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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 3

 

 

Introduction

SECTION 1. The Birth, Rise, Prophetic Ministry And Judgeship of Samuel (1-12).

This first section of the book covers the life of Samuel from his birth to the setting up of Saul as king in response to the people’s request. The first three chapters deal with the birth and spiritual growth of Samuel. This is then followed in chapter 4 by the Philistine invasion in which the Ark of YHWH of hosts is lost to Israel, something which takes place while Samuel is still a youth. That loss indicates YHWH’s demonstration of the fact that He no longer sees Himself as king over an Israel that has forsaken Him. However, He then goes on to demonstrate His authority over the gods of the Philistines by bringing disaster on them, so that His Ark is restored to Israel by the Philistines, who also pay Him generous tribute. The Ark is then placed with due honour (after a previous unfortunate incident) in the house of Abinadab where it will remain for many years. It is a recognised symbol that YHWH is still present as King over His people, and will therefore, once they turn back to Him, act on their behalf through His appointed deliverers.

This will firstly be through Samuel in this section, then through Saul before he is finally rejected, in the next section, and then through the young David in the final section, until he is outlawed and then exiled as a result of Saul’s activities. As a result of his exile there will be a lull, and the Philistines triumph. But in the second part of the book David will become the Spirit inspired king, the Philistines will be defeated, and then the Ark will be restored for public worship, having been ‘purified’ by its period spent in the house of Abinadab. The Kingship of YHWH has triumphed.

A). The Birth, Call and Establishment of Samuel the Prophet (1:1-4:1).

This opening subsection of the book commences with a description of the events that led up to the birth of Samuel. That is then followed by a description of the spiritual growth of Samuel which is interwoven with a description of the sinfulness of the sons of Eli, the High Priest of Israel, and leads up to a prophetic denunciation of the priesthood of the house of Ithamar. After that we have a description of how Samuel is called to be a prophet and a summary of what follows, ending with the fact that Samuel takes the word of YHWH to all Israel.

a The birth of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1-28).

b The prophecy of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10).

c Samuel ministers to YHWH (1 Samuel 2:11).

d The failure of Eli’s sons (1 Samuel 2:12-17).

e The blessing of God on Samuel and on the house of Elkanah (1 Samuel 2:18-21).

d The failure of Eli’s sons (1 Samuel 2:22-25).

c Samuel grows in favour with YHWH and men (1 Samuel 2:26).

b The prophecy of the man of God (1 Samuel 2:27-36).

a The call and establishment of Samuel as a prophet (1 Samuel 3:1 to 1 Samuel 4:1).

Note that in ‘a’ we have described the miraculous birth of Samuel, and in the parallel his establishment as a Prophet of YHWH. In ‘b’ we have the prophecy of Hannah, and in the parallel the prophecy of a man of God, both including reference to YHWH’s ‘anointed one’.

Chapter 3.

God now informs Samuel himself of what He will do to the house of Eli. As a result from this time on Samuel is himself to be seen, even at a young age, as a ‘man of God’ who can be entrusted with YHWH’s message (1 Samuel 3:2-18). And in this chapter we then see a ‘flash forward’ of his sprouting forth as a prophet of YHWH, ‘And Samuel grew and YHWH was with him, and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of YHWH. And YHWH appeared again in Shiloh, for YHWH revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of YHWH. And the word of Samuel came to all Israel’ (1 Samuel 3:19 to 1 Samuel 4:1 a).


Verse 1

The Continued Faithfulness Of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1 a).

Meanwhile, while all this is going on, Samuel continues on in his faithful service of YHWH without wavering. Samuel stands out like a shining light against the dark background of Eli’s priestly family and their behaviour (and is a credit to Eli).

1 Samuel 3:1 a

‘And the child Samuel ministered to YHWH before Eli.’

There was no blip in Samuel’s service. He continued faithfully to serve YHWH. And he did it under Eli’s jurisdiction and guidance. So God had not overlooked what was good in Eli, and He had entrusted to his care the one in whom His coming purposes would be fulfilled. It was not so much Eli himself who was rejected, but his family line.

Chapter 3.

