1 Samuel 4:1
And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Ebenezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek.
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(1) And the word of Samuel.—To which portion of the narrative does this statement belong? Is it part of that account of the Lord’s dealings with Samuel which closed the preceding chapter? Does it close that brief narrative which tells of the Divine voice which called to, and the vision seen by, the young chosen servant of the Highest, with a note simply relating how the word of the boy-prophet was received through the varied tribes of the people? Or does it tell us that at Samuel’s word—that is, acting under his advice—Israel commenced this new disastrous war with the Philistines? By adopting the first supposition, which understands the words as a general statement respecting Samuel’s influence in Israel, the grave difficulty of supposing that Samuel was mistaken in his first advice to the people is, of course, removed; but then we have to explain the separation of this clause from the preceding section in chapter 3, to which it would appear so naturally to belong; we have also to account for the exceeding abruptness with which the announcement of the war with the Philistines follows the clause respecting the “word of Samuel.” The Speaker’s Commentary attempts to solve the problem by suggesting as “the cause of the abruptness” that the account of the battle probably is extracted from some other book in which it came in naturally and consecutively, and that it was here introduced for the sake of exhibiting the fulfilment of Samuel’s prophecy concerning Eli’s family. Evidently, however, the Hebrew revisers of Samuel did not so understand the clause. They have placed the notice of Samuel’s words coming to all Israel as introducing the narrative of the battle.

The compiler of the book, in his relation of the young prophet’s error, touches upon an important feature of his great life. Anarchy and confusion had long prevailed throughout the tribes, and none of the hero Judges who had as yet been raised to power had succeeded in restoring the stern, rigid form of theocracy which had made the Israel of Moses and Joshua so great and powerful. The high qualities which in his prime had, no doubt, raised Eli to the first place in the nation, in his old age were almost totally obscured by a weak affection for his unworthy sons. A terrible picture of the corruption of the priesthood is presented to us during the last period of Eli’s reign. We can well imagine what the ordinary life of many among the people, with such an example from their religious guides and temporal governors, must have been. Individual instances of piety and loyalty to the God of their fathers, such as we see-in the house of Elkanah, even though such instances were not unfrequent of themselves, would have been totally insufficient to preserve the nation from the decay which always follows impiety and corruption. In this period of moral degradation the Philistines, part of the original inhabitants of the land, a warlike and enterprising race, taking advantage of the internal jealousies and the weaknesses of Israel, made themselves supreme in many portions of the land, treating the former conquerors often with harshness, and even with contempt.

Samuel grew up to manhood in the midst of this state of things. He was conscious that the invisible King, forgotten by so many of the nation, had chosen him to be the restorer of the chosen people. The boy-prophet, as he passed out of childhood into manhood, does not appear at first to have recognised the depth of moral degradation into which Israel had sunk, or to have seen that it was utterly hopeless to attempt to free the people from the yoke of their Philistine foes until something like a pure national religion was restored. Samuel and the nobler spirits in Israel, who thirsted to restore their nation to freedom and to purity, needed a sharp and bitter experience before they could successfully attempt the deliverance of the people; so the first call to arms resulted in utter disaster, and the defeat at Aphek—the result, we believe, of the summons of Samuel—was the prelude to the crushing blow to the pride of Israel which soon after deprived them of their leaders, their choicest warriors, and, above all, of their loved and cherished “Ark of the Covenant,” the earthly throne of their unseen King, the symbol of His ever-presence in their midst.

And pitched beside Eben-ezer.—“The stones of help.” The name was not given to the place until later, when Samuel set up a stone to commemorate a victory he gained, some twenty years after, over the Philistines.

In Aphek.—With the article, “the fortress.” Perhaps the same place as the old Canaauitish royal city Aphek.

