1 Samuel 4:12
And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes rent, and with earth on his head.
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(12) And there ran a man of Benjamin.—The Rabbinical tradition relates that this messenger was Saul, who snatched from Goliath the tables of the Law taken out of the Ark, in order to save them. The whole of this account is so vivid, and is so full of detail that it must have come from some eye-witness—probably from Samuel himself. These swift runners are still employed to carry news in war time in the East. In the sacred story we possess several important instances of such messages: for instance, in the account of Absalom’s death, Cushi and Ahimaaz bring the tidings from Joab to King David (2Samuel 18:21-27). Asahel, the son of Zeruiah, the sister of David, is mentioned as being famous for his running (2Samuel 2:18). Elijah, again, we hear, once outran the chariot of Ahab between Carmel and Jezreel. Phidippides, when sent to urge the people of Sparta to come to the help of the Athenians against the Persians, arrived at Sparta on the second day after his departure from Athens (Herodotus, 6:105, 6). Running seems to have been an exercise specially cultivated among the athletes of old times.

The rent clothes and the earth upon the head were the usual indications that the news brought by the messenger were tidings of evil.

1 Samuel 4:12. With his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head —

According to the manner of those who bewailed any great calamity, Joshua 7:6; Job 2:12; Ezekiel 27:30. From which last place it appears it was a custom among other nations.4:12-18 The defeat of the army was very grievous to Eli as a judge; the tidings of the death of his two sons, to whom he had been so indulgent, and who, as he had reason to fear, died impenitent, touched him as a father; yet there was a greater concern on his spirit. And when the messenger concluded his story with, The ark of God is taken, he is struck to the heart, and died immediately. A man may die miserably, yet not die eternally; may come to an untimely end, yet the end be peace.Runners who were swift of foot, and could go long distances were important and well-known persons (compare 2 Samuel 18:19-31). There seem to have been always professional runners to act as messengers with armies in the field (2 Kings 11:4, 2 Kings 11:6,2 Kings 11:19, the King James Version "guards").

Earth upon his head - In token of bitter grief. Compare the marginal references.

1Sa 4:12-22. Eli Hearing the Tidings. The usual rites in great sorrows. See Genesis 37:29 Joshua 7:6, &c.; 2 Samuel 1:2,11. And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army,.... Out of the rank in which he was, before the whole army was quite broken up. This was a young man as Josephus (b) says, which is highly probable; though not at all to be depended on is what the Jews (c) say, that this was Saul, later king of Israel:

and came to Shiloh the same day; which, according to Bunting (d), was forty two miles from Ebenezer, near to which the battle was fought; and that it was a long way is pretty plain by the remark made, that this messenger came the same day the battle was fought; though not at such a distance as some Jewish writers say, some sixty, some one hundred and twenty miles (e); which is not at all probable:

with his clothes rent, and earth upon his head; which were both tokens of distress and mourning, and showed that he was a messenger of bad tidings from the army; See Gill on Joshua 7:6.

(b) Antiqu. l. 5. c. 11. sect. 3.((c) Shalshalet Hakabala. fol. 8. 1. Jarchi in loc. (d) Travels of the Patriarchs, &c. p. 123. (e) Midrash Schemuel apud Abarbinel in loc.

And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes {f} rent, and with earth upon his head.

(f) In token of sorrow and mourning.

12. there ran a man of Benjamin] Cp. 2 Samuel 18:19. The distance from Ebenezer to Shiloh was probably not more than twenty miles, so that a swift runner could easily arrive the same evening. Cp. to-day in 1 Samuel 4:16.

There is a strange Jewish tradition that the man was Saul, who seized the tables of the law out of the hand of Goliath and fled!

out of the army] Out of the battle-array, as in 1 Samuel 4:2.

with his clothes rent and with earth upon his head] Signs of the deepest mourning. Cp. Joshua 7:6; 2 Samuel 1:2; Homer, Il. XVIII. 23, and an exact parallel in Virg. Aen. XII. 609–611, describing the mourning of Latinus on the suicide of his queen Amata:

“It scissa veste Latinus

Coniugis attonitus fatis urbisque ruina,

Canitiem immundo perfusam pulvere turpans.”

“Bowed to the earth with woe on woe,

His consort dead, his town brought low,

The hapless king his raiment tears,

And soils with dust his silver hairs.”

12–18. The Death of EliVerse 12. - There ran a man of Benjamin. The whole story is told with so much vividness, and is so full of exact particulars, that it must have come from an eyewitness, probably from Samuel himself. According to Jewish tradition, this Benjamite was no other than Saul, but the chronology is at variance with this supposition. The importance in old time, when even roads did not exist, of men capable of running long distances to carry news in war is evident, and many instances are recorded showing the high appreciation in which their services were held Thus the running of the Cushite and of Ahimaaz forms an interesting episode in the pathetic history of Absalom's death (2 Samuel 18:19-31). So Herodotus mentions that Pheidippides, when sent to urge the people of Sparta to come to the help of the Athenians against the Persians, arrived there on the second day after his departure from Athens (Herod., 6:105, 106). Shiloh, apparently, was but a comparatively short distance from Eben-ezer, as the runner arrived there on the evening of the very day on which the battle was fought. The rent clothes and the earth upon the head were the usual signs in token that some great calamity had taken place (2 Samuel 1:2). When the Philistines heard the noise, and learned on inquiry that the ark of Jehovah had come into the camp, they were thrown into alarm, for "they thought (lit. said), God (Elohim) is come into the camp, and said, 'Woe unto us! For such a thing has not happened yesterday and the day before (i.e., never till now). Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the very gods that smote Egypt with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness.' " The Philistines spoke of the God of Israel in the plural., האדּירים האלהים, as heathen who only knew of gods, and not of one Almighty God. Just as all the heathen feared the might of the gods of other nations in a certain degree, so the Philistines also were alarmed at the might of the God of the Israelites, and that all the more because the report of His deeds in the olden time had reached their ears (see Exodus 15:14-15). The expression "in the wilderness" does not compel us to refer the words "smote with all the plagues" exclusively to the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:23.). "All the plagues" include the rest of the plagues which God inflicted upon Egypt, without there being any necessity to supply the copula ו before בּמּדבּר, as in the lxx and Syriac. By this addition an antithesis is introduced into the words, which, if it really were intended, would require to be indicated by a previous בּארץ or בּארצם. According to the notions of the Philistines, all the wonders of God for the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt took place in the desert, because even when Israel was in Goshen they dwelt on the border of the desert, and were conducted thence to Canaan.
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