God now informs Samuel himself of what He will do to the house of Eli. As a result from this time on Samuel is himself to be seen, even at a young age, as a ‘man of God’ who can be entrusted with YHWH’s message (1 Samuel 3:2-18). And in this chapter we then see a ‘flash forward’ of his sprouting forth as a prophet of YHWH, ‘And Samuel grew and YHWH was with him, and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of YHWH. And YHWH appeared again in Shiloh, for YHWH revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of YHWH. And the word of Samuel came to all Israel’ (1 Samuel 3:19 to 1 Samuel 4:1 a).

Samuel’s Vision And Its Consequences (1 Samuel 3:1 to 1 Samuel 4:1 a)

In this passage we are shown the huge transformation that takes place as a result of Samuel’s presence at Shiloh. It commences with a situation where there is no frequent vision, and ends with Samuel revealing YHWH’s word to all Israel. It must indeed have seemed at the time as though Samuel was the faithful Priest whom YHWH would raise up (2:35). He certainly fulfilled most of the requirements as the adopted son of Eli. But it is noteworthy that Samuel never himself made any claim to be High Priest, nor ever sought to act as such. He acted as a priest, a judge and a prophet, but never as the High Priest of the Tabernacle. That position was reserved for others who were trueborn sons of Aaron. YHWH would be faithful to His promise to Aaron.

We may analyse the chapter as follows:

a And the word of YHWH was precious in those days. There was no frequent vision (1 Samuel 3:1 b).

b And it came about on that day, when Eli was laid down in his place (now his eyes had begun to wax dim, so that he could not see), and the lamp of God was not yet gone out, and Samuel was laid down to sleep, in the temple of YHWH, where the ark of God was, that YHWH called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am”. And he ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” And he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” And he went and lay down. And YHWH called yet again, “Samuel.” And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” And he answered, “I did not call, my son; lie down again” (1 Samuel 3:2-6).

c Now Samuel did not yet know YHWH, nor was the word of YHWH yet revealed to him’ (1 Samuel 3:7).

d And YHWH called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” And Eli perceived that YHWH had called the child. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call you, that you will say, “Speak, YHWH for your servant is listening.” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And YHWH came, and stood, and called as at other times, “Samuel, Samuel.” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:8-10).

e And YHWH said to Samuel, “Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one who hears it will tingle” (1 Samuel 3:11 a).

f In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from the beginning even to the end” (1 Samuel 3:11-12).

g “For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever, for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves, and he did not restrain them” (1 Samuel 3:13).

f “And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated with sacrifice nor offering for ever” (1 Samuel 3:14).

e And Samuel lay until the morning, and opened the doors of the house of YHWH. And Samuel was afraid to show Eli the vision (1 Samuel 3:15).

d Then Eli called Samuel, and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” And he said, “What is the thing that YHWH has said to you? I pray you, do not hide it from me: God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the things that he said to you”. And Samuel told him every detail, and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is YHWH. Let him do what seems good to him” (1 Samuel 3:16-18).

c And Samuel grew, and YHWH was with him, and let none of his words fall to the ground (1 Samuel 3:19).

b And all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of YHWH (1 Samuel 3:20).

a And YHWH appeared again in Shiloh; for YHWH revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh in the word of YHWH. And the word of Samuel came to all Israel (1 Samuel 3:21 to 1 Samuel 4:1 a).

Note that in ‘a’ the word of YHWH was rare and precious and there was no vision published abroad, and in contrast in the parallel the word of YHWH came to Samuel, and through him to all Israel. In ‘b’ YHWH calls to Samuel twice, and in the parallel he was established as a prophet of YHWH. In ‘c’ Samuel had not yet had the word of YHWH revealed to him, and in contrast in the parallel Samuel grew and YHWH was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. In ‘d’ Eli perceived that YHWH had called Samuel and told him to listen to what YHWH had to say, and in the parallel. Samuel tells Eli every detail of what YHWH had said. In ‘e’ YHWH tells Samuel that what He has to tell him will make every ear tingle, and in the parallel Samuel is afraid to give the details to Eli. In ‘f’ YHWH says He will perform against Eli all that He has spoken concerning his house from beginning to end, and in the parallel the iniquity of Eli’s house would not be expiated for ever. Centrally in ‘g’ is given the reason for the curse on the house of Eli.

