1 Samuel 4:1-10 - The Need for God & His Presence

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In chapters 3-5 we read of where God calls Samuel to deliver a message of judgment against Eli’s family (v.11-14).  Israel engages in war with the Philistines (v.2-10), the Ark of the Covenant is captured in battle (v.11), and Hophni and Phinehas, Eli’s sons are killed (v.17).  After hearing the news that the Ark of the Covenant is captured, Eli falls off his seat backward, breaks his neck and dies.  The Ark is transported throughout Philistia and wreaks havoc in the land.   

A.     Israel suffers two defeats before the Philistines (4:1-11)

1.       The First Defeat: Israel is Defeated before the Philistines (v.1-9)

a)        The Routing: (v.1-2): The Philistines kill 4,000 Israelites in the first encounter. 

§           And the word of Samuel came to all Israel (v.1a): this does not mean that Samuel gave instruction for war.  Some manuscript traditions make it clear the Philistines initiated this war.

§           Israel went out to battle against the Philistines (v.1)… and were defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men  (v.2): The Philistines, are mentioned nearly 150 times in 1 and 2 Samuel alone.

1)        The Philistines had much influence from far away Greece. Greek military equipment (such as helmets, shields, coats of mail, swords and spears) made the Philistines formidable opponents. The Philistines were the first people in Canaan to process iron, and they made the most of it.

b)        The Rallying (v.3-9): Because of this defeat, the Israelites decide to go to Shiloh and bring the Ark of the Covenant to the battlefield to encourage Israel and frighten the Philistines.  But the Philistines stage a rally as well. 

§           Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? (v.3): The question the elders had asked showed that they had a clear understanding that the Lord fought their battles.  But Rather than getting on their faces & seeking God in repentance, they blame Him. 

1)        Don’t Blame The Lord For Our Disasters.  It is interesting to me how that so often when disaster strikes, people just want to blame God.  They don’t want to look at or examine their hearts

(a)      If they would have had a time of national repentance and prayer, seeking God, and coming to Samuel and saying, “Samuel, seek the LORD for us; and find out if God wants us to go to battle against the Philistines,” then surely the LORD would have directed them & they would not have experienced defeat.   

(b)      I find it very interesting that people who don’t really want anything to do with God, to seek His guidance, to submit their lives to Him, they only want to blame Him when things go wrong.  That’s the way Israel was, like so many people today: just blaming God for the tragedies and the calamities, but never seeking God for guidance and direction for their lives. 

(c)      Numbers 14:36-45: The spies destroyed the people’s faith & trust in God.  Which lead to murmur and complaining against the Lord.  In this case defeat clearly demonstrated the Lord was not with them. 

(d)      1 Samuel 17:45-47: The boy David had great trust and dependence on God!

c)         The Trusting in the “magical power” of the Ark:  

§            Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord… it may save us from the hand of our enemies (v.3b-4).  After the defeat in battle with the Philistines, with the loss of 4, 000 men, the elders of Israel, decided the next battle could be won if they took the Ark of the Covenant with their soldiers.  I trusted in having the Bible in my passenger seat. 

1)        The Ark Had Gone Into Battle Before & there were miracles Connected With it

(a)      The Jordon River Was Divided (Joshua 3:8-17 ; 4:7)

(b)      The Fall of the Walls of Jericho (Joshua 6:6-8)

(c)      The Fall of Dagon (1 Samuel 5:1-4) & the Plague of the Philistines (1 Samuel 5:6-12)

(d)      Later, during the rebellion launched by Absalom, David had the right perspective, he knew the ark was not a “lucky charm,” so he he sent it back to Jerusalem when he fled the city from Absalom (2 Samuel 15:24-25).

2)        The Ark Was The Most Sacred Instrument Of the Jews Religion.

(a)      The Presence of God Dwelt There (Exodus 25:22). There were many other things which they held holy; but this ark always stood in the most holy place, and it was rendered doubly sacred, because, between the outstretched wings of those cherubic figures that rested upon the mercy-seat, there was usually to be seen a bright light, called the Shekinah, which manifested that Jehovah, the God of Israel, who dwelt between the cherubims, was there (Spurgeon).  

