Israel found out the hard way that God's not a genie in a bottle. Learn from their mistake.
Read / Listen to the chapter:
Read the chapter in an outlined format
1 Samuel 4 (ESV)
1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.
Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines.
They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek.
2 The Philistines drew up in line against Israel,
and when the battle spread,
Israel was defeated
before the Philistines,
who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle.
3 And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said,
“Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines?
bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh,
that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.”
4 So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim.
And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
5 As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp,
all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded.
6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said,
“What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?”
And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid, for they said,
“A god has come into the camp.”
And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. 8 Woe to us!
Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods?
These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness.
9 Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”
10 So the Philistines fought,
and Israel was defeated,
and they fled, every man to his home.
And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell.
11 And the ark of God was captured,
and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
12 A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head.
13 When he arrived, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God.
And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out.
14 When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, “What is this uproar?”
Then the man hurried and came and told Eli.
15 Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see.
16 And the man said to Eli, “I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.”
And he said, “How did it go, my son?”
17 He who brought the news answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people.
Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead,
and the ark of God has been captured.”
18 As soon as he mentioned the ark of God,
Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate,
and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy.
He had judged Israel forty years.
19 Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth.
And when she heard the news that
the ark of God was captured,
and that her father-in-law
and her husband were dead,
she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her.
20 And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.”
But she did not answer or pay attention.
21 And she named the child Ichabod, saying,
“The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband.
22 And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”
Read the chapter on BibleGateway
1 Samuel 4 Summary
We're jumping into the 4th chapter, so we'll take a moment to get up to speed:
Chapter 1 opens with a desperate mother who's been unable to have children. She prays so fervently for a child that Eli, the high priest, thinks she's drunk. After being assured by Eli that her prayer will be answered, her son is born and Hannah immediately gives the boy over for temple service.
Chapter 2 records Hannah's beautiful prayer of thanksgiving for her son, but then begins to tell of Eli's sons who are described as 'scoundrels (v12 NIV).'
In chapter 3, young Samuel is called by God in the middle of the night, and told of the doom that would come to Eli's house since he failed to restrain his sons' wickedness.
Now in chapter 4, the prophecy Samuel received has come true. The Israelites are routed - twice - by the Philistines, and worst of all, the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God's presence and blessing amongst Israel, has been captured and hauled away.
The news of this awful defeat is enough to topple the 98 year old Eli backwards, and he dies after being crushed by his own weight (v18), and his grandson, born that same day, is named Ichabod: the glory has departed (v22).
Notice the irony in this chapter: The Philistines - the arch enemy of Israel - know God better than the Israelites do! They know that they're going up against the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness (v8).
The Israelites, who haven't been properly taught about God for decades because of the religious corruption of Hophni and Phinehas, demonstrate that a little knowledge of God is far more dangerous than having no knowledge of Him.
They pin all of their hopes on the Ark:
Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here... that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies (v3 ESV).
God is not a genie in a bottle that you can count on to solve your problems when nothing else seems to work.
Remember what the Israelites forgot: God's people are covenantally bound to Him, meaning that like Samuel, your life must be completely dedicated to Him even though you don't live in the temple.
ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Even God's enemies tremble before Him!
ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that you will remain dedicated to God at all times, and not just when you're in trouble.
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: