THE ARK OF THE LORD

1 Samuel 4 - 7

 

The entire book of Samuel consists of contrasting Aups and downs.@ In chapters 4-7, those changing fortunes focus primarily upon the Ark of the Covenant.

 

 Chapters 1-3

Chapters 4-6

Chapter 6-7

Failure

Eli=s Line ú

Ark Lost ú

People of Beth-shemesh struck down ú

Victory

Samuel ü

Ark Returned ü

Philistines struck down ü

 

A. THE BATTLE OF EBENEZER.

1. Defeat at the hands of the Philistines.

Thus the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to meet the Philistines in battle and camped beside Ebenezer while the Philistines camped in Aphek.

And the Philistines drew up in battle array to meet Israel. When the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield. (1 Samuel 4:1-2).

The Philistines had become the dominate force along the Mediterranean coastline in the latter days of the Judges. It is from this group that we derive the name APalestine.@

During the reign of Rameses 3rd of Egypt, this area had experienced a massive wave of migrations. The Sea Peoples had swept down the coast toward Egypt and were only turned away after a terrible battle on the Nile River.

One tribe of these Sea Peoples were the Peleset - the Philistines. They had settled on the southeastern coast of the Mediterranean, establishing themselves in five cities on the coastal plain.

For years there had been discord between the Philistines in the lowlands and the Israelites who lived in the hills.

Indeed, the reason that the Israelites lived in the hills is because the Philistines had iron chariots and this gave them greater mobility in the lowlands and made them masters of the coastal areas (Judges 1:19). But now, for the first time, the Israelites fight a pitched battle against the Philistines. The result is disastrous.

The name Ebenezer is a compound made up of the joining of two words.

(1) Eben is the word for "stone"

(2) 'Azer is "to help"

It therefore means Athe stone of help.@ Unfortunately, there was no help for the people of Israel on that day.

2. The Use of the Ark.

When the people came into the camp, the elders of Israel said, AWhy has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us take to ourselves from Shiloh the ark of the covenant of the Lord, that it may come among us and deliver us from the power of our enemies.@

So the people sent to Shiloh and from there they carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts who sits above the cherubim; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. (1 Samuel 4:3-4).

In light of their defeat, the Israelites determine to bring the ark of the covenant with them into their next battle against the Philistines. They are thinking of it as a good like charm (they had been watching too many Harrison Ford movies).

The second battle is another defeat for Israel.

 First Battle of Ebenezer

4,000 Israelites killed

Second Battle of Ebenezer

30,000 Israelites killed

The ark is taken

Hophni & Phinehas are killed

When Eli hears the news that the ark has been taken, he falls backward off his seat, breaks his neck and dies Afor he was old and heavy@ (4:18). Eli illustrates the tragedy of a lack of church discipline. He allowed his sons to remain in the priesthood and did not seek to have them removed, in spite of the fact of their continuing sin.

3. Ichabod.

The wife of Phinehas hears the news. She is pregnant and the shock of this tragedy brings on the labor pains. As she dies in childbirth, the women try to console her, telling her that she has given birth to a son. But with her dying breath, she names the child AIchabod.@

And she called the boy Ichabod, saying, AThe glory has departed from Israel,@ because the ark of God was taken and because of her father-in-law and her husband.

And she said, AThe glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God was taken.@ (1 Samuel 4:21-22).

There is perhaps a parallel here between this account and the death of Rachael in Genesis 34:16-18.

  Genesis 34:16-18

1 Samuel 4:19-22

And it came about when she was in severe labor that the midwife said to her, ADo not fear, for now you have another son.@ (34:17).

And it came about the time of her death the women who stood by her said to her, ADo not be afraid, for you have given birth to a son.@ (4:20).

She named him Ben-oni: ASon of my sorrow.@

She called him Ichabod: ANo glory.@

Note: $|",<*! uses a very rare form of the negative particle (*!) found normally only in Ugaritic and Phoenician.

 

B. THE ARK IN THE LAND OF THE PHILISTINES.

Chapter 5 records the travels of the ark of the covenant after it had fallen into the hands of the Philistines.

 Verse

City

Occurrences

5:1

Ashdod

  • Idol of Dagon first found on its face.
  • It is again on its face, this time with head hand hands removed.
  • People broke out with tumors.