(b)      It Represented The Throne Of God Among The People Of Israel. It was kept in the most holy place of the tabernacle never seen by the people. In that most holy place, only the high priest would enter and see the ark, and only once a year. Yet, they wanted to take this representation of the throne of God out of the holy of holies, cover it, and take it into battle with them.  It would give them confidence God was really with them. 

d)        In Our Defeats We Must “Seek” & “Inquire of the Lord”.

1)        WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO SEEK THE LORD?  It means you will:

(a)      Put God First In Your Lives.  No matter what happens to us or around us, we choose to obey God, follow God, and have a daily and intimate relationship with God.

(b)      Want The Lord In Your Life. Those who seek the Lord are in pursuit of the Lord. They talk to Him, listen to Him, and are eager to consult Him at all times.

(c)      Be Reading God’s Word On A Regular Basis.  Over time, we will grow in our understanding of the fullness of God’s plan and His desires for us.

(d)      Be Asking The Holy Spirit To Lead And Guide Our Daily Decisions.  We will turn often to the Lord and ask, “Is this something You want me to have? Is this something that has Your stamp of approval on it? Is this something that is right for my life?”

(e)      Consult God First & Foremost In All Matters (Prov.3:5-6; 16:3; 1 Chronicles 28:9; 2 Chronicles 26:5; 1 Samuel 23:2-4; 30:8; 2 Samuel 2:1; 5:19-20, 22-25; 21:1)

1.         To inquire is to ask, and to continue to ask until an answer is received. We do this when we shut ourselves away with God and His Word, and as we read God’s Word, we continually ask or inquire of the Lord (2 Kings 22:13).

2)        EXPECT AN ANSWER.  “How can you be sure that it was the Lord speaking to you?”

(a)      I’m familiar with His voice—Illustration of Mom calling me to dinner

(b)      John 10:2-4—Give Background on these verses.

Any person who immerses himself daily in the Word of God and who is in an intimate relationship with the Lord, communicating daily with Him through prayer and meditating on His Word, will know when God speaks.


               In these following verses, note especially that blessing and righteousness are the rewards of those who seek God with a humble and repentant heart:

q         Nevertheless good things are found in you, in that you have removed the wooden images from the land, and have prepared your heart to seek God. (2 Chronicles 19:3 NKJV)

q         But as for me, I would seek God, And to God I would commit my cause-- (Job 5:8 NKJV)

q         The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. (Psalms 14:2 NKJV)

q         He shall receive blessing from the LORD, And righteousness from the God of his salvation.   This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him, Who seek Your face (Psalms 24:5-6)

q         One thing I have desired of the LORD, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to inquire in His temple. (Psalms 27:4)

q         When You said, "Seek My face," My heart said to You, "Your face, LORD, I will seek. (Psalms 27:8)

q         O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water.   So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. (Psalms 63:1-2 NKJV)

q         The humble shall see this and be glad; And you who seek God, your hearts shall live. (Psalms 69:32)

q         I love those who love me, And those who seek me diligently will find me. (Proverbs 8:17)

q         With my soul I have desired You in the night, Yes, by my spirit within me I will seek You early (Isaiah 26:9)

q         But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:33 NKJV)

What are some truths we might summarize from these verses?

§            When we seek the Lord, He makes Himself known to us. He is forever accessible and available to those who seek Him.

§            We are wise to seek God anytime we have sinned, and to do so with prayer, fasting, and a genuinely humble heart.

§            We are wise to seek God anytime we face danger.

§            We must seek God with a humility of heart and with a desire to have a greater manifestation of righteousness in our hearts.

§              We are always to seek God as our first priority.

Are you truly seeking God’s opinion, God’s method, God’s way, God’s timing, God’s choices? That is what we are called to do!

e)         The Elders were right in realizing they needed God to win the battle (1Sam.4:3), but their mistake was they imagined that the symbol of God’s presence, the ark, would make God work for them & give them victory.

1)        Their Idea Was That God Should Be Forced To Fight For Them.

(a)      They are tempting God. This is the very thing Satan tempted Jesus to do, trying to “force” God into a miracle by suggesting Jesus leap off the pinnacle of the temple. 

