1 Samuel 4

1 Samuel Blog Bible Study


    The chapter begins with a line that seems better fit to the previous chapter’s end. “And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.” The story is not of something Samuel is saying, it is of the Israelites deciding to go to war with the Philistines and losing badly. When they are shocked by their loss, they bring the ark of the covenant into the battle. They think that by having the ark they will automatically win, although their line of reasoning is that God is letting them lose, so bringing the ark without consulting with God probably won’t bode well. And it doesn’t. They lose, AND the Philistines take the ark. The word that God spoke twice, once through the man of God in chapter 2 and through Samuel in chapter 3 comes true for Eli and his sons. Both of the sons die in the same day, and then Eli, upon hearing the news dies as well. Phinehas, one of Eli’s sons, has a pregnant wife who goes into labor upon hearing the news and as she dies names her child Ichabod which means “gone into exile” saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” (v. 21b)


    Samuel, Israel (4,000 men killed on the field of battle and 30,000 fallen foot soldiers, the rest fled), the Philistines, elders of Israel, the Lord, Eli, Hophni, Phinehas, a man of Benjamin, the wife of Phinehas, the women attending to her, and Ichabod.

Key Verse

Verse 3 “And when the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.””

Cross References

Joshua 18:1 “Then the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The land lay subdued before them.”


    Rather than ask the Lord why they were defeated, they ask each other. Rather than ask the Lord what to do, they decide on their own. Rather than believe that it is God who works through and in the ark of the covenant, they think the object is the power.

This is yet another situation easy to think was “those people,” in “that time.” However, we are prone to do this as well. When we are confused, concerned, or have a problem do we go to God first or our friends or even our pastor? God did not set up relationships to supersede Him, but rather to encourage the relationship with Him. My husband may be someone I discuss everything with, but I should be spending time every day going to God. We often continue along the same path by choosing a plan of action amongst ourselves. We can even make this option seem like the holy choice. It could involve church people or doing an event at the church, but that does not automatically make it God’s will. We can also imbue power into items instead of God. This can happen, as I mentioned by holding events at the church. Yes, God’s Presence is there as it was with the Ark, but if we are not in relationship with God and pursuing Him and discerning His Will, we will not receive the blessings that would come through obedience to His Will. We can do this in many ways, Christian novels or bands who have Christians in them can hold weight with us that puts their opinions above God’s and what the Bible actually says. We can find self-help books instead of the Bible and follow them instead of God.

Let us be careful to put God into the entire situation, not just think on Him in passing. I challenge you to reflect on a problem, big or small that you have either recently or are currently handling and turn to God with it.

Dear Lord, I want You to be the Master of my life because I know Your plans are not only good, but are the best. I want to follow You entirely. I know that You love me, and I want to learn to love You more and to hear You more and more clearly speaking into my life.

Recently I was/am struggling with _____________.

I know that I need Your help in coming to a decision and solution. Please help me have patience to wait on Your answer and guidance.

Please help me to see the Biblical and Godly way to move forward and not to take action until You have given me directions.

As I hand this over to You, I pray that you bless the ears, hearts and minds of my friends who I confide in that they may also hear from You and confirm what You tell me to do.

I pray that I do not hold their opinion in higher esteem, or give it more weight, than Yours. I pray that I would not give anything more esteem, honor, and weight than I give to You.

Thank You for being with me always, for loving me no matter what, and for helping me with this.


Jesus in the Old Testament

There is a bunny trail I am going to follow to connect a few points across the Old Testament, so this first part will be discussing the sins of Eli and his sons in more depth. Here are the notes from my Bible:

    “The key word “weight” (“honor,” “glory”), introduced in 2:29-30, figures prominently in this section. Eli, after a lifetime of spiritual carelessness, dies under his own weight (4:18).”* I want to also go back to the notes for that section because chapter 2 was so full I did not write some of them that apply to this portion. “Specifically, Eli is charged with honoring his sons above the Lord (2:29). To “honor” someone is to give him “weight,” and it is a fine irony that in the present instance the spiritual infraction has a physical manifestation—both father and sons have put on weight!”* By eating the food brought to be offered in the greedy way that they did, the three of them have gained substantial weight. That was not in God’s original plan for the priests, and here in chapter four it comes to be the death of Eli because he falls and breaks his neck under his own weight (verse 18).

1 Samuel 2:29-30 “Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?’ Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel declares: ‘I promised that your house should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.”

1 Samuel 2:13-17 “The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw.” And if the man said to him, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish,” He would say, “No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force.””

When we read that line “the custom of the priests” it is easy to just assume that since they are priests and it is what they do it must be right. We tend to place our pastors and priests up on a pedestal, give them more weight than maybe they deserve, or more than we give to God. We often would rather our pastor tell us in church on Sunday than pursue God during the week to find out His will for our lives. But that is why God put the books of Law into the Bible because He wants us to know right from wrong. And in reading this section about what Hophni and Phinehas, and Eli, too since he was eating along with them, are doing God provided what was supposed to happen also:

Leviticus 3:5, 16 “Then Aaron’s sons shall burn [the peace offering] on the altar on top of the burnt offering, which is on the wood of the fire; it is a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord…And the priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering with a pleasing aroma. All fat is the Lord’s.”

This literally means to burn it, not to cook it a little (or in the case of Hophni and Phinehas, not at all) and then eat it. Let’s repeat the end of verse 16 with emphasis: “All fat is the Lord’s.”

Leviticus 7:23, 25, 31 “”Speak to the people of Israel, saying, You shall eat no fat, of ox or sheep or goat…For every person who eats of the fat of an animal of which a food offering may be made to the Lord shall be cut off from his people…The priest shall burn the fat on the altar, but the breast shall be for Aaron and his sons.”

God wasn’t starving his priests, he had plans for their food in the offerings. From my notes on Leviticus 3:1-17: “Most of the meat of a peace offering was shared between offerer and priest (7:15-21, 31-34). All of the fat, however, was burned as an offering to the Lord (3:3-4). This was because the fat was considered the best part of the meat (to this day, fat is added to food to make it taste better). By giving it to the Lord, the Israelites were acknowledging that he was their sovereign King who was worthy of their honor and praise.”*

    The theme of “weight” continues with the story of Eli’s daughter-in-law, so here are the notes from my Bible on this:

    “And when hearing of the ark’s “capture” by the Philistines causes Eli’s daughter-in-law to give premature birth to a son, she names him “Ichabod” (“no honor/glory/weight”), explaining that the “weighty one” had departed (vv. 21-22). The theme of giving God due weight, which is ultimate weight, continues to build.”*

*Note: I am using the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible for the Jesus in the Old Testament section, so these are paraphrases and quotes from the commentary with my own ideas sprinkled in.

Thank you for reading. I am excited to hear your key verses, observations, and thoughts! Please take a moment to leave a comment to share with us.

Next Week: 1 Samuel 5

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Author: Annie Liss

Currently a mother and a wife who loves reading. Formerly a middle school math teacher who kept too busy and stressed out to read. My husband and I are missionaries in Lebanon.

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