1 Samuel


1 Samuel 4:1 - 1 Samuel 4:18

The first words of 1 Samuel 4:1 are closely connected with the end of 1 Samuel 3:1 - 1 Samuel 3:21, and complete the account of Samuel’s inauguration. ‘The word of the Lord’ came to Samuel, and ‘the word of Samuel came to all Israel.’ The one clause tells of the prophet’s inspiration, the other of his message and its reception by the nation. This bond of union between the clauses has been broken by the chapter division, apparently for the sake of representing the revolt against the Philistines as due to Samuel’s instigation. But its being so is very doubtful. If God had sent the army into the field, He would have prepared it, by penitent return to Him, for victory, as no defeat follows on war which He commands. Probably Samuel’s mission made an unwholesome ferment in minds which were quite untouched by its highest significance, and so led to a precipitate rebellion, preceded by no religious reformation, and therefore sure to fail. It was twenty years too soon {1 Samuel 7:3}. Samuel took no part in the struggle, and his name is never mentioned till, at the end of that period, he emphatically condemns all that had been done, and points the true path of deliverance, in ‘return to the Lord with all your heart.’ So the great lesson of this story is that when Israel fights Philistines, unbidden and unrepentant, it is sure to be beaten,-a truth with manifold wide applications.

The first disastrous defeat took place on a field, which was afterwards made memorable by a great victory, and by a name which lives still as a watchword for hope and gratitude. Happy they who at last conquer where they once failed, and in the retrospect can say, ‘Hitherto the Lord helped,’ both by defeat and by the victory for which defeat prepared a way! That opening struggle, bloody and grave as it was, was not decisive; for the Israelites regained their fortified camp unmolested, and held together, and kept their communications open, as appears from what followed.

1 Samuel 4:3 - 1 Samuel 4:5 give us a glimpse into the camp of Israel, and 1 Samuel 4:6 - 1 Samuel 4:9 into that of the Philistines. These two companion pictures are worth looking at. The two armies are very much alike, and we may say that the purpose of the picture is to show how Israel was practically heathen, taking just the same views of its relation to God which the Philistines did. Note, too, the absence of central authority. ‘The elders’ hold a kind of council. Where were Eli the judge and Samuel the prophet? Neither had part in this war. The question of the elders was right, inasmuch as it recognised that the Lord had smitten them, but wrong inasmuch as it betrayed that they had not the faintest notion that the reason was their own moral and religious apostasy. They had not learned the A B C of their history, and of the conditions of national prosperity. They stand precisely on the Pagan level, believing in a national God, who ought to help his votaries, but from some inexplicable caprice does not; or who, perhaps, is angry at the omission of some ritual observance. What an answer they would have got if Samuel had been there! There ought to have been no need for the question, or, rather, there was need for it, and the answer ought to have been clear to them; their sin was the all-sufficient reason for their defeat. There are plenty of Christians, like these elders, who, when they find themselves beaten by the world and the devil, puzzle their brains to invent all sorts of reasons for God’s smiting, except the true one,-their own departure from Him.

The remedy suggested by the united wisdom of the leaders was as heathen as the consultation which resulted in it. ‘Let us send for the ark’ ‘Those who regarded not the God of the ark,’ says Bishop Hall, ‘think themselves safe and happy in the ark of God.’ They thought, with that confusion between symbol and reality which runs through all heathen worship, and makes the danger of ‘images,’ whether in heathenism or in sensuous Christianity, that if they brought the ark, they brought God with it. It was a kind of charm, which would help them, they hardly knew how. Its very name might have taught them better. They call it ‘the ark of the covenant of the Lord’; and a covenant has two parties to it, and promises favour on conditions. If they had kept the conditions, these four thousand corpses would not have been lying stiff and stark outside the rude encampment. As they did not keep them, bringing the chest which contained the transcript of them into their midst was bringing a witness of their apostasy, not a helper of their feebleness. Repentance would have brought God. Dragging the ark thither only removed Him farther away. We need not be too hard upon these people; for the natural disposition of us all is to trust to the externals of worship, and to put a punctilious attention to these in the place of a true cleaving of heart to the God who dwells near us, and is in us and on our side, if we cling to Him with penitent love. Even God-appointed symbols become snares. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are treated by multitudes as these elders did the ark. The fewer and simpler the outward observances of worship are, the less danger is there of the poor sense-bound soul tarrying in them, instead of passing by means of them into the higher, purer air beyond.

