Friday, August 15, 2008

I Samuel 4:12–22

I Samuel 4:12–22: Eli’s death, and repercussions of the loss of the Ark


In the last passage, Israel battled with the Philistines, lost the battle, and also lost the Ark. In addition, Eli’s sons both died on the same day, as the LORD had indicated would happen.

In this passage, we find Eli sitting in a chair by the side of the road, waiting for news, and fearing for the Ark. A Benjamite comes from the battle front, bringing his terrible news to the people of Shiloh, and everyone in the town sends up a cry of mourning. Eli, however, is ninety-eight years old, and his eyes (and apparently hearing) aren’t so good, so he asks what’s going on. The man comes over and tells him that the Israelites have lost the battle, Eli’s sons have been killed, and the Ark has been captured. When Eli hears that the Ark has been captured, he falls off his chair, breaks his neck, and dies.

Eli’s daughter-in-law (the wife of Phinehas) is pregnant at the time, and when she hears that the Ark has been captured, she goes into labour. However, she is overcome by her labour pains, and as she is dying, the women attending her try to console her by telling her that she has a son. She doesn’t pay any attention to them, however, and with her dying breath tells them to name the boy Ichabod (which means “no glory”), since the glory has departed from Israel.


The fact that we find Eli, at the beginning of this passage, fearing for the Ark, means that he must not have been a willing participant in its use in the battle. I think Eli’s biggest problem is his lack of spine; he knows when his sons are doing things they shouldn’t, but he lacks the will or power to stop them from doing it. This is sort of shown in Eli’s death, as well; he seems to be more worried about the capture of the Ark than in the death of his sons—and yet he allowed them to bring the Ark with them into battle.

Similarly, I also find it interesting that Phinehas’ wife is grieving more for the loss of the Ark than for the loss of her husband. Interesting, but not surprising, for two reasons:
  1. She should be more worried about the Ark than about her husband. We should all be more concerned with God and His desires than with our own desires—it’s just unusual that someone actually is.
  2. As mentioned in Chapter 2, Eli’s sons have been sleeping with the women who serve at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. If Phinehas has been cheating on his wife, it is natural that his wife wouldn’t be overly broken up over his demise.

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