THE BOOK OF 1 SAMUEL
Lesson 2: Chapters 4-7
The Death of Eli and His Sons and
The Theft of the Ark of the Covenant
In Your covenant with Israel at Mt. Sinai, You gave the Israelites the Ark of the Covenant with its Mercy-Seat as Your dwelling place with Your covenant people Israel and Your throne of divine grace. The Virgin Mary became the Ark of the New Covenant in Christ. She became Your dwelling place in the Incarnation, and the Cross became the New Covenant throne of grace from which Your Son offered Your gift of redemption and eternal salvation to mankind. We are thankful for the many blessings that are ours in the New Covenant in Christ Jesus, but we are most thankful, Lord, that Your dwelling place is now within the soul of each New Covenant believer through the power of the Holy Spirit. Please send Your Holy Spirit to guide us in our study of Israel's disastrous loss of the Ark when it was captured by the Philistines. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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You must make me an Ark of acacia
wood, two and a half cubits long, one and a half cubits wide and one and a half
cubits high. You will overlay it, inside and out, with pure gold and make a
gold moulding all round it. You will cast four gold rings for it and fix them
to its four supports: two rings on one side and two rings on the other. You
will also make shafts of acacia wood and overlay them with gold and pass the
shafts through the rings on the sides of the Ark, by which to carry it. The
shafts will stay in the rings of the Ark and not be withdrawn. Inside the Ark
you will put the Testimony which I am about to give you. You will also make a
Mercy-seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits
wide, and you will model two great winged creatures [kerubim] of beaten gold,
you will make them at the two ends of the Mercy-seat. Model one of the winged creatures
[kerubim] at one end and the other winged creature [kerubim] at the other end.
[...]. There I shall come to meet you, from above the Mercy-seat, from between
the two winged creatures [kerubim] which are on the Ark of the Testimony, I
shall give you all my orders for the Israelites.
Exodus 25:10-19, 22
Cherubim (kerubim in Hebrew) are one of several ranks of spiritual beings who serve God. They are usually grouped with "Seraphim" and "Thrones" as one of the highest ranks or orders of angels.
In chapters 4-6 the Ark of the Covenant is the main topic of the narrative. The Ark of the Covenant (also called the Ark of the Testimony) was Israel's most sacred shrine. It was not only a repository for the covenant documents of the Ten Commandments (Ex 25:16, 21; 40:20), it was also the "footstool" of Yahweh's heavenly throne (1 Chr 28:2; Ps 99:5; 132:7; Lam 2:1) and the visible sign of the divine Presence of Yahweh dwelling among His covenant people (Ex 25:21-22).
Throughout salvation history, God has maintained His fellowship with man through a covenant bond. In the time of the Patriarchs, God formed covenants with individuals and their families (for example Adam, Noah and Creation, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). However, at Mt. Sinai, for the first time in salvation history, God formed a corporate covenant with the "House of Israel" (see Yahweh's Eight Covenants).
A covenant is not a contract. Contracts involve material goods. A covenant forms a kinship/family bond between two parties based on intangibles like loyalty, honor, and fidelity to the conditions of the covenant. These conditions are established by an oath sworn by both parties with promises extended for covenant obedience and sanctions for covenant failures. Covenants were common in the ancient Near East and in Greco-Roman culture as a means of forging and maintaining relationships between individuals, families, tribes and nations. See information on secular and Biblical covenant treaties and Covenant Treaty in Scripture.
Kings made covenants with ethnic groups or states who agreed to submit to the sovereign authority of the king as his vassal people. This is the type of covenant treaty Yahweh made with Israel at Mt. Sinai. Yahweh agreed to be the God-king of Israel and the Israelites agreed to be His obedient vassals. There were promised blessings for covenant fidelity (Lev 26:3-13; Dt 28:1-14) and also curse/judgments for covenant failures (Lev 26:14-46; Dt 28:15-68). However, under the Old Testament covenants all blessings and judgments were temporal: blessings of fertility of crops, many children, abundant harvests, and peace; but judgments of lack of rain, failing crops, human infertility, famine, and oppression by Israel's enemies.
Question: What is the difference between the blessings and
judgments in the Old Testament covenants compared to the blessings and
judgments of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ? See Lev 26:14-46; Dt 11:8-17;
Dt 28:15-68 and compare with Mt 25:31-46. Also see CCC 633, 1026, 1033.
Answer: Prior to the coming of Christ, all blessings and judgments were temporal. In the New Covenant in God the Son, all blessings for covenant fidelity and judgments for covenant infidelity are spiritual and eternal.
At Sinai the Israelites agreed to become God's holy people, set apart from the other nations of the earth. They swore with one voice: "All the words Yahweh has spoken we will carry out!" and again "We shall do everything that Yahweh has said; we shall obey" (Ex 24:3, 7b). They then ratified the covenant with a sacrifice as Moses sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the altar (which represented God) and on the people. The blood ritual that created a family bond between God as divine Father and the children of Israel was followed by a sacred meal that was eaten in the presence of God (Ex 24:8-11).
Yahweh then commanded the Israelites to make a Sanctuary so He could reside among them. The Dwelling (Tabernacle) and the design for its furnishings was to be made according to what Moses saw in the heavenly Temple (Ex 25:1-9). The Ark of the Covenant was to be made to hold the tablets of the covenant treaty (the Ten Commandments), and its golden lid, called the Mercy-seat, was to be God's earthly footstool and earthly throne of grace. The Ark was a visible sign of God's dwelling place among His people (Ex 25:1-22; 26:34; 37:1-9; Ps 80:1; 99:1; Is 37:16).
The covenant at Mt. Sinai was the first corporate covenant God made
with mankind. "Corporate" means "a number of individuals united to form one
body", or "collectively one." Question: What was the second corporate
covenant God made with mankind? See Lk 22:20; Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 11:23-25; Heb 8:6-7, 13; 12:24; 13:20.
Answer: The New Covenant in Jesus Christ is the second corporate covenant in which the Church collectively is called the Body of Christ.
Question: How was the New Covenant ratified and how is its
covenant continually renewed?
