Trusting in the Lord Alone
Explore the Bible Series
September 21, 2008
Background Passage: I
Lesson Passage: I
Philistines proved problematic for Israel for generations; indeed,
they became a kind of by-word for troublesome, idolatrous, aggressive
people. No one knows for certain the
origins of the Philistines. It seems
certain that they were not a Semitic people, and Amos 9:7 identifies them as
immigrants from Caphtor, probably the Island of Crete. If they did come from Crete, it is not clear
what displaced them from their island home and brought them to the Southeast Mediterranean region. Some older scholars identified Caphtor with Egyptian
roots rather than Cretan origins.
origins, the Philistines were a formidable people by the time of the Conquest
of Canaan. Five cities comprised the
Philistine Confederation, each with its own ruler: Ashdod,
Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza. Apparently,
they engaged in lucrative sea and land trade with the Phoenicians, Syrians, and
Egyptians. Some have speculated that the Philistines were excellent seamen,
and, if so, they may have fashioned their god, Dagon, after the image of a
half-fish/half-man. Others surmise that
Dagon was a fertility god, not unlike the Ba’al and Ashtaroth worship of other
Canaanite peoples. “Dagon” is very
similar to the Hebrew word for “grain”, and this has led some to conclude that
the Philistines worshipped an idol they believed would ensure bountiful
harvests. Other passages in the Old
Testament indicate that these people worshipped gods common to the region;
therefore, we should not be surprised that they took the Ark of the Covenant
and tried to simply incorporate it into their pagan cultus.
The Bible does not reveal the motives for Israel’s aggression toward Philistia,
but, in all probability, the tensions continued from the time of the
Judges. The spiritual decline of Israel, under
the unseemly watch-care of the house of Eli, bled into the military
effectiveness and resolve of the people.
seemed oblivious to their own malaise, thus stumbling into a war they could not
win. They made matters worse, after the
first loss to the Philistine army, by using the Ark of the Covenant like a
good-luck charm, apparently believing that the mere presence of the Ark would reestablish
their military prowess. Of course, they were sadly wrong.
War with the Philistines (4:1-22)
initial loss to the Philistines (vv. 1-2):
Again, I Samuel does not reveal the motives for this particular
conflict, but the long-term tensions between Israel
and Philistia certainly played a role. The Hebrews went out to camp at Ebenezer
(probably located in Sharon, a fertile plain
between the hill country of Judah
and the Mediterranean Sea), and the
Philistines mustered at nearby Aphek. Four
thousand Israelites died in this battle.
alarm in the aftermath of the battle (vv. 3-4): Understandably, the Hebrew
military leaders puzzled about the cause of their military reversal. They interpreted their loss as a token of
God’s disfavor, and they purposed to bring the Ark,
from Shiloh, to counteract the prowess of the
Philistines and court the favor of God. Hophni
and Phinehas accompanied the Ark
to the battle site.
second loss to the Philistines (vv. 5-11): The arrival of the Ark buoyed the spirits of the Israelites and
struck fear in the hearts of the Philistines.
Stories about the Exodus had circulated in Canaan, and these people
feared that God would champion the cause of Israel. Instead, the backslidden Hebrews experienced
a catastrophic loss, with 30,000 causalities.
Furthermore, the Philistines captured the Ark, Eli’s sons were killed.
death of Eli (vv. 12-22): A runner
carried the news of the battle to Shiloh, where Eli awaited an account of the
fate of the Ark. Apparently the messenger announced the military
loss to the city; then, he made his way to Eli to give the aged man the sad
news about Hophni and Phinehas. Eli,
stricken by the message about the Ark,
fell backwards from his seat and broke his neck. Also, the tragic news came to the pregnant
wife of Phinehas, just as she went into labor.
The poor woman died in child birth, but the midwife named the child
Ichabod, “no glory” or “Where is the glory?”).
Concerning the Ark (5:1-6:21)
Ark of the Covenant in the Temple of Dagon (5:1-5): After defeating the Hebrews in battle,
the Philistines transported the Ark to Ashdod and placed it in
the presence of their idol to Dagon. As
stated earlier, Ashdod was one of the five
cities of Philistia, and it served as the
center of the Dagon worship. Our text
describes the unusual circumstance of the idol falling before the Ark. The second time the image fell, the hands and
head of idol broke. The Reformation Study Bible points out that ancient armies often
severed the hands and heads of their fallen enemies, and this passage seems to
parallel that military practice. After
this remarkable event, according to the narrative, the Philistine priests
revered their temple by refusing to walk on the threshold of the building. It’s difficult to discern the precise meaning
of their reverence for the threshold.
illness of the Philistines (5:6-12): Some commentators identify these tumors
with the glandular swelling that accompanied some form of plague. Whatever the nature of the disease, the
citizens of Ashdod
interpreted it as the hand of Jehovah.
Desperate for relief, the Ashdodites transported the Ark
another of the Philistine cities. The
same disaease plagued the people, and, again, they took the Ark to another city, Ekron. Finally, as the plague struck the third city,
the Philistines realized they had to give the Ark back to the Israelites.
Ark returned to Israel
(6:1-7:2): After seven months of suffering, the Philistines determined to
return the Ark. To compensate for their transgression these
idolaters fashioned five golden images of the tumors and five golden mice (some
translations say “rats”). Again, the
significance of the mice may lie in the ancient cult practices of Philistia. They
selected two milk cows to draw a cart toward the Israelite city of Beth-shemesh, about seven
miles east of Ekron. The people of
Beth-shemesh, as they worked in their fields, saw the cart approaching, and the
Jewish priests broke up the wooden cart and offered the cows as a sacrifice to
the Lord. Some of the Jewish men
mishandled the Ark (“looked upon the Ark”), and the text says
God killed seventy people. The Ark was taken to the
household of Abinadab, a citizen of Kiriath-jearim. There the Ark remained for twenty years.
Samuel’s Ministry to Israel (7:2-17)
call to repentance (vv. 2-4): Idolatry had permeated the life the Israel, but
Samuel called his countrymen to abandon Ba’al and Ashtaroth. The people turned their hearts to Lord and
served him only.
Lord’s deliverance at Mizpah (vv. 5-14): Samuel, as a part of the spiritual
renewal of Israel,
called the people to Mizpah, a place used as a watchtower for the security of
the Jews. The Philistines, threatened by
the large gathering of the Hebrews, planned to attack God’s people. Samuel sacrificed to the Lord and interceded
and God brought a great confusion on the Philistine army. Israel routed their enemies. After the battle, Samuel set a stone to mark
the Lord’s deliverance and called the place Ebenezer (“stone of help”).
work (vv. 15-17): The great judge and prophet established a settled pattern of
ministry from his base in Ramah. Each
year he traveled to other cities to judge the people: Bethel, Gilgal, and