1 Samuel 4:2
And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
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.

CHAPTER 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.

When they joined battle, Heb. when the battle was spread, i.e. when the two armies had drawn forth themselves into military order, and put themselves into the usual posture for fighting, and began to fight in their several places. And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel,.... Prepared for battle, and put themselves in a posture for it; formed themselves in a line of battle, and so invited and challenged the Israelites to fight them:

and when they joined battle; engaged with each other, the Israelites doing the same, putting themselves in a proper form and posture for fighting; or "the battle was spread", or "spread itself" (b); that is, as the Targum, they that made war were spread; the soldiers were placed in order for battle, to the right and left, which took up on both sides a large space; though Abarbinel understands this in a very different sense, and takes the word to have the same signification as in Psalm 78:60, where it has the sense of forsaking; and so here the Israelites forsook the battle, and fled, which brought on their destruction, flight being, as the Jews say (c), the beginning of fall or ruin, as it follows:

Israel was smitten before the Philistines; they had the worst of it and were beaten:

and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men; so many fell upon the spot, in the field.

(b) "et diffusum est praelium", Pagninus, Montanus, Drusius. (c) Misn. Sotah, c. 8. sect. 6.

And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2. of the army] Rather, in the battle array, (Lat. in acie). In the first encounter the Israelites, though defeated with severe loss, were not put to flight, but retired to the camp (1 Samuel 4:3).Verse 2. - In the field means "in the open country." By a gradual change of language it now signifies cultivated ground, and even an enclosure, whereas in the A.V. it retains its old meaning of unenclosed and uncultivated land (see 2 Kings 4:39). When Samuel was called by Eli and asked concerning the divine revelation that he had received, he told him all the words, without concealing anything; whereupon Eli bowed in quiet resignation to the purpose of God: "It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth Him good." Samuel's communication, however, simply confirmed to the aged Eli what God had already made known to him through a prophet, But his reply proves that, with all his weakness and criminal indulgence towards his wicked sons, Eli was thoroughly devoted to the Lord in his heart. And Samuel, on the other hand, through his unreserved and candid communication of the terribly solemn word of God with regard to the man, whom he certainly venerated with filial affection, not only as high priest, but also as his own parental guardian, proved himself to be a man possessing the courage and the power to proclaim the word of the Lord without fear to the people of Israel.
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