What right had these presumptuous elders to bring the ark from Shiloh? Eli was its guardian; and he, as appears probable from his anxiety about its fate, did not approve of its removal. But ‘the people’ took the law into their own hands. There seems some hint that their action was presumptuous profanation, in the solemn, full title given in 1 Samuel 4:4 : ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord of Hosts which dwelleth between the cherubim,’-as if contrasting His awful majesty, His universal dominion over the armies of heaven and the embattled powers of the universe, and the dazzling light of that ‘glory,’ which shone in the innermost chamber of the Tabernacle, with the unanointed hands that presumed to press in thither and drag so sacred a thing into the light of common day and the tumult of the camp. Nor is the profanation lessened, but rather increased, by the priestly attendants, Eli’s two sons, themselves amongst the worst men in Israel. When Hophni and Phinehas are its priests, the ark can bring no help. Heathenism separates religion from morality altogether. In it there is no connection between worship and purity, and the Old Testament religion for the first time welded these two inseparably together. That tumultuous procession from Shiloh, with these two profligates for the priests of God, and the bearers thinking that they were sure of their God’s favour now, whatever their sin, shows how completely Israel had forgotten its own law, and, whilst professedly worshipping Jehovah, had really become a heathen people. The reception of the ark with that fierce shout, which echoed among the hills and was heard in the Philistines’ encampment, shows the same thing. Not so should the ark have been received, but with tears and confessions and silent awe. No man in all that host had ever looked upon it before. No man ought to have seen it then. Once a year, and not without blood sprinkled on its cover, the high priest might look on it through the cloud of incense which kept him from death, while all the people waited hushed till he came forth, but now it is dragged into the camp, and welcomed with a yell of mad delight, as a pledge of victory. What could display more strikingly the practical heathenism of the people?

1 Samuel 4:6 - 1 Samuel 4:9 take us into the other camp, and show us the undisguised heathens. The Philistines think just as the other side did, only, in their polytheistic way, they do not use the name ‘Jehovah,’ but speak first of ‘God’ and then of ‘gods’ as having arrived in the camp. The nations dreaded each other’s gods, though they worshipped their own; and the Philistines believed quite as much that ‘Jehovah’ was the Hebrew’s God, as that ‘Dagon’ was theirs. There was to be a duel then between the two superhuman powers. The vague reports which they had heard of the Exodus, nearly five hundred years ago, filled the Philistines with panic. They had but a confused notion of the facts of that old story, and thought that Egypt had met the ten plagues ‘in the wilderness.’ The blunder is very characteristic, and helps to show the accuracy of our narrative. It would not have occurred to a legend-maker. It sounds strange to us that the Philistines’ belief that the Hebrews’ God had come to their help should issue in exhortations to ‘fight like men.’ But polytheism makes that quite a natural conclusion; and there is something almost fine in the truculent boldness with which they set their teeth for a fierce struggle. They reiterate to one another the charge to ‘quit themselves like men’; and while they do not hide from themselves that the question whether they are to be still masters is hanging on the coming struggle, a dash of contempt for the ‘Hebrews’ who had been their ‘slaves’ is perceptible.

According to 1 Samuel 4:10, the Philistines appear to have begun the attack, perhaps taking the enemy by surprise. The rout this time was complete. The grim catalogue of disaster in 1 Samuel 4:10 - 1 Samuel 4:11 is strangely tragic in its dreadful, monotonous plainness, each clause adding something to the terrible story, and each linked to the preceding by a simple ‘and.’ The Israelites seem to have been scattered. ‘They fled, every man to his tent.’ The army, with little cohesion and no strong leaders, melted away. The ark was captured, and its two unworthy attendants slain. Bringing it had not brought God, then. It was but a chest of shittimwood, with two slabs of lettered stone in it,-and what help was in that? But its capture was the sign that the covenant with Israel was for the time annulled. The whole framework of the nation was disorganised. The keystone was struck out of their worship, and they had fallen, by their own sin, to the level of the nations, and even below these; for they had their gods, but Israel had turned away from their God, and He had departed from them. Superstition fancied that the presence of the ark secured to impenitent men the favour of God; but it was no superstition which saw in its absence from Shiloh His averted face.

