Read 1 Samuel 4:12-21
The story of defeat continues, up to this point Hophni and Phineas went along with the plan to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord into battle. They had hoped the appearance of the ark would give them an advantage over the Philistines. They were wrong in that assumption, in fact they ended up losing 30,000 foot men on the battlefield. They didn’t just lose this battle, the Israelites also lost the ark of God and along with it Hophni and Phineas were both killed.
The Hebrew military was placed in complete disarray, men were running back to their tents in agony, except for one man who was from the tribe of Benjamin. I know it’s hard to believe but back then people did not have cell phones or email, so the only way to get news was by foot. Men who could run long distances with great endurance were chosen to report on the status of the war. The bible doesn’t specify who this benjamite man was, but Jewish history claims it is likely none other than Saul, the future king of Israel.
During the devastation Saul tore his clothes and poured dirt over his head as a sign of great defeat and deep mourning, he then took off running back toward Shiloh. In Shiloh by the watchtower sits 98 year old Eli waiting for news of this terrible battle and for the report of his wicked son’s whereabouts. The awareness of the previous loss of 4k men weighed heavily on his heart, his sons had broken a covenant with their invisible king only added to his sorrow.
This is an extreme amount of stress for this old man, he could not see well, if at all, but he could hear the uproar of cries, he could hear the wailing of loved ones moaning in agony as they received this horrible news of possible death of their loved ones. When Eli heard the cries, he demanded to know what the uproar was all about.
Saul rushes to Eli’s side informing him how Israel fled before the Philistines and the heavy loss they suffered. The news gets worse because he learns his two sons were among the dead. Then the biggest blow, the ark of God was captured.
Back in verse 13 KJV reads, Eli sat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God. This was the worst possible outcome he could have imagined, when he heard the horrible news of the ark, Eli fell backward off his chair and broke his neck. Eli was old and fat, he indulged his children and himself over the years, his body was in poor health, and so when he fell backward breaking his neck killed him. It seems like he may have suffered a heart attack given vs. 13 said his heart trembled for the ark of God. The heart attack could have likely caused him to fall backwards. Nevertheless, after 40 years of service Eli was no longer judge or priest over Israel.
One of the main interests to me in the part of Eli’s death is how it was the news of the ark’s captivity that caused his heart to react. His love and devotion for the Lord was undeniable and it is shown in these verses. It wasn’t the news of the war or the news of his son’s death that caused him to die, it was the news of the loss of the ark. The finality of the Lord’s judgement, the loss of the Lord’s glory on him and his family and from the house of the Lord is what caused him to ultimately die.
This terrible news continues to spread throughout Shiloh and all of Israel, but the next person recorded to receive word was Phinehas’ wife who was in her third trimester of pregnancy. The devastating news caused this woman to go into labor. Verse 19 says, “She bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her.” She was overcome with labor pains, falling to her knees as she travailed, this was a deep, sudden and excruciating childbirth .
Travail is a pretty heavy word, it means to engage in painful or laborious effort. Certainly childbirth on its own is painful and laborious but add to it the pain from the death of her husband and father in law, and don’t forget the ark was no longer in their care. This labor and delivery left her weakened to the point of death. Her attendants tried to comfort her, tried to lift her out of this pit of despair, but it was of no use. She would not respond to them or to her newborn son. She paid no attention to their efforts.
Deep in thought and depression the new mom contemplated all that had happened, she understood completely that Jehovah was no longer with her or her people, that the glory of the Lord had departed. She lost her husband, her Lord was no longer shining on her or her people, her father in Law, the high priest was now dead, this was all too much to handle. She began to slip further and further, deeper and deeper into despair. All the pain and hurt was summed up and placed into the name of her son. She named him Ichabod which means “no glory” because the glory of Israel is no more. The ark of God had been captured.
The scripture is written in such a way that indicates both Eli and Phinehas’ wife were especially distraught over the loss of the ark of God. To them these artifacts were priceless, they represented their Lord. They believed the glory of God was carried off, taken away from them. The ark is named the ark of the covenant. When the Lord’s earthly throne was surrendered it left them feeling as though the Lord also abolished his covenant of grace with Israel, that his covenant with them was no longer in effect.
Now what does this look like in our time, can the Lord’s glory be taken from us or from our sanctuary? Can the name Ichobod be given to a once vital church? Unfortunately that answer is yes. The Lord will always be present with his saints, however, that does not mean that it will permanently remain in a church, city or even a nation, especially if those places choose wickedness over worship.
So far through 1 Samuel we’ve studied how God’s glory was on the family of Elkanah, it was contrasted with the corruption of worship in the temple. God will remain with those who are righteous before him, he will not remain in a place where righteousness is not prioritized. Given the priest’s sins it was only a matter of time before the Lord would send judgement, he is generous in that he gives ample time to repent. Instead of repenting they made their sin a way of life, their sins became second nature a new way of life.
When the word, worship and ordinances of God are not prioritized and instead are removed it will only be a matter of time before the glory of God is also removed from the church and from the people who go along with the sin.
When people stop talking about the glorious Gospel of Christ, when we stop talking about sound doctrine, when we stop talking about the promises God made to us, when we stop administering the sacraments it means the glory has departed from the people. They will have no one to blame, they alone are responsible for being religious, lukewarm, unfruitful, negligent with their attendance for the worship service, ignoring the spoken word and instead taking part in unbecoming conversations.
I know you can make up a million excuses as to why you are not a participant in a “Ichabod” church, you love the Lord, you pray, you sing those songs when you feel like showing up, you toss a few bucks into the offering plate. Hear me on this if you do not take the worship of the Lord seriously it is only a matter of time before his glory will not shine on you. You need to start pressing in more and more. Church is not a place to go just so you can focus your week. It is a place where you go to worship the Lord of Lords. In the Shiloh church the assistant pastors were causing the worshipers to be distracted, they took the focus of the sacrifice off the Lord and put in on themselves. The lead pastor chose to look the other way, he didn’t want to cause a ruckus, he didn’t want to deal with the fallout so he kept the assistant pastors on payroll.
Church members, you cannot allow the worship of the Lord to be tainted, you need to press in. Pastors step up to the plate and make sure your church members understand what it means to worship the Lord in the way He expects.