1 Sam 4.1-22 begins with a war with the Philistines, and the consequences. This is a great chapter on spiritual warfare and we will point out a few things out as we move along. It will also tell us how it is going to play out with Eli and his sons according to the word spoken about them.
Israel has come out for war against the Philistines (where we get the Latin word “Palestinians” from) and Samuel was known as a prophet now in Israel. Israel camped at a place called Ebenezer (“stone of help”) and the Philistines (“Palestinians”) camped at Aphek (“enclosure”), six miles from Shiloh where the Mishkan and the Ark of the Covenant was. Israel was defeated in the first encounter and they wondered why the Lord allowed that to happen. So, according to Num 10.35-36, they decided to go get the Ark to deliver them (v 3). Here is a concept to remember.
The use of superstition, “magic” or “things” to fight our battles for us is not from Yehovah. Crosses, mezuzahs, saint medals, garlic, Bibles or anything else has no power. The Lord had relegated Israel to these calamities and he is greater than any magic formula or object. When the Ark came up, the Philistines heard the shouts of Israel. They believed that the Ark of the Lord had come into the camp and they were afraid that “God had come into the camp.” They believed that God’s Shekinah (presence) was inseparable from the Ark.
The Philistines knew about this God in Israel and what the did to Egypt in the First Redemption. So the Philistine leaders encouraged the army to fight or they would be slaves to the Hebrews. It is better to die at the hands of their God than to be slaves, they thought (v 8-9). So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated, and the Ark was taken! Hophni and Pinchas, the two sons of Eli died (1 Sam 2.12-17, 34). Eli waited by the road (he was nearly blind) because he was afraid for the Ark and what they were doing was superstition. He hears the noise of the outcry and a man who escaped told Eli what happened. The word “news” in verse 17 is the word “Basar” or “gospel.” He was told that the Philistines had taken the Ark. The city of Shiloh where the Mishkan was was also destroyed (Psa 78.60-64; Jer 7.12, 26.9).
Eli fell off his seat backwards and broke his neck. This alludes to the unredeemed donkey in Exo 13.13 which has its neck broken. This unredeemed donkey speaks of those who are “stiff necked.” Eli was an older man (98) and very overweight. He judged Israel for 40 years, the number of testing. Now, his daughter-in-law was pregnant (wife of Pinchas) and about to give birth, and when she heard the news about the Ark, Eli and her husband, she kneeled down and gave birth, for “birth pains” came upon her (this alludes to Matt 24.19). When she was about to die, the women with her told her she gave birth to a son. She named the boy “Ichabod” meaning “the kivod (glory) has departed.” This alludes to the Ark being taken and the death of the High Priest and his sons.
This concept of the glory departing from Israel was also seen after the birth pains in 70 AD and Rome’s victory over Israel, but did it really? The question is, “How could God allow such a thing to happen?” First, this was his righteous judgment upon Israel as a nation and Eli and his house. Second, he allowed it to happen to correct their superstitious views about the Ark and trusting in it. Third, God was not worried about how things were going to turn out. In reality, the glory had not departed at all, no matter what man said, but he was just beginning to show his glory. The Philistines are making a huge mistake of their own here, as we shall soon see.
Many things in our life seemed “calamitous” at the time but God used it in a way to glorify himself through us. This also is true in nations. The problem is we don’t have the confidence many times to see things that way and that he was going to take care of his people. God didn’t “lose” this battle to the Philistines, he was going to reveal his glory through this event but everyone didn’t know it yet.
1 Sam 5.1-12 begins to show his plan and the humiliation of the Philistine gods. They brought the Ark to Ashdod (“I will spoil”) and they placed the Ark in a temple of Dagon (“little fish”). He had the head of a man and the body of a fish. There was a belief, and it is still there today among the heathen, that when a nation was defeated their gods were defeated also. But that is not the case with Israel. God is going to vindicate his name, not the Ark.
The Ark was set next to Dagon as “dedicated spoils” and the Ark will now serve Dagon, as if in submission, like a trophy. They were very happy about all this and thought that their gods were stronger than Yehovah, but that is another mistake they make because the next morning comes and they find that Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the Ark, in submission! The people took Dagon and set him up again in his place. They were too blind to see that Dagon couldn’t even get up by himself. The next day Dagon had fallen again before the Ark, and both hands were cut off on the threshold, with only the trunk left. This brings us to the concept of the
In Isa 6.4 we see that the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of Yehovah who called out, while the heavenly Temple was filling with smoke. The threshold was a “marked” spot with a special kedusha and specific taboos (Zeph 1.9). There were special “keepers” of the threshold (2 Kings 22.4; 1 Chr 9.22; 2 Chr 23.4; Jer 35.4). In Exo 12.22 we learn that the blood of the lamb was placed on the threshold of the house. The word for Passover in Hebrew is “Pesach” which means “to leap over” the threshold after it has been marked and set apart by the blood of the lamb, as part of a “threshold covenant.” The threshold of Dagon was held sacred (1 Sam 5.5).
In 1 Kings 18.20-21 we have the words of Elijah asking the people how long they were going to “hesitate” or “leap over” both thresholds of Yehovah and Baal. The word for “hesitate” is “pasach” and it means to “leap over” and has the same root as Pesach/Passover. The threshold was seen as a boundary between the earth and God’s portion. The “blood” protects the house and death cannot enter over the threshhold of a house that placed the blood there. Anyone entering was submitting themselves under the the authority of the believers in that house. In the case of Dagon, Baal or any other god, Yehovah was entering in and they must submit to his authority.
1 Sam 5.6-12 tells us that the leaders of the Philistines realized all this because tumors broke out on the Ashdodites and they said that the Ark of God must not remain with them because “his hand is severe on us and Dagon our god.” Whatever these tumors were, it was bad. So they sent the Ark to other cities (Gath, Ekron) and the same things happened, and the people thought the Ark was brought to them to kill them. It was finally decided that the Ark had to return to Israel and to its own place unless it killed all of them. The hand of God was very severe. God’s glory had not departed and he will vindicate his name even among the heathen, but what were the Philistines going to do?
We will pick up here in Part 5.