Poole on 1 Samuel 4:3: Trusting in the Ark...rather than in the Lord

Verse 3:[1] And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch (Heb. take unto us[2]) 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.


[Those greater with respect to birth] Hebrew: the elders[3] (Vatablus). Upon whom generally was conferred the administration of sacred and political affairs, and also of war (Mendoza).


[Why has the Lord smitten us today before the Philistines? לִפְנֵי וגו׳] Before the faces, or in the sight, of the Philistines; that is, by them; or by their efforts. It is a Hebraism. Thus in Leviticus 26:7, they shall fall before you;[4] that is, by your arms; and in verse 17. Thus in Deuteronomy 2:22; 28:7, 25; and in 2 Samuel 18:7, they were slain…before the servants of David,[5] that is, by the servants, etc. Thus 1 Kings 8:33 (Mendoza). They wisely conclude that the slaugher was wrought, not by men, but by their angry God (Sanchez, similarly Mendoza, Castalio). Now, they were amazed over this. The reasons for their amazement were: 1. That they had gone forth to war, with God as author and Samuel as counselor. For a similar reason were amazed both Moses, Exodus 32:11, 12, and Joshua, Joshua 7:7, and those in Judges 20. 2. That they were esteeming only the sons of Eli, and his sons, here unhurt, worthy of punishment: And, although they had many and great sins, yet they were acknowledging none in themselves as worthy of punishment; Such was the blind arrogance in them. Question: But why did God punish them so grievously? Responses: 1. On account of the sins of Eli and his sons. For God is able to punish the sins of Princes in their subjects; as in 2 Chronicles 28:19. 2. Because te people consented to the sins of their princes, and were imitating them; as in 1 Samuel 2:24 (Mendoza).


Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us today before the Philistines, seeing our cause is so just, our own just and necessary defence from God’s and our enemies, and we came not forth to battle by our own motion, but by God's command delivered by Samuel? This was strange blindness, that when there was so great a corruption in their worship and manners, 1 Samuel 2, and such a defection to idolatry, 1 Samuel 7:3; Psalm 78:58, they could not see sufficient reason why God should suffer them to fall by their enemies.



[Let us bring the Ark to us from Shiloh] Let us sent unto Shiloh those that might bring hither the Ark of the covenant, etc. (Vatablus). Thus the Ark was called, because in it were the tables of the covenant, both broken and whole (Drusius). As the men speak, dazed by the weight of the rod, but devoid of the conscience of their own sin and vileness, when they order the Ark to be brought (Junius, Piscator, Malvenda). They commit a logical fallacy, taking what is no cause as the cause; which is pernicious in practical deliberations. They think that they were overcome because the Ark was not present. But their neglected repentance, their corruption of manners, their vitiated worship of God, do not come into mind at all (Martyr). They, not having been purged of their sins, vainly hope in God (Grotius). The confidence of the Israelites, although placed in God, was vicious for two reasons: 1. That that confidence was excluding their cooperation. They were employing no human industry, that they might restore the broken strength of the army; but in the same state of affairs that they had they were thinking of returning to the war; which is not to hope in God, but to tempt God. They did not do as Jacob, Genesis 32:28, or Moses, Numbers 10:31, or Joshua, Joshua 6; 7, or Gideon, Judges 7, or Asa, 2 Chronicles 14. 2. That they, obstinately clining to their sins, were overly assured of divine mercy; and from divine goodness they took boldness to sin. Moreover, they were able to be induced unto this opinion, concerning bringing the Ark into battle, because they remembered that the presence of the Ark was formerly the cause of triumph; its absence, of ruin. See Numbers 10:35; 14:44; 31:6 (where by the holy instruments the Hebrews understand the Ark); Joshua 6:4; 1 Samuel 14:18; 2 Samuel 11:11 compared with 2 Samuel 12:26 (Mendoza).


[And let it come into the midst of us] They decided that the Ark was to be located in the heart of the camp; because this place was, either, 1. more honorable; or, 2. safer and better fortified; or, 3. more favorably disposed; so that it might be able both to be approached by all, and to defend those approaching (Mendoza).


The ark of the covenant of the Lord; that great pledge of God’s presence and help, by whose conduct our ancestors obtained success, Numbers 10:35; 14:44; Joshua 6:4. Instead of the performance of moral duties, humbling themselves deeply for and purging themselves speedily and thoroughly from all their sins, for which God was displeased with them, and now had chastised them, they take an easier and cheaper course, and put their trust in their ceremonial observances, not doubting but the very presence of the ark would give them the victory; and therefore it is no wonder they meet with so sad a disappointment.

[1] Hebrew: וַיָּבֹ֣א הָעָם֮ אֶל־הַֽמַּחֲנֶה֒ וַיֹּֽאמְרוּ֙ זִקְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לָ֣מָּה נְגָפָ֧נוּ יְהוָ֛ה הַיּ֖וֹם לִפְנֵ֣י פְלִשְׁתִּ֑ים נִקְחָ֧ה אֵלֵ֣ינוּ מִשִּׁלֹ֗ה אֶת־אֲרוֹן֙ בְּרִ֣ית יְהוָ֔ה וְיָבֹ֣א בְקִרְבֵּ֔נוּ וְיֹשִׁעֵ֖נוּ מִכַּ֥ף אֹיְבֵֽינוּ׃ [2] Hebrew: נִקְחָ֧ה אֵלֵ֣ינוּ. [3] Hebrew: זִקְנֵי. [4] Hebrew: וְנָפְל֥וּ לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם. [5] 2 Samuel 18:7: “Where the people of Israel were slain before the servants of David (לִפְנֵ֖י עַבְדֵ֣י דָוִ֑ד), and there was there a great slaughter that day of twenty thousand men.”

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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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