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Then Samuel would speak to the whole nation of Israel.

The Philistines Capture the Sacred Chest

One day the Israelites went out to fight the Philistines. They set up camp near Ebenezer, and the Philistines camped at Aphek. The Philistines made a fierce attack. They defeated the Israelites and killed about four thousand of them.

The Israelite army returned to their camp, and the leaders said, “Why did the Lord let us lose to the Philistines today? Let’s get the sacred chest where the Lord’s agreement with Israel is kept. Then the Lord[a] will help us and rescue us from our enemies.”

The army sent some soldiers to bring back the sacred chest from Shiloh, because the Lord All-Powerful has his throne on the winged creatures on top of the chest.

As Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, brought the chest into camp, the army cheered so loudly that the ground shook. The Philistines heard the noise and said, “What are those Hebrews shouting about?”

When the Philistines learned that the sacred chest had been brought into the camp, they were scared to death and said:

The gods have come into their camp. Now we’re in real trouble! Nothing like this has ever happened to us before. We’re in big trouble! Who can save us from these powerful gods? They’re the same gods who made all those horrible things happen to the Egyptians in the desert.

Philistines, be brave and fight hard! If you don’t, those Hebrews will rule us, just as we’ve been ruling them. Fight and don’t be afraid.

10 The Philistines did fight. They killed thirty thousand Israelite soldiers, and all the rest ran off to their homes. 11 Hophni and Phinehas were killed, and the sacred chest was captured.

Eli Dies

12 That same day a soldier from the tribe of Benjamin ran from the battlefront to Shiloh. He had torn his clothes and put dirt on his head to show his sorrow. 13 He went into town and told the news about the battle, and everyone started crying.

Eli was afraid that something might happen to the sacred chest. So he was sitting on his chair beside the road, just waiting. 14-15 He was ninety-eight years old and blind, but he could hear everyone crying, and he asked, “What’s all that noise?”

The soldier hurried over and told Eli, 16 “I escaped from the fighting today and ran here.”

“Young man, what happened?” Eli asked.

17 “Israel ran away from the Philistines,” the soldier answered. “Many of our people were killed, including your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. But worst of all, the sacred chest was captured.”

18 Eli was still sitting on a chair beside the wall of the town gate. And when the man said that the Philistines had taken the sacred chest, Eli fell backwards. He was a very heavy old man, and the fall broke his neck and killed him. He had been a leader[b] of Israel for forty years.

19 The wife of Phinehas was about to give birth. And soon after she heard that the sacred chest had been captured and that her husband and his father had died, her baby came. The birth was very hard, 20 and she was dying. But the women taking care of her said, “Don’t be afraid—it’s a boy!”

She didn’t pay any attention to them. 21-22 Instead she kept thinking about losing her husband and her father-in-law. So she said, “My son will be named Ichabod,[c] because the glory of Israel left our country when the sacred chest was captured.”

God Causes Trouble for the Philistines

The Philistines took the sacred chest from near Ebenezer to the town of Ashdod. They brought it into the temple of their god Dagon and put it next to the statue of Dagon, which they worshiped.

When the people of Ashdod got up early the next morning, they found the statue lying facedown on the floor in front of the sacred chest. They put the statue back where it belonged. But early the next morning, it had fallen over again and was lying facedown on the floor in front of the chest. The body of the statue was still in one piece, but its head and both hands had broken off and were lying on the stone floor in the doorway. This is the reason the priests and everyone else step over that part of the doorway when they enter the temple of Dagon in Ashdod.

The Lord caused a lot of trouble for the people of Ashdod and their neighbors. He made sores break out all over their bodies,[d] and everyone was in a panic.[e] Finally, they said, “The God of Israel did this. He is the one who caused all this trouble for us and our god Dagon. We’ve got to get rid of this chest.”

The people of Ashdod had all the Philistine rulers come to Ashdod, and they asked them, “What can we do with the sacred chest that belongs to the God of Israel?”

“Send it to Gath,” the rulers answered. But after they took it there, the Lord made sores break out on everyone in town. The people of Gath were frightened, 10 so they sent the sacred chest to Ekron. But before they could take it through the town gates, the people of Ekron started screaming, “They’ve brought the sacred chest that belongs to the God of Israel! It will kill us and our families too!”

The Philistines Send Back the Sacred Chest

11 The people of Ekron called for another meeting of the Philistine rulers and told them, “Send this chest back where it belongs. Then it won’t kill us.”