(b)      They Are Looking To The Ark To Save Them And Not To The Lord.

(c)      They Forgot The Main Thing, Which Is That God, Is To Be Enthroned In Our Life.

2.       Moses Insisted Upon the Presence of God (Exodus 33:1-3, 12-15)

a)        Why Had God Threatened To Remove His Presence?  Because Of Sin (Exodus 23:20-23).

1)        You cannot walk in fellowship with God and be walking in deliberate disobedience to His commands.

2)        Don't think you can be one with God and bring sin into that relationship. God can never be one with sin.

b)        Many are like Sampson: Not aware that the Spirit of God has departed (Judges 16:20).

1)        As Paul wrote to the Galatians asking who had bewitched them. Having begun in the Spirit, are you now going to be perfected in the flesh (Gal.3:3)?

c)         We Must Not Have A Form of Godliness (2 Timothy 3:5): The ark was the sacred place where God revealed himself in the days when his people truly served him; but it was devoid of power, without the presence of him who dwelt between the cherubim.

1)        Many Have A Devotion To Outward Forms And Ceremonies With Dependence On Them.

(a)      Don’t trust in “church attendance” A Man Must Be Born again (John 3:3)

(b)      Don’t trust in your fasting and giving tithes of all you possess (Luke 18:12)

(c)      Jesus condemned the Pharisees (Matt.23:25ff. cf. John 5:39)

(d)      Romans Catholicism

d)        How Highly Do You Value The Presence Of God In Your Life?

3.       Israel’s Confidence in the ark of the covenant (v.5-10)

a)        And when the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp (v.5a).

1)        God was not in the camp because sin was in the camp (Joshua 7).  And where sin is God is not.   

b)        All Israel shouted so loudly that the earth shook (v.5b)

1)        Do Not Mistake Enthusiasm with Faith.  Someone passing by Israel’s camp would have thought something tremendous was happening.

(a)      Certainly, this would have been considered a great church service, and many would think they were really trusting in God.

“Now, beloved, when you are worshipping God, shout if you are filled with holy gladness. If the shout comes from your heart, I would not ask you to restrain it. God forbid that we should judge any man’s worship! But do not be so foolish as to suppose that because there is loud noise there must also be faith.” (Spurgeon). 

(b)      Our worship time must be in spirit & in truth, with our hearts engaged.

(c)      But for all the appearances, it was really nothing. All their noise and excitement meant nothing because it wasn’t grounded in God’s truth (Joshua 6:10, 15-20).    

(d)      The Israelites probably felt they were better than the Philistines because the Philistines were pagans, worshipping false gods. Yet the Israelites were thinking and acting just like pagans, thinking they could manipulate God, and force Him into doing what they wanted Him to do. 

4.       The Philistines have fear of the Ark (v.6-9)

The Philistines had knowledge of Israel’s history and they knew the Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God & for this we should compliment them.  They knew the God of Israel had defeated the Egyptians (who struck the Egyptians with all the plagues v.8).   

a)        God has come into the camp (v.7)

1)        The Philistines Mistake.  The Israelites, instead of seeing to God himself, went to Shiloh to fetch the ark of the covenant. The Israelites were mistaken, for they shouted long before they were “out of danger.” Before they had won any victory, the sight of the ark made them boastful and confident.

(a)      The Philistines fell into an error of a different kind, for they were frightened without any real cause. They said, “God has come into the camp;” while God had not come at all. It was only the ark with the cherubim upon it; God was not there

(b)      This is the great mistake that many still make: Many think that God has come into the camp merely because some outward religious rite or ceremony has been observed, or because some sacred shrine has been set up among them (stain glass windows).

b)        These mighty gods (v.8): Even though they did not understand very much about God, the Philistines recognized the superiority of the God of Israel.

1)        Yet, they will not submit to God, but simply determine to fight against Him all the more. If they really believed their gods were greater than the God of Israel was, they should not have been worried. If they believed the God of Israel to be greater than their gods, they should have submitted to Him. 

