Lighthouse Leader Study Guide

Date: January 22, 2017

Series: The kings & the King: A Study of 1 Samuel

1 Samuel 4:1-22

This Week’s Printable Resources:


Overview of this Lesson

This week presents a vivid picture of God’s judgment upon Israel. Not only does Israel lose on the battle field, but God cleans the slate of the corrupt leadership in preparation for Samuel. Eli and his two evil sons, Hophni and Phinehas all die on the same day, just as God promised Eli. At the same time, the Ark of the Covenant is captured during battle by the Philistines. Moreover, Phinehas’ wife dies giving birth to a son, whom she names Ichabod. In her dying words, she declares that his name means “the glory of the Lord has departed.”

There are many lessons we can learn from this week’s text. We will focus on God’s judgment and on the unfortunate response of Israel’s leaders. In their desire to bring about victory, they tried to manipulate the Lord, to place Him in a corner, when they called for the Ark of the Covenant to lead them into battle. Their thinking was completely carnal. They assumed that God would have to defend the Ark rather than face certain shame that would come if the Philistines defeated Israel in battle when the Ark was present. They were wrong. We will look at their motivation and how we do similar things when we try and corner God into doing what we think He should do for His glory, when in truth it is our own glory that we are promoting.

Memory Verse for This Week

“And she named the child Ichabod, saying, ‘The glory has departed from Israel!’ because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”  – 1 Samuel 4:21-22

This Week’s Core Doctrine

        God the Father (Psalm 121:1–2): We believe God is personally involved in and cares about the daily lives of His children.

This Week’s Take Home Truth 

“The Lord is sovereign over his people, but he will not be manipulated by his people.”


  1. Can you share a time in your childhood when you wanted something badly? What was it you wanted? How did you go about getting it (or not getting it)?
  2. Can you describe a time when you felt cornered by someone, they manipulated a situation in order to get you to do what they wanted?
  3. Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?

Make sure you ask this question this week. It gives people the opportunity to discuss questions or issues that come up beyond the written questions. People’s responses can often lead into one of the questions in the “Digging Deeper” section. Also, some weeks this question will result in a lot of discussion, other weeks, not so much.

Read the Text (1 Samuel 4:1-22)

Israel suffers defeat in battle against their hated enemy, the Philistines. Puzzled as to the cause, the elders agree to bring the Ark of the Covenant into battle with them to ensure their victory. Instead, they suffer a devastating defeat. When the long day ends, 30,000 men lie dead on the battlefield, including the two sons of the High Priest, Eli. Worst of all, the Philistines have captured the Ark of the Covenant. When Eli hears the news, he falls over and dies. At the same time, Eli’s daughter-in-law dies while giving  birth to his grandson. In her final breath, she calls the baby’s name Ichabod, for the glory of the Lord has departed from Israel. Read 1 Samuel 4:1-22. Read 1 Samuel 4:1-22.

1 Samuel 4 (ESV)

1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. 2 The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. 3 And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” 4 So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

5 As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. 6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. 8 Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. 9 Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”

10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

The Death of Eli

12 A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head. 13 When he arrived, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out. 14 When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, “What is this uproar?” Then the man hurried and came and told Eli. 15 Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see. 16 And the man said to Eli, “I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.” And he said, “How did it go, my son?” 17 He who brought the news answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” 18 As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.

19 Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. 20 And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention. 21 And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

Digging Deeper

In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions. Remember, if you are hearing from everyone in your group, chances are you won’t have to time to discuss every question. You may start with one that catches your attention so you don’t run out of time. For example, it’s not odd to start with Question #6, then go to Question #5 and if you have time come back to Question #4.

  1. If you had to summarize 1 Samuel 4 with one word, what word would you use?

The word that best describes what is happening in 1 Samuel 4 is “judgment.” The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible defines Judgment as follows:

Concept in Scripture closely related to the concept of God’s justice. In all his relationships God acts justly and morally. Human beings, created by God, are morally structured so that they may positively respond to God’s righteous demands in their lives. Divine judgment, involving God’s approval or disapproval upon each human act, is a natural consequence of the Creator-creature relationship between God and humanity. Thus judgment, simply defined, is the divine response to human activity. God the Creator must also be God the Judge. Since God is just, he responds with either punishments or rewards to what each person does. One’s moral accountability to God, a quality not shared by the rest of creation, is an essential ingredient of being created in God’s image. Creation in the divine image meant that God and man could communicate with each other in such a way that all people were able to understand God’s moral requirements and willingly respond to them. [1]

The key to understanding God’s judgment is the relationship between the Creator and His Creation. As human beings, we are the only living thing that is created in the image of God. This makes mankind unique among all of creation. As image bearers, we possess both a moral conscious as well as the ability to choose between right and wrong. No other created being has these qualities.

  1. Did the events of Chapter 4 happen without warning?

Not at all. Starting with Israel, God promised to bless Israel if they walked according to His law and kept His commandments. In short, if there were obedient to the Lord God. There are many passages of Scripture we could look at, but Leviticus 29 is a good example.

First, the Lord promises to bless them…

Leviticus 26:3-9 (NKJV)
3  ‘If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, 4  then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.
5  Your threshing shall last till the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last till the time of sowing; you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.
6  I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none will make you afraid; I will rid the land of evil beasts, and the sword will not go through your land.
7  You will chase your enemies, and they shall fall by the sword before you.
8  Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight; your enemies shall fall by the sword before you.
9  ‘For I will look on you favorably and make you fruitful, multiply you and confirm My covenant with you.

