22 June 1 Samuel 4:1-18

22 June. The Ark of the Covenant is captured at Aphek

“At that time the Israelites went out to fight the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines went to meet the Israelites in battle. And as the battle spread, they defeated the Israelites, killing about 4,000 soldiers on the battlefield.”

“When some Israelite soldiers went back to their camp, the elders of Israel asked, ‘Why did the LORD let the Philistines defeat us? Let’s bring the Ark of the [Covenant] Agreement with the LORD here from Shiloh and take it with us into battle. Then God will save us from our enemies.”

“So the people sent men to Shiloh. They brought back the Ark of the [Covenant] Agreement with the LORD All-powerful, who sits between the gold creatures with wings. Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the Ark.”

“When the Ark of the [Covenant] Agreement with the LORD came into the camp, all the Israelites gave a great shout of joy that made the ground shake. When the Philistines heard Israel’s shout, they asked, ‘What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?’”

“Then the Philistines found out that the Ark of the LORD had come into the Hebrew camp. They were afraid and said, ‘A god has come into the Hebrew camp! We’re in trouble! This has never happened before! … Be brave, Philistines! Fight like men! In the past they were our slaves. So fight like men, or we will become their slaves.’”

“So the Philistines fought hard and defeated the Israelites, and every Israelite soldier ran away to his own home. It was a great defeat for Israel, because 30,000 Israelite soldiers were killed. The Ark of God was taken by the Philistines, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.”

“That same day a man from the tribe of Benjamin ran from the battle. He tore his clothes and put dust on his head to show his great sadness. When he arrived in Shiloh, Eli was by the side of the road. He was sitting there in a chair, watching, because he was worried about the Ark of God...”

“The Benjaminite ran to Eli and told him what had happened. Eli was now 98 years old, and he was blind. The Benjaminite told him, ‘I have come from the battle. I ran all the way here today.’ Eli asked, ‘What happened, my son?’ The Benjaminite answered, ‘Israel ran away from the Philistines, and the Israelite army has lost many soldiers. Your two sons are both dead, and the Philistines have taken the Ark of God.’”

“When he mentioned the Ark of God, Eli fell backwards off his chair. He fell beside the gate, broke his neck, and died, because he was old and fat. He had led Israel for 40 years.”

          (1 Samuel 4:1-18)



Some years later, in c.1024BC, the Philistines launched a major attack on Israel. The Israelites set up camp at Ebenezer (see 1 Samuel 7:12) and the Philistines at Aphek. The Israelites suffered a heavy setback at the hands of the Philistines and about 4,000 soldiers were killed.

To restore morale, the Ark of the Covenant (the portable gold-covered wooden chest containing the two tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments) was brought from Shiloh to the battlefield near Ebenezer in the expectation that the presence of God ‘seated’ above the Ark would save the Israelites from their enemies.

However, the Philistines defeated the Israelites with even higher casualties. Eli’s sons – Hophni and Phinehas – were killed, and the Ark was captured. On hearing the disastrous news, Eli collapsed and died.

Aphek was an ancient city located on the edge of the Mediterranean coastal plain and the Shephelah – the foothills of the Judaean hills. It was a key staging post on the coastal trading route (the Via Maris) between the ancient civilisations of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

During the Israelite’s invasion of Canaan in c.1406BC, the king of Aphek was defeated by Joshua’s forces (see Joshua 12:18). But the Israelites had been unable to hold onto Aphek or any of the cities of the coastal plain, because of the superiority of the iron chariots deployed by their enemies on this flat land.

Shortly after, Aphek became the northern boundary of Philistia, the confederation of cities controlled by the Philistines – the ‘sea peoples’ who had sailed across from Crete, Cyprus and the Aegean to colonise these fertile coastal plains. During the time of the ‘Judges’, the Israelites and the Philistines frequently clashed, and the Battle of Ebenezer was just one of these confrontations.

The photo (by Oren Rozen) shows the remains of an Ottoman fortress built on the site of Aphek.

You can read more about Aphek @ https://www.thebiblejourney.org/biblejourney2/29-the-journeys-of-ruth-and-samuel/the-ark-of-the-covenant-is-captured-at-aphek/

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