5:8

Gath

  • A very great confusion.
  • The men of the city smitten with tumors.

5:10

Ekron

  • A very great confusion.
  • The men who did not die were smitten with tumors.

The ark was considered to be the throne of God. God was described as Athe Lord of hosts who sits above the cherubim@ (4:4). Since the God of Israel was invisible, His presence could only be determined by the place where He would sit.

ADagon@ (0|#y) was the god of the Philistines. Though the name is similar to #y, the Hebrew word for Afish,@ more recent archaeological studies have identified Dagon as a Canaanite deity which had been borrowed by the Philistines. In Ugaritic literature he is the father of Baal. Dagon was the god of grain (0#y). The significance of the idol being found face down before the ark of the Lord is obvious.

And when, the following day, the people found the idol again face down and this time with its head and hands removed, it is an obvious indication that Yahweh had defeated Dagon in battle and had removed these battle trophies, much the same way that David would later remove the head of Goliath.

A motif is introduced in this chapter. It is the motif of the hand of the Lord. Though the term is used as early as the book of Exodus, it is not commonplace until we get to this chapter.

5:6

ANow the hand of the Lord was heavy on the Ashdodites...@

5:7

A...His hand is severe on us and on Dagon our god.@

5:9

A...the hand of the Lord was against the city...@

5:11

A...the hand of God was very heavy there.@

6:3

A...it shall be known why His hand is not removed from you.@

6:5

A...perhaps He will ease His hand from you, your gods, and your land.@

6:9

A...His hand that struck us...@

7:13

AAnd the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.@

 

C. THE FURTHER TRAVELS OF THE ARK.

After seven months of passing the ark from city to city, the Philistines determine to send it back home to the land of the Israelites. They do so, sending it back with an offering of five golden tumors and five golden mice (hoping that this would take away the plagues of tumors). They place these along with the ark onto an ark pulled by two cows.

1. Beth-shemesh.

And the cows took the straight way in the direction of Beth-shemesh; and they went along the highway, lowing as they went, and did not turn aside to the right or to the left. And the lords of the Philistines followed them to the border of Beth-shemesh.

Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley, and they raised their eyes and saw the ark and were glad to see it.

And the cart came into the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite and stood there where there was a large stone; and they split the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. (1 Samuel 6:12-14).

Beth-shemesh is located on the east end of the Sorek Valley, near to where Samson had lived. Its name means Ahouse of the sun.@ It had been allotted in the days of Joshua to the priests (Joshua 21:16).

These people working out in their fields look up to see a strange procession. A pair of oxen pulling a cart on which rests the throne of God. And behind them come five kings and all of their retainers. It was as though the Lord were leading all of the enemies of Israel in a triumphant parade.

The people of Beth-shemesh respond in worship, taking apart the cart on which the ark was transported and using both the wood and the oxen as a sacrifice to the Lord.

And He struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the Lord. He struck down all the people, 50,070 men, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck down the people with a great slaughter. (1 Samuel 6:19).

The Philistines had suffered because of the presence of the ark in their cities, but the Israelites were no less immune to the results of a careless treatment of the ark.

It is not as though they were ignorant of the importance of the ark. These were Levites. They would have been familiar with the requirements of the Law.

They would have known that, in the days in the Wilderness, only the sons of Aaron had been permitted to handle the ark - that even they did not presume to look within the ark, but reverently covered it with a veil each time they were required to move it (Numbers 4:5-20).

There is a lesson here. It is dangerous to trifle with the Lord. He is very big and very powerful and we must never think that we have a handle on Him.

Sometimes we get to thinking that God is a Presbyterian. Or a Republican. Or a Charismatic. And we think that we have placed Him into our nice, neat package. And suddenly, He does something like this and we find ourselves with a proper awe of the Lord.

The number translated as 50,070 men reads differently in the Hebrew text - *! 4-! .*/( *! .*3" (70 men, 50,000 men).

Aside from the fact that there were not this many men in the town of Beth-shemesh, the construction of the Hebrew suggests that this reading might be the result of a textual error, even though this is not apparent from either the Massoretic text or from the Septuagint.

