Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber

The Ark Captured

Samson was succeeded by Samuel, the last judge of Israel, and the first prophet of a long series which was continuous until the return from captivity in Babylon, as you will see.

Samuel was the son of a Levite and his wife, Hannah. This woman, having remained childless for many years, once went up to Shiloh to worship the Lord. She prayed so fervently before the altar that Eli, the high priest, concluded from her excited gestures that she must he the worse for strong drink.

He was about to turn her out of the holy place when she told him the cause of her grief. Eli then blessed her, and promised her a son. When Samuel was born, Hannah rejoiced greatly, but remembering the vow she had made to give her child to the Lord, she brought him to the temple as soon as he was weaned.

There the mother left her only son in the care of Eli, the high priest, and went home, where God rewarded her for her sacrifice by giving her three other sons and two daughters to cheer her old age.

Eli, the high priest, was a very good man, but very weak. Instead of training his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, in the way they should go, he treated them with such indulgence that they soon took to evil ways.

When the father saw this, he called his sons to him, reproached them for their bad conduct, and sadly compared them to Samuel, who "was in favor both with the Lord and also with men." But this reproof came too late, and the young men went on doing wrong, until a prophet came to tell Eli that both his sons would die on the same day, and that instead of them God would find a priest worthy of serving him.

Eli was already very old and nearly blind. He dwelt in the temple, where he once laid himself down to sleep in his chamber. Near him, but in another room, lay Samuel, and there the voice of the Lord suddenly called the child.

With cheerful readiness, Samuel answered, "Here am I." He thought that the aged high priest had called him, so he ran into Eliís room to ask his wishes. But Eli sent Samuel back to bed, thinking that he had been dreaming. The call was twice repeated, and at last the priest bade Samuel answer, should he hear the voice again, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth." Once more the voice fell upon Samuelís listening ear, and when he had answered, according to Eliís orders, the Lord said that he would execute judgment upon the sons of Eli, who would die in punishment for their sins.

When morning came, Eli called Samuel to him, and asked what the Lord had said. Samuel now reluctantly repeated the words he had heard, and the old man, whose heart was broken with grief, bowed his head and cried: "It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good."

From that day Samuel was a prophet of the Lord, and he silently watched the Israelites, who were gathering their forces together; for they had decided to make a great effort to free themselves from the hated yoke of the Philistines.

In the very first battle, however, the Israelites were defeated, and lost four thousand men. Eliís sons, Hophni and Phinehas, thought that they might be more successful if they only had the Ark in their midst; so they now brought it into camp, although they had no authority for doing so.

The Israelites, who remembered the miracle of the Jordan and the falling of the walls of Jericho, received the Ark with loud shouts of joy. But this gladness was soon turned into mourning; for, in the very next battle, the Philistines, fighting with the energy of despair, killed Hophni and Phinehas, together with thousands of their followers, and gained possession of the precious Ark.

They bore this treasure off in triumph, for they knew the immense importance it had in the eyes of the Israelites, and placed it as a trophy in the temple of Dagon, their principal god, who was half man and half fish.

The news of the Israelites' defeat and great loss was quickly carried to Shiloh by a soldier who managed to escape from the general massacre. He presented himself before Eli, with torn garments and with earth on his head, in token of great mourning.

The high priest was silent and apparently unmoved, as he heard of the death of his sons and the destruction of the army; but when the messenger added that the Ark of God had fallen into the enemyís hands, Eli fell back from his seat and died.

That same day, the young wife of Phinehas heard the mournful tidings, and gave birth to a son, whom she called Ichabod (" where is the glory?"), because with the loss of the sacred Ark she said, "The glory is departed from Israel."