Poole on 1 Samuel 4:18: The Death of Eli

[circa 1141 BC] Verse 18:[1] And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years (He seems to have been a Judge to do justice only, and that in the South-west of Israel.).


[And when he had named the Ark of God] That is, hearing, not the whole narration, but only begun, leaping forward mentally, and having a presentiment of the end, he fell (Mendoza).



[He fell from his magistrate’s chair] Because he was completely confounded; and with his spirit failing because of anxiety, panic, and stupefaction, he was not able to keep himself in his high seat (Lapide). He fell, because of excessive sorrow of heart (Drusius). Grief and fear are able to inflict sudden death; as it is evident from examples (Mendoza).


[Backward] Either his seat was cut off, and cut away on every side, hence having no support in the back, as Tostatus maintains; or both the seat and the sitter fell (Mendoza).


He fell from off the seat backward; being so oppressed with grief and astonishment, that he had no strength left to support him.


[Near the entrance, בְּעַ֣ד׀ יַ֣ד הַשַּׁ֗עַר] By the hand (or, near the hand, that is, the place or side [Drusius]; near the place [Pagnine]; before the side [Junius and Tremellius]; upon the threshold [Munster]) of the gate (Montanus). Near (or behind [Tigurinus]) the gate (Septuagint). At the side of the door (Syriac); upon the step of the way of the gate (Jonathan). Upon a place that was adjacent to the gate (Vatablus). This gate was: either, 1. Of the courtyard, or temple (Junius, Mendoza, Tertullian and Chrysostom in Lapide). Whence he was accustomed to respond to those seeking counsel (Junius). Or, 2. Of the city (Piscator, Lapide); for judges were sitting in the gates, of which sort was Eli; particularly, because he was eagerly expecting to learn the outcome of the battle from men arriving at the gate of the city (Lapide). The sense: He fell upon stone and marble, of which the thresholds of the gates were constructed: by which it was easy for the head to be dashed and broken. But if you should say that the entrance of the Tabernacle was not constructed of marble; it was at least of bronze columns and bases; Exodus 26:37. Then again, perhaps he sat and fell, not at the entrance of the Tabernacle, but of his house, in which was an enclosed courtyard (Mendoza).


By the side of the gate, to wit, the gate of the city, which was most convenient for the speedy understanding of all occurrences.



[With his neck broken, וַתִּשָּׁבֵ֤ר מַפְרַקְתּוֹ֙[2]] And his neck was broken (Jonathan, thus the Syriac, Munster, Tigurinus, Osiander, Vatablus). Others: the occiput (Pagnine); the bone of the neck (Montanus). That knotty bone that is in the neck (Munster). His back (Septuagint, Arabic). The structure of the vertabræ of the neck (Junius and Tremellius). The word properly signifies the bones of the neck, which consist of many parts (Mariana). It signifies the same part of the neck, at which it is divided from the trunk, so called because it has various interruptions and knots (Malvenda).


[For he was an old man, and advanced in years, וְכָבֵד] And heavy (Pagnine, Septuagint, Montanus, Jonathan, Syriac, Arabic, Munster, Tigurinus). Heavy in body (Piscator, similarly Drusius). And of an obese and full of sap (Vatablus). This weight was the cause of his death (Drusius). He was not agile. Others: of heavy, namely, years. As in Virgil’s Æneid 9: …Here, with heavy years (Malvenda). Old men, on account of infirmity, and obese men, on account of weight, in falling from a height are more easily crushed and killed (Mendoza).


He was an old man, and heavy; old, and therefore weak, and apt to fall; heavy, and therefore his fall more dangerous and pernicious.


[And he judged Israel] Here, with good reason is expressed the dignity of Eli, and his duration; lest anyone should think that human felicity is free from the misfortunes of human life. He was the first Judge of the tribe of Levi. He was the first High Priest of the family of Ithamar. He was the first to enjoy both the judicial and the pontifical dignity. He was cast down from this threefold primacy to the extremity of misery (Mendoza).


He had judged Israel; he was their supreme governor, both in civils and spirituals.