Is there in poetry or drama a more vivid and pathetic passage than the closing verses of this narrative, which tell of the panting messenger and the old blind Eli?

‘Eben-ezer’ cannot have been very far from Shiloh, for the fugitive had seen the end of the fight, and reached the city before night. He came with the signs of mourning, and, as it would appear from 1 Samuel 4:13, passed the old man at the gate without pausing, and burst into the city with his heavy tidings. One can almost hear the shrill shrieks of wrath and despair which first told Eli that something was wrong. Blind and unwieldy and heavy-hearted, he sat by the gate to which the news would first come; but yet he is the last to hear,-perhaps because all shrank from telling him, perhaps because in the confusion no one remembered him. Only after he had asked the meaning of the tumult, of which his foreboding heart and conscience told him the meaning before it was spoken, is the messenger brought to the man to whom he should have gone first. How touchingly the story pauses, even at this crisis, to paint the poor old man! A stronger word is used to describe his blindness than in 1 Samuel 3:2, as the Revised Version shows. His fixed eyeballs were sightless now; and there he sat, dreading and longing to hear. The fugitive’s account of himself is shameless in its avowal of his cowardice, and prepares Eli for the worst. But note how he speaks gently and with a certain dignity, crushing down his anxiety,-’How went the matter, my son?’ Then, with no merciful circumlocution or veiling, out comes the whole dismal story once again.

Eli spoke no more. His sons’ death had been the sign given him years before that the threatenings against his house should be fulfilled; but even that blow he can bear. But the capture of the ark is more than a personal sorrow, and his start of horror overbalances him, and he falls from his seat {which probably had no back to it}, and dies, silent, of a broken neck and a broken heart. His forty years of judgeship ended thus. He was in many respects good and lovable, gentle, courteous, devout. His kindly treatment of Hannah, his fatherly training of Samuel, his submission to the divine message through the child, his ‘trembling for the ark,’ his death at the news of its being taken, all indicate a character of real sweetness and true godliness. But all was marred by a fatal lack of strong, stern resolve to tolerate no evil which he ought to suppress. Good, weak men, especially when they let foolish tenderness hinder righteous severity, bring terrible evils on themselves, their families, and their nation. It was Eli who, at bottom, was the cause of the defeat and the disasters which slew his sons and broke his own heart. Nothing is more cruel than the weak indulgence which, when men are bringing a curse on themselves by their sin, ‘restrains them not.’

1 Samuel 4:1. The word of Samuel came to all Israel — The revelation of God’s mind and will, which had been very rare among them in former days, (1 Samuel 3:1,) now became frequent and plentiful. For as Samuel himself was ready to instruct every one that came to him, so he instituted schools or colleges of prophets, (as we read in the following parts of this book,) which, in time, were settled in divers parts of the country, for the better preserving and spreading the knowledge of God among the people, 1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Samuel 19:18-20. Israel went out against the Philistines — Some have thought they did this at the word of Samuel, and that he was commanded by God to direct them to go, in order that they might be humbled and punished for their sins, and so be prepared for deliverance. But we are not told that they went by Samuel’s direction, and it is more likely that they were induced to take this step by the death of the lords of the Philistines, and the great slaughter which Samson had made of them at his death, Jdg 16:27; Jdg 16:30. Or, perhaps the Philistines, having recruited themselves from that loss, and wishing to be revenged of the Israelites, had made an inroad into their country, which they might the rather be induced to do at this time, in consequence of receiving intelligence that an eminent prophet had arisen in Israel, by whom they were likely to be united and assisted, and so to be rendered more formidable, unless they were crushed in the very beginning of their hopes and efforts.

