Taken by the Philistines
chapter is based on 1 Samuel 3 to 7.]
warning was to be given to Eli's house. God could not communicate with the
high priest and his sons; their sins, like a thick cloud, had shut out the
presence of His Holy Spirit. But in the midst of evil the child Samuel
remained true to Heaven, and the message of condemnation to the house of
Eli was Samuel's commission as a prophet of the Most High.
word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision. And
it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his
eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; and ere the lamp of God went
out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was
laid down to sleep; that the Lord called Samuel." Supposing the voice
to be that of Eli, the child hastened to the bedside of the priest,
saying, "Here am I; for thou calledst me." The answer was,
"I called not, my son; lie down again." Three times Samuel was
called, and thrice he responded in like manner. And then Eli was convinced
that the mysterious call was the voice of God. The Lord had passed by His
chosen servant, the man of hoary hairs, to commune with a child. This in
itself was a bitter yet deserved rebuke to Eli and his house.
No feeling of
envy or jealousy was awakened in Eli's heart. He directed Samuel to
answer, if again called, "Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth."
Once more the voice was heard, and the child answered, "Speak; for
Thy servant heareth." So awed was he at the thought that the great
God should speak to him that he could not remember the exact words which
Eli bade him say.
Lord said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both
the ears of everyone that heareth it shall tingle. In that day I will
perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house:
when I begin, I will also
make an end. For I have told him that I will
judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his
sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. And therefore I
have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall
not be purged with sacrifice nor offering forever."
receiving this message from God, "Samuel did not yet know the Lord,
neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him;" that is, he
was not acquainted with such direct manifestations of God's presence as
were granted to the prophets. It was the Lord's purpose to reveal Himself
in an unexpected manner, that Eli might hear of it through the surprise
and inquiry of the youth.
filled with fear and amazement at the thought of having so terrible a
message committed to him. In the morning he went about his duties as
usual, but with a heavy burden upon his young heart. The Lord had not
commanded him to reveal the fearful denunciation, hence he remained
silent, avoiding, as far as possible, the presence of Eli. He trembled,
lest some question should compel him to declare the divine judgments
against one whom he loved and reverenced. Eli was confident that the
message foretold some great calamity to him and his house. He called
Samuel, and charged him to relate faithfully what the Lord had revealed.
The youth obeyed, and the aged man bowed in humble submission to the
appalling sentence. "It is the Lord," he said: "let Him do
what seemeth Him good."
Yet Eli did
not manifest the fruits of true repentance. He confessed his guilt, but
failed to renounce the sin. Year after year the Lord delayed His
threatened judgments. Much might have been done in those years to redeem
the failures of the past, but the aged priest took no effective measures
to correct the evils that were polluting the sanctuary of the Lord and
leading thousands in Israel to ruin. The forbearance of God caused Hophni
and Phinehas to harden their hearts and to become still bolder in
transgression. The messages of warning and reproof to his house were made
known by Eli to the whole nation. By this means he hoped to counteract, in
some measure, the evil influence of his past neglect. But the warnings
were disregarded by the people, as they had been by the priests. The
people of surrounding nations also, who were not ignorant of the
iniquities openly practiced in Israel, became still bolder in their
idolatry and crime. They felt no sense of guilt for their sins, as they
would have felt had the Israelites preserved their integrity. But a day of
retribution was approaching. God's authority had been set aside, and His
worship neglected and despised, and it became necessary for Him to
interpose, that the honor of His name might be maintained.
Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside
Ebenezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek." This expedition was
undertaken by the Israelites without counsel from God, without the
concurrence of high priest or prophet. "And the Philistines put
themselves in array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel
was smitten before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field
about four thousand men." As the shattered and disheartened force
returned to their encampment, "the elders of Israel said, Wherefore
hath the Lord smitten us today before the Philistines?" The nation
was ripe for the judgments of God, yet they did not see that their own
sins had been the cause of this terrible disaster. And they said,
"Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto
us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our
enemies." The Lord had given no command or permission that the ark
should come into the army; yet the Israelites felt confident that victory
would be theirs, and uttered a great shout when it was borne into the camp
by the sons of Eli.
Philistines looked upon the ark as the god of Israel. All the mighty works
that Jehovah had wrought for His people were attributed to its power. As
they heard the shouts of joy at its approach, they said, "What
meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they
understood that the ark of the Lord was come into the camp. And the
Philistines were afraid; for they said, God has come into the camp. And
they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore.
Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods?
These are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the
wilderness. Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines,
that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit
yourselves like men, and fight."
