- 1 Sam. 3:1-7:17
A number of key events are recorded in the text of today's reading. One common theme in these events is how GOD is continually active in the lives of His people as well as all men.
GOD Calls Samuel
When Samuel was a young boy he served under Eli in the tabernacle. One night GOD called Samuel. Three times Samuel awoke thinking Eli was calling him. After the third time Eli realized it was GOD calling Samuel so he advised Samuel to reply, "Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening." GOD called a fourth time and Samuel responded as Eli advised him.
Then the LORD said to Samuel: “Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them. And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
(1 Sam. 3:11-14 NKJV)
The next day Samuel told GOD's words to Eli. Despite Eli's sadness at the news he said:
“He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
(1 Sam. 3:18 NIV)
What an example of trust that Eli had in GOD's wisdom, justice and love!
And Samuel grew up and was known among Israel as a prophet of the LORD. GOD appeared to Samuel at Shiloh through His word (1 Sam. 3:21).
Israel Defeated by the Philistines
Israel went out to battle with the Philistines but they lost and 4,000 men died. The soldiers then decided, on their own, to bring the ark of the covenant to the battlefield, which they did. When the ark arrived the Israelites shouted so loudly that the ground shook. When the Philistines heard why the Israelites shouted they grew afraid.
So the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God has come into the camp!” And they said, “Woe to us! For such a thing has never happened before. Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness.
(1 Sam. 4:7-8 NKJV)
The Philistines went to war with Israel that day and killed 30,000 Israelite soldiers. They also captured the ark of the covenant. Eli's evil sons, Hophni and Phinehas also died in battle. When Eli heard what happened, he fell over and broke his neck and died. He was 98 years old and had judged Israel 40 years.
The Ark Brings Trouble to the Philistines
Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon and set it by Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod arose early in the morning, there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and set it in its place again. And when they arose early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. The head of Dagon and both the palms of its hands were broken off on the threshold; only Dagon’s torso was left of it. Therefore neither the priests of Dagon nor any who come into Dagon’s house tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day. But the hand of the LORD was heavy on the people of Ashdod, and He ravaged them and struck them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory.
(1 Sam. 5:1-6 NKJV)
The Philistines moved the ark from place to place, but after seven months, they'd had enough and decided to send it back.
And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, “What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us how we should send it to its place.” So they said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty; but by all means return it to Him with a trespass offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why His hand is not removed from you.” Then they said, “What is the trespass offering which we shall return to Him?”
They answered, “Five golden tumors and five golden rats, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines. For the same plague was on all of you and on your lords. Therefore you shall make images of your tumors and images of your rats that ravage the land, and you shall give glory to the God of Israel; perhaps He will lighten His hand from you, from your gods, and from your land. Why then do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? When He did mighty things among them, did they not let the people go, that they might depart? Now therefore, make a new cart, take two milk cows which have never been yoked, and hitch the cows to the cart; and take their calves home, away from them. Then take the ark of the LORD and set it on the cart; and put the articles of gold which you are returning to Him as a trespass offering in a chest by its side. Then send it away, and let it go. And watch: if it goes up the road to its own territory, to Beth Shemesh, then He has done us this great evil. But if not, then we shall know that it is not His hand that struck us—it happened to us by chance.”
(1 Sam. 6:2-9 NKJV)
The cows went straight back to Beth Shemesh to the Israelite camp! The message to the Philistines was clear:this was an act of GOD and no coincidence! The ark stayed at the house of an Israelite named Abinadab for 20 years.
After this time Israel mourned and they sought after the LORD. Samuel told them to put away the idols they had worshipped and commit themselves wholly to GOD, which they did. After this, GOD defeated the Philistines in a special way.
Now when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel had gathered together at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines. So the children of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.”
And Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. Then Samuel cried out to the LORD for Israel, and the LORD answered him. Now as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the LORD thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day, and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel.
(1 Sam. 7:7-10 NKJV)
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”
(1 Sam. 7:12 NKJV)
The word "Ebenezer" in Hebrew means "stone of help". This is what is referred to in verse 2 of the song O Thou Fount of Every Blessing, which we sing: "...here I raise my Ebenezer."