4:1-9 Israel is smitten before the Philistines. Sin, the accursed thing, was in the camp, and gave their enemies all the advantage they could wish for. They own the hand of God in their trouble; but, instead of submitting, they speak angrily, as not aware of any just provocation they had given him. The foolishness of man perverts his way, and then his heart frets against the Lord, Pr 19:3, and finds fault with him. They supposed that they could oblige God to appear for them, by bringing the ark into their camp. Those who have gone back in the life of religion, sometimes discover great fondness for the outward observances of it, as if those would save them; and as if the ark, God's throne, in the camp, would bring them to heaven, though the world and the flesh are on the throne in the heart.Some attach the opening words to the close of 1 Samuel 3, as the complement of what is there said, "The Lord revealed himself to Samuel ... in Shiloh, and the word of Samuel went forth to all Israel." If placed at the commencement of 1 Samuel 4, and in connection with what follows, they are to be understood in the sense that Samuel called all Israel to battle against the Philistines. (Compare 1 Samuel 7:5.) But this is not the natural interpretation of the words, which seem clearly to belong to what went before.

The mention of the Philistines connects the narrative with Judges 13-16. Since the Philistine servitude lasted forty years Judges 13:1, and seems to have terminated in the days of Samuel 1 Samuel 7:13-14 in about the 20th year of his judgeship 1 Samuel 7:2; and since it had already begun before the birth of Samson Judges 13:5, and Samson judged Israel for 20 years "in the days of the Philistines" Judges 15:20, it seems to follow that the latter part of the judgeship of Eli and the early part of that of Samuel must have been coincident with the lifetime of Samson.

Eben-ezer - (or, the stone of help) The place was afterward so named by Samuel. See the marginal references. "Aphek," or the "fortress," was probably the same as the "Aphek" of Joshua 12:18. It would be toward the western frontier of Judah, not very far from Mizpeh of Benjamin, and near Shiloh 1 Samuel 4:4.


1Sa 4:1-11. Israel Overcome by the Philistines.

1. the word of Samuel came to all Israel—The character of Samuel as a prophet was now fully established. The want of an "open vision" was supplied by him, for "none of his words were let fall to the ground" (1Sa 3:19); and to his residence in Shiloh all the people of Israel repaired to consult him as an oracle, who, as the medium of receiving the divine command, or by his gift of a prophet, could inform them what was the mind of God. It is not improbable that the rising influence of the young prophet had alarmed the jealous fears of the Philistines. They had kept the Israelites in some degree of subjection ever since the death of Samson and were determined, by further crushing, to prevent the possibility of their being trained by the counsels, and under the leadership, of Samuel, to reassert their national independence. At all events, the Philistines were the aggressors (1Sa 4:2). But, on the other hand, the Israelites were rash and inconsiderate in rushing to the field without obtaining the sanction of Samuel as to the war, or having consulted him as to the subsequent measures they took.

Israel went out against the Philistines to battle—that is, to resist this new incursion.

Eben-ezer … Aphek—Aphek, which means "strength," is a name applied to any fort or fastness. There were several Apheks in Palestine; but the mention of Eben-ezer determines this "Aphek" to be in the south, among the mountains of Judah, near the western entrance of the pass of Beth-horon, and consequently on the borders of the Philistine territory. The first encounter at Aphek being unsuccessful, the Israelites determined to renew the engagement in better circumstances.The Israelites are smitten by the Philistines at Eben-ezer, 1 Samuel 4:1,2. They fetch the ark from Shiloh; receive it with a great shout, to the terror of the Philistines, 1 Samuel 4:3-8; who yet take courage, and a second time beat the Israelites: the ark is taken; the two sons of Eli are slain, 1 Samuel 4:9-11; which Eli hearing, falleth backward from his seat, and breaketh his neck, 1 Samuel 4:12-18. His daughter-in-law falls in labour, nameth her son Ichabod, and dieth, 1 Samuel 4:19-22.

