1 Samuel 4:13
And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out.
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(13) Eli sat upon a seat.—The text here is a little confused, but the sense is perfectly clear. The best and most accurate rendering would be, Eli sat by the side of the way of the watchers: i.e., the street or way in Shiloh, so named probably from the watch-tower which was situated in it. (See Speaker’s Commentary here.) The LXX. renders it, “by the side of the gate watching the way.”

The old judge was naturally anxious for news from the army. It must be remembered the people had already (1Samuel 4:2) suffered a great reverse in the first battle of Aphek, when 4,000 fell, but his chief anxiety was for that sacred Ark which he had allowed—no doubt against his better judgment—to leave the sanctuary. All had gone wrong lately, and the high priest was deeply conscious that he, for his part, with his culpable weakness, and his priestly sons, with their flagrant wickedness, had broken the covenant with the invisible King. Eli knew too much of the Eternal Guardian of Israel to put any real trust in the power of the lifeless Ark. It was a long time, the high priest well knew, since the glory had rested on its golden mercy-seat between the silent cherubim. Had that mysterious light shone in the dark Holy of Holies since the night when the Divine voice spoke to the child, telling him the doom of the house of Ithamar? So he waited with sorrowful forebodings the advent of the messenger, asking himself, Would the Ark ever return to Shiloh?

1 Samuel 4:13. His heart trembled for the ark of God — Whereby he discovered a public and generous spirit, and a fervent zeal for God, and for his honour, which he preferred before all his natural affections, not regarding his own children in comparison of the ark, though otherwise he was a most indulgent father. All the city cried out — And well they might, for besides that this was a calamity to all Israel, it was a particular loss to Shiloh; for the ark never returned thither. Their candlestick was removed out of its place, and the city sunk and came to nothing.

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.

13-18. Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside—The aged priest, as a public magistrate, used, in dispensing justice, to seat himself daily in a spacious recess at the entrance gate of the city. In his intense anxiety to learn the issue of the battle, he took up his usual place as the most convenient for meeting with passers-by. His seat was an official chair, similar to those of the ancient Egyptian judges, richly carved, superbly ornamented, high, and without a back. The calamities announced to Samuel as about to fall upon the family of Eli [1Sa 2:34] were now inflicted in the death of his two sons, and after his death, by that of his daughter-in-law, whose infant son received a name that perpetuated the fallen glory of the church and nation [1Sa 4:19-22]. The public disaster was completed by the capture of the ark. Poor Eli! He was a good man, in spite of his unhappy weaknesses. So strongly were his sensibilities enlisted on the side of religion, that the news of the capture of the ark proved to him a knell of death; and yet his overindulgence, or sad neglect of his family—the main cause of all the evils that led to its fall—has been recorded, as a beacon to warn all heads of Christian families against making shipwreck on the same rock. Eli sat upon a seat; placed there on purpose for him, that he might soon receive the tidings, which he longed for.

His heart trembled for the ark of God; whereby he discovered a public and generous spirit, and a fervent zeal for God, and for his honour and service, which he preferred before all his natural affections and worldly interests, not regarding his own children in comparison of the ark, though otherwise he was a most indulgent father, and had reason to believe that they went out like sheep for the slaughter, according to Samuel’s prediction.

And when he came,.... To Shiloh; he either passed by Eli, who being blind could not see him, 1 Samuel 4:15 or he came in at another gate of the city on the other side of it, as Abarbinel thinks; though the former seems more likely by what follows, he not choosing to deliver the bad news to Eli first, whom he knew it would very much grieve, and therefore slipped by him into the city:

lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: by the "hand" of the way, as the marginal reading, and which we follow; it seems to be a place where two ways or more met, and where was a way post erected, with an hand directing what places they led to. The text is, "he", or "it smote", as if his heart smote him for letting the ark go; so Kimchi (f); here Eli had a seat placed, which, as the Targum says, was at the ascent of the way to the gate; and so the Septuagint has it, at the gate; and Josephus (g) says it was at one of the gates; either of his own house, or of the tabernacle, or rather of the city; here he was watching for news, to hear what he could, and as soon as he could, how it fared with the army, with his sons, and especially with the ark:

