A messenger informs ninety-eight year old Eli that his two sons have been killed in battle and that the ark of God has been taken. At the news of the taking of the ark of God, Eli falls off his chair, breaks his neck, and dies. The shock of the news sends Eli’s pregnant daughter-in-law into labor, and she gives birth to a son. Before she dies, she names her son 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.”
The Philistines learn that you can’t disregard the Lord and take the ark of God with no repercussions. The Lord sends a plague upon the Philistines inflicting them with tumors, which many theologians think are hemorrhoids, and rats cover the land. The Lord also decapitates their beloved false god Dagon. Since moving the ark of the Lord around for seven months and experiencing tumors and death everywhere the ark goes is a real pain in the rear for the Philistines, the Philistines decide to return the ark. They inquire of their priests and diviners who tell them to load the ark on a cart with a trespass offering of five golden tumors and five golden rats representing the five Philistine rulers – “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.”
The cows, miraculously guided by the Lord, pull the ark back to Israel to the field of Joshua at Beth Shemesh. After a mishap there related to mishandling the ark, the people of Beth Shemesh have the ark of God taken to Abinadab’s house in Kirjath Jearim and consecrate his son Eleazar to keep the ark of the Lord. It will remain there until King David brings it to Jerusalem later in the story.
The prophet Samuel is now serving as judge and priest of Israel. Twenty years after the ark is in Kirjath Jearim, Samuel tells the people, who continue to slip into idolatry, to “return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” When the people repent inwardly with their hearts and then outwardly by turning from foreign gods, the Lord provides victory over the Philistines.
“Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice.” Since Samuel’s sons were corrupt and wicked, similar to Eli’s sons, the people ask Samuel to give them a king like the nations around them. God tells Samuel to give the people what they want “for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.” However, the Lord instructs Samuel to warn the people about what will happen when they have a king. God says the king will take your sons, take your daughters, take your fields, take your grain and vintage, take your servants, and take your livestock. That’s a lot of taking. But the people don’t care. They still want a king.
Tomorrow the Lord gives the people what they want. Keep reading. (1 Samuel 4:12-8:22)