The Situation (1 Samuel 3:1 b).

1 Samuel 3:1 b

‘And the word of YHWH was precious in those days. There was no vision published abroad.’

Preparatory to what is to happen to Samuel the writer describes the parlous situation in which Israel finds itself. The word of YHWH was precious because it was so rare. There was ‘no vision published abroad’; compare 4:1a. God had almost stopped speaking to His people. During the long judgeship of Eli, and especially towards its latter end, the voice of YHWH had been virtually silent. And even before that (if it was before it) it had been silent since the birth of Samson. The behaviour of those who should have been the means of speaking to His people had made it impossible. Indeed in the whole of the time of the Judges we have only two references to a prophet (Judges 4:4; Judges 6:8). It was true that God still delivered His people, but they received no ‘word from YHWH’.


Verses 2-6

YHWH Approaches Samuel (1 Samuel 3:2-6) .

1 Samuel 3:2-4

And it came about on that day, when Eli was laid down in his place (now his eyes had begun to wax dim, so that he could not see), and the lamp of God was not yet gone out, and Samuel was laid down to sleep, in the temple of YHWH, where the ark of God was, that YHWH called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am.” ’

It cannot be accidental that the writer provides us with this detail. Outwardly the scene was commonplace. Old and almost blind Eli had lain down in his quarters in the sacred area surrounding the Tabernacle, probably in one of the Tabernacle buildings which surrounded it. Eli’s condition explains why Samuel thought that it was Eli who was calling for assistance. The sevenfold lampstand still had its light burning through the night as it always had at nights. This demonstrates that dawn had not yet arrived for it was still lit. And Samuel also, having finished his duties for the day had also lain down to sleep ‘in the temple of YHWH where the Ark of God was’. This does not necessarily mean that he slept inside the Sanctuary, although it is possible. It probably means that he slept in the wider Temple area which included the store rooms and the sleeping quarters for those dedicated to YHWH. The point of its being ‘where the Ark of God was’ lay in the fact that it was the Ark which represented the presence of YHWH, and it was YHWH Who was about to speak to him. This last is especially significant in that the Ark would not be there all that much longer. It would shortly be captured by the Philistines and defiled, with the result that, although it was soon returned, it would for a considerable period be unavailable for worship (all through the judgeship of Samuel and the kingship of Saul). But at this stage the Ark was still with His people, and, unknown to Israel, the One Whom it represented was about to call the one who would later act in its place as YHWH’s representative, and would restore Israel.

But we may, also see behind the details described the state of Israel. Their leadership was almost blind, and while their light was not yet out, it was on the point of ‘going out’. The situation was spiritually grim. And it was only saved by YHWH speaking from the Ark of God for the last time for many years.

And so from His throne on the Ark, from the place of propitiation, the mercy seat, YHWH called to Samuel by name. Samuel was used to a voice calling in the night for the ailing Eli no doubt often had to seek his help. So when he heard the voice he thought that it could only be Eli. He was not yet at this stage used to hearing the voice of YHWH.

1 Samuel 3:5

And he ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” And he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” And he went and lay down.’

On hearing the voice Samuel ran to where Eli was lying and said, ‘Here I am for you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call my son. Go back to bed.” And Samuel returned to his bed. Notice Eli’s description of Samuel as ‘his son’. We may certainly see that he has adopted Samuel so that he could legitimately be a priest.

1 Samuel 3:6

And YHWH called yet again, “Samuel.” And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” And he answered, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”

Then YHWH again called his name, and again Samuel went to Eli saying, ‘Here I am for you called me.” And again he replied, “I did not call my son, go back to bed.”


Verse 7

Samuel Was Not As Yet Used To Hearing The Word Of YHWH (1 Samuel 3:7)

1 Samuel 3:7

Now Samuel did not yet know YHWH, nor was the word of YHWH yet revealed to him.’

We are now given the reason for Samuel’s confusion. Up to this point he did not ‘know YHWH’ In other words he had never had personal and specific communication with Him and from Him. This was indeed the day on which he would become ‘a man of God, a prophet’. For from now on he would continue to hear the voice of YHWH. The long years of darkness for Israel were over. Spiritually the light would not go out. Rather it would go on shining ever more brightly as the years went by.


