One may go forth with a Bible under the arm and a shout upon the lips and yet not have God Himself.
Many who have estranged themselves from the vitals of religion putting their confidence in the rituals of religion,
find themselves with only a form of godliness without the power thereof.
I Samuel 1
1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Eben-ezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek.
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.
3 ¶ And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.
4 So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
5 And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again.
6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of the LORD was come into the camp.
7 And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore.
8 Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods? these are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness.
9 Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight.
10 ¶ And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen.
11 And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.
12 ¶ And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head.
13 And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out.
14 And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, What meaneth the noise of this tumult? And the man came in hastily, and told Eli.
15 Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim, that he could not see.
16 And the man said unto Eli, I am he that came out of the army, and I fled to day out of the army. And he said, What is there done, my son?
17 And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken.
18 And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.
19 ¶ And his daughter in law, Phinehas’ wife, was with child, near to be delivered: and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father in law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her.
20 And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast born a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it.
21 And she named the child I-chabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband.
22 And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.
I Samuel 1 – J. Vernon McGee
1 Samuel 4:1-11 – Trusting in the Ark, not in God
The predictions against Eli’s house now begin to be fulfilled. It was fitting for Israel to institute an inquiry into the causes of defeat. This is always the first step toward victory. There was no doubt as to the ancient Covenant with Israel; the one question was to ascertain what had suddenly neutralized that divine assistance which in former days had always been forthcoming. Failure often indicates that something has happened to cut off the supply of God’s saving help.
In this instance, however, Israel did not carry the inquiry into God’s presence, but endeavored to supply the lapse of divine help by introducing the symbol of the Covenant. “Fetch the ark” they cried (1 Samuel 4:3). They supposed that, in some mysterious way, it would bring God into their camp and ally Him with their arms. In the same manner a brigand might expect an amulet or charm to preserve his life, while violating the laws of God and man. These materialized views of the Israelites’ relations with God had to be corrected; and hence defeat ensued. Our only safety lies, not in an outward act or token, but in simple, pure-hearted and unbroken fellowship with God. Then we become invincible.
I Samuel 4:3—Let us fetch the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD.
Israel had been defeated with great loss. Their only hope of being able to hold their own against the Philistines and the people of the land was in the protection and help vouchsafed to them by God. They knew this, and thought that they would be secured, if only the Ark of the Covenant were on the field. They forgot that it was only the material symbol of a spiritual relationship; that it was useless unless that relationship was in living force; and that the bending forms of the cherubim, emblematic of the Divine protection, would not avail if their fellowship with the God of the cherubim had been ruptured by backsliding.
There is a sense in which we are always sending for the Ark. The reliance on outward rites, such as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, on the part of those who are alienated from the life of God; the maintenance of the forms of prayer and Scripture reading, which no longer express the passionate love of the soul; the habit of churchgoing, which so many practice, not because they love God, but because they think that it will in some way secure his alliance in life’s battle all these are forms in which we still fetch the Ark of the covenant, whilst our hearts are wrong with the God of the covenant.
It should never be forgotten that nothing can afford to us protection and succor but vital union with Christ. We must hide in his secret place if we would abide under his shadow. We must dwell in the most holy place if we would be shadowed by the wings of the Shekinah. There must be nothing between us and God, if we are to walk together, and enjoy fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. – Our Daily Homily
1 Samuel 4:12-22 – The Glory Departed from Israel
Notwithstanding their high hopes, disaster again overtook the hosts of Israel. No symbols of God will help us, until we have put away our idols and laid our hearts bare before Him.
The bad news traveled quickly over the land and everywhere brought dismay. The death of Eli and that of his daughter-in-law were tragedies, but in each ease there was a beautiful touch of true devotion to God’s holy cause. The old man succumbed only when the messenger told of the capture of the Ark; while the mother could not be rallied from her death-swoon, even by the cry of her child, because, with the Ark, the glory of her people had passed away. May we not all pray to be equally devoted to the cause of Jesus Christ, so that its victories or its delays may touch us to the quick? The glory of our lives, as of the Church, should ever consist in the possession, not of the symbol, but of the real presence of our Lord, recognized, revered, loved and enshrined in our tenderest emotions. —Through the Bible Day by Day