The Philistines Capture the Ark
Samuel continued to grow and the Lord was with him. He attended faithfully to the duties of the tabernacle and everybody knew that he was to be a prophet of the Lord. The Lord appeared to Samuel again in Shiloh and told him many things that he should know, for he was to become one of the great prophets of Israel.
Now the time came when the people of Israel went out to give battle to the Philistines. The Philistines attacked the people of Israel so fiercely that they smote them and slew about four thousand men. The elders of Israel cried out: "Why has the Lord smitten us at the hands of the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant out of Shiloh that it may save us out of the hands of our enemies."
The people then went to Shiloh to bring the ark of the covenant. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there and helped bring the ark to the camp of Israel. When the ark was brought into the camp all the people of Israel shouted with a great shout for they thought that the presence of the ark would surely bring them victory over the Philistines.
When the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting of the Israelites they were afraid and said among themselves: "Their God is going into their camp. Who shall deliver us out of the hands of this mighty God? This is the God that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues!"
The leaders of the Philistines went among their ranks and called out to the people: "So be strong, and carry yourselves like men, oh you Philistines! for if you do not you shall be servants unto the Hebrews as they have been to you. You must go as men and fight."
But the Lord was not with Israel, though the ark of the covenant was in their camp. The Philistines fought and Israel was smitten and fled every man into his tent, and there was a very great slaughter, for there fell that day, thirty thousand men of Israel. The ark of God was taken by the Philistines and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain just as the voice of the Lord had said to Samuel.
A man of the tribe of Benjamin ran out of the camp to Shiloh with his clothes torn and with earth upon his head. When he came near Shiloh he saw the old priest Eli, sitting upon a seat by the way-side, watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. The man ran into the city and told the people that the Philistines had slain thirty thousand of the Israelites. Then all the people cried out with a great cry.
Eli heard the cries and wailings of the people and said to those around him: "What means the noise of all this turmoil?" and the man who had run out of the camp of Israel to Shiloh came where Eli was and told him what had happened. Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were so dim that he could not see.
"Tell me what has happened to my sons?" Eli said to the man.
"Israel has fled before the Philistines and there has been a great slaughter among the people and your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken by the Philistines," the messenger answered.
When the old Eli heard that his sons were dead and that the ark of God had been taken he fell over from his seat backward by the side of the gate of the city. His neck was broken and he died. He was an old man and heavy of weight and had judged Israel for forty years.