2. Kiriath-jearim.

And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took the ark of the Lord and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord.

And it came about from the day that the ark remained at Kiriath-jearim that the time was long, for it was twenty years; and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord. (1 Samuel 7:1-2).

Demoralized by the death of their men, the people of Beth-shemesh sent the ark 10 miles up the road to the town of Kiriath-jearim (only 8 miles from Jerusalem).

It is placed into the keeping of Abinadab and his son Eleazar. The ark will remain there until being brought to Jerusalem in the days of David. This was a period of lamentation. The people of Israel Alamented after the Lord.@

Why? Because their place of worship had been destroyed and their God was in a state of banishment.

 

D. THE JUDGESHIP OF SAMUEL.

1. Call to Repentance.

The capture of the ark had been due to the unfaithfulness of Israel. The spiritual leaders of the nation had turned their hearts away from the Lord and He, in turn, had brought judgment upon the nation.

Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, Aif you return to the Lord with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the Lord and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.@

So the sons of Israel removed the Baals and the Ashtaroth and served the Lord alone. (1 Samuel 7:3-4).

It was not only the priests and spiritual leaders of the nation who had been in sin. The Israelites had begun to engage in idol-worship. Samuel calls for repentance. This repentance is threefold:

    1. Remove the foreign gods.

It began with a turning away from the sin in which they had been involved.

b. Direct your hearts to the Lord.

False worship was to be replaced with true worship - a worship of commitment to the Lord.

c. Serve Him alone.

True repentance always involves a resulting obedience. It is not merely a change of mind. There is also a resulting change of ACTION.

Notice that they were not merely called to serve the Lord. They were called to serve God ALONE. They are to serve Him and are to serve no other.

Jesus pointed out this principle when He said that Ano one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other@ (Matthew 6:24).

2. Victory Over the Philistines.

Now when the Philistines heard that the sons of Israel had gathered to Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the sons of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines.

Then the sons of Israel said to Samuel, ADo not cease to cry to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.@ (1 Samuel 7:7-8).

What was it that caused the Philistines to attack Israel at this particular time? It was because they heard that the Israelites had gathered at Mizpah. Perhaps they viewed this gathering as a military threat.

Satan always attacks when he sees God=s people repenting of their sins. He views this, not as a military threat, but as a spiritual threat.

Samuel also views this as a spiritual battle. And so, he does not prepare the men for battle. He doesn=t beat any plowshares into swords. He doesn=t suggest an armament plan or devise a strategy. Instead, he performs an act of WORSHIP.

Now Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, and the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day against the Philistines and confused them, so that they were routed before Israel.

And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as below Beth-car. (1 Samuel 7:10-11).

The Lord wins the battle. And He does so in a way that is reminiscent of the days of Joshua.

You remember the story. Joshua was fighting an alliance of five kings and he called upon the sun and the moon to stand still and they obeyed him. The Lord sent great hailstones against the enemies of Israel when killed more than were killed in the fighting. And the Israelites pursued their enemies down the descent of Beth-horon.

Now it happens again.

If I had been there prior to the battle, I might have been tempted to say, AHey guys, I know that God used to do this sort of thing, but times have changed. That was a long time ago in another age and God doesn=t do that sort of thing anymore.@

There is a lesson here. It is that we dare not underestimate the power of God.

3. The Memorial at Ebenezer.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it as far as below Beth-car and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, AThus far the Lord has helped us.@ (1 Samuel 7:12).

The word Ebenezer (9'3% 0"!) is actually two words in the Hebrew.

It is called this because this was the place where the Lord Ahelped us@ ({19'3). This does not seem to be the same Ebenezer as the one mentioned in chapter 4:1 and 5:1.

That first Ebenezer was located near Aphek (4:1).

This Ebenezer is between Mizpah and Shen.

That first Ebenezer was a place of defeat.

This second Ebenezer is a stone of victory.

And so, Samuel establishes it as a memorial.

Memorials are important. They are important because we need to be reminded of those times when the Lord has helped us. We need to be reminded because, when times get tough, we forget.

Do you have any memorials of the faithfulness of God in your life? You ask the Lord to remind you of those times. And then you build a memorial there so that you will never forget.


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