for his heart trembled for the ark of God; not so much for his sons, whose death he might expect from the divine prediction, but for the ark, about which he was doubtful; fearing lest it should fall into the hands of the uncircumcised Philistines, who would triumph upon it, and which would make sad the heart of every true Israelite, and reflect much dishonour on the God of Israel; and very probably he might tremble the more when he reflected on his own sin and folly in suffering his sons to take it with them. Eli here may represent a good man in pain for the church of God, and the interest of religion in declining times, both with respect to ministers of the word, and members of churches: as when Gospel ministers are removed by death, few raised up in their stead, and those that do appear in the ministry, either unregenerate, as it may be feared; or have not gifts and abilities qualifying them for it; or are of immoral lives and conversations, or propagate false doctrines, errors, and heresies: and also when among professors of religion and members of churches there is a great decay of powerful godliness; and they are got into a drowsy, sleepy, frame of spirit, are become lukewarm and indifferent to spiritual exercises, want zeal for the Gospel and cause of Christ; are careless about the honour and interest of religion, unstable and inconstant in doctrine and worship, and in their affections to one another, and the ministers of the word; and their conversation not as becomes their profession:

and when the man came into the city, and told it; how that the army of Israel was beaten, what a number of men was killed, among whom were the two sons of the high priest, and the ark was taken:

all the city cried out; that is, all the inhabitants of the city, having most of them perhaps relations and friends in the army, for whom they were concerned, fearing their lives were lost; but especially the loss of the ark was insupportable by them, it being of so much advantage to that city particularly, both with respect to things temporal and spiritual; wherefore, upon hearing this bad news, there was a general shriek and cry throughout the whole city.

(f) Vid. David de Pomis, Lexic. fol. 47. 1.((g) Ut supra. (Antiqu. l. 5. c. 11. sect. 3.)

And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart {g} trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out.

(g) Lest it should be taken by the enemy.

13. Eli sat upon a seat] Was sitting upon the seat, (or, his seat). We must imagine him sitting upon his official seat by the outer gate of the tabernacle enclosure (1 Samuel 4:18, cp. 1 Samuel 1:9, note), not by the town gate on the road by which the messenger entered, for the news does not reach Eli until after it has been published in the town (1 Samuel 4:14).

The Sept. represents a slightly different text, “Eli was on his seat by the side of the gate, watching the way.”

all the city cried out] The opening stanzas of Aytoun’s ballad “Edinburgh after Flodden” in Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers give a vivid picture of the effect of the news of a defeat.

“A murmur long and loud,

And a cry of fear and wonder

Bursts from out the bending crowd.

For they see in battered harness

Only one hard-stricken man …”

Verse 13. - Upon a seat - literally, "the throne" - by the wayside, whither his official chair had been removed to some spot near the gate of the city (see ver. 18), and probably commanding a view of the pathway by which a messenger would arrive. There probably for hours he had sat, anxiously awaiting tidings of the ark, which, we may feel sure, he had very unwillingly allowed to be carried away into the camp. When the man came into the city. Literally the words are, "And the man came to tell it in the city, and all the city cried out." We are not to suppose with some that Eli, being old and now blind, let the messenger slip by unobserved. A man of his high rank would not be alone, and the mention of his throne suggests that he was seated there in somewhat of official dignity. And so, as the runner drew near, with the symbols of disaster upon his person, the priests and Levites in attendance upon Eli would begin the cry of sorrow, and soon it would spread throughout all Shiloh. 1 Samuel 4:13The tidings of this calamity were brought by a Benjaminite, who came as a messenger of evil tidings, with his clothes rent, and earth upon his head - a sign of the deepest mourning (see Joshua 7:6), - to Shiloh, where the aged Eli was sitting upon a seat by the side (יך is a copyist's error for יד) of the way watching; for his heart trembled for the ark of God, which had been taken from the sanctuary into the camp without the command of God. At these tidings the whole city cried out with terror, so that Eli heard the sound of the cry, and asked the reason of this loud noise (or tumult), whilst the messenger was hurrying towards him with the news.
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