And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Ebenezer: and the Philistines pitched 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. 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. 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. 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.( I Samuel 4:1-5)
Israel is a special, chosen nation. God created the nation as a witness to the world of his glory and purposes. Her past is history indeed, but it is also prophecy.
The story of the capture of the Ark in I Samuel 4 is an example of this.
The book of Samuel is set in the transition period between the time of God anointed judges(Saviors) for Israel, and the establishment of the Kingdom of Israel.
The Philistines had a firm chokehold on the nation, and the children of Israel wanted to throw off the shackles and be free. The Judge at that time was the high priest Eli, but his sons Hophni and Phineas profaned the priesthood by their scandalous behaviour.
The Philistines were invading deeper into Israelite territory but Israel raised up an army to resist them. They clashed at a place called Aphek, and the children of Israel suffered a shattering defeat,losing 4000 men in battle and who knows how many wounded.
The elders of Israel raised a valid question, when they asked “Why had the the LORD smitten us today before our enemies?”. It was in fact a theological question, because the LORD had told them that if they were faithful to Him, “One would put a thousand to flight, and two would put ten thousand to flight”. So they should have prayerfully considered why they had been routed.
But before that discussion could occur, someone else raised a novel idea which captured the Hosts attention.
“Let us fetch the Ark of the covenant of the LORD.. when IT comes among us, IT may save us…”.
Do you notice that they referred to the Ark as an “It” ? Something that can be “Fetched and used” in battle?
The Holy Spirit in the next verse speaks of the Ark this way,
“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 cherubim:…”
Do you notice the difference between “IT” and “The LORD of HOST who dwells…”?
The corrupt sons of the High Priest, marched boldly into the Holy Tabernacle and into the Holy of Holies, and with unclean hands seized the Ark, the very throne of God on earth, and marched out to the battle with the Philistines.
Israel shouted for joy and the Philistines trembled in fear, both of them superstitiously, for Israel was sure that since they had “IT” they would be able to “use IT” to defeat their enemies. The Philistines being pagan, trembled because they had heard of the power of the “gods of Israel”.
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. And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.( I Samuel 4:10-11)
If the first battle of Aphek was a devastating rout for Israel, the second battle was a disaster of which Israel never really recovered!
The High Priest Eli, sat waiting for the news of the battle, his heart trembling, knowing something very wrong had been done. Suddenly the messenger comes and delivers to him the four strokes of devastating news,
“… 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.”
Stroke One; Israel has again fled before the Philistines!
Stroke Two; There has been a great slaughter among the people!(30,000 casualties)
Stroke three; Thy two sons, Hophni and Phones are dead !
Stroke Four: The Ark has been captured!
For Israel to flee before the Philistines has definite theological implications. The thirty thousand casualties that dwarfed the earlier , devastating four thousand casualties would be a calamity.
The two sons of Eli, were the Sons of the High Priest of Israel! The High Priest represents the nation, therefore when the High Priest dies and his sons die and his grandson dies on the same die, is similar to the nation dying.
But the last stroke, would be the worst, most shocking and defeating.The ark of the Covenant was the physical throne of God on earth. God dwelt there, between the Cherubim. God has been taken captive and made into a prisoner of war!!!!! It looked like Dagon, the abominable god of the Philistines had prevailed over Jahweh.
The news was so dismal , the High Priest fell over and died, having broken his neck in the fall.
But the day of Horrors was not yet complete… for the daughter in law of the High Priest had been with child, and in labor. But the birth was difficult and she was in and out of consciousness. When she came to at one point after the birth, one of the mid-wives tried to encourage her, by telling her the good news that she had borne a son(A future High Priest).
She came out of her coma long enough to name the child “Ichabod”, which means, “the glory has departed”, then she died.
This story happened in History. But it s also a telling of the entire future of Israel, all the way till the last days. It is also a prophecy of the future of the Gentile powers as well, for Israel is such a witness to God that even her history is prophecy. I will demonstrate in the next segment why I believe this story relates the future of the Gentiles and the Jews.