2)        We, like them, often know God is greater and deserves our submission. Yet we often resist God as well, instead of submitting to Him. Knowledge wasn’t their problem.  Submission to God was. 

c)         Be strong and conduct yourselves like men, you Philistines (v.9): The presence of the ark has not made the Philistines feel like giving up. Instead, it has made them feel they must fight all the harder to overcome the odds. They will show the courage that comes from desperation.

d)        Israel was defeated (v.10): There Were Five Reasons For The Great Defeat:

1)        Unforsaken Sin In Their Lives.  Sometimes God Deals With Us Severely For Our Sins. 

(a)      Moses and Aaron were not permitted to enter Canaan because they disobeyed God and sinned with their lips at the waters of Meribah.

(b)      What affliction did He send upon him through his family!  One of his sons to raped his sister; another murdered his brother; and having expelled his father out of his own kingdom in the sight of all Israel, he defiled his father’s concubines on the housetop in full view of everyone.

(c)      How harshly did God deal with Eli for living in the sin of not restraining his children from wickedness! Both sons were killed in one day, and Eli himself died a violent death. The ark was taken into captivity (1 Sam. 4). Eli’s house was cursed forever; God Himself swore that the iniquity of Eli’s house would never be purged by sacrifice and offerings (1 Sam 3:13–14). The priesthood was taken from Eli and given to another line. And there never again was an old man in Eli’s family (1 Sam. 12:31).

2)        Unforsaken sin Led to the departure of God’s Presence (John 15:5)

3)        Trusting in the Ark Instead Of The Power Of God (Psalm 20:7; Isaiah 31:1)

4)        Trying to Manipulate God To Do What They Wanted Him To Do.

5.       The Second Defeat: (v.10-11)

When these people had got the ark into the

camp, they shouted for joy, because they thought themselves quite safe;

but, alas, they met with a greater defeat than before. Only four thousand

men had been killed in the first battle, but in the second, thirty thousand

footmen of Israel fell down dead.

2.                       The Value of Our Confidence in God

                                  a)       Confidence in God Assures Us of His Safekeeping Power
Phil. 1:3–6

                                  b)      Confidence in God Motivates Us for Christian Living
2 Cor. 5:5–9; 2 Thess. 3:4; Heb. 3:12–14; 1 John 2:28; 1 John 3:21–22

                                  c)       Confidence in God Protects Us from Fear
Gen. 15:1; Ps. 3:5–6; Ps. 23:1, 4–5; Ps. 27:1–3, 13; Ps. 34:4; Ps. 91:4–8; Ps. 112:7–8; Ps. 118:6–7; Prov. 1:33; Prov. 3:25–26; Rom. 8:15–16; Heb. 2:14–15; Heb. 13:6; 1 Pet. 3:12–14; 1 John 4:16–18

                                  d)      Confidence in God Results in Answered Prayer
1 John 5:13–15

                                  e)       Confidence in God Results in Blessing
Jer. 17:7; Heb. 6:9–10; Heb. 10:35–36

                                  f)       Confidence in God Results in Divine Help
Heb. 4:14–16

       g)    Confidence in God Results in Entering
into His Presence
Heb. 10:19–22

Eli  he knew very well

that the ark of God was not God; he understood that it was but the

outward sign of the inward and spiritual; yet when the ark of God was

taken, mark the poor old man’s trouble: his heart broke, and then he fell

down and broke his neck.

Departure. The glory of God dwelt with Israel (Exod. 40:34–35; Rom. 9:4), but their sin forced God to depart at an hour when they most needed Him (Ps. 78:56–64). Israel had neither the ark nor the glory of God; they were naked before their enemies. Had they been concerned about God’s glory, they would have repented of their sins and obeyed Him, but it was too late

Intro ISRAEL was out of gear with God. The people had forgotten the Most

High, and had gone aside to the worship of Baal. They had neglected the

things of God; therefore they were give up to their enemies. When Jehovah

had brought them out of Egypt, he instructed them how they were to live

in the land to which he would bring them, and warned them that if they

forsook him they would be chastened. His words were very plain: “If ye

will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me; then I will

walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven

times for your sins.” In fulfillment of this threatening, the Philistines had

been divinely permitted to make great havoc of the idolatrous Israelites,

and to hold them in cruel slavery.

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