Study Notes

1Samuel 4:1-22


So far in the book of 1Samuel, we have seen the corruption of the priesthood and the dedication of a little boy with a heart to serve God. When God revealed Himself to this boy, Samuel, making him a prophet, He gave him a word regarding the high priest, Eli, and his family: The priesthood will soon be over for this family - God is looking for priests who will honor Him. It was also prophesied that Eli's sons, Hophni and Pee-nekh-AWS will die on the same day.

We pick up the narrative in chapter four...

4:1 Israel Battles The Philistines

Israel's problems with the Philistines can be traced back to the days of Abraham. Abraham's servants had dug wells, and the Philistines filled them up with dirt (Gen. 26). That was about the extent of the problems in the early days. But by the days of Moses, the Philistines were very powerful - so powerful that God knew He must take the Israelites through the Red Sea rather than go through the land of the Philistines. He knew that if they saw the power of the Philistines, they would turn around and go right back to Egypt (Exod. 13:17).

During the days of the Judges, the Israelites were oppressed by the Philistines and had deadly conflicts with them - the last we read about were in the days of Samson.

Now the Israelites and the Philistines are battling again. Israel was not the aggressor here - the Philistines are moving in on Israel's territory.

4:2-4 Israel Takes The Ark Into Battle

When the battle ensued, 4,000 Israelites were killed. Back at the camp, the elders of Israel recognized that God had not given them the victory, but had caused their defeat. And at this, they decided to take the ark into battle.

Was this a wrong thing to do? It had been done at the direction of God previously. When the Israelites went to war against Midian in the book of Numbers, the ark was taken:

Num. 31:6-7 And Moses sent them, a thousand from each tribe, to the war, and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war with them, and the holy vessels and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand. So they made war against Midian, just as the LORD had commanded Moses, and they killed every male.

And remember the battle of Jericho:

Josh. 6:6-8 So Joshua the son of Nun called the priests and said to them, "Take up the ark of the covenant, and let seven priests carry seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of the LORD." Then he said to the people, "Go forward, and march around the city, and let the armed men go on before the ark of the LORD." And it was {so,} that when Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams' horns before the LORD went forward and blew the trumpets; and the ark of the covenant of the LORD followed them.

This will not be the last time it is brought into battle. In chapter 14 of this book, we will read,

1Sam. 14:18 Then Saul said to Ahijah, "Bring the ark of God here." For the ark of God was at that time with the sons of Israel.

The result of that battle was victory.

1Sam. 14:23 So the LORD delivered Israel that day, and the battle spread beyond Bayth AW-ven.

So there doesn't seem to be anything inherently wrong with the fact that the ark was taken to war. However, there was obviously a big problem here.

Proverbs 21 says,

Prov. 21:31 The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the LORD.

The Israelites recognized that the Lord determined the outcome of battles, and that was correct. Where they made their mistake was in the superstitious notion that they could force God's hand to aid them by taking the ark of the covenant into battle with them.

It is so important for us to understand that God is not ours - we are God's. God is not here to serve us - we are here to serve God. We are not supposed to be saying "what can God do for me," but rather, "what can I do for God?"

Rom. 12:1-2 I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, {which is} your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

God is not to do our will, but we are to do His will. May you never view Him as a puppet - able to be manipulated and maneuvered at your whim.

Evidence Of The Carnal Decision

Hophni and Pee-nekh-AWS are the priests overseeing the transportation and inclusion of the ark in the battle. Remember that these were the two guys that were stealing the people's sacrifices and committing adultery with the women serving in the temple. Their father said,

1Sam. 2:23 -24 And he said to them, "Why do you do such things, the evil things that I hear from all these people? No, my sons; for the report is not good which I hear the LORD'S people circulating."

Their reputations for carnality were widespread throughout the land of Israel. Now here they are, carrying the ark into the camp, and no one thinks twice about God's opinion of this.

4:5-10 Faith In Faith

The ark of God was in the camp. The Israelites thought for sure that now was the time of victory. If ever there was a time that they had faith, it was now. But their faith didn't win the battle. Thirty thousand men of Israel died that day.

Of course, faith is important. John wrote,

1John 5:4 ...This is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith.

But today there is a great deception in the church - that if you simply have enough faith, you can gain anything, achieve anything, or accomplish anything. And the emphasis has become not faith in God to do what He wishes, but rather faith in our faith.

What has become known as the "Faith Movement" teaches that faith is a force all its own and that words are the containers of your faith. This nonsense is propagated by such teachers as Marilyn Hickey, who said, "speak to your circumstances, and speak faith to them to create in them and God will create what you are speaking."

Robert Tilton teaches that your faith releases "the creative force of God into existence." Kenneth Hagin actually put out a book called "Having Faith in Your Faith." Another title he released is "How to Write Your Own Ticket with God." In it, he actually writes that Jesus is saying, "it is a waste of a Christians time to pray that I will give them the victory. They have to write their own ticket."

