The death of the priest Eli (1 Sam 4:12-4:18)

“A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line. He came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes torn and with earth upon his head. When he arrived, Eli was sitting upon his seat by the road watching. Eli’s heart trembled for the ark of God. When the man came into the city and told the news, the whole city cried out. When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said. ‘What is this uproar?’ Then the man came quickly and told Eli. Now Eli was ninety-eight years old. His eyes were set, so that he could not see. The man said to Eli. ‘I have just come from the battle. I fled from the battle today.’ Eli said. ‘How did it go, my son?’ The messenger replied. ‘Israel has fled before the Philistines. There has also been a great slaughter among the troops. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead. The ark of God has been captured.’ When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the door of the temple. His neck was broken and he died. He was a heavy old man. He had judged Israel forty years”

A messenger, who was a Benjaminite, came from Shiloh with the news that the Israelites had been defeated. The Ark of the Covenant had been lost. Eli was 98 years old sitting on his chair, nearly blind and very heavy. When he heard the news about the death of his 2 sons and the lost ark, he fell out of his chair backwards at the door of the temple as he broke his neck and died. He had been at Shiloh for over 40 years. The text said that he was a judge, but he is not normally listed as a judge. He certainly was a prominent prophetic man for his generation, seemingly the chief priest at the temple in Shiloh. He was less phased about his sons’ deaths than he was about the loss of the Ark of the Covenant.

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