The Philistines defeated the Israelites in war and took the ark of the covenant of God. Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas were slain during the battle. After being tormented by various plagues, the Philistines returned the ark. Samuel exhorted the Israelites to return to the Lord. After a brief period of repentance, the Israelites rejected the Lord and asked Samuel to give them a king to rule over them.
Write the following question on the board: When will you need the Lord’s help today?
Ask students to ponder this question. You might invite a few to share their answers if they feel comfortable doing so.
Encourage students to look for what 1 Samuel 4 teaches about what they can do to receive the Lord’s help.
Invite a student to read 1 Samuel 4:1–2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for troubles the Israelites were experiencing.
If you had a chance to speak to Israel’s army after their defeat, what would you tell them to help them after that difficult experience?
Ask a student to read 1 Samuel 4:3 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for what the elders of Israel said to the army. (You may want to explain that in this case, the term elders refers to the leaders of the people, not necessarily the priesthood office.)
What did the leaders of Israel say the Israelites should do?
Remind students that the ark of the covenant represented God’s presence. It contained the stone tablets Moses received from the Lord on Mount Sinai.
You may want to suggest that students mark the word it, which refers to the ark, at the end of verse 3.
According to verse 3, what did the elders of Israel believe the ark could do?
What does their statement that “it may save us” show about their faith in the Lord? (They were placing their faith in an object [the ark] rather than in the Lord.)
Summarize 1 Samuel 4:4–9 by explaining that the Israelites requested that Hophni and Phinehas bring the ark from Shiloh to the battle.
Ask a student to read 1 Samuel 4:10–11 aloud. Invite the class to follow along and look for what happened when the Israelites brought the ark to the battle.
What happened to the Israelite army?
Why do you think the Israelites were defeated even though they had the ark of the covenant with them? (They did not place their faith in Jehovah.)
What principles about receiving the Lord’s help can we learn from the Israelites’ mistakes? (Students may identify a variety of principles, including the following: In order to receive the Lord’s help, we must place our faith in Him and obey His commandments.)
What are some things we can do to show the Lord that our faith is placed in Him?
Invite students to share experiences when they felt the Lord helped them as they put their faith in Him and kept His commandments. You may want to share an experience as well.
Summarize 1 Samuel 4:12–22 by explaining that when Eli learned that his two sons had been killed and the ark had been captured, he fell backward from his seat, broke his neck, and died. Eli’s daughter-in-law also died shortly after giving birth to a son. Thus were the words of the Lord fulfilled concerning the house of Eli.
Draw the accompanying illustration on the board. Explain that this illustration depicts one of the gods of the Philistines—Dagon, the fish god. The Philistines believed that Dagon had given them victory over Israel. After capturing the ark, they brought it to Dagon’s temple as a war trophy and set it before an image (or statue) of Dagon.
Ask a student to read 1 Samuel 5:3–5 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for what happened to the image of Dagon when the ark of the Lord was set by it.
What happened to the image of Dagon?
Invite a student to read 1 Samuel 5:6 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what happened to the Philistines while the ark was with them. Ask students to report what they find.
Explain that we do not know exactly what emerods were, but we do know they were a very destructive disease like tumors or boils (see verse 6, footnote a). The plague among the Philistines appears to have included an outbreak of mice as well (see 1 Samuel 6:5).
Summarize 1 Samuel 5:7–12 and 1 Samuel 6 by explaining that the plagues spread among other Philistine cities and some Philistines died. As the plagues worsened, the Philistines returned the ark to the Israelites in an attempt to pacify the Lord’s wrath.
Explain that although the Philistines returned the ark, they continued to be a threat to the Israelites. Ask a student to read 1 Samuel 7:3 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for what Samuel said the Israelites needed to do to be delivered from the Philistines. You may want to suggest that students mark what they find.
What do you think it means to “return unto the Lord with all your hearts” (1 Samuel 7:3)? (As students respond, you may want to point out that it means to sincerely repent.)
Write the following incomplete statement on the board: To sincerely repent, we must …
What did Samuel teach the Israelites they must do to sincerely repent?
What can this teach us about repentance? (As students respond, you may want to point out that just as the Israelites needed to put away their false gods, we must forsake our sins.)
Add to the statement on the board so it reads as follows: To sincerely repent, we must forsake our sins …
Ask a student to read 1 Samuel 7:4–6 aloud, and invite the class to follow along and look for what else the Israelites did to repent.
What else did the Israelites do to repent? (They confessed their sins to the Lord.)
Based on the Israelites’ actions recorded in verse 6, how would you complete the statement on the board? (After students respond, complete the statement so it conveys the following principle: To sincerely repent, we must forsake our sins and confess them to the Lord.)
To help students better understand this principle, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“Confessing and forsaking are powerful concepts. They are much more than a casual ‘I admit it; I’m sorry.’ Confession is a deep, sometimes agonizing acknowledgment of error and offense to God and man” (“The Divine Gift of Repentance,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 40).
How does confessing our sins help us turn away from sin and turn to God for forgiveness?
As part of this discussion, students may ask what sins need to be confessed and to whom. Explain that we need to confess all of our sins to Heavenly Father. Serious sins should also be confessed to a bishop or branch president. If students have questions about what constitutes a serious sin, invite them to talk with their parents or their bishop or branch president.
Summarize 1 Samuel 7:7–8 by explaining that the Philistines came again to battle against the Israelites. Ask a student to read 1 Samuel 7:9–13 aloud, and invite the class to follow along and look for what happened in this battle.
How was this battle different from the previous battles the Israelites fought against the Philistines?
How do you think the Israelites’ repentance affected the outcome of this battle?
Testify of the principle you have discussed regarding repentance. Invite students to ponder whether there are sins they need to repent of, and encourage them to repent as needed by confessing and forsaking their sins.
Summarize 1 Samuel 7:14–17 by explaining that throughout the rest of Samuel’s life the Lord continued to help the Israelites succeed against the Philistines.
Divide the class into small groups. Appoint a discussion leader in each group, and give him or her a copy of the following lesson material. Invite students to follow the instructions as they study 1 Samuel 8.
To conclude the lesson, you may want to invite several students to summarize what they learned in their group discussions of 1 Samuel 8. Encourage students to act on the truths they have learned today.