The Death of Eli
We arrived at Shiloh just before the time of the evening sacrifice. However, the sacrifices had been interrupted, because the Ark of the Covenant was not in Shiloh. Hophni and Phinehas had taken it with them to the camp of Israel. If any sacrifices were to be made that day, they would be offered at the camp.
Eli sat at the gate as usual, but his aging, overweight, 98-year-old body was slumped on his high throne. A servant attended to him.
“Greetings, Your Eminence,” Obed said with a bow. “I am Obed, son of Boaz.”
“My eyes are dim, but I remember your voice, Obed,” Eli replied in a weak voice, not seeing Sipporah and me and the horses. “Why have you come? Do you have news of the battle?”
“No, I know nothing of the battle,” Obed said. “I came to see if I might be of assistance to you.”
“I have servants who can assist me,” Eli said. “What is the real reason for your long trip to Shiloh?”
“Forgive me, Your Eminence,” Obed said, “but I wanted to ask a more personal question.”
“What is the question?”
“I wondered if you had taken steps to fulfill the word of the Lord that was delivered to you many years ago by the mouth of Rephah. Do you still hold to the position that Rephah’s word was a false accusation against the anointed ones of God’s priesthood?”
“How dare you mention that name in my presence!” Eli said angrily.
“Samuel received a confirming word shortly after that,” Obed said without flinching. “Was his word also false?”
“What has Samuel told you? He is not even a real priest! If the people had not considered him to be a prophet, I would have had him executed for his impudence! Do not speak to me about this matter again. I will not hear it.”
At that moment a shout was heard. Eli looked away to learn the cause of the shouting. “What is the meaning of this commotion?” he asked.
“A runner is coming!” said the servant. “Perhaps he brings news of the battle!”
The runner soon arrived, exhausted and breathless. It was Saul, the sentry from the camp. 128 He fell on his knees at the base of Eli’s throne. Breathing heavily, he said, “I have come from the battle line today.”
“What news do you have? How did things go, my son?” Eli asked.
“Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great slaughter among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are among the dead.”
Eli struggled to his feet. “And what of the Ark? Is it safe?”
“The ark of God has been taken by the Philistines,” Saul said.
“Oh, God, no!” Eli swayed as he struggled to hold on to the sides of his throne. The servant stepped on the stair to steady him. But before the servant could reach his master, Eli fainted and fell backward from his perch, hitting the ground head first. 129 His neck snapped as he hit the ground, killing him instantly.
It all happened too quickly for anyone to save him. Neither the servant, nor Obed, nor Saul were able to react quickly enough to break his fall.
“My master!” the servant cried, rushing to his side. But there was nothing he could do, for it was clear that Eli, the High Priest of the Philistine captivity, was now in the hands of the God he claimed to worship. Other priests came rushing to the scene, lamenting loudly when they saw his lifeless body.
A cot was soon brought, and Eli’s body was carried to his house, where it would be prepared for burial amidst many mourners from his household. We followed at a respectful distance. Word of Eli’s fall had reached the house by the time the small procession arrived. Sipporah and I released the horses and followed Obed into the house. Sippore flew overhead to observe the town from the sky’s perspective.
As we entered the door, we heard a loud cry from a very pregnant woman, who was clutching her abdomen. It was obvious that the stress had caused her to go into early labor. 130 Other women grabbed her arms and helped her into a back room, ready to help her deliver the baby. Sipporah, too, went with the women to help in the delivery, for she was experienced in such matters, having delivered four of her own children at home. She found that she was not needed, however, because every woman in those days had experience in home births. Yet she was able to watch and to be ready in case she was needed.
For my part, I stood with Obed on one side of the room. There was nothing anyone could do for the dead High Priest. Saul remained on his knees beside the corpse and mourned loudly, as was the custom, no doubt feeling responsible for causing this tragedy.
“Perhaps we should get out of the way,” I whispered to Obed.
Obed turned and walked out the door, and I followed. Others from the priestly village were gathering at the door, and we walked through the growing crowd back to the gate where Eli had fallen. Pegasus and Pleiades accompanied us as well.
