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Philistines Take the Ark in Victory

And the word of [the Lord through] Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to meet the Philistines in battle and they camped beside Ebenezer while the Philistines camped at Aphek. The Philistines assembled in battle formation to meet Israel, and when the battle was over, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield. When the people (soldiers) came into the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, so that He may come among us and save us from the hand of our enemies.” So the people sent word to Shiloh, and from there they carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts who sits above the cherubim; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were with the ark of the covenant of God.

So it happened that as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all [the people of] Israel shouted with a great shout, and the earth resounded. When the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, “What does the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” Then they understood that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp. The Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe [disaster is coming] to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who will rescue us from the hand of these mighty [a]gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, so that you do not become servants to the Hebrews, as they have been servants to you; act like men and fight!”

10 So the Philistines fought; Israel was defeated and every man fled to his tent. It was a very great defeat, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 Also the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were killed.(A)

12 Now a man [from the tribe] of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh that same day with his clothes torn and dust on his head [as signs of mourning over the disaster]. 13 When he arrived, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road, keeping watch, because his heart was anxious about the ark of God. When the man arrived to report [the news] in the city, everyone in the city cried out [to God, for help]. 14 When Eli heard the noise of the outcry, he asked, “What is the noise of this uproar?” And the man came hurriedly and told Eli. 15 Now Eli was ninety-eight years old; his eyes were dim so that he could not see. 16 The man said to Eli, “I have come from the battle line. Indeed, I escaped from the battle line today.” Eli said, “How did things go, my son?” 17 The messenger replied, “Israel has fled before the Philistines and there has also been a great slaughter among the people. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been taken.” 18 When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell off the seat backwards by the side of the [city] gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was old and heavy. He had judged Israel for forty years.

19 Now his daughter-in-law, Phinehas’ wife, was pregnant, and was about to give birth; so when she heard the news that the ark of God had been taken and that her father-in-law and her husband had died, she kneeled down and gave birth, because her [labor] pains began. 20 And about the time of her death [following the sudden birth] the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have given birth to a son.” But she did not answer or pay any attention. 21 And she named the boy [b]Ichabod, saying, “The glory has left Israel,” because the ark of God had been taken and because of [the deaths of] her father-in-law and her husband. 22 She said, “The glory has left Israel, for the ark of God has been taken.”

Capture of the Ark Provokes God

Then the Philistines took the ark of God, and they brought it from Ebenezer to [c]Ashdod. They took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it beside [the image of] Dagon [their chief idol]. When the people of Ashdod got up early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and returned him to his place. But when they got up early the next morning, behold, Dagon had [again] fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord, and his head and both palms of his hands were [lying] cut off on the threshold; only the trunk [portion] of [the idol of] Dagon was left on him. This is the reason neither the priests of Dagon nor any who enter Dagon’s house step on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.

Then the hand of the Lord was heavy on the people of Ashdod, and He caused them to be dumbfounded and struck them with [d]tumors, both Ashdod and its territory. When the men of Ashdod saw what had happened, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for His hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god.” So they sent word and gathered all the lords (governors) of the Philistines to them and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” They answered, “Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought around to [e]Gath.” So they took the ark of the God of Israel there. But it happened that after they had taken it to Gath, the hand of the Lord was against the city, causing an extremely great panic [because of the deaths from the plague], for He struck the people of the city, both young and old, and tumors broke out on them. 10 So they sent the ark of God to [f]Ekron. And as the ark of God came to Ekron, the Ekronites cried out, “They have brought the ark of the God of Israel [from Gath] to [g]us, to kill us and [h]our people.” 11 So they sent word and gathered all the lords of the Philistines and said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel; let it be returned to its own place, so that it will not kill us and our people.” For there was a deadly panic throughout the city; the hand of God was very heavy (severe) there. 12 The men who had not died were stricken with tumors and the cry of the city [for help] went up to heaven.

The Ark Returned to Israel

Now the ark of the Lord had been in the country of the Philistines for seven months. And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners (seers), saying, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Let us know how we can send it back to its place.” They said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty [without a gift]; but be sure to return [it] to Him [together with] a guilt offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why His hand is not removed from you.” Then they said, “What shall the guilt offering be which we shall return to Him?” They answered, “[i]Five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords (governors) of the Philistines, for one plague was on all of you and on your lords. So you shall make replicas of your tumors and of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel; perhaps He will lighten His hand [of judgment] on you and your gods and your land. Why then do you harden your hearts [allowing pride to cause your downfall] just as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? When He had severely dealt with them and mocked them, did they not allow the people [of Israel] to go, and they departed? Now then, make a new cart and prepare two [j]milk cows on which a yoke has never been placed; and hitch the cows to the cart and take their calves back home, away from them. Then take the ark of the Lord and put it on the cart; and put the articles of gold which you are returning to Him as a guilt offering in a box beside it. Then send it away [without a driver]. But watch, [k]if it goes up by the way of its own territory to [l]Beth-shemesh, then [you will know that] He has done us this great evil. But if not, then we will know that it was not His hand that struck us; this disaster happened to us by chance.”

