1 Samuel 4-7
(Raiders of the Sacred Ark)
March 22nd

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

“And so, my son,” said Eli, “what happened?”

The messenger answered, “Israel scattered before the Philistines. The defeat was catastrophic, with enormous losses. Your sons Hophni and Phinehas died, and the Chest of God was taken.”

- 1 Samuel 4:16-17 (MSG)

Summary of Chapters

These chapters tell a story of conflict between the Philistines and Israel over land and also reveal the conflict between God and the Israelite people regarding proper worship and the role of the Ark of the Covenant.

The Philistines were a group of people who occupied land near the Mediterranean Sea and were a thorn in the side of Israel. Therefore, Israel decided to go to battle with them, but had not consulted God as they had done for other battles. They lost the first round of skirmishes, so they decided to bring their secret weapon. They brought the Ark of the Covenant because that had always worked in the past. Eli’s sons retrieved it from the tabernacle and brought it to the camp of the soldiers. But this time it was not effective, consequently the Israelites lost the battle, and the Ark. Both of Eli’s sons perished in the battle, fulfilling the prophecy of the “man of God” from chapter 2. When he heard all of this news, Eli also died.

The Philistines thought they had acquired a new god to add to their collection, but the real God brought disease and death upon the Philistines in every city where they brought the Ark, as noted in chapter 5. Therefore, as described in chapter 6, they sent it back to Israel on an unmanned cart pulled by two cows. The villagers who received it began to rejoice and celebrate, but they did not properly respect the Ark. God had decreed that only the High Priest should open it, but these people didn’t know or didn’t care, and opened it up, resulting in their death.

In chapter 7, we read that the Ark was moved to Kiriath Jearim, where it was guarded. Then Samuel took charge and explained to the people that they needed to toss their false idols and allow him to intercede for them to seek God’s forgiveness. Samuel became the new judge, replacing Eli. He had big shoes to fill, but set out to correct what Eli had done wrong and would be the last one to serve in this role. As judge, he had a spiritual and political leadership role by which he had the authority to lead the people in worship and in a military campaign. After the people had returned their hearts to the LORD he led them in battle with a thunder that fulfilled the song of Hannah:

    While Samuel was offering the sacrifice, the Philistines came within range to fight Israel. Just then God thundered, a huge thunderclap exploding among the Philistines. They panicked—mass confusion!—and ran helter-skelter from Israel. Israel poured out of Mizpah and gave chase, killing Philistines right and left, to a point just beyond Beth Car. Samuel took a single rock and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it "Ebenezer" (Rock of Help), saying, "This marks the place where God helped us."

    - 1 Samuel 7:10-12 (MSG)

Reflection and Application

God is not a magic power to be controlled. Some of the Israelites and Philistines had thought that if they had the Ark in their possession then they would control the power of the Ark. But to their astonishment, they learned that it didn’t work that way. The power came from God, on behalf of those who trusted in him. If we are loyal to God and continually renew our soul and commitment, then he will protect us, but our worship must be directed at him – not relics.

Parents have an obligation to take corrective action with their children, or trouble will spread. Eli knew what his sons had been doing, but did not help them reverse course. As a result, they ended up on a downhill slide that resulted in their untimely death.

When we receive a new role we often also have big shoes to fill. Samuel filled the shoes of Eli and raised the bar of spiritual standards by establishing proper worship and instructing the people. His obedience prepared him for his biggest assignment, which we shall read about later. Whether it's a secular role or a religious one we ought to go about it as if we were serving God, because in doing so we glorify him.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. Have you ever had a lucky piece of clothing or routine you followed for good luck?
    2. What is the biggest battle you are facing now? Is it a struggle with other people or things, with yourself, or with God?
    3. How do we build up the confidence to trust God to lead us to victory?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we acknowledge you as the one true God. Thank you for being by our side during our battles. Help us to know how to trust you to lead us to victory.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    People who put their lives on the line to defend us

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: 1 Samuel 8-12 (Give us a King)

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