Opening Prayer

Dear God, I rejoice and praise you that your love is forever, yet I experience it anew every day.

Read 1 Samuel 4:1b–11

The Philistines Capture the Ark

Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”

So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

When the ark of the Lord’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”

When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. “A god has[a] come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before. We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!”

10 So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

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  1. 1 Samuel 4:7 Or “Gods have (see Septuagint)

New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


‘The sacrifice acceptable to God is … a broken and contrite heart.’1 Come before him in true penitence.

Think Further

Towards the end of his life, my grandfather – who was a high-church priest – admitted to my mother that his faith had become buried under ritual. It is not only the smells-and-bells churches who may rely on ritual. How many nonconformist churches always begin their services with a long extempore prayer? How many charismatics think that raising the arms while singing somehow makes worship more acceptable to God? Some rituals can be helpful – including all the above! – but when anything comes to be looked upon as a guarantee of spirituality, or a means of ensuring God’s blessing, or simply more important than the object of worship – God himself – we shouldn’t be surprised if God doesn’t show up in our lives.

Superstition around the Ark of the Covenant (which held the copy of the agreement between God and Israel, brokered under Moses) blinded the minds of the priests and people. Today we might say that they held to the trappings of religion without the relationship. It wasn’t helped by the attitude of Eli’s sons.2 In today’s reading, they thought they could control God by bringing the Ark into the battle and make him give them the victory. It’s a tragic story. It particularly speaks to those of us who have a leadership responsibility in our churches. Through our teaching and preaching, our example and lifestyle, it is essential that we get across as true a picture of God as we can and encourage our congregations to move away from relying on our cherished rituals.

Meanwhile, the Philistines, who had reacted with terror when the Ark was brought into the Israelite camp, were rejoicing! They must have felt that they had conquered the God of Israel himself. They had defeated his army and captured his Ark.


Father, forgive us for the times when we subconsciously think we can control you. May our worship always be pleasing to you.

Closing prayer

Sovereign Lord, thank you for your timely interventions in my life and circumstances. I look to you for grace and wisdom.

Ps 51:17, NRSV 1 Sam 2:12–17

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Last Updated on August 30, 2022 by kingstar

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