Bible Notes Online - 1-Samuel 4 - ESV

v1: Chapters 4-6 make no reference to Samuel, for Israel went into battle without his godly counsel. It seems likely that these events happened whilst Samuel was ministering throughout Israel (3.19-21).

v2-3: Having endured a first defeat, Israel looked to the ark of the covenant, as a sort of lucky charm; this is ritualism, or even superstition, hoping that it would save them from the Philistines. See also Jer 7.4, where the people treated the temple of the Lord in the same way. We have already seen that God will honour those who honour Him (2.30).

v4-6: Hophni and Phinehas, Eli's two sons, came with the ark; clearly the people were ignorant of the seriousness of their sins. Yet the arrival of the ark encouraged the Israelites, such that the Philistines feared at their shout.

v7-9: The Philistines' initial fear was replaced by determination.

v10-11: Although the Philistines' concept of 'God' was woefully inadequate (compare 1 Kings 20.23, 28), that of the Israelites was no better. The Philistines' determination proved sufficient, to kill 30,000 (compared to only 4,000 in the first battle), capture the ark of God, and kill Eli's sons. The Israelites had trusted in the ark of God, not God Himself, and their folly was exposed. Hophni and Phinehas died, fulfilling 2.34; God's judgment had begun to fall on Eli's family.

v12-18: A Benjamite fled from the battle to Shiloh, to bring news of the defeat.

Eli, as elsewhere, was sitting down. As the conversation continues, and the disastrous news was revealed, Eli's condition is described; he was almost blind, and overweight; no zeal, no power, no authority over family or nation. The glory had truly departed.

The things that the people had trusted in, namely Eli and the ark, had been taken away. The people had to look to God once more for His deliverance, and Samuel was God's instrument in reviving faith in Israel.

v19-22: The chapter ends with the birth of Ichabod, meaning, "The glory has departed from Israel". Phinehas’ wife realised the truth of the situation.