What does 1 Samuel 4:9 mean?
ESV: Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”
NIV: Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!'
NASB: Take courage and be men, Philistines, or you will become slaves to the Hebrews, as they have been slaves to you; so be men and fight!'
CSB: Show some courage and be men, Philistines! Otherwise, you'll serve the Hebrews just as they served you. Now be men and fight! "
NLT: Fight as never before, Philistines! If you don’t, we will become the Hebrews’ slaves just as they have been ours! Stand up like men and fight!'
KJV: Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight.
Verse Commentary:
From a human perspective, it would seem the army of the Philistines had the clear advantage over Israel. In their initial face-off, the Philistines had killed numerous Israelite soldiers (1 Samuel 4:2) and attained decisive victory.

However, neither the Philistines nor the Israelites were weighing their expectations for the next battle against human concerns. The common thinking of the day was that gods won or lost wars to each other. When one nation defeated another, most people believed that the god of that nation had been proven stronger on the field of battle. With the ark of the Lord now nearby, the Israelites were confident He would win the victory for them. The Philistines were overwhelmed with fear that the God who defeated the mighty Egyptians would destroy them, as well (1 Samuel 4:4–8).

Still, the Philistines were warriors. They understood that whatever the gods might do, they had to step up and fight like men. They rouse each other to take courage and fight for all they're worth. After all, they do not want to become slaves to the "Hebrews." In this context, "Hebrews" appears to be the Philistines' way of indicating that this people group had come from beyond the Euphrates or beyond the Jordan. It seems the term "Hebrews" is used to distinguish between Israelites and other groups whereas the Israelites were identified, among themselves, by their patriarch's name.

This verse reveals that the Philistines had already taken some of Israel's land and people. Some Israelites already lived as slaves to the Philistines, which is why Israel had come to take their stand in this place (Judges 13:1). The stakes were not only for land but also for forced servitude.
Verse Context:
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.
Chapter Summary:
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.
Chapter Context:
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).
Book Summary:
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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