Matthew Poole's Commentary
And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Ebenezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek.The Israelites are smitten by the Philistines at Eben-ezer, 1 Samuel 4:1,2. They fetch the ark from Shiloh; receive it with a great shout, to the terror of the Philistines, 1 Samuel 4:3-8; who yet take courage, and a second time beat the Israelites: the ark is taken; the two sons of Eli are slain, 1 Samuel 4:9-11; which Eli hearing, falleth backward from his seat, and breaketh his neck, 1 Samuel 4:12-18. His daughter-in-law falls in labour, nameth her son Ichabod, and dieth, 1 Samuel 4:19-22.
The word of Samuel, i.e. the word of the Lord revealed to Samuel, and by him to the people; either, first, The prophetical word mentioned before, 1 Samuel 3:11, &c., which is here said to come, or to come to pass, as it was foretold, to all Israel. But the subject of that prophecy was not all Israel, but Eli and his house, as is evident. Or rather, secondly, A word of command, that all Israel should go forth to fight with the Philistines, as the following words explain it, that so they might be first humbled and punished for their sins, and so prepared by degrees for their future deliverance.
Against the Philistines; or, to meet the Philistines, who having by this time recruited themselves after their great loss by Samson, Judges 16:30, and perceiving an eminent prophet arising among them, by whom they were likely to be united, counselled, and assisted, thought fit to suppress them in the beginning of their hopes and designs of rescuing themselves from their power. Ebenezer; a place so called here (by anticipation) from a following event, 1 Samuel 7:12. Aphek; a city so called in the tribe of Judah, Joshua 15:53, upon the borders of the Philistines’ country; not that Aphek in Asher, Joshua 19:30 Judges 1:31, which was very remote from them.
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.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 when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us today before the Philistines, seeing our cause is so just, our own just and necessary defence from God’s and our enemies, and we came not forth to battle by our own motion, but by God’s command delivered by Samuel? This was strange blindness, that when there was so great a corruption in their worship and manners, 1Sa 2, and such a defection to idolatry, 1 Samuel 7:3 Psalm 78:58, they could not see sufficient reason why God should suffer them to fall by their enemies.
The ark of the covenant of the Lord; that great pledge of God’s presence and help, by whose conduct our ancestors obtained success, Numbers 10:35 14:44 Joshua 6:4. Instead of the performance of moral duties, humbling themselves deeply for and purging themselves speedily and thoroughly from all their sins, for which God was displeased with them, and now had chastised them, they take an easier and cheaper course, and put their trust in their ceremonial observances, not doubting but the very presence of the ark would give them the victory; and therefore it is no wonder they meet with so sad a disappointment.
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.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.
And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again.Partly from their great joy and confidence of success; and partly in design to encourage themselves, and terrify their enemies.
And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of the LORD was come into the camp.Timely understood, by information from the Israelites, who would readily tell them of it to affright them.
And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore.God is come, to wit, in and with his ark; or they give the name of God to the ark, before which he was worshipped, as they used to do to the images of their false gods. There hath not been such a thing heretofore; not to our knowledge, or not in our times; for the forementioned removals of the ark were before it came to Shiloh.
Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods? these are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness.These mighty Gods; they secretly confess the Lord to be higher and greater than their gods, and yet against their knowledge presume to oppose him. They mention the wilderness, not as if all the plagues of the Egyptians came upon them in the wilderness, but because the last and sorest of all, which is therefore put for all, to wit, the destruction of Pharaoh and all his host, happened in the wilderness, namely, in the Red Sea, which having the wilderness on both sides of it, Exodus 13:18,20 15:3,11 15:22, &c., may well be said to be in the wilderness. Although it is not strange if these heathens did mistake and misreport some circumstance in a relation of the Israelitish affairs, especially some hundreds of years after they were done, such mistakes being frequent in divers heathen authors treating of those matters, as Justin, and Tacitus, and others.
Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight.Quit yourselves like men; since you can expect no relief from your gods, who are not able to resist theirs, it concerns you to put forth all your strength and courage, and once for all to act like brave and valiant men.
And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen.Into his tent, i.e. to his habitation, called by the ancient name of his tent. Before they lost but four thousand, now in the presence of the ark thirty thousand, to teach them that the ark and ordinances of God were never designed for sanctuaries or refuges to impenitent sinners, but only for the comfort and relief of those that repent. Horsemen are not mentioned; either, first, Because they had few or none, God having forbidden the multiplication of their horses, Deu 17:16, and the Philistines, their lords and oppressors, having taken away what they had. Or, secondly, Because they fled away, as is usual in such cases, whilst the footmen were more easily overtaken.
And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.The ark of God was taken; which God justly and wisely permitted; partly, to punish the Israelites for their profanation of it; partly, that by taking away the pretences of their foolish and impious confidence, he might more deeply humble them, and bring them to true repentance; partly, that the Philistines might by this means be more effectually convinced of God’s almighty power, and of their own and their gods’ impotency, and so a stop might be put to their triumphs and insultations, and to their rage against the poor Israelites, whom otherwise in human appearance they might easily have rooted out. Thus as God was no loser by this event, so the Philistines were no gainers by it; and Israel, all things considered, received more good than hurt by it, as we shall see.
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 upon his head.The usual rites in great sorrows. See Genesis 37:29 Joshua 7:6, &c.; 2 Samuel 1:2,11.
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.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 Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, What meaneth the noise of this tumult? And the man came in hastily, and told Eli.No text from Poole on this verse.
Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim, that he could not see.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the man said unto Eli, I am he that came out of the army, and I fled to day out of the army. And he said, What is there done, my son?I am he that came out of the army; I speak not what I have by uncertain rumours, but what mine eyes were witnesses of.
And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.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 his daughter in law, Phinehas' wife, was with child, near to be delivered: and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father in law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her.To wit, before her time, which is oft the effect of great terrors, both in women and in other creatures, Psalm 29:9.
And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast born a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it.Being overwhelmed with sorrow, and so uncapable of comfort.
And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband.The glory, i.e. the glorious type and assurance of God’s presence, the ark, which is oft called God’s glory, as Psalm 26:8 78:61 Isaiah 64:11, and which was the great safeguard and ornament of Israel, which they could glory in above all other nations.
And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.This is repeated to show her piety, and that the public and spiritual loss lay heavier upon her spirit than her personal or domestic calamity.