Verses 8-10

YHWH Calls To Samuel Again And The Aged Eli Is Enlightened And Recognises The T1sa (1 Samuel 3:8-10).

1 Samuel 3:8

And YHWH called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” And Eli perceived that YHWH had called the youth.’

Once more YHWH called Samuel’s name, and again he ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am for you called me’. But this time Eli recognised that something unusual was happening. He recognised that it was YHWH who was calling the young man (the word for young man signifies not yet a full adult).

1 Samuel 3:9

Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call you, that you will say, “Speak, YHWH for your servant is listening.” So Samuel went and lay down in his place’

So Eli told Samuel that if he heard the voice again he must say, “Speak YHWH, for your servant is listening.’ And with that Samuel returned to bed.

1 Samuel 3:10

And YHWH came, and stood, and called as at other times, “Samuel, Samuel.” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” ’

Then YHWH ‘came, and stood, and called’ his name again. Note the threefold activity indicating its completeness. The previous threefold call was probably intended to be seen as indicating the completeness of his calling. It indicated a kind of inauguration. Now YHWH came in a complete revelation of Himself. Note in fact that the writer only has Samuel’s name mentioned on three of the occasions (indicating a complete call). Now YHWH speaks Samuel’s name twice. This time He expects a reply. And Samuel replies, ‘speak YHWH for your servant is listening.’ From now on Samuel is a ‘a servant of God’, a ‘man of God’, a ‘prophet of YHWH’.


Verses 11-14

YHWH’s Word To Samuel Concerning The House Of Eli (1 Samuel 3:11-14).

It is probable that Samuel had no notion of what the man of God had said to Eli. It was not the kind of thing that Eli would have shared with a boy. Thus what YHWH said to him must have come as a complete surprise.

1 Samuel 3:11

And YHWH said to Samuel, “Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one who hears it will tingle.”

YHWH informs Samuel of the seriousness of what He is about to tell him. For He is about to do something that will stir the whole of Israel and make their ears tingle because of the seriousness of it. The news of the exclusion from the High Priesthood of the ‘reigning’ line would come as a huge shock to Samuel. It was almost unthinkable. High Priests were for ever. And it also portended terrible events to bring it about, something truly earthshaking.

“At which both the ears of every one who hears it will tingle.” This phrase always portends judgment. Compare the use of it in 2 Kings 21:12; Jeremiah 19:3. Indeed Jeremiah would later liken the destruction of the Jerusalem to the destruction of Shiloh (Jeremiah 7:12-14; Jeremiah 26:6).

1 Samuel 3:12-13

“In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from the beginning even to the end. For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever, for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves, and he did not restrain them.”

Notice the regular prophetic phrase ‘in that day”, which always signals something God will assuredly do in the future, usually in the form of judgment (but be it noted not necessarily always in the end days). And ‘in that day’ YHWH tells him, He will perform against Eli all that He had spoken concerning his house from beginning to end. Then He explains to him that He has informed Eli that His permanent judgment has been passed on Eli’s house for ever because of the iniquity that he knew about and did nothing to prevent. That is, the iniquity of his two sons and their sacrilegious behaviour.

Samuel was, of course, well aware of the behaviour of Eli’s sons, and had probably anticipated that at some time YHWH would act on the matter. But he had probably not dreamed that it would affect his beloved Eli. He was as yet too young to recognise that to fail to put restraint on open sin when it was within a person’s authority, was to be guilty of participation in that sin.

1 Samuel 3:14

And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated with sacrifice nor offering for ever.”

And therefore, YHWH explains, He has sworn to the house of Eli that no sacrifice or offering would be able to expiate their sin for ever. Thus Samuel learns, possibly for the first time, that sacrifices and offerings do not inevitably expiate sin. Obedience also is necessary.

The news must have come to him in a way that chilled his bones. He was learning from the commencement that being a prophet of YHWH was never going to be an easy thing. For he was learning that as a prophet he would be called on to bear the ‘burden’ of others, and to communicate unpleasant news.


Verses 15-18

The Next Morning (1 Samuel 3:15-18).

1 Samuel 3:15

And Samuel lay until the morning, and opened the doors of the house of YHWH. And Samuel was afraid to show Eli the vision.’

Notice that it does not say ‘slept’. It is doubtful whether he could sleep. As he lay on his mattress his thoughts must have been turning over and over. How could he possibly tell his beloved mentor what God had told him? And when he rose in the morning wondering what on earth the day would bring, he said nothing to Eli but went to the doors of the outer court, and opened them ready for the new day. He did not dare to say anything to Eli.

1 Samuel 3:16

Then Eli called Samuel, and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” ’

Eli may only have had dim sight, but he could hardly have failed to notice how quiet Samuel was, and calling to Samuel he said, ‘Samuel, my son’. And in what must have been a very strained voice, Samuel replied, ‘Here I am.’

1 Samuel 3:17

And he said, “What is the thing that YHWH has said to you? I pray you, do not hide it from me: God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the things that he said to you.”

Eli must have know perfectly well that Samuel had received some important message. He probably even suspected that it concerned himself. And so he quietly asked him for full details of what YHWH had said to him. He asked him what had been said, and to hide nothing, and put him under a mild oath not to do so on pain of God’s displeasure. Note the threefold injunction, a sign that it was necessary for Samuel to answer. The use of ‘God’ rather than YHWH (which is continually in use in this passage) demonstrates that this was a common oath, regularly used and therefore fixed in its phraseology (compare 1 Samuel 1:17. But there 1sa used YHWH).

1 Samuel 3:18

And Samuel told him every detail, and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is YHWH. Let him do what seems good to him.” ’

And obediently Samuel explained to him everything that he had been told. He must have been very relieved when the godly Eli took it calmly. But Eli’s faith was sufficient to acknowledge that it was YHWH Who had spoken and that YHWH knew what He was doing. Let Him therefore do what seemed good to Him.

Eli was a godly man. The problem was that he had just been too weak to deal properly with his headstrong sons. He is a warning to us all not to be too reticent in dealing with sin. Where we have responsibility we must take the blame if we do not fulfil our responsibility.


Verse 19-20

Samuel Develops As A Prophet (1 Samuel 3:19-20)

The phrase ‘YHWH was with him’ regularly indicates His acting through the one in mind. Note its use of Abraham (Genesis 21:22; Jacob (Genesis 28:15; Joseph (Genesis 29:2; Moses (Exodus 3:12); Joshua (Joshua 1:5); Gideon (Judges 6:16); David (1 Samuel 16:18; 1 Samuel 18:14). Samuel was following in a line of powerful men of God.

1 Samuel 3:19

And Samuel grew, and YHWH was with him, and let none of his words fall to the ground.’

As Samuel grew up YHWH was with Him. (See above). He now ‘knew YHWH’ and received His word (compare 1 Samuel 3:7). And as he passed them on to the people YHWH let none of his words be wasted, and fulfilled all that was promised. Everything that he spoke came about (compare 1 Samuel 9:6), and came to the people as the oracle of YHWH. His words were certainly going to be needed. They were entering one of the darker periods of Israel’s history in the face of continued Philistine oppression which threatened to engulf them.

This description takes us beyond 4:1b-7:2, which was happening while Samuel was ‘growing’. It is a ‘flash forward’. There is no reason to think that Samuel was involved in the disastrous (though understandable) decision to take the Ark into battle. That was the decision of the priests.

1 Samuel 3:20

And all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of YHWH.’

And the result was that all Israel ‘from Dan to Beersheba’ knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of YHWH. The news spread everywhere among the tribes. At last YHWH was speaking again. He had raised up a prophet like to Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15).

The description ‘from Dan to Beersheba’ was a standard expression encompassing all the tribes of Israel, Dan being the northernmost point and Beersheba the southernmost. Compare Judges 20:1; 2 Samuel 3:10; 2 Samuel 17:11; 2 Samuel 24:2; 2 Samuel 24:15; 1 Kings 4:25, and regularly in the book of Samuel. This did not refer to the area of Samuel’s judgeship. It referred to his status as a prophet.