The word of Samuel, i.e. the word of the Lord revealed to Samuel, and by him to the people; either, first, The prophetical word mentioned before, 1 Samuel 3:11, &c., which is here said to come, or to come to pass, as it was foretold, to all Israel. But the subject of that prophecy was not all Israel, but Eli and his house, as is evident. Or rather, secondly, A word of command, that all Israel should go forth to fight with the Philistines, as the following words explain it, that so they might be first humbled and punished for their sins, and so prepared by degrees for their future deliverance.

Against the Philistines; or, to meet the Philistines, who having by this time recruited themselves after their great loss by Samson, Judges 16:30, and perceiving an eminent prophet arising among them, by whom they were likely to be united, counselled, and assisted, thought fit to suppress them in the beginning of their hopes and designs of rescuing themselves from their power. Ebenezer; a place so called here (by anticipation) from a following event, 1 Samuel 7:12. Aphek; a city so called in the tribe of Judah, Joshua 15:53, upon the borders of the Philistines’ country; not that Aphek in Asher, Joshua 19:30 Judges 1:31, which was very remote from them.

And the word of Samuel came to all Israel,.... Or was "known", as the Targum, the word of prophecy by him, which related to what befell Eli and his family; this was spread throughout the land, and everyone almost had knowledge of it, and which began to be fulfilled in the war between Israel and the Philistines, later related; or the doctrine, instructions, and exhortations of Samuel to the people of Israel, were by the means of others conveyed throughout the land; and yet they went into measures which proved fatal and ruinous to them; or the word of Samuel, which was from the Lord, came to Israel, to stir them up to go to war with the Philistines, whereby the punishment threatened to Eli's family would begin to have its accomplishment:

now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle; according to the word of Samuel, or of the Lord by him; though Ben Gersom thinks they did this of themselves, which was their sin, and did not ask counsel of the Lord, nor of Samuel his prophet; but it seems as if the Philistines were the aggressors, and first came forth to war against them, and they went out to meet them (a), as the word is, and defend themselves as it became them: this was forty years after the death of Samson, and at the end of Eli's government, who judged Israel so many years, when they had recruited themselves, and recovered their losses they sustained by Samson; and when they perceived a new judge was raised up among the Israelites, who was likely to be of great service to them, and to prevent their authority over them, and therefore thought to begin with them as soon as possible:

and pitched beside Ebenezer; a place so called by anticipation, and had its name from an later victory obtained, when Samuel set up a stone between Mizpeh and Shen, and called it by this name, 1 Samuel 7:12, it signifies a stone of help:

and the Philistines pitched in Aphek; a city in the tribe of Judah, bordering on the Philistines; see Gill on Joshua 12:18.

(a) "in occursum", Pagninus, Montanus.

And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Ebenezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek.
Ch. 1 Samuel 4:1-11. Defeat of Israel by the Philistines and Loss of the Ark

1. Now Israel went out] The Sept. and Vulgate contain an additional clause, which softens the abruptness of the transition: “And it came to pass in those days, that the Philistines gathered together to fight against Israel.”

The abruptness of the narrative may be explained (1) because the historian only wishes to give an account of the war so far as it bears upon his main subject, the fulfilment of the prophecies against Eli’s house: (2) because probably the account of the battle with the Philistines is extracted from some other book, in which it came in naturally and consecutively.

The last mention of the Philistines was in Judges 13-16. In Jdg 13:1 we read that “the Lord delivered the children of Israel into the hand of the Philistines forty years,” and the best solution of the difficult question of the chronology of the Judges is to suppose that we are now at the middle of this period of Philistine oppression. The first twenty years of that oppression will then coincide with the last half of Eli’s judgeship, and probably with Samson’s judgeship of “twenty years in the days of the Philistines” (Jdg 15:20). There is no difficulty in supposing that Eli, who was a civil judge during this time and permanently resident at Shiloh, was contemporaneous with Samson, the military leader of a guerilla warfare on the frontiers of Philistia. The second half of the period of Philistine oppression coincides with the twenty years during which the Ark remained at Kirjath-jearim (ch. 1 Samuel 7:2).