Answer: The New Covenant in Christ was ratified in Jesus' blood sacrifice on the altar of the Cross and in the sacred meal in the presence of God which began with the Last Supper and continues in the on-going sacrifice and sacred meal of the Eucharist.
Question: In the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, what is the
covenant people's visible sign of God dwelling with His people?
Answer: The Eucharistic sacred Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Chapter 4: The Philistines Capture the Ark of the Covenant
The call of young Samuel by Yahweh in chapter 3 is the beginning of the transition in leadership from Eli to Samuel. Chapter three ends with a statement of Samuel's calling as God prophet being acknowledged by all the tribes of Israel: All Israel knew from Dan to Beersheba that Samuel was attested as a prophet of Yahweh. Yahweh continued to manifest himself at Shiloh, revealing himself to Samuel there (1 Sam 3:20-21).
Chapter 4 relates the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines and the fulfillment of the prophecy in 1 Samuel 2:34. It is a fulfillment that occurred on the same day the Ark is taken. The story is told in two parts:
1 Samuel 4:1b-11 ~ The Defeat of the Israelites and the Capture of
the Ark of the Covenant
1b It happened at that time that the Philistines mustered to make war on Israel and Israel went out to meet them in war, pitching camp near Ebenezer while the Philistines pitched camp at Aphek. 2 The Philistines drew up their battle-line against Israel, the fighting was fierce, and Israel was beaten by the Philistines: about four thousand men in their ranks were killed on the field of battle. 3 When the troops returned to camp, the elders of Israel said, "Why has Yahweh caused us to be beaten by the Philistines today? Let us fetch the Ark of [the Covenant of Yahweh] our God from Shiloh so that, when it goes with us, it may save us from the clutches of our enemies." 4 So the troops sent to Shiloh and brought away the Ark of [the Covenant of] Yahweh Sabaoth enthroned on the winged creatures [kerubim]; the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas came with the Ark [the Covenant of Yahweh]. 5 When the Ark of [the Covenant of] Yahweh arrived in the camp, all Israel raised a great war cry so that the earth resounded. 6 When the Philistines heard the noise of the war cry, they said, "What can this great war cry in the Hebrew camp mean?" And they realized that the Ark of Yahweh had come into the camp. 7 At this, the Philistines were afraid; for they said, "God has come into the camp. Disaster!" they said. "For nothing like this has ever happened before. 8 Disaster! Who will rescue us from the clutches of this mighty God? This was the God who struck down Egypt with every kind of misfortune in the desert. 9 But take courage and be men, Philistines, or you will become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been slaves to you. Be men and fight." 10 So the Philistines gave battle and Israel was defeated, each man fleeing to his tent. The slaughter was very great: on the Israelite side, thirty thousand foot soldiers fell. 11 The Ark of God was captured too, and Hophni and Phinehas the two sons of Eli died.
[..] literal translation IBHE, vol II, page 718.
The Israelites for the most part had either driven out or made peace with the Canaanites who lived in the land they claimed as their divine inheritance. The one formidable enemy who remained was the Philistines. The Philistines, from which the name "Palestine" was derived in the Hellenistic-Roman period in the 2nd century AD, were the descendants of the "Sea Peoples" who took part in a great migration out of the region of the Aegean Sea in the 12th century BC. After being repulsed by the Egyptians, they had settled into five city-states: Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Gaza near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and Ekron and Gath several miles inland. The power of the Philistines had become a threat to the destiny Yahweh planned for Israel. They had chariots and their military skills were superior to the Israelites. God had "raised up" the judge Samson to hold back the Philistine advance (Judg 13-16), but after Samson's death there was no warrior judge to take up the fight against the Philistine enemy.
The Philistine army set up camp at Aphek, a city about ten miles east of the Mediterranean coast. It was among the list of cities captured by Joshua and the Israelites (Josh 12:18) that had been lost to the Philistines. It will be mentioned again as a Philistine camp in a campaign against King Saul and the army of Israel (1 Sam 29:1).(1) The site of the Israelite camp was near the town of Ebenezer (Hebrew = "stone of help"), like Aphek also in the hill country of Ephraim. The battle with the Philistines took place on the fields between the two camps.(2)
Question: When the Israelites were defeated by the Philistines,
what did the elders of Israel decide would help them win a second battle?
Answer: First, they blamed God for their defeat, then they decided to carry the Ark of the Covenant into battle with them.
The elders were the seventy senior tribal civil leaders who were first appointed in Numbers 11:16-17. They were entrusted with important decisions concerning civil law and dispensing justice (also see Dt 1:9-17). It appears that the Israelites were expecting to win the battle and are assuming that Yahweh Himself is the one who ordained their defeat. The elders decide the answer to victory over the Philistines is to take the Ark of Yahweh Sabaoth ("Yahweh of Hosts", God's warrior title) into the next battle. They believed God would never allow the Ark to be captured, and therefore the Ark would assure their victory. It was not unusual to have the Ark of the Covenant with the warriors at the battlefield. The Ark had accompanied the Israelites on their march from Mt. Sinai; it was present at all their battles on their way to the camp on the east side of the Jordan River across from the land of Canaan, and it had a role in the defeat of the Canaanites in the battle of Jericho (Numbers 10:35; Josh 6:1-5). God had promised the Israelites that He would be with them on the journey to protect them from their enemies and to give them victory over the Canaanites if they were obedient to His commands. Unfortunately, in the era of the Judges the Israelites had drifted far from God and His covenant (Judg 2:1-3).
Question: What is the problem with their decision to take the
Ark out of the Holy of Holies and into the battlefield? See Num 27:21; Josh 7:2-13; Judg 1:1-2.
Answer: They had not consulted Yahweh through His priest/judge Eli by using the urim and thummin before going into battle in the first place, and now they formulated a plan to use the Ark without receiving God's permission. They were treating the Ark like a magic object rather than as the dwelling place of God among His people.
God cannot be bribed nor can He be manipulated to satisfy man's desires. The Israelites were trying to use the Ark as their own vehicle of power to be manipulated in achieving a military objective. Perhaps their failure to consult Yahweh through Eli shows their lack of confidence in Eli. We shall see in future events that the elders act in deciding crucial political matters when the leader of Israel, whether a judge or a king, does not prove himself to be an adequate leader.
