#tbs1sam 1 Samuel 4

Some thoughts on 1 Samuel 4:

The framing of a forthcoming Judge/deliverer in chapter 1 suggests military invasion is imminent. But it seems that Philistines were already present as the dominant force over part of the territory of Israel. It’s likely the Philistines were oppressing Israelites in some parts when Samuel is born, but there is no mention of that. Samuel, being from the hills of Ephraim, and Shiloh being in Ephraim means the events of chapters 1-3 are removed geographically from the advancing Philistine threat, coming from the Mediterranean coast (an immediate threat to Judah and Dan).

A military loss shocks Israel. They’ve lost before though. Get the Ark they say. Note the variations in names for the Ark and who is noted with mention of the Ark:

Verse 3: Ark of YHWH’s Covenant (Israelites)

Verse 4a: Ark of the Covenant of YHWH of Armies (Shiloh)/Hosts 4b: Ark of the Covenant of God (Hophni and Phineas)

5: Ark of YHWH’s Covenant (Israelites)

6 Ark of YHWH (Philistines)

When mentioned alongside Hophni and Phineas, YHWH’s name is absent. When mentioned alongside the Philistines the Covenant is absent. Hophni and Phineas therefore are connected to the Temple, but YHWH is not with them. The Philistines know of YHWH (probably recognize his existence as the national God of Israel, a god among other gods- a god in competition with their patron deity, Dagon) but have no part in the Covenant.

Note that it’s a Benjamite bearing the news to Eli. Given the events of Judges 20 & 21 and the King who comes in chapter 9 being a Benjamite, we can assume a connection. We don’t get this person’s name, just his tribe. Hence his tribe is what matters (notice how we get no tribal identity of the “man of God” in chapter 2).

Why is Eli on a chair beside the road? Odd place for a chair for the High Priest.

Eli’s first concern is his son (singular- he has two sons at the battle, but wants to know about one). The messengers reminds Eli he had two sons, both dead now. And the Ark of God (not YHWH) is captured. Eli falls, breaks his neck (allusions to the falling and head severing of Dagon in chapter 5 and Goliath in 17?) He was an “old man and heavy”. Heavy, of course is from the Hebrew cavad, also meaning “glory”. Eli has lead Israel (not the job of a High Priest). He has grabbed a position of “glory” which was not his. Hence, his grandson, born that same day is named Ichabod, “where is the glory?” indicating “glory” had departed from Israel with the loss of the Ark. Interesting insight from the corrupt priest’s wife.

The Ark never returns to the Tabernacle. The Ark, when recovered by Israel goes to a temporary home in Kiriath Jearim (interestingly a location near the boundaries of Benjamin and Dan). With the Tabernacle at Shiloh in Ephraim, and Samuel (from Ramathaim in Ephraim) emerging as a leader in Israel, this comes as a blow for Ephraim, who appear to be setting themselves up as the pre-eminent tribe in Israel. When Rehoboam’s kingdom splits, Jeroboam not coincidentally makes his religious centre at Bethel, right on the border of Benjamin and Ephraim, and in John we see that the Samaritans worship at Mount Gerazim in Ephraim. Ephraim does not let go easily.

The prophetic word against Eli proclaimed that there would not be long life among Eli’s descendants, and their line would end. Ichabod, as a member of the High Priestly family should factor into the narrative which follows, but instead he virtually disappears. He is noted in passing in chapter 14, only because his nephew was Ahijah is with Jonathan’s contingent going to fight the Philistines.

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