The Ark of the Covenant in the Israelite-Philistine war (1 Sam 4:1-4:9)

“In those days, the Philistines mustered for war against Israel. Israel went out to battle against them. They encamped at Ebenezer, while the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up in line against Israel. When the battle was joined, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. When the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said. ‘Why has Yahweh put us to rout today before the Philistines? Let us bring the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh here from Shiloh, so that he may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.’ So the people sent to Shiloh, and brought from there the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh, who is enthroned on the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the Ark of the Covenant of God.”

This almost sounds like the continuation of the war with the Philistines that Samson was involved with in Judges, chapters 14-16. Ebenezer and Aphek seem to be in the area that was assigned to Benjamin, between Shiloh and Jerusalem. In the first battle, the Philistines seem to defeat the Israelites by killing 4.000 of them. The Israelite elders decided to have the Ark of the Covenant come from Shiloh to help them defeat the Philistines. The sons of Eli brought the Ark of the Covenant to the battle field.

“When the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. When the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said. ‘What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?’ When they learned that the ark of Yahweh had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid. They said. ‘Gods have come into the camp.’ They also said. ‘Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, in order not to become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you. Be men and fight.’”

The Philistines were a little apprehensive when the Ark of the Covenant arrived since they had heard a loud shout coming from the camp. They also knew how Yahweh had saved the Israelites in Egypt and the various battles on the east and west side of the Jordan River. However, they decided to be courageous men and fight. This is one of the few times that we see the perspective of the enemies of Israel. In fact they refer to Yahweh in the plural as if there were multiple Yahwehs.