1 Samuel 4:1-22: What do we do when "the glory of the Lord departs?"
“The glory of the Lord departed.”
And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.
In those days the Philistines mustered for war against Israel, and Israel went out to battle against them; they encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle was joined, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. When the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord put us to rout today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, so that he may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” So the people sent to Shiloh, and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
When the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. When the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid; for they said, “Gods have come into the camp.” They also said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, in order not to become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”
So the Philistines fought; Israel was defeated, and they fled, everyone to his home. There was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line, and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with earth upon his head. When he arrived, Eli was sitting upon his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. When the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out. When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, “What is this uproar?” Then the man came quickly and told Eli. Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set, so that he could not see. The man said to Eli, “I have just come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.” He said, “How did it go, my son?” The messenger replied, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great slaughter among the troops; your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate; and his neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.
Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. When she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth; for her labor pains overwhelmed her. As she was about to die, the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or give heed. She named the child Ichabod, meaning, “The glory has departed from Israel,” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. She said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” (1 SAMUEL 4:1-22 NRSV).
Why would God let the Philistines defeat his people? Why allow Israel to bring the ark to battle? Why let it be captured? All to get Eli’s sons, the keepers of the ark, into the battle so they would be killed. God had already ordained their death through the words of a prophet to Eli (1 Samuel 2:34); now his words come true.
They were not the only ones who died in battle. Four thousand others die in the first battle with the Philistines and 30,000 die the same day as Eli’s sons. Why does God punish all of Israel for the sin of these two? Because the sin of a few can affect the whole nation. Remember the similar story of Achan, whose sin is described this way, “Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions” (Joshua 7:11). Note the plural. Although one man had done this, the whole nation had sinned.
So with Eli’s sons. Their sin had consequences for the nation and for their immediate family. When Eli hears the news of their death and the capture of the ark, he falls off his chair and dies. His daughter-in-law immediately dies in childbirth, but not before naming her son Ichabod, meaning “the glory has departed.” God had removed the ark, the symbol of his presence, from Israel. His glory has departed. All because of the sin of two men.
As with Eli’s sin and the sin of his sons, how does our sin impact the lives of others?
God of justice, remind us of the consequences our actions have on others.
DR. GARY HOLLOWAY
Gary Holloway is Executive Director of the World Convention. Holding degrees from Freed-Hardeman, Harding, The University of Texas, and Emory University, he has written or edited thirty books, including (with Douglas Foster) Renewing God’s World: A Concise Global History of the Stone-Campbell Movement from ACU Press. He is married to Deb Rogers Holloway.