The Ark Captured by the Philistines
Israel went out to meet the Philistines in battle and[a] camped at Ebenezer while the Philistines camped at Aphek. 2 The Philistines lined up in battle formation against Israel, and as the battle intensified, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who struck down about four thousand men on the battlefield.3 When the troops returned to the camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord defeat us today before the Philistines? Let’s bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh. Then it[b] will go with us and save us from our enemies.” 4 So the people sent men to Shiloh to bring back the ark of the covenant of the Lord of Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. 5 When the ark of the covenant of the Lord entered the camp, all the Israelites raised such a loud shout that the ground shook.6 The Philistines heard the sound of the war cry and asked, “What’s this loud shout in the Hebrews’ camp?” When the Philistines discovered that the ark of the Lord had entered the camp, 7 they panicked. “A god has entered their camp!” they said. “Woe to us, nothing like this has happened before.[c] 8 Woe to us, who will rescue us from these magnificent gods? These are the gods that slaughtered the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. 9 Show some courage and be men, Philistines! Otherwise, you’ll serve the Hebrews just as they served you. Now be men and fight!”10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and each man fled to his tent. The slaughter was severe—thirty thousand of the Israelite foot soldiers fell. 11 The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
Eli’s Death and Ichabod’s Birth
12 That same day, a Benjaminite man ran from the battle and came to Shiloh. His clothes were torn, and there was dirt on his head. 13 When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair beside the road watching, because he was anxious about the ark of God. When the man entered the city to give a report, the entire city cried out.14 Eli heard the outcry and asked, “Why this commotion?” The man quickly came and reported to Eli. 15 At that time Eli was ninety-eight years old, and his eyes didn’t move[d] because he couldn’t see.16 The man said to Eli, “I’m the one who came from the battle.[e] I fled from there today.”“What happened, my son?” Eli asked.17 The messenger answered, “Israel has fled from the Philistines, and also there was a great slaughter among the people. Your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are both dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” 18 When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off the chair by the city gate, and since he was old and heavy, his neck broke and he died. Eli had judged Israel forty years.19 Eli’s daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and about to give birth. When she heard the news about the capture of God’s ark and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband, she collapsed and gave birth because her labor pains came on her. 20 As she was dying,[f] the women taking care of her said, “Don’t be afraid. You’ve given birth to a son!” But she did not respond or pay attention. 21 She named the boy Ichabod,[g] saying, “The glory has departed from Israel,” referring to the capture of the ark of God and to the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 “The glory has departed from Israel,” she said, “because the ark of God has been captured.”
The Ark in Philistine Hands
5 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod, 2 brought it into the temple of Dagon[h] and placed it next to his statue.[i] 3 When the people of Ashdod got up early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen with his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and returned him to his place. 4 But when they got up early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen with his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. This time, Dagon’s head and both of his hands were broken off and lying on the threshold. Only Dagon’s torso remained.[j] 5 That is why, still today, the priests of Dagon and everyone who enters the temple of Dagon in Ashdod do not step on Dagon’s threshold.6 The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod. He terrified the people of Ashdod and its territory and afflicted them with tumors.[k][l] 7 When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of Israel’s God must not stay here with us, because his hand is strongly against us and our god Dagon.” 8 So they called all the Philistine rulers together and asked, “What should we do with the ark of Israel’s God?”“The ark of Israel’s God should be moved to Gath,” they replied. So they moved the ark of Israel’s God. 9 After they had moved it, the Lord’s hand was against the city of Gath, causing a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, from the youngest to the oldest, with an outbreak of tumors.10 The people of Gath then sent the ark of God to Ekron, but when it got there, the Ekronites cried out, “They’ve moved the ark of Israel’s God to us to kill us and our people!” [m]11 The Ekronites called all the Philistine rulers together. They said, “Send the ark of Israel’s God away. Let it return to its place so it won’t kill us and our people!” [n] For the fear of death pervaded the city; God’s hand was oppressing them. 12 Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.
The Return of the Ark
6 When the ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory for seven months, 2 the Philistines summoned the priests and the diviners and pleaded, “What should we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we can send it back to its place.”3 They replied, “If you send the ark of Israel’s God away, do not send it without an offering. Send back a guilt offering to him, and you will be healed. Then the reason his hand hasn’t been removed from you will be revealed.”[o]4 They asked, “What guilt offering should we send back to him?”And they answered, “Five gold tumors and five gold mice corresponding to the number of Philistine rulers, since there was one plague for both you[p] and your rulers. 5 Make images of your tumors and of your mice that are destroying the land. Give glory to Israel’s God, and perhaps he will stop oppressing you,[q] your gods, and your land. 6 Why harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened theirs? When he afflicted them, didn’t they send Israel away, and Israel left?7 “Now then, prepare one new cart and two milk cows that have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up. 8 Take the ark of the Lord, place it on the cart, and put the gold objects that you’re sending him as a guilt offering in a box beside the ark. Send it off and let it go its way. 9 Then watch: If it goes up the road to its homeland toward Beth-shemesh, it is the Lord who has made this terrible trouble for us. However, if it doesn’t, we will know that it was not his hand that punished us—it was just something that happened to us by chance.”10 The men did this: They took two milk cows, hitched them to the cart, and confined their calves in the pen. 11 Then they put the ark of the Lord on the cart, along with the box containing the gold mice and the images of their tumors. 12 The cows went straight up the road to Beth-shemesh. They stayed on that one highway, lowing as they went; they never strayed to the right or to the left. The Philistine rulers were walking behind them to the territory of Beth-shemesh.13 The people of Beth-shemesh were harvesting wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they were overjoyed to see it. 14 The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh and stopped there near a large rock. The people of the city chopped up the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. 15 The Levites removed the ark of the Lord, along with the box containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. That day the people of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the Lord. 16 When the five Philistine rulers observed this, they returned to Ekron that same day.17 As a guilt offering to the Lord, the Philistines had sent back one gold tumor for each city: Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron. 18 The number of gold mice also corresponded to the number of Philistine cities of the five rulers, the fortified cities and the outlying villages. The large rock[r] on which the ark of the Lord was placed is still in the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh today.19 God struck down the people of Beth-shemesh because they looked inside the ark of the Lord.[s] He struck down seventy persons.[t] The people mourned because the Lord struck them with a great slaughter. 20 The people of Beth-shemesh asked, “Who is able to stand in the presence of the Lord this holy God? To whom should the ark go from here?”21 They sent messengers to the residents of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the Lord. Come down and get it.”[u]7 So the people of Kiriath-jearim came for the ark of the Lord and took it to Abinadab’s house on the hill. They consecrated his son Eleazar to take care of it.
