The Ark Was Captured
In our last story, Samuel shared about the sin Eli’s sons were committing at God’s temple. The story this week, “The Ark Was Captured,” is one example of the things they allowed to happen to the tabernacle and its furnishings. The ark of the covenant was a symbol of God’s presence with the people. As the Israelites battled the Philistines, they lost a battle quite substantially. Instead of asking God what happened, they decided it would be a good idea to go get the box of God, the ark of the covenant, and bring it into battle with them.
When confronted with this message from the battlefield, Eli’s two sons thought it was a great idea and sent the ark from the tabernacle to the battle. Not only did the Israelites’ strategy not work, but the ark was captured by the Philistines and both of Eli’s sons were killed during the battle. When the news of their deaths reached Eli, he fell off the stool he was sitting on and died as well. God’s punishment for their sin had been exacted. Samuel’s words had come true.
As priests in Israel, Eli’s sons were responsible for leading the nation in its worship of the one true God. Part of their responsibility would have been seeking God’s desire for going into battle. Instead of seeking God’s direction, Eli’s sons took it upon themselves to send the ark into the battle. God proved that He was the one true God and let the Philistines kill many of the Israelite soldiers.
God’s presence was always with the nation of Israel. The ark symbolized God’s dwelling with and among His people. The Israelites mistakenly thought that if they had the ark with them in battle, God would be there to fight for them. As the ark in the Old Testament symbolized God’s presence with the people, later God gave His people something much greater than a sign: He sent His Son, Jesus. Jesus is called Immanuel which means, “God is with us.”
The Ark Was Captured
1 Samuel 4–5
The people of Israel did not get along with the Philistines. The people of Israel fought a battle against the Philistines, but the Philistines killed about four thousand Israelites, and the Philistines won.
The leaders in Israel said, “Why did God let us lose the battle against the Philistines?” In the past, God had helped the Israelites defeat their enemies. Instead of asking God what they had done wrong, the Israelites decided to take the ark of the covenant—a wooden box covered in gold that reminded them God was with them—and carry it to the battlefield.
Some of the men went to talk to Eli’s sons. Eli’s sons were priests; they were in charge of the ark of God. The men told Eli’s sons their plan to win the battle. Eli’s sons were wicked. They should have just asked God to help them fight. Instead, they took the ark of the covenant to
the Israelites’ camp. When the army of Israelites saw the ark, they shouted because they were happy. Surely they would win the battle now!
The Philistines heard the shout, but they did not know what was happening. Why were the Israelites happy? They had just lost a battle. Then the Philistines heard that the ark of God was with the Israelites, and they panicked! They could fight against men, but who could fight against God?
Could the Israelites force God to help them win? No! The two groups went to battle, but the Philistines won again! They killed thousands of Israelites, including Eli the priest’s sons, and they stole the ark of God! One of the men in the battle ran to tell Eli the priest what had happened. When Eli heard the news, he fell backward in his chair, broke his neck, and died.
The Philistines took the ark of God to a temple where they worshiped Dagon (DAY gahn), a false god. They put the ark next to a statue of Dagon. The next morning, the Philistines entered the temple and saw that Dagon’s statue was facedown in front of the ark of God. They set the statue back up where it belonged. The next day, it was facedown again. This time, the head and hands were broken off.
Wherever the ark of God was, God punished the people living in that city. God caused a lot of trouble for the Philistines. The Philistines got really sick, and they wanted to get rid of the ark because they knew God was responsible for their suffering. When they moved the ark to another city, everyone in that city got sick. So they moved the ark to a third city. Then everyone in that city got sick too. The Philistines were afraid. They didn’t want God to punish them anymore, so they decided to send the ark of God back to the Israelites, where it belonged.
Christ Connection: The ark of God was important to the Israelites because it reminded God’s people that God was with them. Years later, God gave His people something greater than a sign that He was with them; God gave them His Son, Jesus,—God in the flesh. One of Jesus’ names is Immanuel, which means “God with us.”