The Capture Of The Ark
Whenever Israel's faithfulness and obedience grew weak, Israel's enemies were allowed to grow strong. The corruption of the house of Eli, a once righteous man in the eyes of the LORD, brought such a defeat. The Israelites presumed that the LORD would somehow be required to fight for them if they took His Ark into battle. It was faulty logic (similar to people having or carrying a Holy Bible while ignoring what it actually says) 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, with disastrous results for themselves.
"4:10 And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. 4:11 And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain." (1 Samuel 4:10-11 KJV)
"The Ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for His hand is sore upon us"
The Philistines had captured The Ark of The Covenant (or thought that they did), as a lesson from the LORD to the Israelites. But their taking of The Ark provided another lesson from the LORD to everyone, ancient or modern - no one but specific Levites (see also No Levites In The Lost Ten Tribes?) could have possession of The Ark (see also What Did The Ten Commandments Look Like?) without the LORD's wrath coming upon them (see the Fact Finder question below).
First, the Philistine city of Ashdod:
"5:1 And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod. 5:2 When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon. 5:3 And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again. 5:4 And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him. 5:5 Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon's house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day.
The people of Ekron passed The Ark on to the people of Gath (Ashdod, Gath and Ekron were all Philistine cities - see the map). The result however was the same (the King James Version "emerods" were actually the buboes, or swollen lymph nodes, of bubonic plague).
"5:9 And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts. 5:10 Therefore they sent the ark of God to Ekron. And it came to pass, as the ark of God came to Ekron, that the Ekronites cried out, saying, They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people." (1 Samuel 5:9-10 KJV)
The same again for Ekron. By that time, the Philistines were very eager to send The Ark back to where the LORD commanded it to be.
"5:11 So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go again to his own place, that it slay us not, and our people: for there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there. 5:12 And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods: and the cry of the city went up to heaven." (1 Samuel 5:11-12 KJV)
Fact Finder: The Ark of The Covenant went missing centuries ago. Where could it be? Where couldn't it be?