The Capture of the Ark

Time went by, and as Samuel grew up towards manhood his mind grew also in knowledge and wisdom, and the Lord was with him, revealing to him in the silence of his own heart what he should do and what he should say. And he obeyed it without fear or doubting. His was the vision to foresee what is hidden from those whose minds are obscured by the things of this world, and to foretell what shall come to be. And it became known throughout Israel from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the far south, that the Lord had revealed himself through Samuel in Shiloh. The faithful flocked again to worship there, putting their trust in him as in the prophet of God.

But no peace was yet to be in Israel. There came a day when its enemies the Philistines mustered an army and declared war, and marching northeast into Benjamin, pitched their camp on the slopes of Aphek above the passes into the country of Benjamin. And the Israelites gathered in their thousands, and encamped over against them on the lofty ridge of Eben-ezer. In the battle that followed the army of Israel was divided, and the full strength of neither one side nor the other was engaged. And though the tribesmen fought stubbornly, the day went against them. They were driven back across the lower ground and withdrew to their camp on Eben-ezer, leaving behind them, dead or wounded, four thousand men.

The chieftains of the tribes met next day in council to consider the causes of this defeat. ‘Surely,’ they said one to another, ‘if the men of Israel had felt in their souls that the Lord Jehovah was with them, to them would have been given the victory.’ But they doubted even while they said it, and to renew confidence in their troops and to fire them with zeal and courage, they determined to send to the temple at Shiloh and to bring thence the Ark of the Covenant into the camp.

‘Then shall the men of Israel see with their own eyes that the Ark of the Lord is with them, and they shall trust in it as in a sure aid and defence against the enemy, deeming themselves unvanquishable.’

Messengers were at once despatched to Shiloh. But when Eli was told of their errand, he was greatly troubled. How could the chieftains of the army know that this was the will of God? How could they so guard the Ark in the dangers of the long journey through the wild uplands of Ephraim and in the peril and tumult of war, that its safety should be assured? If the least harm or desecration befell it, surely the reproach to Israel could never be absolved and he himself would never cease to mourn. He entreated his sons Hophni and Phinehas to consider well before they obeyed the orders that had been sent.

But they paid no heed to him. They were filled with exultation. Would not the great victory that might follow bring them honour, and cleanse away the evil repute into which they had fallen? They overruled their father and themselves lifted the Ark from its resting-place in the Holy of Holies and came with it, and brought it into the camp at Eben-ezer into the midst of the army; and a multitude accompanied them on the way thither.

When the blaring of the rams’ horns of the priests was heard in the camp, the tribesmen flocked to see it, borne in on high, the sun blazing upon the wings of its golden cherubim. And all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again. So wild was the noise of their acclamations, echoing like thunder in the height of the morning, that the Philistines mustered on the slopes of Aphek heard it. They were dismayed, and questioned what evil omen this might be. Spies were sent out, and at nightfall reported that the Ark sacred to Jehovah the God of the Hebrews had been carried by its priests into their camp in solemn splendour, and that the whole army exulted because of it, and was elated with sure hope of victory. News of this spread from mouth to mouth among the troops of the Philistines.

‘Woe, woe unto us,’ went up the cry. ‘Never has there been the like of this before. The mighty god of Israel is come down to fight against us, even Jehovah who smote the Egyptians with plagues, and mocked at the hosts of Pharaoh. Woe unto us!’

Fearing that his troops might break into open revolt, the commander of the army of the Philistines gave orders that at daybreak next morning his troops should be mustered in battle array, and he sent heralds to make proclamation throughout the camp: ‘Be bold, be strong, O ye warriors of Philistia! Quit yourselves like men, and fight even to the death. For truly death is a better fate than to languish in slavery under

  By PanEris using Melati.

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