1 Samuel 4:6 ~ When the Philistines heard the noise of the war cry, they said, "What can this great war cry in the Hebrew camp mean?" And they realized that the Ark of [the Covenant of] Yahweh had come into the camp.
"Hebrew" was a designation for the Israelites by foreigners ( Gen 39:14, 17; 41:12; Ex 1:15-16, 19; 2:6, 9; 3:18; 5:3; 7:16; 9:1; Jonah 1:9) and by themselves when talking to foreigners (1 Sam 13:19; 14:11; 29:3). At first the Philistines are fearful. They still remember the stories of the works of the Israelite God in the Exodus liberation from Egypt at least two centuries earlier, although they are confused about the location of the plague judgments which were not in the wilderness but took place in Egypt. At the time of the conquest of Canaan, all the neighboring nations knew of the story of Israel's liberation. Rahab of Jericho knew the story of the miracle of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea and their defeat of the Amorite kings on the east side of the Jordan River (Josh 2:8-11). At first the Philistines are discouraged, and then they take heart in resolving not to become enslaved by the Israelites.
Question: What is the first part of the prophecy given by the
unnamed prophet God sent to Eli in 1 Samuel 2:27-36 that is fulfilled when the
Ark is captured by the Philistines? See 2:34.
Answer: Eli's two priest sons are killed: What happened to your two sons Hophni and Phinehas will be a sign for you: on the same day both will die. It is the "sign" of what is to come for the family of Eli.
1 Samuel 4:12-18 ~ The Death of Eli
12 A Benjaminite ran from the battle-line and reached Shiloh the same day, his clothes torn and dust on his head. 13 When he arrived, Eli was sitting on his seat beside the gate watching the road, for his heart was trembling for the Ark of God. The man came into the town and told the news, whereupon cries of anguish filled the town. 14 Eli heard the sound and asked, "What does this uproar mean?" The man hurried on and told Eli. 15 Eli was ninety-eight years old; his gaze was fixed; he was blind. 16 The man said to Eli, "I have come from the camp. I escaped from the battle-line today." "My son," said Eli, "what happened?" 17 The messenger replied, "Israel has fled before the Philistines; the army has been utterly routed. What is worse, your two sons are dead and the Ark of God has been captured." 18 When he mentioned the Ark of God, Eli fell backwards off his seat by the gate and broke his neck and died, for he was old and heavy. He had been judge of Israel for forty years.
The battle took place in the hill country of Ephraim, but the Benjaminites, whose tribal lands are to the south of Ephraim, were among those tribes who rallied to the call to battle. That the man had torn clothes and dust on his head indicates that in his grief he had expressed those actions of mourning that were consistent with the customs of his people (see 2 Sam 1:2). Eli was waiting for news "trembling for the Ark of God." It is odd that he was not "trembling" for the safety of his sons. Did he lack confidence that his sons could protect the Ark but did not fear for their lives? He will, however, ask about his sons before he hears about the Ark when he is told that the battle is lost. Notice that the distressing news of the battle is given in increasing order from Eli's prospective:
Eli was so shocked by the news that he may have suffered a stroke. When he fell backwards his great weight caused him to break his neck and he died. He had been priest and judge of Israel for forty years. Only Othniel, Deborah and Gideon served as judges of Israel as long as Eli, but their leadership brought peace whereas Eli's leadership did not (Judg 3:11; 5:31; 8:28).
Question: What can we learn from Eli's fate?
Answer: God manifests His divine judgment upon all who transgress his statutes, even upon genuine servants who have lived righteously for many years. Just because one serves God it does not mean that person is exempt from fulfilling the moral laws that govern Christians and the Church. As a matter of fact, as Eli's fate shows, their judgment will be greater because they should know the truth of God's moral and spiritual commands and should be an example to it.
St. Basil the Great (c. 330/57-379) taught that through Eli's example we learn that extending tolerance to the wicked betrays the truth. Such actions of tolerance or acceptance of that which is condemned by God will also harm the community and the one who mistakenly extends it. He wrote: "Benevolence to such persons is like that mistaken kindness of Eli which he was accused of showing his sons, contrary to the good pleasure of God. A feigned kindness to the wicked is a betrayal of the truth, an act of treachery to the community and a means of habituating oneself to indifference to evil" (The Long Rules, 28).
1 Samuel 4:19-22 ~ The Death of the Widow of Phinehas
19 Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was with child and near her time. When she heard the news that the Ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and husband were dead she crouched down and gave birth, for her labor pains had come on. 20 When she was at the point of death, the women at her side said, "Do not be afraid; you have given birth to a son." But she did not answer and took no notice. 21 She named the child Ichabod [Ei-kavod], saying, "The glory has gone from Israel," alluding to the capture of the Ark of God and to her father-in-law and husband. 22 She said, "The glory has gone from Israel, because the Ark of God has been captured."
The story of Eli's daughter-in-law adds to the family tragedy. The news of the disaster is again arranged in increasing order, but this time from her perspective:
The account records that she crouched down and gave birth; this was the customary position for giving birth in ancient times. The name she gave her baby in Hebrew is Ei-kabod (also spelled kavod), "where is the glory?" meaning the glory of Yahweh enthroned on the Ark. The Hebrew word kabod/kavod is elsewhere associated with God's divine presence and especially with the Ark of the Covenant (see Ex 24:16-17; Ps 24:7-10; 79:9). Notice that in the explanation of the child's name in verses 21-22 that it is the Ark that is emphasized. This was a day of national mourning for the nation of Israel.
Chapter 5: The Philistines and the Ark of Yahweh
1 Samuel 5:1-5 ~ The Philistines put the Ark in Dagon's Temple
1When the Philistines had captured the Ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Taking the Ark of God, the Philistines put it in the Temple of Dagon, setting it down beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod got up the following morning and went to the Temple of Dagon, there lay Dagon face down on the ground before the Ark of Yahweh. They picked Dagon up and put him back in his place. 4 But when they got up on the following morning, there lay Dagon face down on the ground before the Ark of Yahweh, and Dagon's head and two hands lay severed on the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left in its place. 5 This is why the priests of Dagon and the people frequenting Dagon's temple never step on Dagon's threshold in Ashdod, even today.
