What does 1 Samuel 4:7 mean?
ESV: 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.
NIV: the Philistines were afraid. 'A god has come into the camp,' they said. 'Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before.
NASB: So the Philistines were afraid, for they said, 'God has come into the camp!' And they said, 'Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before.
CSB: they panicked. "A god has entered their camp! " they said. "Woe to us! Nothing like this has happened before.
NLT: they panicked. 'The gods have come into their camp!' they cried. 'This is a disaster! We have never had to face anything like this before!
KJV: And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore.
The Philistines heard the roar of mighty shouts from the Israelite camp and knew something had changed. They badly defeated the Israelites in the first skirmish of this war, but now the Israelites seemed to be celebrating something. In fact, Israel's recently defeated army was roaring in celebration. Then the news came: the ark of the Lord had been brought to the Israelite camp (1 Samuel 4:1–6).
The Philistines take this as terrible news. They believe a god has come into the camp of the Israelites to fight for them. In other words, the Philistines think of the ark of the Lord as a physical manifestation of the god of the Israelites. Because of their own view that idols were actually gods, like the statue of their own god Dagon (1 Samuel 5:2–5), they are sure the arrival of the ark means that Israel's god had arrived to fight for them. How do you fight a god, especially the god of the Israelites (1 Samuel 4:8)? "Woe to us!" they cry. "Nothing like this has ever happened to us!"
The Israelites will soon prove they had also mistaken God's ark as being the source of His power, rather than recalling that God's power comes from Himself. Though He caused His presence to rest over the ark, the ark was not God. It was not where His power came from. He was not contained or manipulated by a physical object.
First Samuel 4:1–11 mentions Samuel's new role delivering God's Word to Israel. It then describes a battle between Israel and the Philistines. After losing an initial skirmish, the elders of Israel bring the ark of the covenant to the battlefield. This briefly terrifies the Philistines but doesn't stop them. The Israelites are defeated, losing many men. In a humiliating blow, the ark of the covenant is captured. Eli's sons are killed, and every survivor of the battle runs for home.
Israel amasses an to fight against the Philistines. After losing badly in the first battle, the elders send for the ark of God to be brought from Shiloh. They seem to assume the mere presence of the ark will act like a lucky charm or talisman. The Philistines are terrified at the idea of fighting Israel's deity, but they still defeat the Israelites, slaughtering many soldiers and capturing the ark. A runner delivers the news to Eli that his sons are dead and the ark is captured. He dies, and his daughter-in-law goes into premature labor. Before she dies, she names the baby Ichabod, saying that the glory has departed from Israel.
First Samuel 4 begins a new section of 1 Samuel. The young prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 1—3) disappears from the story for several chapters. Israel brings the ark of the covenant to a battle with the Philistines, but they are wiped out anyway. The Philistines rout the army and capture the ark. A runner delivers the news to Eli that his sons are dead and the ark is taken. Eli dies, as does his daughter-in-law after giving birth to a son she names Ichabod. She declares that the glory has departed from Israel because the ark has been captured. Despite this, the Philistines will soon learn the ark is not a mere trophy (1 Samuel 5).
First Samuel introduces the key figures who led Israel after the era of the judges. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel were originally part of a single text, split in certain translations shortly before the birth of Christ. Some of the Bible’s most famous characters are depicted in this book. These including the prophet Samuel, Israel’s first king, Saul, her greatest king, David, and other famous names such as Goliath and Jonathan. By the end of this book, Saul has fallen; the book of 2 Samuel begins with David’s ascension to the throne.
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