In 1 Samuel 4, we see this prophecy come to fulfillment as the narrative is the confirmation of the destruction of Eli’s house.
I. The Setting (4:1-2)
Some time after Samuel’s pronouncement against Eli, Israel became involved with a battle with the Philistines. They were not indigenous to the land of Canaan, but were a people group who migrated to the area on the coast, south west of Israel. After their settlement, the swiftly became a serious military threat during the time of the Judges that plays through the records of Samuel.
The Philistines were near Aphek, and Israel went to meet them in battle, encamping 2 miles to the east, beside Ebenezer (which had yet to be named). When they joined battle, the Israelites were defeated with 4,000 soldiers dying.
II. The Total Defeat (4:4-11)
Israel regroups, and the people wonder why God would allow them to be defeated. It is obvious they hadn’t reflected upon their sin. No one thinks to repent or that it was because Eli and his sons had led Israel as a whole to sin against God.
Instead, the send for the Ark of the Covenant.
Note how the author calls it the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD. His description reflected the fact that Israel had disobeyed the covenant by permitting sinful priests to lead worship.
Additionally, they had sin within their very midst. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark (vs. 4). The men who were bringing the hand of God against them stood right before them. They should have remembered Achan (Joshua 7).
Also, it should be pointed out that the people weren’t necessarily trusting the ark to save them in battle. They were treating it like a talisman, an object that would force the hand of God to fight for them.
Israel rejoices when the Ark arrived. The cry was so loud that the Philistines believed Israel’s “god” had come to fight for them. They react with fear. In their minds, these were the gods who defeated the Egyptians. Even some 300 years later, the nations were still mindful of Egypt’s defeat during the Exodus. They determined, then, to defeat Israel and their “gods” (vs. 9).
That they accomplished. Not because their god was stronger, but because God gave Israel over to be judged by a foreign nation. He was faithful to fulfill the covenant curses found in Deut. 28:25, The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them.
Three things happened:
– Israel was defeated with 30,000 additional men killed.
– Hophni and Phinehas were killed.
– but more importantly, the Ark was taken.
The taking of the ark was a significant defeat. How will Israel now offer sacrifices and be able to accomplish their covenant duties? It was as if God was placing Himself in a self-imposed exile from the people.
III. The Judgment (4:12-22)
A man from Benjamin runs back to Shiloh to give the report of what happened. Eli hears how his family was judged: His sons were dead and the ark was captured. Upon hearing of the Ark captured, Eli falls over backwards off his chair – as if the LORD dethroned him – and dies.
Then lastly, Phinehas’s wife dies in child birth. But before she dies, she names her son “Ichabod” which means, “The glory of the LORD has departed.”