1 Samuel 4:4
So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
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(4) So the people sent to Shiloh.—There was, no doubt, in the minds of the elders, the memory of many a glorious victory gained in the old heroic days of Moses and Joshua in the presence of their sacred Ark; but then God was with His people, and the sacred Ark of the Covenant served as a reminder of His ever-presence with them; now they had been disloyal to their unseen King, His very sanctuary had become infamous as the centre of vice, and His ministers were chiefly known as the prominent examples of covetousness and immorality, and the Ark had become only a symbol of the broken covenant.

It was in vain that the grand battle hymn of Israel was raised as in the old days when the Ark set forward: “Rise up, Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee” (Numbers 10:35).

Were there with the ark.—This Note respecting the guardians of the Ark is sufficient to account for the terrible discomfiture of Israel. The conduct and general life and example of their priestly leaders have already been indicated. What a contrast the writer of the Book bitterly puts down in his memoirs here—the glorious but now deserted earthly throne of God, and its guardians, the wicked, abandoned priests!

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.The people sent - The expression is very indicative of the political state so frequently noted by the writer of the Book of Judges, "In those days there was no king in Israel." 3-9. Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us—Strange that they were so blind to the real cause of the disaster and that they did not discern, in the great and general corruption of religion and morals (1Sa 2:22-25; 7:3; Ps 78:58), the reason why the presence and aid of God were not extended to them. Their first measure for restoring the national spirit and energy ought to have been a complete reformation—a universal return to purity of worship and morals. But, instead of cherishing a spirit of deep humiliation and sincere repentance, instead of resolving on the abolition of existing abuses, and the re-establishing of the pure faith, they adopted what appeared an easier and speedier course—they put their trust in ceremonial observances, and doubted not but that the introduction of the ark into the battlefield would ensure their victory. In recommending this extraordinary step, the elders might recollect the confidence it imparted to their ancestors (Nu 10:35; 14:44), as well as what had been done at Jericho. But it is more probable that they were influenced by the heathenish ideas of their idolatrous neighbors, who carried their idol Dagon, or his sacred symbols, to their wars, believing that the power of their divinities was inseparably associated with, or residing in, their images. In short, the shout raised in the Hebrew camp, on the arrival of the ark, indicated very plainly the prevalence among the Israelites at this time of a belief in national deities—whose influence was local, and whose interest was especially exerted in behalf of the people who adored them. The joy of the Israelites was an emotion springing out of the same superstitious sentiments as the corresponding dismay of their enemies; and to afford them a convincing, though painful proof of their error, was the ulterior object of the discipline to which they were now subjected—a discipline by which God, while punishing them for their apostasy by allowing the capture of the ark, had another end in view—that of signally vindicating His supremacy over all the gods of the nations. That they might bring from thence the ark; which it may seem they should not have done without asking counsel of God, which they might easily have done by Samuel.

Hophni and Phinehas were there; either, first, in the camp; or rather, secondly, in Shiloh.

With the ark; attending upon it, instead of their aged father.

So the people sent to Shiloh,.... They liked the proposal of the elders, took their advice, and joined with them in a message to Eli the high priest at Shiloh:

that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubim; which overshadowed the mercy seat that was upon the ark, and was the residence of the divine Majesty; wherefore having this with them, they concluded they should have the presence of God with them, and so success, see Psalm 53:1.

and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God; these, either with or without the leave of Eli, took the ark out of the tabernacle, and carried it on their shoulders to the camp, or however attended it there, being borne by other priests or Levites; and by this means they were brought into the camp, and so to battle, to meet their doom there; according to Bunting (d), it was carried by them forty two miles.

(d) Travels of the Patriarchs, &c. p. 123.

So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, which {b} dwelleth between the cherubims: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

(b) For he used to appear to the Israelites between the cherubim over the ark of the covenant, Ex 25:17.

4. that they might bring] Rather, and brought.

the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims] Or, who sitteth enthroned upon the cherubim. The full title is chosen to describe the Ark (a) as the symbol of the covenant between Jehovah and Israel, in virtue of which they expected his help unconditionally; (b) as the seat of the presence of the Lord of Hosts, which they thought would infallibly accompany it, and ensure victory to the armies of Israel. Cp. note on 1 Samuel 4:21.

the two sons of Eli … were there with the ark] It seems best to follow the Sept. and Vulg. in omitting the word ‘there.’ The narrative requires the statement that Hophni and Phinehas accompanied the Ark, not merely that they were at Shiloh, which we know already.

rang again] Cp. 1 Kings 1:45.

Verse 4. - Which dwelleth between the cherubims. Literally, "which sitteth, i.e. is enthroned, upon the cherubim." The idea is not that of Jehovah's habitation, but of his seat in state as Israel's King. In bringing the ark they brought to the camp the throne of Jehovah, as their theocratic Ruler; but the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark, representing the immorality of the nation, whose very priests were abandoned men. We are not to suppose that there was any fault in the manner of bringing, because it is said that the people sent that they might bring the ark from Shiloh. Levites may have carried it, and priests with the Urim and Thummim have had the charge of every detail. But there was the ill-omened conjuncture of personal immorality with superstitious reverence for mere material symbols, and thereby the presence of the ark only insured, in the moral government of God, Israel's defeat. 1 Samuel 4:4On the return of the people to the camp, the elders held a council of war as to the cause of the defeat they had suffered. "Why hath Jehovah smitten us to-day before the Philistines?" As they had entered upon the war by the word and advice of Samuel, they were convinced that Jehovah had smitten them. The question presupposes at the same time that the Israelites felt strong enough to enter upon the war with their enemies, and that the reason for their defeat could only be that the Lord, their covenant God, had withdrawn His help. This was no doubt a correct conclusion; but the means which they adopted to secure the help of their God in continuing the war were altogether wrong. Instead of feeling remorse and seeking the help of the Lord their God by a sincere repentance and confession of their apostasy from Him, they resolved to fetch the ark of the covenant out of the tabernacle at Shiloh into the camp, with the delusive idea that God had so inseparably bound up His gracious presence in the midst of His people with this holy ark, which He had selected as the throne of His gracious appearance, that He would of necessity come with it into the camp and smite the foe. In 1 Samuel 4:4, the ark is called "the ark of the covenant of Jehovah of hosts, who is enthroned above the cherubim," partly to show the reason why the people had the ark fetched, and partly to indicate the hope which they founded upon the presence of this sacred object. (See the commentary on Exodus 25:20-22). The remark introduced here, "and the two sons of Eli were there with the ark of the covenant of God," is not merely intended to show who the guardians of the ark were, viz., priests who had hitherto disgraced the sanctuary, but also to point forward at the very outset to the result of the measures adopted.
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