Of course, these ideas are no more than the teachings of metaphysical cults repackaged with Christian terminology. But people are buying this hook, line, and sinker. If the teaching of the faith movement is true, then Israel should have been victorious at this battle. But instead, 30,000 of them died. So much for faith in faith.

4:11 The Ark Is Taken

The ark of God was taken. A pagan nation in possession of God's throne on earth. The Lord had told Moses,

Exod. 25:22 "And there I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.

By allowing the ark to be taken, God was saying that He was departing from the nation. They refused to be governed by Him, so He refused to stick around.

Hophni And Phinehas Die

As God had prophesied through a man of God to Eli the high priest,

1Sam. 2:34 "...This will be the sign to you which shall come concerning your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas: on the same day both of them shall die."

These sons of Eli - sons of Belial, as they were described in chapter two - died in the battle with the Philistines.

4:12 A Runner From The Battle Lines

In those days before cell phones, faxes, and even telegraphs, urgent messages were transported by runners. In 2Samuel, we will see the story of runners bringing the news of Absalom's death to his father King David.

2Sam. 18:19-23 Then Akh-ee-MAH-ats the son of Tsaw-DOKE said, "Please let me run and bring the king news that the LORD has freed him from the hand of his enemies." But Joab said to him, "You are not the man to carry news this day, but you shall carry news another day; however, you shall carry no news today because the king's son is dead." Then Joab said to the Cushite, "Go, tell the king what you have seen." So the Cushite bowed to Joab and ran. Now Akh-ee-MAH-ats the son of Tsaw-DOKE said once more to Joab, "But whatever happens, please let me also run after the Cushite." And Joab said, "Why would you run, my son, since you will have no reward for going?" But whatever happens," he said, "I will run." So he said to him, "Run." Then Akh-ee-MAH-ats ran by way of the plain and passed up the Cushite.

So Akh-ee-MAH-ats was like Federal Express, while the Cushite was more like the Post Office.

Now, after the ark of the covenant has been stolen, a runner travels the 20 miles back to Shiloh.

The description of having his clothes torn and dust on his head sounds like he had a rough time running. Maybe he ran into some bushes and fell down a few times! But in reality, this was to demonstrate his terrible grief.

The Jews demonstrated sorrow and mourning by tearing their clothes and putting dust on their heads.

For example, when the men of Ai struck down 36 Israelites,

Josh. 7:6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, {both} he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads.

Thirty-four thousand of this runner's countrymen had died in two battles, and the ark of God had been taken by the Philistines. No wonder he tore his clothes and put dust on his head!

4:13-15 Eli's Blindness

Blind at 98 years old, he didn't know what the commotion in the city was about until the runner came to him.

Eli's eyesight had degenerated from the curse that God had pronounced upon him. Back in chapter two, when the Lord was telling Eli that his house was not long for the priesthood, He also said that the priests in his family that were not immediately cut off were...

1Sam. 2:33 ...that your eyes may fail and your soul grieve...

Sure enough, Eli's eyes got progressively worse. When the Lord spoke to Samuel that first time in the tabernacle, we saw,

1Sam. 3:2 And it happened at that time as Eli was lying down in his place (now his eyesight had begun to grow dim {and} he could not see well),

His eyesight had begun to rapidly fade. Now, in chapter four, the Hebrew says that his eyes were "set." He was now completely blind.

This is the sad situation that we can find ourselves in when we go the way of sin. Sin brings about blindness - not always physically, but always spiritually. Even Christians can be blinded by their disobedience to God. John wrote,

1John 2:9-11 The one who says he is in the light and {yet} hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

Fortunately, Jesus is in the business of restoring sight to the blind.

4:16-22 Eli And Pee-nekh-AWS' Wife Die

The messenger delivered the news: Israel lost the battle. Thousands were killed. Your two sons are dead. And the ark of God has been taken.

Back in verse 13, we read that Eli's heart was trembling not for his sons, but for the ark of God. And it was when the man told what had happened to the ark that Eli fell backwards off his seat, broke his neck, and died.

At the time this was all going on, Pee-nekh-AWS' wife was about 9 months pregnant. When she heard of the disastrous events of the day: her husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law were dead, and that the ark had been taken, she went into labor.

She also died, giving her son the name Ichabod - "no glory." Here were two people - the high priest, and the wife of a priest. Neither of them took a stand for the Lord while he was among the people - now they die when He leaves the congregation.

What should this tell us? Saints, it is time to take sides. It's time to make a stand for the Lord of righteousness. It's time we stopped sitting on the fence of complacency. It's time we stop being double-minded. Let's close tonight with the first seven verses of Romans 6:

Rom. 6:1-7 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with {Him} in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also {in the likeness} of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with {Him,} that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

We must die to ourselves, before we die by ourselves. Let's not wait for the glory to depart to die.

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