“Was established.” That is, all recognised that his position was ‘made sure’ by YHWH. Happy the man on whom God sets His seal (which He does in a more general way on all who are His - Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30; but in a special way on those whom He chooses).


Verse 21

YHWH Again Appears In Shiloh (1 Samuel 3:21 to 1 Samuel 4:1 a).

This is a flash forward to the situation which lay beyond chapter 4:1-7:1. During the ‘rule’ of Hophni and Phinehas Samuel was very much in the background faithfully performing his duties in the Tabernacle.

1 Samuel 3:21

And YHWH appeared again in Shiloh; for YHWH revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh in the word of YHWH.’

As a result of Samuel’s prophesying Shiloh would one day regain its status as the place where YHWH revealed Himself. For YHWH revealed Himself to Samuel by giving him ‘the word of YHWH’. Thus the authentic voice of YHWH was again being heard. It portended a new beginning for Israel in its development as a nation. Indeed had it not been for Samuel the defeat by the Philistines might have crushed Israel once for all. This fact that Shiloh would continue to be influential in the future suggests that its final destruction (if it occurred) was not directly connected with what happened to the Ark. It possibly occurred on a later foray by the Philistines whose pressure on Israel no doubt continued due to Israel’s weakness. The only thing in fact that saved them from being totally overrun was that they were able to retreat back into the mountains. But a good part of lowland Israel was under Philistine control (see 1 Samuel 13:19-23), and would remain so until Samuel reached manhood.

1 Samuel 4:1 a

‘And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.’

Having received the word of YHWH Samuel would pass it on to the people. The word of Samuel was heard wherever Israelites were found.

Chapter 4.

There can be little doubt that in this chapter we are being brought back to a period before Samuel’s full influence began to be felt. Eli was now even more infirm, and his sons were no doubt in full command. Samuel as a youth was still serving faithfully in the Tabernacle. Israel was now once again experiencing powerful pressure from the Philistine overlords who were wanting to carve out an empire for themselves. The Philistines had seemingly got over their losses brought about by Samson’s martyrdom. And Israel had no one to look to but two decadent priests.

(e-Sword Note: For more information on Chapter 4, see the Chapter Comments.)

The Battle of Aphek (1 Samuel 4:1-10).

This battle may have resulted from Israel’s attempt to avenge the death of Samson, in the hope that the loss of many leaders at the catastrophe at Dagon’s Temple may have weakened the Philistines. Or it may have resulted from a Philistine recovery from that catastrophe and a determination to reassert their power. Either way it was probably somewhere in the middle of the forty year period of the Philistine dominance mentioned in Judges 13:1.

Analysis.

a Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and encamped beside Eben-ezer: and the Philistines encamped in Aphek. 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 (1 Samuel 4:1-2).

b And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, “What is the reason that YHWH has smitten us today before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of YHWH to us out of Shiloh, that it may come among us, and save us out of the hand of our enemies” (1 Samuel 4:3).

c So the people sent to Shiloh, and they brought from there the ark of the covenant of YHWH of hosts, who sits above the cherubim, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God (1 Samuel 4:4).

d And when the ark of the covenant of YHWH came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout (4:5a).

e And the earth rang again (1 Samuel 4:5 b).

d And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, “What does the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And they understood that the ark of YHWH was come into the camp (1 Samuel 4:6).

c And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God is come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! for there has not been such a thing prior to this” (1 Samuel 4:7).

b “Woe to us! Who will deliver us out of the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with all manner of plagues in the wilderness. Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O you Philistines, that you be not servants to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Quit yourselves like men, and fight” (1 Samuel 4:8-9).

a And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man to his tent. And there was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen (1 Samuel 4:10).

Note that in ‘a’ the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel and smite them, and in the parallel a similar things happens. In ‘b’ the Israelites decide to bring the fearsome Ark of the covenant from Shiloh into battle, and in the parallel the Philistines recognise its potential and decide how they will cope with it. In ‘c’ the Ark of the covenant arrives, being brought from Shiloh accompanied by the two priests who will bear it into battle and in the parallel the Philistines panic saying that nothing like it has ever happened before. Centrally in ‘d’ the Ark arrives in the camp and is acclaimed by the shouts of Israel, and in the parallel the Philistines ask what the shout is about, and are informed that the Ark has arrived in the camp of Israel. Centrally in ‘e’ the earth rings again.

