Defeat of the Israelites.* 1At that time, the Philistines gathered for an attack on Israel. Israel went out to engage them in battle and camped at Ebenezer, while the Philistines camped at Aphek. 2The Philistines then drew up in battle formation against Israel. After a fierce struggle Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield. 3When the troops retired to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the LORD permitted us to be defeated today by the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the LORD from Shiloh that it may go into battle among us and save us from the grasp of our enemies.”a
Loss of the Ark. 4So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned upon the cherubim.* The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, accompanied the ark of God.b 5When the ark of the LORD arrived in the camp, all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth shook. 6The Philistines, hearing the uproar, asked, “What does this loud shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” On learning that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp, 7the Philistines were frightened, crying out, “Gods have come to their camp. Woe to us! This has never happened before. 8Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods?* These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with various plagues in the desert. 9Take courage and act like soldiers, Philistines; otherwise you will become slaves to the Hebrews, as they were your slaves. Fight like soldiers!” 10The Philistines fought and Israel was defeated; everyone fled to their own tents.* It was a disastrous defeat; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were dead.c
Death of Eli. 12A Benjaminite fled from the battlefield and reached Shiloh that same day, with his clothes torn and his head covered with dirt.d 13When he arrived, Eli was sitting in his chair beside the gate, watching the road, for he was troubled at heart about the ark of God. The man, however, went into the city to announce his news; then the whole city cried out. 14When Eli heard the uproar, he wondered why there was such commotion. Just then the man rushed up to inform him. 15Eli was ninety-eight years old, and his eyes would not focus. So he could not see. 16The man said to Eli: “I have come from the battlefield; today I fled from there.” He asked, “What happened, my son?” 17And the messenger answered: “Israel fled from the Philistines; in fact, the troops suffered heavy losses. Your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” 18At this mention of the ark of God, Eli fell backward from his chair into the gateway; he died of a broken neck since he was an old man and heavy. He had judged Israel for forty years.
19His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and about to give birth. When she heard the news about the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband, she crouched down in labor, and gave birth. 20She was about to die when the women standing around her said to her, “Do not be afraid, you have given birth to a son.” Yet she neither answered nor paid any attention.e 21She named the child Ichabod, saying, “Gone is the glory from Israel,” referring to the capture of the ark of God and to her father-in-law and her husband. 22She said, “Gone is the glory from Israel,” because the ark of God had been captured.f
* [4:1–7:1] The Ark Narrative: A striking indication that this is an independent narrative is the absence of any mention of Samuel. The Philistines: one of the Sea Peoples, of Aegean origin, who occupied the coastal plain of Palestine and threatened the Israelites who settled the inland hills.
* [4:4] Enthroned upon the cherubim: this divine title first occurs in the Old Testament at the sanctuary at Shiloh (cf. 2 Sm 6:2); God is represented seated upon a throne borne through the heavens by cherubim, creatures partly human being, partly beast (cf. Ez 1 and 10).
* [4:8] These mighty gods: the Philistines, who were polytheists, presume that the Israelites also honored several gods.
* [4:10] To their own tents: the defeat is so catastrophic that the soldiers abandon the army for home; cf. 2 Sm 18:17.
d. [4:12] Jos 7:6; 2 Sm 1:2; Jer 7:12.
e. [4:20] 1 Sm 14:3; Gn 35:16–20.