by Pastor Jim Jester
October 22, 2023
SCRIPTURE READING: I Samuel 4:15-21
Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim, that he could not see. 16 And the man said unto Eli, I am he that came out of the army, and I fled to day out of the army. And he said, What is there done, my son? 17 And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken. 18 And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years. 19 And his daughter in law, Phinehas’ wife, was with child, near to be delivered: and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father in law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her. 20 And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast born a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it. 21 And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband.
The verses just before the Scripture reading reveal a little more of the context of this narrative:
And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head. 13 And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out. 14 And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, "What meaneth the noise of this tumult? And the man came in hastily, and told Eli." (I Sa. 4:12-14)
Eli was a judge of Israel at this time. He was now blind because of his age; but he could hear. When the messenger came, Eli asks, “What is there done, my son?” (I Sa. 4:16) Literally, “What happened, my son?” Eli must have gathered from the words of the messenger that Israel had been defeated; for he had said, he “fled from the army that day,” and “came in hastily and told Eli what had taken place. He revealed that the defeat was a severe one. The answer piles misery upon misery — four crushing catastrophes:1. Israel had fled before the Philistines; 2. there had been a great slaughter; 3. among the slain were Eli ’s two sons; and (worst of all), 4. the ark of God was taken.
“Made mention of the ark of God…” (I Sa. 4:18) At this last piece of sad news the old man ’s spirit failed; and though it was his own want of a firm sense of duty that had prepared the way for this sad ruin of his country, yet we cannot but respect his deep attachment and reverent love for the symbol of his faith, the Ark. The other things he could have borne; but that the ark of God, especially entrusted to his care, was now captive in heathen hands was a calamity that broke his heart.
Elihad judged Israel forty years. He would have been well advanced in years before he reached the judgeship, and probably he attained to that position slowly; not by one great act, but by the qualities of a statesman, by which he lightened the yoke of the Philistines. His character is not that of a hero, but of a wise and prudent ruler, but one whose good qualities were spoiled in the end by his weak partiality for his unworthy sons. Sometimes parents are too soft on their children. He should have dealt more harshly with his sons.
The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests in the sanctuary at Shiloh, where, in spite of the presence of their father, they carried on their evil practices. In consequence of their deeds a curse is twice pronounced upon the house of Eli, first by a “man of God” (I Sa. 2:27) who is not named, and again by the mouth of Samuel (I Sa. 3:12-13). The curse was accomplished when Hophni and Phinehas were slain at the battle of Aphek, and the Ark of God was lost—an incident which was the cause of the death of Eli. The malpractices of these two consisted in their claiming more than their due of the sacrifices (I Sa. 2:13-17), and in their immoral actions in the Tabernacle with women (I Sa. 2:22). [W. O. E. Oesterley. Hastings Enc.]
I Samuel 2:12, “Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.”
The death of Eli ’s daughter-in-law is equally tragic with his own. The news of the terrible calamity that had befallen the ark of God brought on a premature delivery; but when she had given birth to a son, the attendant women naturally hoped that the good tidings would cheer the mother ’s heart. They hurried, therefore, to tell her; “but she answered not, neither did she regard it.” (v. 20)This means that no personal joy could compensate her for the loss of the outward sign of proof that the covenant of Yahweh was with her and her people. To her, the loss of the ark seemed to signify the overthrow of her national religion. The cause of God is first and highest. She was so stunned that immediately she named the child Ichabod (no glory). She said, “The glory is departed from Israel.” (v. 21)The reason given by the narrator for her sorrow is summed up in the name given to her child; the deaths of Eli and Phinehas are included; but her own words refer only to the Ark. Literally, they are,“The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.” (v. 22)
There is a possible reference to this in Psalm 78:64, where, speaking of the fall of Shiloh, the Psalmist says, “Their priests fell by the sword, and their widows made no lamentation.” Others, it may be, like the wife of Phinehas, felt that there was no room for private grief at a time of such great national humiliation. Likewise, is America about to face a humbling experience? I think that is what she needs.
WIFE OF PHINEHAS
It is unfortunate that we do not know the name of the wife of Phinehas, for she is one of the most honorable women of the Bible, according to our record here. She was a very spiritually minded individual, whose dying words manifest her sincere piety.
The facts given:
- The wife of Phinehas, hearing the sad tidings of Israel ’s disaster and of the death of her husband and of Eli, causes premature labor.
- The loss of the ark of God contributes more to her anguish of spirit than does the sudden death of her nearest relatives.
- She deliberately refuses the most natural of all consolations: the birth of a son.
- When dying she gives a name to her child that shall express her sense of the calamity fallen on Israel.
The wife of Phinehas had regard for the spiritual. The dying woman made a great effort to think and speak. She loved the dear child, but loved the holy kingdom more; and therefore, to do the utmost in her power to arouse regard for what was too little regarded, she even imposed on her child a name associated with sorrow, shame, and trouble (sort of like “The Boy Named Sue”).