The Philistines took the Ark to Ashdod, one of their five cities located near the Mediterranean coast. Dagon was the chief deity of the Philistine pantheon (see Judg 16:23; 1 Chr 10:10).(3)For a victor to take the most precious relics of the people they conquered was a common practice in ancient times since it was understood that a people whose god was in enemy hands was completely conquered. When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD, they took all the sacred furniture they could find from the Temple and carried the artifacts off to Rome. The Temple furnishings they took are pictured on the Arch of Titus in Rome. Placing the Ark of Yahweh next to the statue of Dagon for the Philistines was symbolic of Israel's God now being under the power of Dagon just as the Israelites where now under Philistine power.
Question: Was it the physical presence of the gold covered box
of the Ark or the tablets of the Ten Commandments it contained that made the
Sanctuary of Yahweh holy? Did the presence of the Ark in the Philistine temple
make it holy?
Answer: No. The presence of religious shrines like the Ark or the covenant documents of the Ten Commandments did not make God's Sanctuary holy. It is God's divine presence that makes places devoted to His worship holy.
St. John Chrysostom wrote: "In short, if you believe the place is holy because the law and the books of prophets are there, then it is time for you to believe that idols and the temples of idols are holy. Once, when the Jews were at war, the people of Ashdod, conquered them, took their Ark and brought it into their own temple. Did the fact that it contained the Ark make their temple a holy place? By no means! It continued to be profane and unclean, as the events immediately proved" (Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, 6.7.1).
The Ark was so far from making the pagan temple a holy place that its
god was openly attacked.
Question: What was God's purpose in attacking the statue of the Philistine god?
Answer: God wanted to teach the Philistines that the defeat of the Israelites was not due to God's weakness but to the transgressions of those who worshiped him. God gave proof of His power by twice throwing the idol to the ground so that, in the second attack, the idol was broken into pieces.
1 Samuel 5:4-5 ~ But when
they got up on the following morning, there lay Dagon face down on the ground
before the Ark of Yahweh, and Dagon's head and two hands lay severed on the
threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left in its place. 5 This is why the priests of Dagon and the
people frequenting Dagon's temple never step on Dagon's threshold in Ashdod,
The first sign of God's superiority over the pagan god is that the Philistines find their god lying face down on the floor of the temple "bowing down" to Yahweh's sacred Ark. The next day the statue of Dagon has again fallen down, but this time its hands and head are broken off the trunk of the statue as though they were cut off. The cutting off of the statue's hands and head is symbolic of the fate of a conquered enemy. Yahweh has conquered Dagon.
It is significant that the statue's severed head and hands lay on the threshold of the temple. The threshold of a temple was considered to be especially holy because it was the separation between the sacred space and the profane common areas. Verse 5 makes the observation that the Philistines remembered this incident and still, at the time the book was written, bore witness to the humiliation of their god by not stepping on the threshold of his temples because parts of the god once laid on the temple's threshold. This custom is said to have continued "at least in Gaza into the 1st centuries AD" (Tsumura, page 206).
1 Samuel 5:6-12 ~ Yahweh punishes the Philistines
6 Yahweh oppressed [The hand of Yahweh was heavy on] the people of Ashdod; he ravaged them and afflicted them with tumors, Ashdod and its territory. 7 When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening they said, "The Ark of the God of Israel must not stay here with us, for he is oppressing us [His hand is heavy on us] and our god Dagon." 8 So they summoned all the Philistine chief to them, and said, "What shall we do with the Ark of the God of Israel?" They decided, "The Ark of the God of Israel shall be taken away to Gath." So they took the Ark of the God of Israel to Gath. 9 But after they had taken it there, Yahweh oppressed [His hand was against] that town and a great panic broke out; afflicting the people of the town from highest to lowest, he brought them out in tumors too. 10 They then sent to Ark of God to Ekron, but when it came to Ekron the Ekronites shouted, "They have brought me the Ark of the God of Israel to kill me and my people!" 11 They summoned all the Philistine chiefs and said, "Send the Ark of the God of Israel away; let it go back to where it belongs and not kill me and my people", for there was mortal panic throughout the town; God was oppressing them [the hand of God was heavy there]. 12 The people who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the wailing from the town rose to the sky. [..] = IBHE, vol. II, pages 720-21.
In spite of the Philistine victory over the Israelites, Yahweh continues to prove to the Philistines that they do not have power over Him. The term "hand" of Yahweh, referring to God's divine power, is repeated seven times in the next two chapters: four times in chapter 5 and three times in the chapter 6 in the Hebrew text (5:6, 7, 9, 11, 6:3, 5, 9).
Question: Why could the Ark of the Covenant pose a danger even
for the common Israelite? See Num 4:19-20; 2 Sam 6:1-7.
Answer: God's holiness is awesome. Approaching the Ark without being consecrated to Yahweh's divine service as the chief priests were involved peril and even death.
The people of Ashdod become afflicted with tumors (opalim in Hebrew literally means "swellings") and blame their suffering on the presence of Yahweh's Ark. Their affliction is probably bubonic plague that is carried by rats; tumors is one of the visible symptoms (see 1 Sam 6:4-5). Unwilling to part with their trophy of victory, they decide to take the Ark to the Philistine city of Gath, which experiences the same symptoms as does the city of Ekron when the Ark is sent there (Ekron was about 22 miles west of Jerusalem). The decision is made to send the Ark away from Philistia.
