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Q&A: 1 Samuel 4

Questions and Answers on 1 Samuel 4

Bruce Stanley

May 31, 2022

Here are some very brief answers to our unanswered questions from Sunday at our evening service - thanks for another enthusiastic response to our Q and A! Again, I have tried to keep the answers brief (sometimes very brief!) but if you want to discuss more, please call me or email at

I have also provided very brief answers to some questions that were already answered on the night, just in case you missed them. And I've added some Bible references when helpful.

Do you think we can fall into the trap of treating God like a lucky charm to get what we want? If so, what should we do about it?

Yes. The best solution is to pray. Even put a date in your diary to meet with God in prayer. Talk to Christian friends. Share your struggles. But talk to God and do it regularly.

Other passages speak of people dying upon touching the Ark. How did the Philistines steal it without dying?

The poles - in the side of the ark. These enabled it to be picked up without actually touching it.

What are some ways that work for you to keep God at front of mind and not forgotten with lost interest like a pet rabbit?

Mnemonic devices can be helpful. For example, every time you get into a car/bus/train, ask yourself - "Is God in the driver's seat in my life? Pick something regular you do as a time to check-in and ask yourself how you are treating God.

What's the significance of the other objects (Aaron's staff and a sample of the manna) in the ark?


What's the point of the reminder items in the Ark if you'll just die when you open it - hard to be reminded when you can't see it..?

They were reminders of different parts of Israel's history. But there were certain people who could approach the ark. (For the items, see Exodus 25, Exodus 16, Numbers 17:8, Hebrews 9:4)

1 Kings 8:9 says that by the time of Solomon, only the tablets of the covenant were in it.

There is some thought that the other items were kept beside the ark while stationary, but when the ark was moved, the special items were placed inside it. By certain priests who were allowed to open it.

What does this passage have to say about God’s faithfulness or unfaithfulness in leaving the Israelites/returning to them?

God promised his glory would leave Israel if they left him. He also promised that he would return to them if they returned to him. Zechariah 1:3 for example. He is good on his promises.

Verse 11 tells us that both Hophni & Phinehas died in battle. Did priests fight in battles?

They were most likely carrying the ark. Priests did not usually fight in battles.

What is the difference between the purpose of the ark of the covenant and the purpose of the Temple in the Old Testament?

The ark was portable. When the Temple was built, the ark was placed in the most Holy place in the temple. The temple was a "house" for the ark.

I've heard an interpretation that Mary is a bit like the ark of the covenant. The theory notices some language in common between them. Any thoughts?

Yes, I've heard this view also. I believe this is more an attempt to "venerate" Mary - to make her more important and almost elevate her to a "more than human" level. Yet Mary herself called herself simply a servant of the Lord. It certainly was an amazing thing for Mary to bear the Christ child. But any comparison of her to a piece of furniture is probably not helpful. The ark was furniture. It was not God himself. It was the place where God met with his people and a focal point for their worship. But God himself is the one who is important here. Anything that takes the focus away from God himself, Jesus, is probably unhelpful. Even Mary knew this and in fact, we don't hear much about her, or the ark, after Jesus. For good reasons.

When Jesus died and was resurrected did God depart from the ark of the covenant? If so, would the Jews have noticed? 

The temple curtain separating the holy place from the rest was torn in two, top to bottom. The Jews would have noticed this. However, the ark was long lost by then. Also, Acts 7:48 reminds us of what the Old Testament prophets said - God does not dwell in houses made by human hands. The ark was the place where God came down. But his dwelling place is not limited.

Why does 1 Samuel 4 start “and Samuel’s word came to all Israel”, when this would fit so well as the ending to 1 Samuel 3? Is this an idiosyncrasy of translation?

Yes, most likely just a translation thing. The chapter and verse breaks were added to the Bible much, much later. Actually, in 1557 by William Whittingham!

What does this passage have to say about God’s judgment on Eli and his sons?

It all came true. First, as the word that came directly to Eli through the man of God in chapter 2, then in terms of the word of God that came to Samuel in chapter 3 - that Eli's judgment was coming. God is true to his word.

Why did it take the Philistines 7 months to decide to hand the ark back when they could see it was causing so much pain and suffering for them?

Yes, it is interesting! Maybe they were still trying to figure it out. We don't really know. Perhaps they were hoping it was just a coincidence as they really didn't want to hand back the ark to the Israelites after taking it and claiming victory over their god!

Why did, Eli, a long time servant to God, pledge God for help after he was told by Samuel about the tragic future of his family?

For all of our human failures, we are still capable of faithfulness. Eli shows his faith, but also such poor judgement.Every leader of God's people shows failures also. Even the best ones like King David. Eli was faithful in many ways, but also weak in many others, such as disciplining his sons.

Why didn't God get rid of Eli’s sons from the serving position in his temple since they led the Israelites to sin against Him?

If I understand the question correctly, I would answer that God often lets evil happen. He doesn't cause it, and he doesn't "do" evil, but he allows it to happen. We have the freedom to choose or not choose God. We have the freedom to sin or not sin. We have the freedom to obey or disobey. God allows us that free choice. But he is also able to use those choices of evil for his opportunities. He may allow evil to happen, but he can also use the circumstances to advance his purposes and his gospel. The Egyptians before the exile is a good example. And so is Jesus' crucifixion on the cross.

By allowing Hophni and Phinehas to continue in their evil., God was able to show his power and strength and purposes. With a prophecy of them both dying on the same day, and then making it happen, God was able to show that he was in control and had a plan.

Where is the ark of the covenant now? What happened to it?

There is no proof that anyone knows where the ark is today. The last time we hear of it in the Bible is 2 Chronicles 35:1-6 - King Josiah ordered it to be returned to Jerusalem.

This could be a good thing - otherwise people may think it is still magical and perhaps worship it, rather than worship the living God.

Some believe it is hidden beneath the temple mount (now a sacred Muslim site), while others believe it is in St Mary of Zion's Church in Aksum. Some say it is in Egypt, and some say Ireland. It could be buried in my backyard, but that is also highly unlikely. My guess is that it was probably destroyed during one of the many attacks on Jerusalem, not that it matters! But it certainly does keep some people very busy with theories and quests and movies...

Click here to watch the questions answered during our live Q&A after the sermon at night church last Sunday.

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