1 Samuel 4:1 b

‘Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and encamped beside Eben-ezer: and the Philistines encamped in Aphek.’

The impression given is that the initiative was taken by the Israelites, and if this is so it would suggest that it was because they felt that Samson’s final effort had weakened the Philistines and because they wanted to avenge him. If that be the case the Philistines had therefore gathered in Aphek in order to defend ‘their’ territory. The name Aphek means ‘stronghold’. It was a favourite Philistine name for their strongholds.

The place where the Israelites gathered was possibly not actually called Eben-ezer (‘the stone of help’) at this time (although there may have been a number of places called Eben-ezer). It was given the name later when the Philistines were defeated there (1 Samuel 7:12). But it was used here in order to identify the site to the readers. There is some irony in it in that there was no help for them there at this stage.

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.’

Unlike the Israelites, the Philistines were trained warriors, and when battle was joined Israel were smitten before the Philistines, losing in the field about four military units of men (four eleph - the word for ‘thousand’ also means a military unit). However, they were not put totally to flight, and therefore re-gathered in their camp, deflated but not defeated, with a view to further battle.

1 Samuel 4:3

And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, “What is the reason that YHWH has smitten us today before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of YHWH to us out of Shiloh, that it may come among us, and save us out of the hand of our enemies.” ’

Unable to understand why they should have been beaten when it was clear that YHWH had weakened the Philistines through what Samson had achieved, the elders of Israel, once the defeated Israelites had arrived back in the camp, asked themselves why it should be so. (Notice the description as ‘people’, They were not trained soldiers). Their spiritual condition comes out in that what they decided was not that they needed to examine their hearts before God, but was that it must be because they had not taken the Ark with them into battle. It was the Ark which had gone before Israel when they had travelled through the wilderness, and when it had been borne before them they had declared, ‘Rise up YHWH and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate them flee before them’ (Numbers 10:35-36). That was precisely what they wanted now. Perhaps therefore, they thought, that was why YHWH was offended, because He had simply been ignored. In a similar situation in the time of Joshua, Joshua had sought YHWH (something which the elders seemingly failed to do) and had discovered that the reason for failure had been sin in Israel, and after dealing with that sin and proper repentance he had gone forward to victory. But Israel was in such a parlous state at this time that all they could think of was some religious method of twisting YHWH’s arm. They did not consider the possibility of their own sin. This was the kind of thinking that had resulted from the ministry of Eli’s sons.

Taking the Ark into battle may seem somewhat strange to us, but we do know that at a later time some Arab tribes did have an ancient sacred chest which they regularly took with them into battle. Thus it may be that at this time something like this was seen as common practise among tribal peoples, with the result that it made Israel think in terms of the Ark which had been so effective in bygone days. They did not stop to consider that in those days their bearing of the Ark had been under the command of God, their King, and in a condition of great faith as a result of the activity of their leaders, Moses and Aaron. So it was a sign of their spiritual condition that they looked to what was in effect a religious gimmick, rather than to the need for repentance before God. They thought that God could be manipulated into helping them.

This is not to doubt their great sense of feeling about the Ark. It was to them a most sacred object. They probably really believed that with the Ark among them they could not lose. Surely God would never allow the Ark to be taken? But in that hope lay their folly, for the truth is that God is not moved by sacred objects or rites, unless they are accompanied by true repentance and rightness of heart. And what was more, by bringing the Ark into the camp they would also be bringing among them their own ‘Achans’ (Joshua 7), for it would be borne by the two sons of Eli. And we know what YHWH thought of the two sons of Eli.

1 Samuel 4:4

So the people sent to Shiloh, and they brought from there the ark of the covenant of YHWH of hosts, who sits above the cherubim, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.’

The result was that they sent to Shiloh and brought from there the Ark of the covenant borne by the two sons of Eli. This bearing by the priests was not unusual as at times of crisis the Ark was always borne by the priests. We can compare the situation when the Ark led the way into Canaan and was also borne by the priests (Joshua 3:3; Joshua 3:8). Note the emphasis on the details of the Ark. It was seen as the throne of ‘YHWH of hosts’ and the chest holding His covenant as He sat above the cherubim. It was therefore a most serious covenant object. Surely it would mean that now ‘YHWH of the armies of Israel’ (compare Exodus 7:4; Psalms 44:4-5), their covenant God, would lead them into battle.