Chapter 6: The Return of the Ark
1 Samuel 6:1-12 ~ The Philistines devise a Plan to get rid of the
Ark of Yahweh
1 The Ark of Yahweh was in Philistine territory for seven months. 2 The Philistines then called for their priests and diviners and asked, "What shall we do with the Ark of Yahweh? Tell us how to send it back to where it belongs." 3 They replied, "If you send the Ark of the God of Israel away, you must certainly not send it away without a gift; you must pay him a guilt offering. You will then recover and will realize why he continually oppressed you [His hand has not turned away from you]." 4 They then asked, "What guilt offering ought we to pay him?" They replied, "Corresponding to the number of Philistine chief: five golden tumors and five golden rats, since the same plague afflicted your chiefs as the rest of you. 5 So make models of your tumors and models of your rats ravaging the territory, and pay honor to the God of Israel. Then perhaps he will stop oppressing you [He will lighten His hand from you], your gods and your country. 6 Why should you be as stubborn as Egypt and Pharaoh were? After he had brought disaster on them, did they not let the people leave? 7 Now, then, take and fit out a new cart and two milk cows that have never borne the yoke. Then harness the cows to the cart and take their calves back to the byre. 8 Then take the Ark of Yahweh, place it on the cart, and put the golden objects which you are paying him as guilt offering in a box beside it; and then send it off on its own. 9 Watch it; if it goes up the road to its own territory, towards Beth-Shemesh, then he was responsible for the great harm to us; but if not, we shall know that it was not his hand that struck us, and that this has happened to us by chance." 10 The people did this. They took two milk cows and harnessed them to the cart, shutting their calves in the byre. 11 They then put the Ark of Yahweh on the cart, with the box and the golden rats and the models of their tumors. 12 The cows made straight for Beth-Shemesh, keeping to the one road, lowing as they went and turning neither to right nor to left. The Philistine chief followed them as far as the boundaries of Beth-Shemesh. [..] = IBHE, vol. II, pages 721-23.
The Philistines and their chiefs of the five cities decide to send the
Question: When they consult their priests and diviners, what are they told to do?
Answer: They are told to send the Ark of Yahweh back to the Israelites with a guilt offering of golden images of the tumors and rats.
Soothsaying or divination was characteristic of the Philistines according to Isaiah 2.6 but was forbidden under the Law of the Sinai Covenant and such a person was subject to the death penalty ( Lev 20:27; also see 19:26b; 19:31; 20:6; Dt 18:10-12). To appease Yahweh, the Philistine soothsayers suggest making a "guilt offering" (an offering to make reparations to the god they have offended) which is to accompany the Ark on its return in the form of what has caused their suffering. In making a "guilt offering" the Philistines are confessing that it was wrong of them to deny Yahweh the reverence that was His due by taking the Ark from His people and their Sanctuary (see the law concerning guilt/reparation offerings for Israelites in Lev 5:14-26/5:14-6:7; 7:1-6/6:31-36).
1 Samuel 6:6 ~ Why
should you be as stubborn as Egypt and Pharaoh were? After he had brought
disaster on them, did they not let the people leave?
Recalling Yahweh's mighty works against the Egyptians is meant to convince those Philistines who do not want to give up the Ark because they believe their misfortunes happed by chance instead of as a work of Yahweh against them (see verse 9).
Question: As a mark of reverence for Yahweh, how do they return
Answer: The sent the Ark on a new cart and pulled by milk cows that have never be defiled by previous use.
The Philistines did not know the commands concerning the Ark, but it was never to be driven by a cart and was always to be carried by its poles and only by the chief priests or Levites of the clan of Kohath (Num 4:1-20). Milk cows were kept for their milk and not for work or for meat, as the presence of their calves suggests. The Philistines decide to honor Yahweh by only using animals that have never been used for labor previously. That God directed the cows is suggested by the cows' continual lowing at being separated from their calves and their distress at being unable to follow their natural instinctive urge to return to them. God directs the Ark to the nearest Israelite city of Beth-Shemesh. The Ark cannot return to Shiloh because the Sanctuary at Shiloh has been destroyed by the Philistines (Jer 7:12-14; Ps 78:60). Beth-Shemesh ("house/place of the sun") was the closest Israelite town. It was located on the border of Judah and the lands that had originally been allotted to Dan (Josh 15:10). It was also a Levitical city belonging to the clan of Kohathites, which was also the clan of Aaron and his descendants who were the chief priests (Ex 6:18, 20; Josh 15:10; 21:10-19; 1 Chr 6:59).
1 Samuel 6:13-19 ~ The Ark of the Covenant at Beth-Shemesh
13 The people of Beth-Shemesh were reaping the wheat harvest in the plain when they looked up and saw the Ark and went joyfully to meet it. 14 When the cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth-Shemesh, it stopped. There was a large stone there, and they cut up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to Yahweh. 15 The Levites had taken down the Ark of Yahweh and the box with it containing the golden objects and put these on the large stone. That day the people of Beth-Shemesh presented burnt offerings and made sacrifices to Yahweh. 16 The five chiefs of the Philistines, having witnessed this, went back to Ekron the same day. 17 The golden tumors paid by the Philistines as a guilt offering to Yahweh were as follows: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron; 18 and the golden rats to the number of all the Philistine towns, those of the five chiefs, and from fortified towns down to open villages: still to this day the large stone in the field of Joshua of Beth-Shemesh, on which they put the Ark of Yahweh, is a witness. 19 Of the people of Beth-Shemesh the sons of Jeconiah had not rejoiced when they saw the Ark of Yahweh, and Yahweh struck down seventy of them. The people mourned because Yahweh had struck them so fiercely.
[Verse 19 is from the Septuagent (LXX) translation]
The people of Beth-Shemesh saw the cows and the cart approaching as they were harvesting the wheat. This means the incident took place in the mid to late spring in what would be our May/June time frame (see Israel's seasonal and liturgical calendar).
The Levites of the clan of Kohath took possession of the Ark. They were the only Israelites along with the chief priests who would touch the Ark without profaning the Ark and violating the covenant with Yahweh. There was no longer a Sanctuary at Shiloh to offer sacrifice, and so the decision was made that the presence of the Ark allowed them to offer sacrifice to Yahweh there in the fields of Beth-Shemesh.
Question: What did the reparation offerings of the Philistines
Answer: The reparation offerings of the Philistines represented each of the five Philistine city-states and their rulers as well as the satellite villages surrounding the city-states.
