Dave Burnette's Commentary

1 Samuel Chapter 4

Written By: God through Inspiration
Penned By: Samuel, Nathan, & Gad 
Date Penned: (931-975 BC)
Overview: Samuel, Israel's Last Judge (c 1-31)
Theme: Eli and Samuel (c 1-7)
Message: The War with the Philistines (v 1-22)

1 Samuel 4 Commentary

(4:1) The Philistines -  The Philistines, descendants of Noah's son Ham, settled along the southeastern Mediterranean coast between Egypt and Gaza. They had originally migrated to the Middle East in ships from Greece and Crete. The Egyptians had referred to the Philistines as "sea peoples" due to their migration across the Mediterranean. By Samuel's time, these warlike people were well established in five of Gaza's cities in southwest Canaan and were constantly pressing inland against the Israelites. Throughout this time, the Philistines were Israel's major enemy. They had iron chariots and an organized infantry. Israel was no match for them.

(4:3) The Ark of the Covenant - The ark of the covenant contained the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses, a jar of manna, and Aaron's staff. The ark was supposed to be kept in the most holy place, a sacred part of the tabernacle that only the high priest could enter once a year. Hophni and Phinehas desecrated the room by unlawfully entering it and removing the ark. The Israelites rightly recognized the great holiness of the ark, but they thought that the ark itself--the wood and metal box--was their source of power. They began to use it as a good luck charm, expecting it to protect them from their enemies. A symbol of God does not guarantee his presence and power. Their attitude toward the ark came perilously close to idol worship. When the ark was captured by their enemies, the Israelites thought their glory was gone (4:19-22) and that God had deserted them (71-2). God uses his power according to his own wisdom and will. He responds to the faith of those who seek him.

(4:4) God's Presence Rests on the Ark - The reference to the "ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims" conveys that God's presence rested on the ark of the covenant between the two gold cherubim (angels) attached to its lid. The people believed that the ark would bring victory when Hophni and Phinehas carried it into battle.

(4:5-8) Only a Form of Godliness - The Philistines were afraid because they remembered stories about God's intervention for the Israelites when they had left Egypt. But the people of Israel had turned away from God, and they were only clinging to a form of godliness, a symbol of former victories.

People (and churches) often try to live on the memories of God's blessings. The Israelites wrongly assumed that because God had given them victory in the past, he would do it again, even though they had strayed far from him. Today, as in the stories we read in Scripture, spiritual victories come through a continually renewed relationship with God. Don't live off the past. Keep your relationship with God new and fresh.

(4:11) Eli's Sons Die - This event fulfills the prophecy stating that Eli's sons, Hophni and Phinehas, would die "in one day" (2:34).

(4:12) Shiloh is Destroyed - At this time, the city of Shiloh was Israel's religious center (Joshua 18:1; 1 Samuel 4:3). The tabernacle was permanently set up there. Because Israel did not have a civil capital--a seat of national government--Shiloh was the natural place for a messenger to deliver the sad news from the battle. Many believe that it was during this battle that Shiloh was destroyed (Jeremiah

7:12; 26:2-6; also see the note on 1 Samuel 7:1).

(4:18) The End of Judges and Beginning of Revival - Eli was Israel's judge and high priest. His death marked the end of the dark period of the judges when most of the Israelites ignored God. Although Samuel was also a judge, his career saw the transition from Israel's rule by judges to the nation's monarchy. He began the great revival that the people of Israel would experience for the next century. The Bible does not say who became the next high priest (Samuel was not eligible because he was not a direct descendant of Aaron), but Samuel functioned as a priest at this time by offering important sacrifices throughout Israel.

(4:19-22) A Time of Spiritual Darkness - This incident illustrates the spiritual darkness and decline of Israel. This young boy, Ichabod, was supposed to succeed his father, Phinehas, in the priesthood, but his father had been killed because he was an evil man who had desecrated the tabernacle. The terror of God's leaving his people overshadowed the joy of childbirth. When sin dominates our lives, even God-given joys and pleasures seem empty.


Dave Burnette's Life Application

In Christ Alone


Each day we walk through the Bible chapter by chapter, making application of our text to help us grow in the Lord. Today we continue in the book of 1st Samuel with Chapter 4, in our text, we see Israel worshiping the Ark of the Covenant as an Idol. The Spirit of God manifested itself in the Ark of the Covenant. Israelites received a blessing by being near this piece of the Tabernacle in God's presence. In making applications, I see people doing the same today. Some people worship the things of God. Whether it be Church Membership, Baptism, Communion, Church Traditions, etc., instead of God, they worship the things that give glory to God. These people put their eternal security in a work or ritual they do in their flesh versus true Salvation that comes through Jesus Christ and Christ alone. It reminds me of a missionary who went to a town up north that did not have a true Gospel witness. He went door to door, sharing the Gospel and asking them if they would go to Heaven when they died. Everyone told him, "yes, we were baptized," The only Church in that town told them if they did the ritual of baptism that, they would go to Heaven. Still, it takes your repentance of sin and faith in what Christ did at Calvary to have an eternal home in Heaven. How about you? Are you trusting in Christ Alone for your Salvation? Let us learn from our text today and how the Israelites handled the Ark of the Covenant to see that our Salvation comes from Christ Alone.


1 Samuel 4

1 Samuel 4

 1And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Ebenezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek.

 2And 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.

 3And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines? 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.

 4So 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.

 5And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again.

 6And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, 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.

 7And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore.

 8Woe 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.

 9Be 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.

 10And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen.

 11And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.

 12And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head.

 13And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out.

 14And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, What meaneth the noise of this tumult? And the man came in hastily, and told Eli.

 15Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim, that he could not see.

 16And the man said unto Eli, I am he that came out of the army, and I fled to day out of the army. And he said, What is there done, my son?

 17And the messenger answered and said, 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, and the ark of God is taken.

 18And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.

 19And his daughter in law, Phinehas' wife, was with child, near to be delivered: and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father in law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her.

 20And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast born a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it.

 21And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband.

 22And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.