v 11 The Ark of God was captured, and Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were killed.
Israel suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Philistines. The whole sorry tale is significant in that Samuel gets no mention in the planning and carrying out of the two battles. Clearly, he was by-passed by the military leaders who were determined to defeat the Philistines by hook or by crook. Their strategy seems determined by superstition rather than military planning or prayer – calling on God. They seemed to think that having the Ark would be enough – and to be sure the Philistines were terrified at the prospect of fighting a battle against the Israelites who were accompanied by the Ark. It was, after all, the Ark that was perceived as having routed the Egyptians centuries before – it was a lucky charm par excellence If it helped the Israelites to get the better of the Egyptians, they reckoned, what chance do mere Philistines have against it?
So learn the lesson – there are no lucky charms when it comes to dealing with God. It wasn’t an Ark in the camp that the Israelites needed – any more than having a cross hanging round your neck or a Bible in your back pocket – it is the God behind the symbols who is needed! Tragically, Samuel was not there it seems to explain that to the army. And what a terrible defeat the Israelites suffered. In the rout, Eli’s two sons were killed, the Ark itself was captured by the Philistines, and when Eli heard the news, he collapsed and died too.
At the back of my mind a question is circling – where was Samuel all this time? Was he considered too young to go into the battle? Did the military leaders think Samuel was not important, after all Eli was still alive? Or were the Israelites enthralled by their past history? (We always win when the Ark is around!)
The Israelites have a serious lesson to learn here. It will take a confrontation between a young shepherd lad, David, and the gigantic Philistine Goliath to restore the nation’s equilibrium.