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1 Samuel 3-5
The Tabernacle (see The Tabernacle In The Wilderness; also What Happened To The Tabernacle?) lamps were to be kept burning continually (Leviticus 24:1-3), so "the lamp of God had not yet gone out" in the verses below was not referring to the lamps themselves, but what the lamps symbolized (see also The Light Of Life). The unfaithfulness of Eli, by his weakness in not correcting his two corrupt sons and awaiting successors Hophni and Phinehas, as well as the sons' blatant corruption itself, resulted in the "light" of The Lord's Word to diminish for the house of Eli i.e. "the Word of The Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision."
"Now the boy Samuel was ministering to The Lord under Eli. And the word of The Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim, so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down within the temple of The Lord, where the ark of God was." (1 Samuel 3:1-3 RSV)
The "light" was however to begin shining brightly again, in the boy Samuel. When The Lord spoke to Samuel, he ran to Eli who heard nothing.
"Then The Lord called, "Samuel! Samuel!" and he said, "Here I am!" and ran to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me."
Eli then realized that The Lord was speaking to Samuel, so he told the lad to listen and receive. The message, to Samuel, was about Eli.
"And The Lord came and stood forth, calling as at other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for thy servant hears."
Eli then demanded that Samuel tell him what The Lord had said. Eli resigned himself to what he heard - he surely must have known that it was coming anyway.
"But Eli called Samuel and said, "Samuel, my son." And he said, "Here I am."
Samuel thereafter grew, physically into a man, but moreover in his service to The Lord.
"And Samuel grew, and The Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of The Lord. And The Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for The Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of The Lord." (1 Samuel 3:19-21 RSV)
1 Samuel Chapter 4
Whenever Israel's faithfulness and obedience grew weak, Israel's enemies were allowed to grow strong. The corruption of the house of Eli brought such a defeat.
"Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines; they encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who slew about four thousand men on the field of battle." (1 Samuel 4:1-2 RSV)
The Israelites then presumed that The Lord would be required to help them if they took His Ark into battle - faulty logic because The Ark, containing the Ten Commandments, was about obedience to The Lord, not mere show. Eli's corrupt sons Hophni and Phinehas took The Ark into battle.
"So the people sent to Shiloh, and brought from there the ark of the covenant of The Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God." (1 Samuel 4:4 RSV)
The Lord delivered a defeat unto Israel. As well, The Ark was captured, and Hophni and Phinehas were killed.
"So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home; and there was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. And the ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain." (1 Samuel 4:10-11 RSV)
Eli himself was not spared the wrath that his weakness as high priest had brought about. Eli too, died that day.
"He who brought the tidings answered and said, "Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great slaughter among the people; your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured." When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate; and his neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years." (1 Samuel 4:17-18 RSV)
1 Samuel Chapter 5
The Philistines had captured The Ark of The Covenant, as a lesson to the Israelites. But the temporary possession of The Ark provided another lesson to everyone, ancient or modern - no one but specific Levites could have possession of The Ark without The Lord's wrath coming upon them (see the Fact Finder question below).
First, the Philistines took The Ark to Ashdod, but they soon decided to pass it on to their fellow Philistines in Gath.
"The hand of The Lord was heavy upon the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory. And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, "The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us; for his hand is heavy upon us and upon Dagon our god." So they sent and gathered together all The Lords of the Philistines, and said, "What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?" They answered, "Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought around to Gath." So they brought the ark of the God of Israel there." (1 Samuel 5:6-8 RSV)
The people of Gath were given the same lesson, so they passed The Ark on to the Philistines of Ekron.
"But after they had brought it around, the hand of The Lord was against the city, causing a very great panic, and He afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out upon them. So they sent the ark of God to Ekron." (1 Samuel 5:9-10 RSV)
Ekron learned their lesson too. They were, not long after, quite happy to return The Ark to the Israelites.
But when the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, "They have brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to slay us and our people." They sent therefore and gathered together all The Lords of the Philistines, and said, "Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not slay us and our people." For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there; the men who did not die were stricken with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven." (1 Samuel 5:10-12 RSV)
Fact Finder: The Ark of The Covenant went missing centuries ago. Where could it be? Where couldn't it be?