Might we not conjecture that the present renewal of the war was connected with Samson’s death? Either the Israelites took the aggressive to avenge their champion, or the Philistines thought to profit by the opportunity and reduce them to more complete subjection.

the Philistines] See Note IV. p. 238.

Eben-ezer] = “the stone of help.” The name is used by anticipation. It was not given till twenty years afterwards, on the occasion of the great defeat of the Philistines, ch. 1 Samuel 7:12.

Aphek] = “stronghold,” the name of several places in Palestine. This Aphek was close to Eben-ezer (1 Samuel 4:6), in the neighbourhood of Mizpeh of Benjamin, near the western entrance of the pass of Bethhoron, and probably distinct from the Aphek of ch. 1 Samuel 29:1.

Verse 1. - And the word of Samuel... all Israel. This clause is rightly connected with the foregoing verse of the previous chapter in the Syriac and Vulgate. Attached to the fourth chapter, it gives a wrong sense, namely, that Samuel gave the command for the assembling of all Israel for battle with the Philistines. This is so plainly erroneous that the A.V. dissents from it by translating the and in the next clause by now. Joined to the previous chapter, it gives the true meaning. Because Samuel spake by the word of Jehovah, therefore his word came to all Israel, that is, it was a binding and authoritative command throughout the whole land; or, in other words, when Samuel was acknowledged to be Jehovah's prophet he also became the virtual judge of Israel, though probably he did not act with full authority until after Eli's death. DEFEAT OF ISRAEL AND CAPTURE OF THE ARK (vers. 1-11). Now Israel - rather. And Israel - went out against the Philistines. During the declining years of Eli, the yoke of the Philistines, which apparently had been shaken off in his manhood, began once again to press heavily upon the neck of Israel. But Israel was still strong enough to make valiant resistance, provoked apparently by the Philistines invading the land, as we find that they had pitched, i.e. encamped, in Aphok. As Aphek means a fortress, many places bear the name; but the position of the Philistine camp is fixed by its being near both to Eben-ezer and to Mizpah, and probably, therefore, it was the Aphek in Judah (Joshua 12:18). Eben-ezer, the stone of help, had not as yet received this name (see 1 Samuel 7:12); and apparently it was not a town, but a monument set up m an open plain fit for the purposes of war, and which up to this time had. no specific appellation. 1 Samuel 4:1The two clauses, "The word of Samuel came to all Israel," and "Israel went out," etc., are to be logically connected together in the following sense: "At the word or instigation of Samuel, Israel went out against the Philistines to battle." The Philistines were ruling over Israel at that time. This is evident, apart from our previous remarks concerning the connection between the commencement of this book and the close of the book of Judges, from the simple fact that the land of Israel was the scene of the war, and that nothing is said about an invasion on the part of the Philistines. The Israelites encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines were encamped at Aphek. The name Ebenezer ("the stone of help") was not given to the place so designated till a later period, when Samuel set up a memorial stone there to commemorate a victory that was gained over the Philistines upon the same chosen battle-field after the lapse of twenty years (1 Samuel 7:12). According to this passage, the stone was set up between Mizpeh and Shen. The former was not the Mizpeh in the lowlands of Judah (Joshua 15:38), but the Mizpeh of Benjamin (Joshua 18:26), i.e., according to Robinson, the present Neby Samwil, two hours to the north-west of Jerusalem, and half an hour to the south of Gibeon (see at Joshua 18:26). The situation of Aphek has not been discovered. It cannot have been far from Mizpeh and Ebenezer, however, and was probably the same place as the Canaanitish capital mentioned in Joshua 12:18, and is certainly different from the Aphekah upon the mountains of Judah (Joshua 15:53); for this was on the south or south-west of Jerusalem, since, according to the book of Joshua, it belonged to the towns that were situated in the district of Gibeon.
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