1 Samuel 6:19 ~ 19 Of the people of Beth-Shemesh the sons of Jeconiah had not rejoiced when they saw the Ark of Yahweh, and Yahweh struck down seventy of them. The people mourned because Yahweh had struck them so fiercely. There is a mystery associated with the most accurate translation of this verse. The NJB and NAB both took this translation from the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation, which is the oldest translation. However, the Jewish Masoretic text translation reads: The LORD struck at the men of Beth-Shemesh because they looked into the Ark of the LORD; He struck down seventy men among the people and fifty thousand men. The "fifty thousand" is too large a number for a town like Beth-Shemesh and is probably better translated "a unit of fifty men," perhaps Levites, or "every five out of a thousand." The King James Version and the RSV Catholic Edition use the Masoretic translation. In Antiquities of the Jews, written c. 80 AD, Josephus refers to this tragedy but does not mention men actually opening up the Ark only that men not consecrated to touch the Ark irreverently approached it. He writes: But now it was that the wrath of God overtook them, and struck seventy persons of the village of Bethshemesh dead, who, not being priests, and so not worthy to touch the Ark, had approached to it (Antiquities of the Jews, 6.1.4 ). Jeconiah in Hebrew is yekonyah. The etymology of the word is disputed. Some scholars believe it is a variant of the names Jehoiachin, or Jehoahaz, or Conaniah. But the ending suggests a theophoric name or word, that is a name or word containing part of the divine name Yah or Yeh (Yahweh) and the prime root kuwn, meaning "to be erect; stand perpendicular; to set up, to establish; confirm"; therefore perhaps meaning "Yahweh will establish", indicating Yahweh establishing a demonstration of His profound glory and holiness that cannot be profaned.
We are not told what some people of Beth-Shemesh did to offend God in the LXX, only that they in some way acted in a severely profane manner.
Question: What discovery do the Israelites of Beth-Shemesh make
that the Philistines have already discovered?
Answer: The Israelites also discover the terrifying power of the Ark of Yahweh to dispense divine retribution to those who do not give God the reverence that is His due as the God of Israel and all of Creation.
1 Samuel 6:20-7:1 ~ The Ark at Kiriath-Jearim
20 The people of Beth-Shemesh then said, "Who can stand his ground before Yahweh, this holy God? To whom shall he go, so that we are rid of him?" 21 So they send messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-Jearim, to say, "The Philistines have sent back the Ark of Yahweh; come down and take it up to your town." 7:1 The men of Kiriath-Jearim came and, taking up the Ark of Yahweh, brought it to the house of Abinadab on the hill, consecrated his son Eleazar to guard the Ark of Yahweh.
The destruction of the men of Beth-Shemesh ended the rejoicing over the presence of the Ark for the people of Beth-Shemesh. All the people of Beth-Shemesh are afraid of the divine Presence and decide to find another town to take the Ark. The next closest town is Kiriath-Jearim ("city of forests"), also in the territory of Judah and located about eight and a quarter miles north of Jerusalem (Josh 9:17; 15:9, 60; 18:14-15; Judg 18:12). The Ark was taken to the house of Abinadab who took custody of the Ark, and his son Eleazar was consecrated to guard it. The narrative does not mention if these men were chief priests, but it was dangerous for anyone but a chief priest to touch or care for the Ark and then only if he were in a state of grace and free from all sin. The Ark of the Covenant will reside at this location until King David will attempt to move it to Jerusalem (1 Sam 6:20-7:2; 2 Sam 6:1-19; 1 Chr 13:7).
Samuel: Prophet, Liberator, and Judge
Chapter 7 offers an account of Samuel assuming his responsibilities as Israel's prophet and judge as he initiates Israel's religious reformation. This chapter also acts as a bridge between the Ark narrative in chapters 4-6 and the narrative of the founding of Israel's monarchy that will begin in chapter 8 and continue through the rest of 1st and 2nd Samuel and the first two chapters of 1st Kings.
1 Samuel 7:2-4 ~ Samuel brings about Religious Reform in Israel
2 From the day when the Ark was installed at Kiriath-Jearim, a long time went by, twenty years, and the whole House of Israel longed for Yahweh. 2 Samuel then spoke as follows to the whole House of Israel, "If you are returning to Yahweh with all your heart, banish the foreign gods and Astartes [Ashtaroth] which you now have, and set your heart on Yahweh and serve him alone; and he will deliver you from the power of the Philistines." 4And the Israelites banished the Baals and Astartes [Ashtaroth] and served Yahweh alone. [..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 724-25.
Question: How many years have passed since Yahweh's Sanctuary
was destroyed, since the Philistines have dominated Israel as a vassal people,
and since the Ark has continued to reside at Kiriath-Jearim?
Answer: Twenty years.
Samuel is now an adult and is taking up his leadership role as the successor of Eli as God's prophet, priest and judge. He is probably thirty years old, the age at which a priest/prophet or a Levite assumed his duties as God's representative (Num 4:3, 23, 30, 35, 39, 40, 43, 47; Lk 3:23). Therefore he would have been ten years old when he had his first vision of Yaweh in the Sanctuary and accepted his divine calling. Samuel begins his career by calling the Israelites to repentance and a renewal of fellowship with Yahweh.
Question: What does Samuel ask the Israelites to do as a sign of
Answer: He asks them to destroy their images of pagan gods in their homes and in their villages.
The Hebrew text reads Ashtaroth (plural). The Ashtaroth were images of Ashtoreth, the main Canaanite goddess of fertility and love. Baalim (plural) were the images of the god Baal who was the god of heaven and earth and the chief deity of the Canaanite pantheon. The necessary removal of pagan images is commanded in the first of the Ten Commandments. The banishment of idols was commanded prior to the Sinai Covenant as well as after. The temptation to worship the gods of the pagan peoples of Canaan was a problem for the Israelites (Gen 35:2-4; Josh 24:23; Judg 2:13; 10:6).
1 Samuel 7:5-6 ~ Samuel calls for an Assembly of the Tribes of
5 Samuel then said, "Muster all Israel at Mizpah and I shall plead with Yahweh for you." 6 So they mustered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before Yahweh. They fasted that day and declared, "We have sinned against Yahweh." And Samuel was judge over the Israelites at Mizpah.