Philistines made a fierce assault, which resulted in the defeat of Israel,
with great slaughter. Thirty thousand men lay dead upon the field, and the
ark of God was taken, the two sons of Eli having fallen while fighting to
defend it. Thus again was
left upon the page of history a testimony for
all future ages-- that the iniquity of God's professed people will not go
unpunished. The greater the knowledge of God's will, the greater the sin
of those who disregard it.
terrifying calamity that could occur had befallen Israel. The ark of God
had been captured, and was in the possession of the enemy. The glory had
indeed departed from Israel when the symbol of the abiding presence and
power of Jehovah was removed from the midst of them. With this sacred
chest were associated the most wonderful revelations of God's truth and
power. In former days miraculous victories had been achieved whenever it
appeared. It was shadowed by the wings of the golden cherubim, and the
unspeakable glory of the Shekinah, the visible symbol of the most high
God, had rested over it in the holy of holies. But now it had brought no
victory. It had not proved a defense on this occasion, and there was
mourning throughout Israel.
They had not
realized that their faith was only a nominal faith, and had lost its power
to prevail with God. The law of God, contained in the ark, was also a
symbol of His presence; but they had cast contempt upon the commandments,
had despised their requirements, and had grieved the Spirit of the Lord
from among them. When the people obeyed the holy precepts, the Lord was
with them to work for them by His infinite power; but when they looked
upon the ark, and did not associate it with God, nor honor His revealed
will by obedience to His law, it could avail them little more than a
common box. They looked to the ark as the idolatrous nations looked to
their gods, as if it possessed in itself the elements of power and
salvation. They transgressed the law it contained; for their very worship
of the ark led to formalism, hypocrisy, and idolatry. Their sin had
separated them from God, and He could not give them the victory until they
had repented of and forsaken their iniquity.
It was not
enough that the ark and the sanctuary were in the midst of Israel. It was
not enough that the priests offered sacrifices, and that the people were
called the children of God. The Lord does not regard the request of those
who cherish iniquity in the heart; it is written that "he that
turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be
abomination." Proverbs 28:9.
When the army
went out to battle, Eli, blind and old, had tarried at Shiloh. It was with
troubled forebodings that he awaited the result of the conflict; "for
his heart trembled for the ark of God." Taking his position outside
the gate of the tabernacle, he sat by the highway side day after day,
anxiously expecting the arrival of a messenger from the battlefield.
At length a
Benjamite from the army, "with his clothes rent, and with earth upon
his head," came hurrying up the ascent leading to the city. Passing
heedlessly the aged man beside the way, he rushed on to the town, and
repeated to eager throngs the tidings of defeat and loss.
The sound of
wailing and lamentation reached the watcher beside the tabernacle. The
messenger was brought to him. And the man said unto Eli, "Israel is
fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter
among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are
dead." Eli could endure all this, terrible as it was, for he had
expected it. But when the messenger added, "And the ark of God is
taken," a look of unutterable anguish passed over his countenance.
The thought that his sin had thus dishonored God and caused Him to
withdraw His presence from Israel was more than he could bear; his
strength was gone, he fell, "and his neck brake, and he died."
The wife of
Phinehas, notwithstanding the impiety of her husband, was a woman who
feared the Lord. The death of her father-in-law and her husband, and above
all, the terrible tidings that the ark of God was taken, caused her death.
She felt that the last hope of Israel was gone; and she named the child
born in this hour of adversity, Ichabod, or "inglorious;" with
her dying breath mournfully repeating the words, "The glory is
departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken."
But the Lord
had not wholly cast aside His people, nor would He long suffer the
exultation of the heathen. He had used the Philistines as the instrument
to punish Israel, and He employed the ark to punish the Philistines. In
time past the divine Presence had attended it, to be the strength and
glory of His obedient people. That invisible Presence would still attend
it, to bring terror and destruction to the transgressors of His holy law.
The Lord often employs His bitterest enemies to punish the unfaithfulness
of His professed people. The wicked may triumph for a time as they see
Israel suffering chastisement, but the time will
come when they, too, must
meet the sentence of a holy, sin-hating God. Whenever iniquity is
cherished, there, swift and unerring, the divine judgments will follow.
Philistines removed the ark in triumph to Ashdod, one of their five
principal cities, and placed it in the house of their god Dagon. They
imagined that the power which had hitherto attended the ark would be
theirs, and that this, united with the power of Dagon, would render them
invincible. But upon entering the temple on the following day, they beheld
a sight which filled them with consternation. Dagon had fallen upon his
face to the earth before the ark of Jehovah. The priests reverently lifted
the idol and restored it to its place. But the next morning they found it,
strangely mutilated, again lying upon the earth before the ark. The upper
part of this idol was like that of a man, and the lower part was in the
likeness of a fish. Now every part that resembled the human form had been
cut off, and only the body of the fish remained. Priests and people were
horror-struck; they looked upon this mysterious event as an evil omen,
foreboding destruction to themselves and their idols before the God of the
Hebrews. They now removed the ark from their temple and placed it in a
building by itself.
inhabitants of Ashdod were smitten with a distressing and fatal disease.
