1 Samuel 4–6: The Ark of the Covenant

Old Testament Seminary Student Study Guide, (2002), 92

When we keep the commandments, we grow in confidence and faith in God. When we do not keep the commandments, we begin to lose confidence and faith and often turn to outward things to make up for our lack of inner strength. The Israelites were in that situation in 1 Samuel. Chapter 4 tells us that the Israelites believed they could defeat their enemies if they took the ark of the covenant with them to battle. They did not understand that the ark, like a temple, was an outward symbol of deep spiritual meaning and that it only blessed the Israelites when they were faithful to the Lord and His covenants, which the ark represented. In other words, God could deliver the Israelites from their enemies if they were true to Him, but instead they looked to a symbol of Him, believing that the physical object itself had supernatural power. To their great disappointment, the Israelites not only lost their battle but allowed the Philistines to take possession of the ark of the covenant.Although the Israelites were wrong to use the ark of the covenant in a superstitious way, the ark remained an important symbol of the Israelite religion and the Lord desired it to be placed in His tabernacle. Thus, 1 Samuel 5–6 tells about what happened to the Philistines after they captured the ark that made them decide to later return it to the Israelites.