Mizpah is probably modern Tel en-Nasbeh located 7.5 miles northwest of Jerusalem in the tribal territory of Judah. It was a sacred duty for the tribes to answer the call to a national Assembly. All the twelve tribes of Israel assembled on the plain at Mizpah, as they had in the past and as they will do in the future (Judg 20:3; 21:5, 8; 1 Sam 10:17). Samuel, as God's representative, offered intercessory prayer for the Israelites.
Question: What three things did the people do to humble
themselves before Yahweh?
After the return of the people of Judah from the Babylonian exile (6th century BC), it became the practice in the Second Temple period (6th century BC-70 AD) to demonstrate ritual cleansing associated with repentance by immersion (in Greek baptisma), as St. John the Baptist ritually immersed Jews after repenting their sins to prepare them for the coming Kingdom of the Messiah (Mt 3:1-6; Mk 1:4-5; Lk 3:1-3; Jn 1:19-28). At this time, however, ritual purification was accomplished by the visible act that demonstrated the washing of one's soul through confession and sacrifice by pouring water mixed with some of the ashes of the sacrifice over the person: For someone thus unclean, some of the ashes of the victim burnt as a sacrifice for sin will be taken and spring water must be poured over them, in a vessel (Num 19:17). This was apparently the ritual Samuel had the people perform at Mizpah.
Question: In the New Covenant Sacrament of Baptism, Christians
are also washed with the visible sign of water. What is the difference between
the use of water as a sign of repentance in the Old Covenant and the Sacrament
of Christian baptism? See Mt 3:11; Jn 1:33; 3:3-5; CCC 265, 523, 720, 950-51,
1023, 1213-15, 1227-28, 1239, 1262-1266, 1267-74, 1280, 2068, 2813.
Answer: In the Old Covenant, ritual water purification was a public sign of repentance. The action of being bathed in water demonstration that repentance and God's forgiveness had purified the heart of the person who was once again in fellowship with God. In the Sacrament of Christian Baptism, the Christian receives not just an outward sign but the internal, life altering, and supernatural effects of a sacrament given us by Jesus Christ. The effects are:
For the first time Samuel is called Israel's "Judge" (also see verse 15). Once a year he will ride a circuit in central Israel from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah to hear civil cases and render verdicts (7:16). Years later, Samuel will anoint Saul as Israel's first king at Mizpah (10:17).(4)
1 Samuel 7:7-12 ~ The Philistines go to War with Israel
7 When the Philistines heard that the Israelites had mustered at Mizpah, the Philistine chiefs marched on Israel; and when the Israelites heard this, they were afraid of the Philistines. 8 They said to Samuel, "Do not stop calling on Yahweh our God to rescue us from the power of the Philistines." 9 Samuel took a sucking lamb and presented it as a burnt offering to Yahweh, and he called on Yahweh on behalf of Israel and Yahweh heard him. 10 While Samuel was in the act of presenting burnt offerings, the Philistines joined battle with Israel, but that day Yahweh thundered violently over the Philistines, threw them into panic and Israel defeated them. 11 The men of Israel sallied [marched] out from Mizpah in pursuit of the Philistines and beat them all the way to below Beth-Car. 12 Samuel then took a stone and erected it between Mizpah and the Tooth, and gave it the name Ebenezer, saying, "Yahweh helped us as far as this."
Question: How did the Philistines misinterpret the spiritual
assembly at Mizpah?
Answer: They thought it was a military muster and that the Israelites were preparing to wage war against them.
When the Israelites heard that the Philistines were coming they were fearful. Samuel, however, offered a "suckling lamb" as a sacrificial whole burnt offering. The lamb had to be more than eight days old according to the Law (Ex 22:29; Lev 22:27). The lamb was not a communal sin sacrifice since, according to the Law, a communal sin sacrifice had to be a bull (Lev 4:13-15). The only single lamb whole burnt offering was the daily Tamid sacrifice, a whole burnt offering for the atonement and sanctification of the covenant people offered as a perpetual sacrifice (Ex 29:38-42; Num 28:3-8). This is likely the sacrifice Samuel was offering.
Prior to the Sinai Covenant and before an ordained priesthood, every father of every family served as God's priest and could offer sacrifice wherever and whenever he wanted. However, with the Sinai Covenant and the establishment of a central Sanctuary and an ordained priesthood, sacrifice was supposed to the limited to Yahweh's one altar of sacrifice. Sacrifice offered to Yahweh outside the Sanctuary was strictly prohibited, with any violator subject to the penalty of excommunication (Lev 1-12; Dt 12:4-28). The problem for Samuel is that, with the destruction of the Sanctuary at Shiloh by the Philistines, there is no central shrine and therefore Samuel's violation of offering the sacrifice at Mizpah is unusual but apparently acceptable.
1 Samuel 7:10 ~ While Samuel was in the act of presenting burnt offerings, the Philistines joined battle with Israel, but that day Yahweh thundered violently over the Philistines, threw them into panic and Israel defeated them.
The national repentance of the Israelites has brought about their reconciliation with Yahweh. This couldn't have happened at a better time. Unlike their last battles with the Philistines, this time the Israelites have just participated in a communal reconciliation worship service and are consecrated as holy warriors. On their behalf, God used the forces of nature (the thunder), over which He is sovereign, to throw the Philistines into panic (also see Jug 5:20-21). The Israelites are victorious because of Yahweh's help.
1 Samuel 7:11-12 ~ The
men of Israel sallied [marched] out from Mizpah in pursuit of the Philistines
and beat them all the way to below Beth-Car. 12 Samuel then took a stone and erected it between Mizpah
and the Tooth, and gave it the name Ebenezer, saying, "Yahweh helped us as far
Notice the three verbs in quick succession defining the action in verses 9-11: Samuel "called (verse 9), Yahweh "thundered" (verse 10), and the men of Israel "marched" (verse 11). The Philistine army was pushed back as far as Beth-Car, an unknown site only mentioned in this passage. It was probably to the west of Mizpah in the direction of Philistine territory toward the Mediterranean coast. To commemorate the victory, Samuel set up a stone (eben) and named it ezer ("help") in honor of God's help for Israel. You will recall that this is the same name as the town near the Israelite camp in 1 Samuel 4:2 when the Israelites were defeated by the Philistines and the Ark was captured. The reoccurrence of the name is probably not a coincidence. Samuel is drawing attention to Israel's reversal of fortune now that they have made atonement for their sins and have been restored to fellowship with Yahweh.