“Eli rejected his final opportunity to repent,” Obed said. “I cannot help but feel somewhat responsible for his death.”
“It was not your fault,” I assured him. “Yours was a mission of mercy from the God of mercy. It was Eli’s own word which showed the condition of his heart. This is indeed the day of judgment upon Israel, but it is also a day that will lead to Israel’s release.”
“How can that be?” Obed asked.
“The serpent’s spirit of heart idolatry and rebellion that has plagued the house of God in Shiloh has now been judged and broken. What has occurred here may look like a tragedy, but all of God’s judgments are designed for good in the end. The people themselves will soon repent and turn from their idols, and then God will deliver them from the Philistines.”
“Well,” Obed replied, “the Ark was taken, as you said. But we have known since I was a child that the glory of God already departed from this place many years ago.”
“Yes, the Ark is only a piece of furniture apart from His presence,” I replied. “The real issue is not where the Ark is located, but where the glory of God is.”
“His presence in Mount Hermon, no doubt, is shifting once again,” Obed mused. “The Philistines will feel it soon and will not understand it. But how long must we wait for the return of the Ark?”
“It will be returned at the time of wheat harvest next year. Wait seven months. 131 That will be all that the Philistines can stand. God’s presence will plague them until they will be happy to return the Ark to Israel. It will give them a new respect for the God of Israel.”
“I am relieved to hear that,” Obed said with a sigh.
“Do you recall the law of the first born among animals?” I asked.
“Yes,” Obed said. “God requires the first-born sheep and other clean animals to be given to Him here at the tabernacle.”
“What about the first born of a donkey?” I asked.
“It is to be redeemed with a lamb,” Obed replied. 132
“And if a man fails to redeem it?” I asked.
“Then his neck is to be broken,” Obed said.
I said nothing for a moment to let this law sink into Obed’s mind. After a moment, he said, “Are you suggesting that Eli’s neck was broken because he was an unredeemed donkey?”
“What do you think?” I asked. “Were you not a witness of the unclean condition of his heart? Was he not a spiritual donkey who refused to be redeemed by a lamb?”
“So that is why God caused him to break his neck!” Obed said, throwing up his hands. “The judgments of God are truly incredible!”
“Sipporah is coming,” Pleiades informed us. We looked toward the house and saw Sipporah walking in our direction. We walked toward her, and when we met, she announced, “Eli has a new grandchild. The wife of Phinehas has given birth to a baby boy and has named him Ichabod, the glory has departed from Israel.” 133
“The boy will never know his father Phinehas, or his grandfather, Eli,” Obed said. But he has an older brother, Ahitub, who will be like a father to him. In fact, since Hophni had no sons, Ahijah, the grandson of Phinehas, is next in line to become the High Priest, now that the sons of Eli are dead.” 134
“Samuel ought to be made the High Priest,” I said. “He is God’s choice for the office. But men do not yet recognize the change that God has implemented today. So things will continue as before for a few more generations.”
“Perhaps we should go to Ramah again and tell Samuel what has happened here,” Obed said. “No doubt he would want to know.”
“Yes, you are right,” I said. “But I sense that God has other plans for us. You must go by yourself. I feel another impending shift in time.”
“Farewell, then,” Obed said. “I hope we will meet again soon.”
He turned and ran down the road toward Ramah. We watched him until he was out of sight. Then we were caught away and found ourselves once again at Samson’s tomb.
- 1 Samuel 4:13-17. Some Jewish traditions say that this runner was Saul.
- 1 Samuel 4:18
- 1 Samuel 4:19
- 1 Samuel 6:1. For some reason, Josephus says it was only “four months” (Antiquities of the Jews, VI, I, 4). The Septuagint agrees with the Hebrew text that it was seven months.
- Exodus 13:13
- 1 Samuel 4:22
- 1 Samuel 22:11. After the destruction at Shiloh, the priests moved their headquarters to Nob. Ahimelech was Ahitub’s brother.