10 And the men did so, and took two milk cows and hitched them to the cart, and corralled their calves at home. 11 They put the ark of the Lord on the cart, and the box containing the golden mice and the replicas of their tumors. 12 And the cows went straight toward Beth-shemesh along the highway, lowing as they went, and did not turn away to the right or the left. And the Philistine lords (governors) followed them to the border of Beth-shemesh.

13 Now the men of Beth-shemesh were gathering their wheat harvest in the valley, and they looked up and saw the ark and rejoiced to see it. 14 The cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh and stopped there. A large stone was there; and the men split up the wood of the cart [for firewood] and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. 15 The Levites had taken down the ark of the Lord and the box beside it, in which were the articles of gold, and put them on the large stone. And the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices that day to the Lord. 16 When the five lords of the Philistines saw what happened, they returned to Ekron that day.

17 These are the golden tumors which the Philistines returned as a guilt offering to the Lord: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath and one for Ekron [the five chief cities of the Philistines]; 18 also the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both fortified cities and [unwalled] country villages. The large stone on which the Levites set the ark of the Lord remains a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh.

19 The Lord struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the Lord. He struck down 50,070 men among the people, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great slaughter. 20 The men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?” 21 So they sent messengers to the residents of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the Lord. Come down and take it up to you.”

Rescue from the Philistines

So the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and they consecrated Eleazar his son to care for the ark of the Lord. And from that day the ark remained in Kiriath-jearim for a very long time, for it was twenty years [until the reign of King David]; and all the house of Israel lamented (wailed) and grieved after the Lord.(B)

Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth (pagan goddesses) from among you and direct your hearts to the Lord and serve Him only; and He will rescue you from the hand of the Philistines.” So the Israelites removed the Baals and the Ashtaroth and served the Lord alone.

Samuel said, “Gather all Israel together at Mizpah and I will pray to the Lord for you.” So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the Israelites at Mizpah.

Now when the Philistines heard that the Israelites had gathered at Mizpah, the lords (governors) of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the Israelites heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines. And the sons of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, so that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord; and Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel and the Lord answered him. 10 As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines approached for the battle against Israel. Then the Lord thundered with a great voice that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated and fled before Israel. 11 And the men of Israel came out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as [the territory] below Beth-car.

12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and he named it Ebenezer (stone of help), saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” 13 So the Philistines were subdued and they did not come anymore into Israelite territory. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. 14 The cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath; and Israel recovered the cities’ territory from the Philistines. Also there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.

Samuel’s Ministry

15 Now Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. 16 He used to go annually on a circuit to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, and he judged Israel in all these places. 17 Then he would return to Ramah, because his home was there; and there he judged Israel, and there he built an altar to the Lord.

Israel Demands a King

And it came about when Samuel was old that he appointed his sons as judges over Israel. Now the name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judging in Beersheba. His sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Look, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint us a king to judge us [and rule over us] like all the other nations.” But their demand [m]displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge and rule over us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being King over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have abandoned (rejected) Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. So now listen to their voice; only solemnly warn them and tell them the ways of the king who will reign over them.”

Warning concerning a King

10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them for himself to his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. 12 He will appoint them for himself to be commanders over thousands and over fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his implements of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves shall be his servants. 18 Then you will cry out on that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you on that day [because you have rejected Him as King].”

19 Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, 20 so that we too may be like all the nations [around us], that our king may judge [and govern] us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 21 Samuel had heard all the words of the people and repeated them [n]to the Lord. 22 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their [o]request and appoint a king for them.” So Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Go, each man to his own city.”


  1. 1 Samuel 4:8 Even though the Philistines associated the God of Israel with the ark, they still thought in terms of multiple gods.
  2. 1 Samuel 4:21 Hebrew for “Where is the glory?”
  3. 1 Samuel 5:1 One of the five major Philistine cities.
  4. 1 Samuel 5:6 It is possible that this was a type of bubonic plague or infection spread by rats (or fleas hosted by rats), as intimated in 6:4f.
  5. 1 Samuel 5:8 Gath was another major Philistine city and the home of their giant warrior, Goliath. Faced with the humiliation of surrendering the ark to Israel, the Philistine governors decided instead to treat it like a dangerous “hot potato” and simply get rid of it by sending it to another city.
  6. 1 Samuel 5:10 A major Philistine city north of Ashdod and near the territory of Israel.
  7. 1 Samuel 5:10 Lit me.
  8. 1 Samuel 5:10 Lit my.
  9. 1 Samuel 6:4 It was customary in some ancient cultures to make replicas of injured or diseased body parts as offerings to gods for healing. These were called votive offerings. Moreover, worshipers of pagan gods often were not adverse to acknowledging the existence of other, powerful gods outside their own cultures, and in this case the exploits of the God who was inflicting their punishment were already well known (v 6).
  10. 1 Samuel 6:7 Here this refers to cows still nursing their calves.
  11. 1 Samuel 6:9 The nature of the milk cows would be to turn back toward their calves, not proceed forward, as they did, toward Beth-shemesh.
  12. 1 Samuel 6:9 A town belonging to the tribe of the sons of Judah.
  13. 1 Samuel 8:6 Lit was evil in the eyes of.
  14. 1 Samuel 8:21 Lit in the Lord’s hearing.
  15. 1 Samuel 8:22 Lit voice.

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