I Samuel 4:1-11 The Curse Of Defeat.
As noted in the previous passage, all Israel knew that Samuel had been established as a true prophet and priest of the LORD. If they were going to battle, he is the one that they should have consulted beforehand. Ebenezer, where they encamped, means ‘stone of help’, but they never sought the LORD’s help as they faced the Philistines at Aphek, which means ‘fortress’ (v. 1). Right from the beginning Israel lost 4,000 soldiers (v. 2), but rather than seeking a word from the LORD through the prophet-priest Samuel, the elders decided to put their trust in the presence of the physical ark to save them (v. 3). How often do people, including the church, put their faith in the symbols as relics devoid of the presence of the living God behind them?
Not only did the people, moved by their leadership, put their trust in these inanimate objects, but they thought that they could just handle the ark however they wished. Furthermore, they also trusted in the failed leadership of Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas (v. 4). The ark was the ark of the covenant, the very covenant they had broken and were suffering curses for, including being defeated by their enemies (Dt. 28:15ff.). If they had of studied the law-word of the covenant they would have understood that they were being cursed for their disobedience, and if they read further they would have known that their only hope was covenant renewal (Dt. 29), with the hope that they might once again know his blessings (Dt. 30).
Sometimes man-made religion sounds and appears very powerful, as like here where the shouts of the people with the return of the ark causes the Philistines to take notice. However, faced with another man-made religion, the Philistines were still confident in their own (vv. 5-8). However, the fact is the sovereign LORD was with the Philistines in this battle, to bring judgment on his own covenant people. The fear of becoming slaves to the Hebrews as they were of them, was what motivated these pagans (v. 9). It was also fear of the Philistines which caused Israel to retreat after the additional loss of another 30,000 soldiers (v. 10). Worst of all, the ark of the covenant was captured, but at least Hophni and Phinehas died.