1 Samuel 4:18
And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck broke, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.
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(18) He fell from off the seat backward.—The compiler of these books was actuated by no feeling of friendship to the high priest Eli. In composing this history of the events which led to the elevation of Samuel to the judgeship, he simply puts together the materials he possessed of the records of these days, and gives us a vivid picture of the calamities of the rule of Eli. As he never spares his weakness, or attempts to veil his blind nepotism, we feel here the perfect truth of this touching incident which closed the old man’s life. He loved the Ark, because of its close connection with his God, better, after all, than his two sons. We have seen already that he could bear the stern announcement of the ruin and degradation of the fortune of his proud house, for which he toiled only too faithfully; he could bear to see another—the boy Samuel—preferred before him, the high priest and judge of Israel; he could endure to hear of the defeat and ruin of the country over which he had so long ruled, and which he loved so well; even the news of the death of his sons he could listen to with sad resignation; but when his ears caught the words “the ark of God is taken,” the old man s heart broke, and he died. The chronicler of this period, who certainly never favoured Eli, leaves upon us the impression that with all his faults and imperfections he was still a servant of God. Wordsworth quotes here Psalm 137:5-6 : “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth: if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.”—The dying words of Archbishop Whitgift were, “Pro ecclesils Dei,”—“For the church of God.”

And he had judged Israel forty years.—“When I read of Eli the priest, of the sons of Aaron, judging Israel forty years, and of Samuel, certainly a Levite, though not a priest, going circuit as a judge itinerant in Israel (1Samuel 7:16), and of others of the families of Levi appointed by King David to be judges and officers, not only in all the business of the Lord, but also for the outward business of Israel (2Samuel 15:35; 1Chronicles 26:29-32)—when I observe in the Church stories, ever since the world had Christian princes, how ecclesiastical persons have been employed by their sovereigns in their weightiest consultations and affairs of state, I cannot but wonder at those who inveigh against courts, power, jurisdiction, and the temporalities of bishops and other ecclesiastical persons. I speak it not to justify abuses of men, but to justify the lawfulness of the tiling.”—Bishop Sanderson, quoted by Wordsworth.

1 Samuel 4:18. He fell from his seat backward — Being so oppressed with grief and astonishment that he had no strength left to support him. Though he was much to be blamed for his too great indulgence and lenity toward his sons, yet it was highly commendable in him that he was not so much affected by their death, and the slaughter of the people, as with the loss of the ark of God. By the side of the gate — At the entrance of the city, where his chair was set; the most convenient place for receiving speedy information of all occurrences. For he was an old man, and heavy — Old, and therefore weak, and apt to fall; heavy, and therefore his fall more dangerous. So fell the high-priest and judge of Israel! So fell his heavy head, when he had lived within two of a hundred years! So fell the crown from his head, when he had judged Israel forty years: thus did his sun set under a cloud. Thus was the wickedness of those sons of his, whom he had indulged, his ruin. Thus does God sometimes set marks of his displeasure on good men, that others may hear and fear. Yet we must observe, it was the loss of the ark that was his death, and not the slaughter of his sons. He says, in effect, Let me fall with the ark! Who can live when the ordinances of God are removed? Farewell all in this world, even life itself, if the ark be gone!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.A comparison of 2 Samuel 18:4, explains exactly the meaning of the "side of the gate," and Eli's position. His seat or throne, without a back, stood with the side against the jamb of the gate, leaving the passage through the gate quite clear, but placed so that every one passing through the gate must pass in front of him.

Forty years - This chronological note connects this book with that of Judges. (Compare Judges 3:11, etc.) It is an interesting question, but one very difficult to answer how near to the death of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the High Priest, Eli's forty years of judgeship bring him. It is probable that at least one high priesthood intervened.

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. He fell from off the seat backward; being so oppressed with grief and astonishment, that he had no strength left to support him.

By the side of the gate, to wit, the gate of the city, which was most convenient for the speedy understanding of all occurrences.

He was an old man, and heavy; old, and therefore weak, and apt to fall;

heavy, and therefore his fall more dangerous and pernicious.

He had judged Israel; he was their supreme governor, both in civils and spirituals. And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God,.... Of the taking of that, it struck him to the heart, and killed him; the rest he bore tolerably well, the flight of Israel before the Philistines, the great slaughter made of them, the death of his two sons; but the taking of the ark was so dreadful to him, that he could not support under it:

that he fell from off the seat backward, by the side of the gate; which confirms the sense of 1 Samuel 4:13 though whether it was the gate of his own house, or of the tabernacle, or of the city is not certain; the latter is most probable: it seems the seat on which he sat had no back to it, and might be placed only for present convenience:

and his neck brake; the back part of it, the "vertebrae" of it, which has its name in Hebrew from the several joints in it:

and he died; not through the breaking of his neck, for it is very probable he died directly upon hearing the ark was taken, and which was the reason of his falling backward, and that brake his neck:

for he was an old man, and heavy; full of flesh, a very fat man, and so fell heavy, which occasioned the breaking of his neck:

and he had judged Israel forty years; had governed them in the capacity both of an high priest and judge, so that he must enter on his government when fifty eight years of age; the Septuagint version has it very wrongly twenty years. According to the Jews (i), he died on the tenth of Ijar, answering to part of April and May, and his two sons and the ark taken; for which a fast was kept on it.

(i) Schulchan Aruch, par. 1. c. 580. sect. 2.

And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.
18. the ark of God] National defeat and disgrace, family bereavement, were but trifles compared to the loss of the Ark, which seemed to prove that Jehovah had forsaken the people of his choice. “Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God?”

he had judged Israel forty years] See note on 1 Samuel 4:1.Verse 18. - At this last sad news the old man's spirit failed; and though it was his own want of a firm sense of duty that had prepared the way for this sad ruin of his country, yet we cannot but respect his deep attachment and reverent love for the symbol of his faith. The rest he could have borne; but that the ark of God, especially intrusted to his care, was now captive in heathen hands was a calamity that broke his heart. He had judged Israel forty years. The Septuagint reads twenty, but these differences in numbers occur constantly. In either case he would have been well advanced in years before he reached the judgeship, and probably he attained to it slowly; not by one great act, but by the qualities of a statesman, by which he lightened the yoke of the Philistines, and rendered the people for a long time a match for them in war. His character is not that of a hero, but of a wise, patient, and prudent ruler, but one whose good qualities were spoiled at last by his weak partiality for his unworthy sons. The 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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