1 Samuel 4

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Read 1 Samuel 4

1 And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.

The Philistines Capture the Ark

Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”

So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

When the ark of the Lord’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”

When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before. We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!”

10 So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

Death of Eli

12 That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh with his clothes torn and dust on his head. 13 When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair by the side of the road, watching, because his heart feared for the ark of God. When the man entered the town and told what had happened, the whole town sent up a cry.

14 Eli heard the outcry and asked, “What is the meaning of this uproar?”

The man hurried over to Eli, 15 who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes had failed so that he could not see. 16 He told Eli, “I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.”

Eli asked, “What happened, my son?”

17 The man who brought the news replied, “Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”

18 When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and he was heavy. He had led Israel forty years.

19 His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near the time of delivery. When she heard the news that the ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth, but was overcome by her labor pains. 20 As she was dying, the women attending her said, “Don’t despair; you have given birth to a son.” But she did not respond or pay any attention.

21 She named the boy Ichabod, saying, “The Glory has departed from Israel”—because of the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 She said, “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

Go Deeper

These 22 verses are full of negative history. We read about two separate battles in which Israel was defeated by the Philistine army and more than 30,000 people died. The worst news of this entire chapter, though, is the Israelites confused the symbol of His presence with His actual presence. In verse 3, the elders of Israel said, “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.” 

The Israelites treated the ark more like a good luck charm. They were superstitious in believing the physical presence of the ark itself would save them from the hands of the Philistines. God commanded the Israelites to construct the ark and it was important to the nation of Israel. However, the elders idolized the ark. It’s important for us to realize and learn – even good things can be made into idols. Instead of pleading to the Lord for guidance and direction, God’s people lost sight of the Lord. We’ve already learned from the previous few chapters in 1 Samuel the Israelites were not in good standing with the Lord. The ark represented the presence of God and Israel was His chosen people. But God desired for them to seek Him for guidance and direction. God’s presence is the source of power to save them from their enemies, not the physical ark itself. 

When the ark was captured, God took away the very “thing” they thought would deliver them. God often teaches us about our idolatry by taking away the “thing” we attempt to put in His place.

This chapter closes by declaring “the glory has departed from Israel.” As a result of the people’s sin, disobedience, and idolatry, the glory of the Lord was taken away from them. We should not believe in religious superstitions or idolize anything like the Israelites did in today’s chapter. May we seek to honor and obey God on the throne of our lives.


  1. Do you have any physical idols that you put more trust in than God himself?
  2. What area do you need to seek guidance and direction from God for victory?
  3. Write down 3 practical ways you are going to seek to honor and obey God today and ask God to help you be faithful.

Keep Digging

Chapter 4 closes with the birth of Eli’s grandson, Ichabod, whose name means “the glory has departed.” Read this entry from gotquestions.org for more insight into that name and why it was chosen for this child.

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5 thoughts on “1 Samuel 4”

  1. Ella Snodgrass

    Sin has terrible consequences, and God allows his righteous judgement to fall when we ignore his ways. He corrects us so that we may trust in nothing else but him. Today I want to remember Hebrews 12:6 “For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son he receives.” After all, Jesus bore the scourge of the cross to set me free, therefore I refuse to set anything before Him in my heart. Asking God today to continually prick my heart for any sin lurking at my door.

  2. According to verse 6, the Philistines became afraid when they heard the Israelites shouting. They believed that it was a powerful god. They were intimidated. However, Instead of running away from battle, the Philistines became more determined to fight. They fought harder and won. The enemy against God’s church may be intimated for a moment, but is more challenged to defeat us when there are cracks in our armor. I want to live in the presence of God where the battle is the Lord’s!

  3. I don’t agree with what the Going Deeper portion of this study states. It states that the ark was only a symbol of God’s presence and not God’s presence itself but in verse 4 it states that the Lord Almighty is enthroned between two cherubim. I don’t think it was superstition why the Israelites brought the ark because in Joshua 3 it states “ “And Joshua said, “By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Hivites and the Perizzites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Jebusites:” Also, the Israelites walked on dry ground when crossing the Jordan because they carried the ark with them as the Lord commanded.
    ‭‭Joshua‬ ‭3:10‬ ‭NKJV‬‬
    I think they brought the ark because they had proof that God had moved on their behalf in the past. Why He allowed the ark to be captured, I do not know. It could be because the Lord did not command them to bring the ark and they should have inquired of the Lord whether to do so.

  4. I at many times have put other things like mainly the desire to have romantic relationships before God and mostly come to failure. Indeed God sometimes allows things we think we can control alone to fail so as to show that only He should be centre stage for all things or aspects of our lives and that He means we’ll.

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