Saturday, November 17, 2012

LXXXVII - Samual 4-5 - War With the Philistines

In the book of I Samual, we have seen about Hannah's plea, her song of praise and thanksgiving, Samual's call to God's service, and a brief look at Eli and his sons Hophni and Phinehas.  Now in chapter 4, the Philistines are introduced rather abruptly.  After the Philistines unsuccessfully battled the Egyptians around 1175 BC, they settled the territory that usually is associated with them, predominently along the Mediterainian Sea in the central to southern part of the Promised Land.  The Philistines were a cruel people as we've seen in the book of Judges, especially in dealing with Samson.  But also, the Philistines were warriors, who by all accounts, were constantly readying themselves for battle.  And, as mentioned in Scripture, their weaponry was as sophisticated as that of the Egyptians.  Therefore, for Israel to go against the Philistines in battle was no small undertaking.  My studies has led me to believe that they had weapons made of iron and steel, which were superior in strength to those (like Israel's) made of brass or bronze.  When clashed, the steel would break the brass, leaving the soldier with a brass weapon hopelessly vulnerable.

Chapter 4:1-11  -  The location of this battle cannot be pinpointed, but we do know that the Philistine-occupied city of Aphek was close to modern day Tel-Aviv, which would have placed the battles close to the western part of Dan.  Verse 2 (KJV) says that the Philistines "put themselves in array against Israel".  This means that the Philistines were the aggressors.  Without much pretext of this battle, we cannot know the exact cause leading up to this.  Israel lost this first battle and four thousand Israelite soldiers were killed.  In verse 3 the elders of Israel questioned the soldiers asking "Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today?".  {To be fair to these elders, they were not directly blaming God, but they were not incorrect in their question either.  In the life of Israel, EVERYTHING was attributable to God, good or bad.  This is true, but let's be careful:  God is not the one to blame.  Many students of the Bible seem to get a little confused about this, as we do today about the things in our lives.  Israel brought this on themselves when they became so apathetic toward God and His Laws, that God gave them over to the Philistines.  By "giving them over" means that God did not intervene.  This type of thing has happened to Israel throughout the Old Testiment.  Just like the Israelites of this era, we also need God's intervention at all times in our lives.}  But then in desparation Israel made another mistake.  They decided to take the Ark of the Covenant into battle with them to assure themselves of victory.  This might be attributal to the use of the Ark in Josh. 6:6 during the battle of Jericho.  The Ark of the Covenant had been at Shiloh since the original conquest of Canaan, hundreds of years ago.  While at Shiloh, the Ark was under the charge of the Levite priests.  It appears to me that the Levites were not consulted.  The elders who suddenly became self-appointed military strategists and priests, sent for the Ark.  They thought the Ark would solve all their problems, but instead, this action created problems.  One problem was that the Ark was not to be moved unless God ordained it.  And whenever it was moved, there was a procedure for moving it, mainly involving ONLY Levites to physically carry it.  Another problem with their reasoning is that they were treating the Ark like a good-luck charm.  The Ark was to be a symbol of God's presence in worship.  {The apostacy of the Israelites was bad enough.  But when they start disrespecting the Ark of the Covenant, that was just going too far.}  So, the Ark was brought to the battle site.  And who was to accompany the Ark into battle?  None other than Hophni and Phinehas, the corrupt sons of Eli.  {At least they were priests.}  The Scripture goes on to tell that when the Israelite soldiers saw that the Ark had arrived, they shouted for joy, so loud that the Philistines heard them and became fearful.  The God of Israel still had a tremendous reputation for overpowering anything in existance in the whole earth's civilization.  The Philistines were as aware of that as any other group.  With Israel's disregard toward God, He was actually forgotten about by the rest of Canaan until this very day.  The Scripture indicates that the Philistines thought they were doomed, and decided they must go down fighting as hard as they can, for they were indeed fighting for their lives.  As a result of the whole situation, the Philistines overwhelmingly won the battle.  Vss 10-11 tells us of the slaughter so great that the Philistines killed thirty thousand foot soldiers.  Also, they killed Hophni and Phinehas, and worst of all, the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant, along with the mercy seat, the manna, the tablets that contained the Ten Commandments, and the budded staff of Aaron.  This was an awful day for Israel.

Chapter 4:12-22  -  This passage begins by telling us that "a man of Benjamin" ran about twenty miles to the city to report of the battle.  Eli had been anxiously awaiting word from the battle field.  Eli was blind, old, and very over-weight.  He heard that there was a report being made and sought word from the messenger.  The messenger answers Eli in verse 17.  He told Eli that 1) Israel was so defeated that they fled from the Philistines, 2) Hophni and Phinehas were killed, and 3) The Ark of the Covenant was captured.  In verse 18, upon hearing of the Ark, Eli fell backward off his chair, broke his neck and died.  {I've tried to place my mind into Eli's.  This was awful.  We know that, although his sons caused him a lot of trouble, he still loved them and certainly didn't want to see them receive such a fate.  Also, Eli probably considered himself a failure.  He served Israel forty years.  During Eli's tenure as High Priest, Israel had gone down hill spiritually during those forty years.  Then, Israel's the most valuable item, the sacred Ark of the Covenant, that was entrusted to Eli was captured by their bitter enemies the Philistines. Eli's life did not end well at all.}  Vss 19-22 tell of further tragedy marking this day.  Eli's daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near time of delivery.  Upon hearing of this news, she went into labor and gave birth to a son.  To a Hebrew woman, there was no greater moment in her life than giving birth to a son.  But this was no time for joy for this woman.  She named her son "Ichabod", which means "inglorious" or "where is the glory".  Soon after she gave birth, she died.

Chapter 5 - This chapter is only twelve short verses and is interesting reading for you.  But I will paraphrase it anyway, not being aware of how you stand with reading ahead of these posts.  The Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant and proudly carried their trophy back to Ashdod, a principal city of the Philistines.  Ashdod was where they had their temple for Dagon, the Philistine pagan god of the crops.  They made a mistake of placing the Ark in the temple near Dagon because God destroyed the idol Dagon.  Also, the inhabitants of the city broke out in boils and tumors, much like those of the bubonic plague.  The citizens of Ashdod had the Ark moved to another city, to which the same affliction was cast.  This went on for five different cities, all of which suffered the bubonic plague-type symptoms.  Most victims of bubonic plague died.  I'll explain in the next post why I believe it was bubonic.

Next post:  The Ark Returns to Israel

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