The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 57: The Ark Taken by the Philistines
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Another warning was to be given to Eli's house. God
could not communicate with the high priest and his sons;
their sins, like a thick cloud, had shut out the presence of His
Holy Spirit. But in the midst of evil the child Samuel remained
true to Heaven, and the message of condemnation to the house
of Eli was Samuel's commission as a prophet of the Most High.
"The word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was
no open vision. And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was
laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he
could not see; and ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of
the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down
to sleep; that the Lord called Samuel." Supposing the voice to
be that of Eli, the child hastened to the bedside of the priest,
saying, "Here am I; for thou calledst me." The answer was, "I
called not, my son; lie down again." Three times Samuel was
called, and thrice he responded in like manner. And then Eli was
convinced that the mysterious call was the voice of God. The
Lord had passed by His chosen servant, the man of hoary hairs,
to commune with a child. This in itself was a bitter yet
deserved rebuke to Eli and his house.
No feeling of envy or jealousy was awakened in Eli's heart.
He directed Samuel to answer, if again called, "Speak, Lord; for
Thy servant heareth." Once more the voice was heard, and the
child answered, "Speak; for Thy servant heareth." So awed was
he at the thought that the great God should speak to him that
he could not remember the exact words which Eli bade him say.
"And the Lord said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in
Israel, at which both the ears of everyone that heareth it shall
tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I
have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also [p. 582] make an end. For I have told him that I will judge his house
forever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made
themselves vile, and he restrained them not. And therefore I
have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house
shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering forever."
Before receiving this message from God, "Samuel did not yet
know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed
unto him;" that is, he was not acquainted with such direct
manifestations of God's presence as were granted to the prophets. It
was the Lord's purpose to reveal Himself in an unexpected manner,
that Eli might hear of it through the surprise and inquiry
of the youth.
Samuel was filled with fear and amazement at the thought
of having so terrible a message committed to him. In the morning
he went about his duties as usual, but with a heavy burden
upon his young heart. The Lord had not commanded him to
reveal the fearful denunciation, hence he remained silent,
avoiding, as far as possible, the presence of Eli. He trembled,
lest some question should compel him to declare the divine judgments
against one whom he loved and reverenced. Eli was confident
that the message foretold some great calamity to him and his
house. He called Samuel, and charged him to relate faithfully
what the Lord had revealed. The youth obeyed, and the aged
man bowed in humble submission to the appalling sentence. "It
is the Lord," he said: "let Him do what seemeth Him good."
Yet Eli did not manifest the fruits of true repentance. He
confessed his guilt, but failed to renounce the sin. Year after
year the Lord delayed His threatened judgments. Much might
have been done in those years to redeem the failures of the past,
but the aged priest took no effective measures to correct the evils
that were polluting the sanctuary of the Lord and leading thousands
in Israel to ruin. The forbearance of God caused Hophni
and Phinehas to harden their hearts and to become still bolder
in transgression. The messages of warning and reproof to his
house were made known by Eli to the whole nation. By this
means he hoped to counteract, in some measure, the evil influence
of his past neglect. But the warnings were disregarded
by the people, as they had been by the priests. The people of
surrounding nations also, who were not ignorant of the iniquities
openly practiced in Israel, became still bolder in their idolatry
and crime. They felt no sense of guilt for their sins, as they [p. 583] would have felt had the Israelites preserved their integrity. But
a day of retribution was approaching. God's authority had been
set aside, and His worship neglected and despised, and it became
necessary for Him to interpose, that the honor of His name
might be maintained.
"Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and
pitched beside Ebenezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek."
This expedition was undertaken by the Israelites without counsel
from God, without the concurrence of high priest or prophet.
"And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel: and
when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines:
and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men."
As the shattered and disheartened force returned to their
encampment, "the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the Lord
smitten us today before the Philistines?" The nation was ripe
for the judgments of God, yet they did not see that their own
sins had been the cause of this terrible disaster. And they said,
"Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh
unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the
hand of our enemies." The Lord had given no command or permission
that the ark should come into the army; yet the Israelites
felt confident that victory would be theirs, and uttered a great
shout when it was borne into the camp by the sons of Eli.
The Philistines looked upon the ark as the god of Israel. All
the mighty works that Jehovah had wrought for His people
were attributed to its power. As they heard the shouts of joy at
its approach, they said, "What meaneth the noise of this great
shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the
ark of the Lord was come into the camp. And the Philistines
were afraid; for they said, God has come into the camp. And
they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing
heretofore. Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of
these mighty Gods? These are the Gods that smote the Egyptians
with all the plagues in the wilderness. 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
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