This powerful promise of blessing is immediately followed by the promise of judgment if Israel does not keep the Lord’s commandments…

Leviticus 26:14-19 (NKJV)
14  ‘But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, 15  and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, 16  I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.
17  I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when no one pursues you.
18  ‘And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.
19  I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze.

  1. Did Israel understand what was happening and why?

Back in 1 Samuel 4, the elders of Israel asked the right question in verse 3: “why has the Lord defeated us today?” Instinctively, they understood that their defeat was not because the Philistines were stronger in battle, but it was the Lord who had defeated them.

If they had meditated on that question a little longer, they would have found the answer in God’s word. Deuteronomy 28:25 tells Israel, “The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them; and you shall become troublesome to all the kingdoms of the earth.” This paragraph in the book of Deuteronomy begins with the same “If, then” statement we see in Leviticus. “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you…” (Deut. 28:15).

Regarding Eli specifically, the Lord had warned him twice (1 Sam. 2:30-34 and 1 Sam. 3:11-18). In fact, the Lord’s words of impending judgment to Eli were said with certainty. There was no longer any room for an “if, then” statement. Eli and his evil sons had already been found guilty and it was only a matter of time before this judgment would be carried out.

  1. Which of the following sins was Israel guilty of at the time of 1 Samuel 4:
  • adultery
  • homosexuality
  • sexual perversion
  • wife abuse
  • child abuse
  • brutality
  • savagery
  • gang rape
  • murder
  • kidnapping
  • drunkenness
  • mob violence
  • terrorist attacks
  • war

The sad reality is that all of these atrocities took place during the days of Samuel and the judges. This is the third week we will drive this point home, but this was a dark time in Israel’s history. Israel believed in God, but did not honor Him with their worship or live in obedience to His commandments. If you had asked the average Israelite about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob during the times of the judges, the typical response would have been, “Oh yes, I know about him.” But that’s about it. The picture we see of Eli’s family in Chapter 2 is symbolic of the entirety of the Nation of Israel during the times of the judges.

  1. What is wrong with how the Israelites responded to defeat?

The response of the Israelites gives us a great picture into their spiritual condition. Israel did not have a relationship with their God, they viewed Him superstitiously, and this was in fact a form of idolatry. To them, it was like a good luck charm (or a lucky rabbit’s foot as one commentator put it).

In fact, Israel’s response is not any different than the response of the pagan Philistines when they found out the ark was present. They trembled in fear because “mighty gods” (v. 8) had come into the camp. Ironically, if you’ve ever seen the popular movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark” starring Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, you know that this is exactly how the ark is portrayed in the movie, as a relic that fills people with superstitious fear and terror.

What we see in the response of Israel in Chapter 4 is one of manipulation and idolatry. Israel believed that by bringing the physical symbol of God into battle, the Lord would be forced to fight on behalf of Israel. His honor would be a stake. He would have to defend His honor, and in doing so, He would defend His people, Israel. In short, they had Him cornered. Game. Set. Match. You can almost see the elders looking at each other, wryly smiling, and nodding their heads in agreement.

  1. What lessons can we learn from Israel’s actions in 1 Samuel 4?

Commentator Dale Ralph Davis answers this question well:

The text forces two important implications upon us: Yahweh will suffer shame rather than allow you to carry on a false relationship with him; and Yahweh will allow you to be disappointed with him if it will awaken you to the sort of God he really is.

Contemporary believers must beware of thinking they are immune from this rabbit-foot faith. What is behind a church’s twenty-four-hour prayer vigil? Is it a desire to be in earnest with God, to plead with him in some matter? Or is there some thinking that if we simply organize and orchestrate such coverage, God will be forced to grant whatever we are praying about? Perhaps individual Christians have observed that “things go better with prayer.” But what then is the drive behind their daily devotional exercises? Is it delight in meeting with God or with “things” going better? Whenever the church stops confessing “Thou art worthy” and begins chanting “Thou art useful”—well, then you know the ark of God has been captured again.[2]

Concluding Thoughts

These questions are given to prompt both reflection and learning on a personal level, and should likely be completed individually and apart from your regular group time.

  1. Do you have any religious symbols or artifacts that you place more faith in than in God?
  2. Are there areas in your life where you have tried to corner God and get Him to act on your behalf?

How to Avoid “Rabbit-foot Theology” in Your Prayer Life

By Corinne Hamada Homquist

When I was a sophomore in college, I met to pray with one of my friends every Saturday at 7 a.m. Instead of trading prayer requests, we opened our Bibles and picked a psalm.

One of us would start by reading the first verse aloud and then thank God for the truth about Him revealed there.

The other would agree with those statements and read the second verse aloud, affirming in prayer what those verses said about God and herself. If the verse reminded either of us of a trial to be faced, we’d pray, using the verse to guide us.

A typical prayer would go something like this:

“O clap your hands, all peoples; shout to God with the voice of joy.”

“Father we come to You with hearts of joy. We want to shout to You and tell You how glad we are that You’re our God.”

“I agree with that. And we are glad to be Your children.

“For the Most High is to be feared, a great King over all the earth.”

“You are a great King, and You do rule over all the earth. Cause us to remember that while we’re studying for our finals this week. I want to do well on them, but I get nervous when I take exams.”

This method worked well for us. Even if one of us didn’t feel like praying, the other one did. And we weren’t using our own ideas to manipulate God. By praying with Scripture, we were trusting Him to change our desires to fit His will.[3]

[1]  Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1248.

[2] Dale Ralph Davis, Focus on the Bible Commentary – 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 55.

[3] From Worldwide Challenge, September 1986. Reprinted by permission. Discipleship Journal, Issue 68 (March/April 1992) (NavPress, 1992).