We have here another melancholy story, that carries on the desolations of Eli’s house, and the sorrowful feeling which the tidings of the ark’s captivity excited. It is concerning the wife of Phinehas, one of those ungracious sons of Eli that had brought all this mischief on Israel. It cost her her life, though young, as well as that of her father-in-law, that was old; for many a green head, as well as many a hoary head, has been brought by sorrow to the grave: it worketh death. By what is here related of her it appears,
I. That she was a woman of a very tender spirit. Providence so ordered it that, just at this time, she was near her time; and our Saviour hath said, Woe to those that are with child, or give suck, in such days as these, Matt. 24:19. So little joy will there then be in the birth, even of a man-child, that it will be said, Blessed are the wombs that bear not, Luke 23:29. The amazing news coming at this unhappy juncture, it put her into labour, as great frights or other strong passions sometimes do. When she heard of the death of her father-in-law whom she reverenced, and her husband whom, bad as he was, she loved, but especially of the loss of the ark, she travailed, for her pains came thickly upon her (1 Sam. 4:19), and the tidings so seized her spirits, at a time when they needed all possible supports, that, though she had strength to bear the child, she, soon after, fainted and died away, being very willing to let life go when she had lost the greatest comforts of her life. Those who are drawing near to that trying hour have need to treasure up for themselves comforts from the covenant of grace, to balance, not only the usual sorrows, but any thing extraordinary that may add to the grief which they do not foresee. Faith, at such a time, will keep from fainting, Ps. 27:13.
II. That she was a woman of a very gracious spirit though matched to a wicked husband. Her concern for the death of her husband and father-in-law was an evidence of her natural affection; but her much greater concern for the loss of the ark was an evidence of her pious and devout affection to God and sacred things. The former helped to hasten her travail, but it appears by her dying words that the latter lay nearer her heart (1 Sam. 4:22): She said, The glory has departed from Israel, not lamenting so much the sinking of that particular family to which she was related as the general calamity of Israel in the captivity of the ark. This, this was it that was her grief, that was her death.
1. This made her regardless of her child. The women that attended her, who it is likely were some of the first rank in the city, encouraged her, and, thinking that he concern was mostly about the issue of her pains, when the child was born, said unto her, Fear not, now the worst is past, for thou has borne a son (and perhaps it was her first-born), but she answered not, neither did she regard it. The sorrows of her travail, if she had no other, would have been forgotten, for joy that a man-child was born into the world. John 16:21. But what is that joy, (1.) To one that feels herself dying? No joy but that which is spiritual and divine will stand us in any stead then. Death is too serious a thing to admit the relish of any earthly joy; it is all flat and sapless then. (2.) What is it to one that is lamenting the loss of the ark? Small comfort could she have of a child born in Israel, in Shiloh, when the ark is lost, and is a prisoner in the land of the Philistines. What pleasure can we take in our creature-comforts and enjoyments if we want God’s word and ordinances, especially if we want the comfort of his gracious presence and the light of his countenance? As vinegar upon nitre, so is he that sings songs so such heavy hearts.
2. This made her give her child a name which should perpetuate the remembrance of the calamity and her sense of it. She has nothing to say to the child, only it being her province, now that her husband was dead, to name the child, she orders them to call it I-chabod, that is, Where is the glory? Or, Alas for the glory! or, There is no glory (1 Sam. 4:21), which she thus explains with her dying lips (1 Sam. 4:22): “The glory has departed from Israel; for the ark of God is taken. Call the child inglorious, for so he is; the beauty of Israel is lost, and there appears no hope of ever retrieving it; never let the name of an Israelite, must less a priest, carry glory in it any more, now that the ark is taken.” Note, (1.) The purity and plenty of God’s ordinances, and the tokens of his presence in them, are the glory of any people, much more so than their wealth, and trade, and interest, among the nations. 2. Nothing is more cutting, more killing, to a faithful Israelite, than the want and loss of these. If God go, the glory goes, and all good goes. Woe unto us if he depart!