[Forty years] Thus the Hebrew, Chaldean, and Greek in the Complutensian and Royal[3] Bibles, have it. But the Septuagint in the Sixtine Bible translates it, twenty years. And thus in the ancient codices the scholia of those Bibles are found. Indeed, Eusebius[4] in his Chronicle, and Lucifer, teach that the Septuagint actually translated it in this way. And thus Procopius, Chrysostom, and Sulpicius Severus[5] read it: They reconcile the two readings in this way; they add twenty years of Samuel to the twenty years of Eli; so that Eli might be said to have judged alone for twenty years, while Samuel judged for forty. I would prefer it thus, that Eli judged alone for twenty years, but through his sons for another twenty (Mendoza). Question: Was Eli damned? Response 1: Some answer in the affirmative. Thus Gregory’s Book of Pastoral Rule[6] 2:6, Eucherius,[7] and Bede. Jerome, Chrysostom, Cæsarius of Arles,[8] and Augustine appear to feel the same (Lapide). And the Divine Ephrem[9] in his Apology concerning Eli[10] asserts, that divine worship was not to his liking; and also that, when he knew that the divine sentence was pronounced against him, he did not draw back from that absurdity towards his sons: and that, if he admonished them, he did that fearing the fury of the people, so that he might soften and placate the spirit of those that were protesting against his sons: and, finally, that, with the divine threats heard from Samuel, he did not repent of his fault; but as one senseless hardened himself to the punishment (Mendoza). Response 2: Others maintain that he was saved. Thus Jerome, Basil, Chrysostom, Theodoret, Procopius (Lapide, thus Lyra, Tostatus, Serarius, Mendoza, Lapide, Calvin, Willet). Their arguments are: 1. His great concern for the glory of God, and for the Ark of the Covenant (Calvin). He was more vexed by the loss of the Ark than the death of his sons. He that was not able to live without the Ark of God, would he not in some manner perish without the God of that Ark (Mendoza)? This is a certain testimony of the divine benevolence toward him, even that He had him in the number of the elect (Calvin). But this argument is not necessary. It is not sufficiently evident whether he was troubled over his own private affairs, or for the sake of religion. For, upon the Ark were depending his dignity and emoluments of life. Therefore, while these things are uncertain, they are to be left undecided. Although I think it more likely that he was saved (Martyr). 2. He appears to have repented of his sins, and to have humbly accepted the hard punishment enjoined by God, 1 Samuel 3:18 (Lapide). He patiently bore the death of his sons. He was esteeming the Ark more highly than his sons; for he judged spiritual goods to be preferred to temporal goods (Mendoza). 3. His innocence and piety are discerned from this, that the sins of his sons displeased him, and he rebuked them; although more remissly than was suitable. 4. It is able to be gathered from this, that it is stated in Ecclesiasticus 46:11[11] (Willet).

[1] Hebrew: וַיְהִ֞י כְּהַזְכִּיר֣וֹ׀ אֶת־אֲר֣וֹן הָאֱלֹהִ֗ים וַיִּפֹּ֣ל מֵֽעַל־הַ֠כִּסֵּא אֲחֹ֙רַנִּ֜ית בְּעַ֣ד׀ יַ֣ד הַשַּׁ֗עַר וַתִּשָּׁבֵ֤ר מַפְרַקְתּוֹ֙ וַיָּמֹ֔ת כִּֽי־זָקֵ֥ן הָאִ֖ישׁ וְכָבֵ֑ד וְה֛וּא שָׁפַ֥ט אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אַרְבָּעִ֥ים שָׁנָֽה׃ [2]מַפְרֶקֶת/neck is related to the verb פָּרַק, to break or divide. [3] The Royal Codex is the 1550 edition of the Greek New Testament published by Robert Estienne. It is called the Editio Regia because of the handsome Greek font used in the printing. [4] Eusebius (c. 267-338) was Bishop of Cæsarea, author of that famous Ecclesiastical History, and supporter of Constantine the Great. [5] Sulpicius Severus (c. 360-425) was a member of the Roman senatorial aristocracy, who renounced all for the monastic life. He wrote the first biography of Martin of Tours and the Chronicorum Libri Duo (or Historia Sacra), providing a history from the creation to 400 AD. Drusius produced an annotated edition of his works. [6]Liber Regulæ Pastoralis. [7] Eucherius (c. 380-c. 449) served as Bishop of Lyon. He is remembered for his life of self-denial, and for the defense of the allegorical and anagogical senses of Scripture. [8] Cæsarius of Arles (c. 468-542) was a Gaulish bishop. [9] Ephrem the Syrian (c. 306-373) was Deacon and theologian. He was a prolific writer of hymns, poems, and exegetical works, and probably the most significant of the Syrian Church Fathers. [10]Apologia de Heli. [11] Ecclesiasticus 46:11: “And concerning the judges, every one by name, whose heart went not a whoring, nor departed from the Lord, let their memory be blessed.”

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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