Remembering the plagues that were inflicted upon Egypt by the God of
Israel, the people attributed their afflictions to the presence of the ark
among them. It was decided to convey it to Gath. But the plague followed
close upon its removal, and the men of that city sent it to Ekron. Here
the people received it with terror, crying, "They have brought about
the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people." They
turned to their gods for protection, as the people of Gath and Ashdod had
done; but the work of the destroyer went on, until, in their distress,
"the cry of the city went up to heaven." Fearing longer to
retain the ark among the homes of men, the people next placed it in the
open field. There followed a plague of mice, which infested the land,
destroying the products of the soil, both in the storehouse and in the
field. Utter destruction, by disease or famine, now threatened the nation.
months the ark remained in Philistia, and during all this time the
Israelites made no effort for its recovery. But the Philistines were now
as anxious to free themselves from its
presence as they had been to obtain
it. Instead of being a source of strength to them, it was a great burden
and a heavy curse. Yet they knew not what course to pursue; for wherever
it went the judgments of God followed. The people called for the princes
of the nation, with the priests and diviners, and eagerly inquired,
"What shall we do to the ark of Jehovah? tell us wherewith we shall
send it to his place?" They were advised to return it with a costly
trespass offering. "Then," said the priests, "ye shall be
healed, and it shall be known to you why His hand is not removed from
To ward off
or to remove a plague, it was anciently the custom among the heathen to
make an image in gold, silver, or other material, of that which caused the
destruction, or of the object or part of the body specially affected. This
was set up on a pillar or in some conspicuous place, and was supposed to
be an effectual protection against the evils thus represented. A similar
practice still exists among some heathen peoples. When a person suffering
from disease goes for cure to the temple of his idol, he carries with him
a figure of the part affected, which he presents as an offering to his
It was in
accordance with the prevailing superstition that the Philistine lords
directed the people to make representations of the plagues by which they
had been afflicted--"five golden emerods, and five golden mice,
according to the number of the lords of the Philistines: for," said
they, "one plague was on you all, and on your lords."
men acknowledged a mysterious power accompanying the ark--a power which
they had no wisdom to meet. Yet they did not counsel the people to turn
from their idolatry to serve the Lord. They still hated the God of Israel,
though compelled by overwhelming judgments to submit to His authority.
Thus sinners may be convinced by the judgments of God that it is in vain
to contend against Him. They may be compelled to submit to His power,
while at heart they rebel against His control. Such submission cannot save
the sinner. The heart must be yielded to God--must be subdued by divine
grace--before man's repentance can be accepted.
How great is
the long-suffering of God toward the wicked! The idolatrous Philistines
and backsliding Israel had alike enjoyed the gifts of His providence. Ten
thousand unnoticed mercies
were silently falling in the pathway of
ungrateful, rebellious men. Every blessing spoke to them of the Giver, but
they were indifferent to His love. The forbearance of God was very great
toward the children of men; but when they stubbornly persisted in their
impenitence, He removed from them His protecting hand. They refused to
listen to the voice of God in His created works, and in the warnings,
counsels, and reproofs of His word, and thus He was forced to speak to
them through judgments.
some among the Philistines who stood ready to oppose the return of the ark
to its own land. Such an acknowledgment of the power of Israel's God would
be humiliating to the pride of Philistia. But "the priests and the
diviners" admonished the people not to imitate the stubbornness of
Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and thus bring upon themselves still greater
afflictions. A plan which won the consent of all was now proposed, and
immediately put in execution. The ark, with the golden trespass offering,
was placed upon a new cart, thus precluding all danger of defilement; to
this cart, or car, were attached two kine upon whose necks a yoke had
never been placed. Their calves were shut up at home, and the cows were
left free to go where they pleased. If the ark should thus be returned to
the Israelites by the way of Beth-shemesh, the nearest city of the
Levites, the Philistines would accept this as evidence that the God of
Israel had done unto them this great evil; "but if not," they
said, "then we shall know that it is not His hand that smote us; it
was a chance that happened to us."
On being set
free, the kine turned from their young and, lowing as they went, took the
direct road to Beth-shemesh. Guided by no human hand, the patient animals
kept on their way. The divine Presence accompanied the ark, and it passed
on safely to the very place designated.
It was now
the time of wheat harvest, and the men of Beth-shemesh were reaping in the
valley. "And they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced
to see it. And the cart came into the field of Joshua, a Beth-shemite, and
stood there, where there was a great stone: and they clave the wood of the
cart, and offered the kine of burnt-offering unto the Lord." The
lords of the Philistines, who had followed the ark "unto the border
of Beth-shemesh," and had witnessed its reception, now returned to
Ekron. The plague had ceased, and they were convinced that their
calamities had been a judgment from the God of Israel.