Everyone was in a panic, because God was causing a lot of people to die, 12 and those who had survived were suffering from the sores. They all cried to their gods for help.

After the sacred chest had been in Philistia for seven months,[f] the Philistines called in their priests and fortunetellers, and asked, “What should we do with this sacred chest? Tell us how to send it back where it belongs!”

“Don’t send it back without a gift,” the priests and fortunetellers answered. “Send along something to Israel’s God to make up for taking the chest in the first place. Then you will be healed, and you will find out why the Lord was causing you so much trouble.”

“What should we send?” the Philistines asked.

The priests and fortunetellers answered:

There are five Philistine rulers, and they all have the same disease that you have. So make five gold models of the sores and five gold models of the rats that are wiping out your crops. If you honor the God of Israel with this gift, maybe he will stop causing trouble for you and your gods and your crops. Don’t be like the Egyptians and their king. They were stubborn, but when Israel’s God was finished with them, they had to let Israel go.

Get a new cart and two cows that have young calves and that have never pulled a cart. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take the calves back to their barn. Then put the chest on the cart. Put the gold rats and sores into a bag and put it on the cart next to the chest. Then send it on its way.

Watch to see if the chest goes on up the road to the Israelite town of Beth-Shemesh. If it goes back to its own country, you will know that it was the Lord who made us suffer so badly. But if the chest doesn’t go back to its own country, then the Lord had nothing to do with the disease that hit us—it was simply bad luck.

10 The Philistines followed their advice. They hitched up the two cows to the cart, but they kept their calves in a barn. 11 Then they put the chest on the cart, along with the bag that had the gold rats and sores in it.

12 The cows went straight up the road toward Beth-Shemesh, mooing as they went. The Philistine rulers followed them until they got close to Beth-Shemesh.

13 The people of Beth-Shemesh were harvesting their wheat[g] in the valley. When they looked up and saw the chest, they were so happy that they stopped working and started celebrating.

14-15 The cows left the road and pulled the cart into a field that belonged to Joshua from Beth-Shemesh, and they stopped beside a huge rock. Some men from the tribe of Levi were there. So they took the chest off the cart and placed it on the rock, and then they did the same thing with the bag of gold rats and sores. A few other people chopped up the cart and made a fire. They killed the cows and burned them as sacrifices to the Lord. After that, they offered more sacrifices.

16 When the five rulers of the Philistines saw what had happened, they went back to Ekron that same day.

17 That is how the Philistines sent gifts to the Lord to make up for taking the sacred chest. They sent five gold sores, one each for their towns of Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron. 18 They also sent one gold rat for each walled town and for every village that the five Philistine rulers controlled. The huge stone[h] where the Levites set the chest is still there in Joshua’s field as a reminder of what happened.

The Sacred Chest Is Sent to Kiriath-Jearim

19 Some of the men of Beth-Shemesh looked inside the sacred chest, and the Lord God killed seventy[i] of them. This made the people of Beth-Shemesh very sad, 20 and they started saying, “No other God is like the Lord! Who can go near him and still live? We’ll have to send the chest away from here. But where can we send it?”

21 They sent messengers to tell the people of Kiriath-Jearim, “The Philistines have sent back the sacred chest. Why don’t you take it and keep it there with you?”

The people of Kiriath-Jearim got the chest and took it to Abinadab’s house, which was on a hill in their town. They chose his son Eleazar to take care of it, and it stayed there for twenty years.

During this time everyone in Israel was very sad and begged the Lord for help.[j]

The People of Israel Turn Back to the Lord

One day, Samuel told all the people of Israel, “If you really want to turn back to the Lord, then prove it. Get rid of your foreign idols, including the ones of the goddess Astarte. Turn to the Lord with all your heart and worship only him. Then he will rescue you from the Philistines.”

The people got rid of their idols of Baal and Astarte and began worshiping only the Lord.

Then Samuel said, “Tell everyone in Israel to meet together at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.”

The Israelites met together at Mizpah with Samuel as their leader. They drew water from the well and poured it out as an offering to the Lord. On that same day they went without eating to show their sorrow, and they confessed they had been unfaithful to the Lord.

The Philistines Attack Israel

When the Philistine rulers found out about the meeting at Mizpah, they sent an army there to attack the people of Israel.

The Israelites were afraid when they heard that the Philistines were coming. “Don’t stop praying!” they told Samuel. “Ask the Lord our God to rescue us.”