The Fathers of the Church believed that the naming of the stone Ebenezer, meaning "the stone of help," signified Jesus Christ in fulfillment of Psalm 118:22 ~ The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone... (Jerome, Homilies on the Psalms, 46). St. Augustine wrote that the erection of the stone symbolized how conversion shifts one's focus from earthly happiness to spiritual (City of God 17.7).
1 Samuel 7:13-17 ~ Yahweh delivers Israel from the
13 So the Philistines were humbled and no longer came into Israelite territory. Yahweh oppressed [The hand of Yahweh was on] the Philistines throughout the life of Samuel. 14 The towns which the Philistines had taken from Israel were given back to Israel, from Ekron all the way to Gath, and Israel freed their territory from the power of the Philistines. There was peace, too, between Israel and the Amorites. 15 Samuel was judge over Israel throughout his life. 16 Each year he went on circuit through Bethel and Gilgal and Mizpah and judged Israel in all these places. 17 He would then return to Ramah, since his home was there; there too he judged Israel. And there he built an altar to Yahweh. [..] = IBHE, vol. II, page 726.
Israel's victory over the Philistines gave added credibility to Samuel as God's representative to the people. For justification of leadership both divine election and human proof are often required to give the people confidence in God's chosen agent. It is a human condition that God took into consideration in the victory over the Philistines through Samuel's intercession. This is the only narrative of Samuel's military career as a warrior-judge, and his success is summed up in a formulaic pattern that is familiar from the Book of Judges (Judg 3:30; 4:23-24; 8:28; 11:33b).
Notice that the phrase "the hand of Yahweh" is repeated again and refers to Yahweh's control of the Philistines and Israel's destiny. The Israelites regained territory lost to the Philistines and there was also peace with Israel's other enemies, the Amorites. The Amorites were the pre-Israelite population of ancient Canaan and the term is used here in the widest sense, referring to all the different ethnicities of the former inhabitants of Canaan prior to the Conquest as well as the Amorites living on the east side of the Jordan River.
Question: What is the point of the statement in verses 13-14?
Answer: Because of Israel's repentance and return to Yahweh in obedience to their covenant obligations, Israel was experiencing God's blessings by being secure from her enemies both within and outside the borders of Israel, just as God promised (Dt 7:12-19).
1 Samuel 7:15-17 ~ Samuel
was judge over Israel throughout his life. 16
Each year he went on circuit through Bethel and Gilgal and Mizpah
and judged Israel in all these places. 17
He would then return to Ramah, since his home was there; there
too he judged Israel. And there he built an altar to Yahweh.
Verse 15 summarizes Samuel's life in one sentence: Samuel was judge over Israel throughout his life. He established his home in Ramah, the town of his parents (1 Sam 1:19; 2:17), where he built an altar to Yahweh. From Ramah he made a yearly circuit passing through Bethel (where Jacob-Israel had his vision of the divine and the promise of the continuation of God's covenant with Abraham through him), through Gilgal (probably the same as Judg 2:1), and Mizpah, the site of Israel's national assemblies. In each of these places Samuel established a court, heard civil cases and rendered verdicts.
1 Samuel 17b ~ And there he built an altar to Yahweh.
That Samuel built an altar at Ramah where he offered sacrifice to Yahweh is a bit troubling. Where is the Ark and why wasn't the Tabernacle established in Ramah? The last we heard of the Ark was in 7:2 where it was residing just a few miles from Ramah at Kiriath-Jearim under the supervision of Eleazar son of Abinadab. Was Samuel also afraid of the power of the Ark? The Ark of the Covenant will not be mentioned again until 1 Samuel 14:18.
Question for reflection or group discussion:
The Israelites tried to manipulate God through the use of the Ark of the Covenant to achieve their own objective in defeating the Philistines in battle. How are some Christians guilty of the same abuses when petitioning God or when anxiously seeking to bend God to their will? What is the difference between superstition and faith? What self-imposed condition should a faithful Christian always place on any petition to the Lord? Hint: upon whose will should the outcome of the petition be determined? See CCC 2110-11, 2138 concerning the forbidden practice of superstition.
1. Later, during the Roman occupation of the Holy Land, a new city will be built on the site of old Aphek which will be called Antipatris. St. Paul will stay there for one night during his journey as a Roman prisoner from Jerusalem to see the Roman governor at Caesarea (Acts 23:31).
2. At a later battle with the Philistines in which the Israelites are victorious, Samuel will erect a victory monument near Mizpah, giving it the name "Ebenezer", perhaps recalling the former defeat that was turned into victory because of Yahweh's help (1 Sam 7:10-12).
3. The Philistines adopted the worship of Dagon after arriving in Canaan. He was a western Semitic deity known from the Early Bronze Age in Mesopotamia and northern Syria as Dagan. He was a major deity in the city-states of Ebla and Mari in Mesopotamia and was the head of Emar's pantheon. In Ugarit (Syria), Dagan was the father of the storm god Baal. The worship of Dagon at Ashdod continued until at least 50 AD (1 Mac 10:83-85; 11:4).
4. In the period of the divided kingdom, Mizpah will be important as the Kingdom of Judah's northernmost border fortress. It will be fortified early in the 9th century BC by King Asa of Judah as a result of his disputes with King Baasha (c. 909-886 BC) of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (1 Kng 15:16-22).
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2014 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for 1 Samuel Lesson 3:
Ark of the Covenant (CCC 2058, 2130, 2578, 2594)
Old Covenants (CCC 72, 992, 2057, 2061-63, 2077, 2571
Old Covenant Law (CCC1961-64)
Sinai Covenant (CCC 62, 204, 2810)