God’s Judgment Falls on Eli And His Sons

The photographer for a national magazine was assigned to get photos of a great forest fire. Smoke at the scene hampered him and he asked his home office to hire a plane. Arrangements were made and he was told to go at once to a nearby airport, where the plane would be waiting. Wh … More


By Samuel’s time the Philistines, who were settled along the Mediterranean Sea between Egypt and Gaza, were constantly warring against Israel. These Philistines were descendants of Noah’s son Ham. In this particular battle, Israel was defeated as they lost four thousand men. At this point, the elders decided to bring the ark of the covenant closer to the fighting, hoping that it’s presence would bring favor from God and save them (vv. 1-3). Evidently they did not understand that the ark was merely a symbol of God’s presence and could not be used as a good luck charm. What happened with the Israelites often seems to happen with Christians today. The Israelites wrongly assumed that, because God had given them victory in the past, He would do it again even though they had strayed from Him.

Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas bring the Ark of the Covenant down from Shiloh and the strategy seems to be working (vv. 4-9). When the ark arrives in the camp the army’s confidence rises tremendously. And as the Israelites’ hopes rise the Philistines’ fall to the same degree. They know about this God of Israel who’s already defeated the Egyptians. And they’re scared stiff. The Israelite Elders think they’ve done it. This will make all the difference! And so the fight resumes next morning, this time Israel loses again and this time 30,000 soldiers die (vv. 10-16)! What’s more, the ark of the covenant is captured and Hophni and Phinehas are killed (v. 17). Finally, when Eli hears about it he too dies (v. 18).

God has allowed the Israelites to be defeated. He’d already predicted what would happen back in chapter 2. God was using this defeat to punish Eli and his sons. The defiling of the Temple worship had an effect not just on those who worshiped, or even on the corrupt priesthood, but on the fortunes of the nation as a whole. The wife of Phinehas also dies, in childbirth, and on her death bed names her son Ichabod, because, she says, the glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured (vv. 19-22). Well, in fact the glory has departed from Israel not because the ark is lost but because the worship of God has been corrupted by her husband and brother-in-law. God has withdrawn his support because he’s angry with the way worship has being conducted.


I cannot live in the assumption of God’s blessing but must keep my relationship with Him new and fresh.

I Samuel 4:1-22 (English Standard Version)

And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. And when the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, "Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies." So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. As soon as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, "What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?" And when they learned that the ark of the LORD had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid, for they said, "A god has come into the camp." And they said, "Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight." So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died. A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head. When he arrived, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out. When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, "What is this uproar?" Then the man hurried and came and told Eli. Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see. And the man said to Eli, "I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today." And he said, "How did it go, my son?" He who brought the news answered and said, "Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured." As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years. Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, "Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son." But she did not answer or pay attention. And she named the child Ichabod, saying, "The glory has departed from Israel!" because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. And she said, "The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured."

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