Thus, by this she:
- Impressed her attendants with her sense of what calamity is, and what should be sought first and chief;
- Directed her countrymen, through her son, to the great need of a radical reformation; and
- Left him a reminder of what was dearest to his mother ’s heart. “Noble woman! She has done what she could.” Love of God stronger than love of husband, child, national fame, and even personal comfort. In times of calamity the faithful put forth extraordinary efforts for the kingdom.
Her piety was:
- Genuine. She called the Ark “the glory,” and regarded not merely the symbol, but also and chiefly the Divine presence that it represented.
- Renowned. Her grief at the loss of the Ark surpassed her sorrow at the death of her husband and father-in-law, and devoured her joy at the birth of a son.
- Distinctive. Living in corrupt times, the wife of an ungodly man, yet truly devout — a pearl among pebbles, a rose among thorns.
We have symbols too, such as Baptism and The Lord’s Supper, but these alone will do us no good without true piety. In this instance the Ark did not save Israel because they loved sin more than righteousness. Symbols will not save; in fact they can be dangerous to the spiritual life. Hence, some pastors do not stress the sacraments, and rightly so — far better to have the reality than to trust in the symbol. God was not coming to the defense of the two wicked priests, Hophni and Phinehas! “Ichabod” happens far too often in our churches. Leonard Ravenhill illustrated our churches’ luke-warmness with this statement, “The church that began in the upper room agonizing is ending up in the supper room organizing.”
From the dying words of Phinehas’ wife we should learn that: The presence of God is the true glory of a people. It is the source of true dignity, divine protection, internal prosperity, and external influence. In vain do we look elsewhere for these things. “Thy God” (shall be) “thy glory” (Isa. 60:19).
What is “glory?” It is to have honor, wealth, dignity, respect, holiness, and brightness (or shining).
As man ’s real glory on earth consists in submitting to the will of God, and in doing it, so will his glory in heaven consist in being eternally pleasing to God, and in finding in him his perfect happiness. There can be no real glory either in this world or in the next, aside from virtue. The glory we seek here consists in the esteem of our fellow-men, and it would never be a false or a dangerous glory if men were wise enough not to esteem anything but what is virtuous. Christ commands us to practice virtue, not in view of gaining the approval of men, but to please God. At first glance his instructions at this point may appear somewhat contradictory. He says: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Mat. 5:16) — Bergier, Dict. deTheologie (Paris, 1854), 3:139.
The glory of a people may depart. This happens when the presence, i.e., the favor and protection of God is withdrawn because of sin of various kinds. What are some of the sins that hinder our “shining” and prevent spiritual renewal and revival?
An Acrostic on Ichabod (Like the Seven Deadly Sins?):
Idleness: laziness, slackness, inaction.
Compromise: middle ground, undermine, weaken, bring to disrepute, shame.
Hypocrisy: false virtue, empty talk, insincerity, dissimulation, Pharisaism.
Adultery: unfaithfulness, infidelity, disloyalty, miscegenation.
Bitterness: harshness, resentment, discontent, spite.
Overcharged: cheat, defraud, exaggerate, overstate.
Disobedience: insubordination, misbehavior, rebellion, willfulness.
The first similarity is that both of these lists are a list of seven.
Tertullian was the first to come up with the Seven Deadly Sins. Later, St. Thomas Aquinas developed a list almost identical in order, and he also came up with the Seven Heavenly Virtues to counteract these sins. These deadly sins are: 1) pride, 2) greed, or covetousness, 3) lust, or illicit sexual desire, 4) envy, 5) gluttony, which includes drunkenness, 6) wrath, or anger, and 7) sloth. Each of these sins can be overcome by the virtues: 1) humility, 2) charity, 3) chastity, 4) gratitude, 5) temperance, 6) patience, and 7) diligence.
When comparing these lists, three of them are almost identical; others are different; still others can be encompassed and classified under the sin of pride — it being chief and the root of all sins. At any rate, between these lists we’ve got most of them covered. But do not forget that sin can be anything that one places ahead of our heavenly Father.
God does not want to leave men to their own wicked devices, but sometimes he must — especially when they are unwilling to fulfill the conditions according to which He would want to dwell among them.
Speaking of glory, the American flag is sometimes called “Old Glory.” Well, what about present glory, or some new glory? America has clearly fallen from her former glory: “Ichabod” is written all across this land! The once “shining city on a hill” is a light no more; totally extinguished by sin. The warnings given to the seven Churches of Asia (Rev. 2:1-29; Rev. 3:1-22) were neglected, and the evils predicted came to pass. The candlestick was removed out of its place (Rev. 2:5), and darkness and desolation triumphed.
The presence of God should be accounted by us as the greatest blessing, and his departure dreaded as the greatest calamity. Whatever contributes to His departure must be zealously renounced or corrected.“Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.”(Lam. 3:40).
No condition is altogether hopeless. “If from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him…” (Deu. 4:29). The glory of Israel that was thought to be gone forever was restored, and out of the night of sorrow and trouble a new day was born for the kingdom.