The men of
Beth-shemesh quickly spread the tidings that the ark was in their
possession, and the people from the surrounding country flocked to welcome
its return. The ark had been placed upon the stone that first served for
an altar, and before it additional sacrifices were offered unto the Lord.
Had the worshipers repented of their sins, God's blessing would have
attended them. But they were not faithfully obeying His law; and while
they rejoiced at the return of the ark as a harbinger of good, they had no
true sense of its sacredness. Instead of preparing a suitable place for
its reception, they permitted it to remain in the harvest field. As they
continued to gaze upon the sacred chest and to talk of the wonderful
manner in which it had been restored, they began to conjecture wherein lay
its peculiar power. At last, overcome by curiosity, they removed the
coverings and ventured to open it.
had been taught to regard the ark with awe and reverence. When required to
remove it from place to place the Levites were not so much as to look upon
it. Only once a year was the high priest permitted to behold the ark of
God. Even the heathen Philistines had not dared to remove its coverings.
Angels of heaven, unseen, ever attended it in all its journeyings. The
irreverent daring of the people at Beth-shemesh was speedily punished.
Many were smitten with sudden death.
were not led by this judgment to repent of their sin, but only to regard
the ark with superstitious fear. Eager to be free from its presence, yet
not daring to remove it, the Beth-shemites sent a message to the
inhabitants of Kirjath-jearim, inviting them to take it away.. With great
joy the men of this place welcomed the sacred chest. They knew that it was
the pledge of divine favor to the obedient and faithful. With solemn
gladness they brought it to their city and placed it in the house of
Abinadab, a Levite. This man appointed his son Eleazar to take charge of
it, and it remained there for many years.
years since the Lord first manifested Himself to the son of Hannah,
Samuel's call to the prophetic office had come to be acknowledged by the
whole nation. By faithfully delivering the divine warning to the house of
Eli, painful and
trying as the duty had been, Samuel had given proof of
his fidelity as Jehovah's messenger; "and the Lord was with him, and
did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan even
to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the
Israelites as a nation still continued in a state of irreligion and
idolatry, and as a punishment they remained in subjection to the
Philistines. During this time Samuel visited the cities and villages
throughout the land, seeking to turn the hearts of the people to the God
of their fathers; and his efforts were not without good results. After
suffering the oppression of their enemies for twenty years, the Israelites
"mourned after the Lord." Samuel counseled them, "If ye do
return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods
and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and
serve Him only." Here we see that practical piety, heart religion,
was taught in the days of Samuel as taught by Christ when He was upon the
earth. Without the grace of Christ the outward forms of religion were
valueless to ancient Israel. They are the same to modern Israel.
There is need
today of such a revival of true heart religion as was experienced by
ancient Israel. Repentance is the first step that must be taken by all who
would return to God. No one can do this work for another. We must
individually humble our souls before God and put away our idols. When we
have done all that we can do, the Lord will manifest to us His salvation.
co-operation of the heads of the tribes, a large assembly was gathered at
Mizpeh. Here a solemn fast was held. With deep humiliation the people
confessed their sins; and as an evidence of their determination to obey
the instructions they had heard, they invested Samuel with the authority
Philistines interpreted this gathering to be a council of war, and with a
strong force set out to disperse the Israelites before their plans could
be matured. The tidings of their approach caused great terror in Israel.
The people entreated Samuel, "Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God
for us, that He will save us out of the hand of the Philistines."
was in the act of presenting a lamb as a burnt offering, the Philistines
drew near for battle. Then the
Mighty One who had descended upon Sinai
amid fire and smoke and thunder, who had parted the Red Sea and made a way
through Jordan for the children of Israel, again manifested His power. A
terrible storm burst upon the advancing host, and the earth was strewn
with the dead bodies of mighty warriors.
Israelites had stood in silent awe, trembling with hope and fear. When
they beheld the slaughter of their enemies, they knew that God had
accepted their repentance. Through unprepared for battle, they seized the
weapons of the slaughtered Philistines and pursued the fleeing host to
Beth-car. This signal victory was gained upon the very field where, twenty
years before, Israel had been smitten before the Philistines, the priests
slain, and the ark of God taken. For nations as well as for individuals,
the path of obedience to God is the path of safety and happiness, while
that of transgression leads only to disaster and defeat. The Philistines
were now so completely subdued that they surrendered the strongholds which
had been taken from Israel and refrained from acts of hostility for many
years. Other nations followed this example, and the Israelites enjoyed
peace until the close of Samuel's sole administration.
occasion might never be forgotten, Samuel set up, between Mizpeh and Shen,
a great stone as a memorial. He called the name of it Ebenezer, "the
stone of help," saying to the people, "hitherto hath Jehovah