Victory at Mizpah
2 Time went by until twenty years had passed since the ark had been taken to Kiriath-jearim. Then the whole house of Israel longed for the Lord. 3 Samuel told them, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, get rid of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths that are among you, dedicate yourselves to[v] the Lord, and worship only him. Then he will rescue you from the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites removed the Baals and the Ashtoreths and only worshiped the Lord.5 Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord on your behalf.” 6 When they gathered at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out in the Lord’s presence. They fasted that day, and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the Israelites at Mizpah.7 When the Philistines heard that the Israelites had gathered at Mizpah, their rulers marched up toward Israel. When the Israelites heard about it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. 8 The Israelites said to Samuel, “Don’t stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, so that he will save us from the Philistines.”9 Then Samuel took a young lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. He cried out to the Lord on behalf of Israel, and the Lord answered him. 10 Samuel was offering the burnt offering as the Philistines approached to fight against Israel. The Lord thundered loudly against the Philistines that day and threw them into such confusion that they were defeated by Israel. 11 Then the men of Israel charged out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines striking them down all the way to a place below Beth-car.12 Afterward, Samuel took a stone and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer,[w] explaining, “The Lord has helped us to this point.” 13 So the Philistines were subdued and[x] did not invade Israel’s territory again. The Lord’s hand was against the Philistines all of Samuel’s life. 14 The cities from Ekron to Gath, which they had taken from Israel, were restored; Israel even rescued their surrounding territories from Philistine control. There was also peace between Israel and the Amorites.15 Samuel judged Israel throughout his life. 16 Every year he would go on a circuit to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah and would judge Israel at all these locations. 17 Then he would return to Ramah because his home was there, he judged Israel there, and he built an altar to the Lord there.
Israel’s Demand for a King
8 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges over Israel. 2 His firstborn son’s name was Joel and his second was Abijah. They were judges in Beer-sheba. 3 However, his sons did not walk in his ways—they turned toward dishonest profit, took bribes, and perverted justice.4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and went to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Therefore, appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have.”6 When they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” Samuel considered their demand wrong, so he prayed to the Lord. 7 But the Lord told him, “Listen to the people and everything they say to you. They have not rejected you; they have rejected me as their king. 8 They are doing the same thing to you that they have done to me,[y] since the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, abandoning me and worshiping other gods. 9 Listen to them, but solemnly warn them and tell them about the customary rights of the king who will reign over them.”10 Samuel told all the Lord’s words to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “These are the rights of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and put them to his use in his chariots, on his horses, or running in front of his chariots. 12 He can appoint them for his use as commanders of thousands or commanders of fifties, to plow his ground and reap his harvest, or to make his weapons of war and the equipment for his chariots. 13 He can take your daughters to become perfumers, cooks, and bakers. 14 He can take your best fields, vineyards, and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He can take a tenth of your grain and your vineyards and give them to his officials and servants. 16 He can take your male servants, your female servants, your best young men,[z] and your donkeys and use them for his work. 17 He can take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves can become his servants. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you’ve chosen for yourselves, but the Lord won’t answer you on that day.”19 The people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We must have a king over us. 20 Then we’ll be like all the other nations: our king will judge us, go out before us, and fight our battles.”21 Samuel listened to all the people’s words and then repeated them to the Lord.[aa] 22 “Listen to them,” the Lord told Samuel. “Appoint a king for them.”Then Samuel told the men of Israel, “Each of you, go back to your city.”
In chapter 4 the ark of the covenant is taken from the Israelites. Why? Wasn’t the presence of God there with the ark? Why didn’t he defeat their enemies? Didn’t He tell them to bring the ark to the camp?
No, they asked why their enemies had come to destroy them, but then the people just decided that if they bring the ark there, God will fix it for them.They try to force God’s hand without even consulting God as to what they should do. This shows us the importance of seeking God before making weighty decisions. What decisions lie before you today that you haven’t asked for God’s direction in? Let’s take a moment to correct that.