driven him from them; and the tribe of Ephraim, which had for 340 years been blessed with the presence of the ark in it, lost the honour (#Ps 78:60,67), and, some time after, it was transferred to the tribe of Judah, the Mount Sion which he loved, as it follows there (#Ps 78:68), because the men of Shiloh knew not the day of their visitation. This abandoning of Shiloh Jerusalem is long afterwards reminded of, and told to take warning by. #Jer 7:12,

"Go see what I did to Shiloh. From this day, this fatal day, let the desolations of Shiloh be dated."

They had therefore reason enough to cry out when they heard that the ark was taken. (MH)

Vv. 19-22

A daughter in law, Phinehas' wife, heard the distressing news, and went into hard labor. The child, a son, was delivered, but she died in the process.

1) Her concern was for the ark of God and the glory it represented more than it was for her husband. She, evidently, was a godly woman married to an ungodly man.

And thus the Lord appears to abandon his covenant people, but appearances are deceiving.


This chapter opens with a statement showing that God's people knew the Lord now spoke through Samuel. However, when the "chips were down" and they were pressed to the wall by the enemy, they did not turn to Samuel. (Maybe his young age discouraged them, but they knew.)

Rather than seek God's answer through Samuel for their distress caused by the Philistines (the Lord), they willfully moved ahead, taking the ark of God into battle. They evidently recalled Joshua taking the ark of God into the battle of Jericho, and thought they had the same authority to do so. However, Joshua had the command of God to take it, but these people had no such command.

Custom, or appearance, replaced the presence of God: formality replaced obedience, and it cost them 34,000 men.

Eli knew of his grown sons' evil actions, and evidently expected God to kill them. Such hardness on the part of a parent is not good. Notice there is no mention of God's judgment against their mother.

Everything fell apart in this battle with the enemy, but the people still did not learn their lesson to trust only in the Lord of battles.

Only the sovereign grace of God can open the eyes of his people, and he had not chosen to do so at this time.

The ark of God was the ark of the covenant of the Lord. (Num. 10:33, 14:44, Deut. 10:8, &c.) But there is no power nor protection in the covenant if the covenant of the Lord is broken. However, the broken covenant does not void the covenant; rather, it brings about the curses of the covenant, which Israel experienced in this conflict with the Philistines. (Deut. 29:21, 1 Chron. 16:17.)

January 7, 2000