9-10 Samuel begged the Lord to rescue Israel, then he sacrificed a young lamb to the Lord. Samuel had not even finished offering the sacrifice when the Philistines started to attack. But the Lord answered his prayer and made thunder crash all around them. The Philistines panicked and ran away. 11 The men of Israel left Mizpah and went after them as far as the hillside below Beth-Car, killing every enemy soldier they caught.

12-13 The Philistines were so badly beaten that it was quite a while before they attacked Israel again. After the battle, Samuel set up a monument between Mizpah and the rocky cliffs. He named it “Help Monument”[k] to remind Israel how much the Lord had helped them.

For as long as Samuel lived, the Lord helped Israel fight the Philistines. 14 The Israelites were even able to recapture their towns and territory between Ekron and Gath.

Israel was also at peace with the Amorites.[l]

Samuel Is a Leader in Israel

15 Samuel was a leader[m] in Israel all his life. 16 Every year he would go around to the towns of Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah where he served as judge for the people. 17 Then he would go back to his home in Ramah and do the same thing there. He also had an altar built for the Lord at Ramah.

The People of Israel Want a King

1-2 Samuel had two sons. The older one was Joel, and the younger one was Abijah. When Samuel was getting old, he let them be leaders[n] at Beersheba. But they were not like their father. They were dishonest and accepted bribes to give unfair decisions.

One day the nation’s leaders came to Samuel at Ramah and said, “You are an old man. You set a good example for your sons, but they haven’t followed it. Now we want a king to be our leader,[o] just like all the other nations. Choose one for us!”

Samuel was upset to hear the leaders say they wanted a king, so he prayed about it. The Lord answered:

Samuel, do everything they want you to do. I am really the one they have rejected as their king. Ever since the day I rescued my people from Egypt, they have turned from me to worship idols. Now they are turning away from you. Do everything they ask, but warn them and tell them how a king will treat them.

10 Samuel told the people who were asking for a king what the Lord had said:

11 If you have a king, this is how he will treat you. He will force your sons to join his army. Some of them will ride in his chariots, some will serve in the cavalry, and others will run ahead of his own chariot.[p] 12 Some of them will be officers in charge of a thousand soldiers, and others will be in charge of fifty. Still others will have to farm the king’s land and harvest his crops, or make weapons and parts for his chariots. 13 Your daughters will have to make perfume or do his cooking and baking.

14 The king will take your best fields, as well as your vineyards, and olive orchards and give them to his own officials. 15 He will also take a tenth of your grain and grapes and give it to his officers and officials.

16 The king will take your slaves and your best young men and your donkeys and make them do his work. 17 He will also take a tenth of your sheep and goats. You will become the king’s slaves, 18 and you will finally cry out for the Lord to save you from the king you wanted. But the Lord won’t answer your prayers.

19-20 The people would not listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want to be like other nations. We want a king to rule us and lead us in battle.”

21 Samuel listened to them and then told the Lord exactly what they had said. 22 “Do what they want,” the Lord answered. “Give them a king.”

Samuel told the people to go back to their homes.

Footnotes

  1. 4.3 Lord: Or “chest.”
  2. 4.18 leader: The Hebrew word means that Eli may have been an army commander, a judge, and a priest.
  3. 4.21,22 Ichabod: Ichabod means “where is the glory?” or “there is no glory.”
  4. 5.6 sores. . . bodies: Or “He struck them with bubonic plague.”
  5. 5.6 panic: Two ancient translations add “Rats came from their ships, and people were dying right and left.”
  6. 6.1 months: One ancient translation adds “and rats were everywhere” or “and rats ate the crops.”
  7. 6.13 wheat: The wheat harvest took place in May and June.
  8. 6.18 stone: A few Hebrew manuscripts; most Hebrew manuscripts “meadow” or “stream.”
  9. 6.19 seventy: A few Hebrew manuscripts; most Hebrew manuscripts “seventy men, fifty thousand men.”
  10. 7.2 Israel. . . help: Or “Israel turned to the Lord and begged him for help.”
  11. 7.12,13 Help Monument: Or “Ebenezer.”
  12. 7.14 Amorites: In this verse, the non-Israelite peoples of Canaan.
  13. 7.15; 8.1,2,5 leader: The Hebrew word could mean an army commander, a judge, and a religious leader.
  14. 7.15; 8.1,2,5 leader: The Hebrew word could mean an army commander, a judge, and a religious leader.
  15. 7.15; 8.1,2,5 leader: The Hebrew word could mean an army commander, a judge, and a religious leader.
  16. 8.11 others. . . chariot: These men were probably his bodyguards.