“The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the Ark of the covenant of GOD.” The use of the alternative ‘Ark of the covenant of GOD’ (instead of ‘of YHWH of hosts’) may have arisen in order not to overload the use of ‘the Ark of the covenant of YHWH of hosts’ in the one sentence. But it may equally have arisen because of the connection in the circumstances with the two blasphemous priests who had despised the covenant. In relation to them therefore YHWH was merely ‘God’. They were cut off from the covenant. It is noteworthy that in every case in the passage where GOD (elohim) is used in relation to the Ark there is a connection with someone of the house of Eli.

1 Samuel 4:5

And when the ark of the covenant of YHWH came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, and the earth rang again.’

At the arrival in the camp of the sacred Ark, the throne of the mighty YHWH, a great shout went up as if they were hailing a King. And indeed they were hailing a King. Now they would surely be victorious, for was this not the throne of YHWH of hosts, the great deliverer from Egypt? Had Samuel been consulted, of course, he might well have reminded them that without obedience to YHWH this would make no difference (compare 1 Samuel 15:22-23, and see the salutary words in 1 Samuel 3:14), but he was still too young for anyone to consider consulting him.

“And the earth rang again.” Even the earth rejoiced at the coming of the throne of YHWH into the camp (compare 1 Kings 1:45 where the city ‘rings again’ at the coming of the king).

1 Samuel 4:6

And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, “What does the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And they understood that the ark of YHWH was come into the camp.’

Meanwhile the Philistines had heard the shouts in the Israelite camp and were asking what it meant. Their spies quickly informed them that it was because the Ark of the great YHWH had arrived in the Israelite camp.

“The camp of the Hebrews.” This description of the Israelites as ‘Hebrews’ was typical of foreigners. When Israelites are called ‘Hebrews’ it is almost always on the lips of, or in connection with, foreigners. This may well have been because foreigners linked them with ‘the Habiru’, a name originally connected with landless peoples and often used loosely of those who were seen as roving tribesmen.

1 Samuel 4:7

And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God is come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! for there has not been such a thing prior to this.’

The news of the arrival of the Ark shook the Philistines to the core. They were not used to having to fight directly against gods. They had never before experienced being actually faced by a god in battle, especially one like YHWH of hosts. They saw it as a catastrophe.

1 Samuel 4:8-9

Woe to us! Who will deliver us out of the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with every kind of slaughtering in the wilderness. Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O you Philistines, that you be not servants to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Quit yourselves like men, and fight.’

Here we are given full details of their fears. They were aware of the history of Israel (see Exodus 15:14-15), and had a garbled view of what their deities (they would assume that Israel had a number of gods like they had) had done in the past against the Egyptians (having heard about their destruction at the Red Sea) and they wondered who could deliver them from such gods. But rather than making them desire to withdraw it made them grit their teeth all the harder and determine to face up to what was coming. Anything was better than becoming subject to the Israelites who had been subjected to them for so long. Note their threefold determination, ‘be strong, quit yourselves like men, and fight’, and their dual repetition of ‘quit yourselves like men’. The threefold completeness, along with the double encouragement, gave them the courage to face up to what was coming.

1 Samuel 4:10

And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man to his tent. And there was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty units of footmen.’

So the Philistines went determinedly into battle and fought all the harder because of the strength of the opposition, and the result was that Israel were smitten before them and fled to their homes, deserting the Ark, and at the same time losing thirty units of footmen in ‘a great slaughter’. The whole thing was a total disaster.

“They fled every man to his tent.” This could mean that they fled to their camp, but the saying is probably reminiscent of life in the wilderness so that they are calling their homes their ‘tents’. They were so utterly defeated that there was no question of regrouping, and so they fled for the comparative safety of their homes. They hoped that the Philistines would not pursue them there. They would probably be satisfied with requiring tribute from the elders.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-samuel-3.html. 2013.

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