The year is approximately 1024 BCE. The Philistines are at war with God's people in Aphek. Aphek was a Canaanite royal city near the headwaters of the Yarqon River. At this time Israel is being governed by judges as they don’t have a king. The Ark of the Covenant is in the Tabernacle in Shiloh. The high priest at the time is Eli, who is also a judge.
If there had been a newspaper, on this particular morning the headlines of the “Shiloh Times” may have said something like this: 30,000 ISRAELITES DEAD AND ARK OF THE COVENANT CAPTURED BY PHILISTINES! The article would have continued with more bad news. It would have mentioned that the death toll included the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas. When the men on the battlefield got the idea that if they brought the Ark to Aphek, like it was some good luck charm, that would help them because they had already lost 4,000 men. (1 Samuel 4:1-4).
Hophni and Phineas, were Eli’s sons and priests in the Tabernacle there in Shiloh. The brothers obviously didn’t consult God about moving the Ark of the Covenant. God had given the Levites specific instructions on how it was to be moved, but Hophni and Phineas were arrogant men and had no respect for the Lord. They were considered wicked as they didn’t follow the rules of sacrifices. They also seduced young women assisting at the entrance of the Tabernacle. These men were rebellious and had no regard for anything pertaining to God (1 Samuel 2:12-25). When the men arrived in Shiloh with their great idea, the two brothers joined them, probably thinking they would be praised as heroes for allowing and going with the Ark to Aphek. Instead, they were killed.
God’s people were living in a dark time. It didn’t take long them to adapt to the godless culture and begin “doing what they thought was right in their own eyes” and defying God’s boundaries for protection. They weren’t living within the guidelines of the Ten Commandments that God had given them in the wilderness. They were constantly fighting with the Philistines.
Eli gets word that both of his sons have been killed and the Ark has been captured, and in his shock, falls back in his chair and breaks his neck and dies. What went through his head as he heard this news? Did he feel responsible because he hadn’t been a more intentional father with his sons, teaching them the things of God? Eli may have been so consumed with instructing Samuel that he neglected his own sons.
This brings us to Phineas’ wife. She is not named, but at this time is pregnant, and close to her due date. She may have married Phineas because of his status as a priest, but we also know in those times, marriages were arranged. It could possibly be that Eli had chosen her because she was righteous and hoped she could influence his evil son. She must have lived heartbroken knowing her husband was unfaithful to her with the young women at the Tabernacle. She probably lived a miserable life and most likely lived in fear.
When she hears the news of the death of her husband, her father-in-law, and that the Ark of God had been captured, she goes into labor. The shock of it all leaves her in despair and no hope for the future. As she is giving birth, the midwives try to encourage her by telling her not to be afraid, that she has a baby boy. But that was not enough for her to press into her pain. She names the baby Ichabod, which means “Where is the glory?” Her last words are “The glory of God has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured.” Then she dies in grief and hopelessness. (1 Samuel 4:19-22)
Her story is only a couple of verses in this chapter, but her short story is important. We can learn so much from this woman who lived in an insecure marriage, during a dark time in Israel’s history. She may have come into this union with Phineas with joy and faith, but as she lived it out, realized it was a mistake. Maybe she felt her pregnancy was a mistake. We discover later in 1 Samuel 14:3 that Phineas had another son, Ahitub. The scripture does not say who his mother is. Maybe he was this woman’s first born or possibly a child from one of his affairs. The scripture is not clear except that he is a son of Phineas and a grandson of Eli.
In our world today, we hear of fallen pastors whose wives who become a casualty of their husband’s indiscretion. This is possibly what happened to her over time. She had lost her trust in God because her husband had not been a good example of a godly man leading his household, let alone as a tabernacle priest. She then may have placed her hope in the Ark, where God’s glory dwelled, instead of God Himself.
Phineas’ wife was living under the old Covenant. If this tragedy would have happened after the new Covenant was established, she probably would have had a different outcome. We can learn so much from her. We see the theme of this story is hopelessness. Thankfully, we don’t have to live today in this same kind of despair. We have Jesus who IS our hope. He said in the last days sin would run rampant upon the earth. He gives the Good News that the one who endures to the end will be saved (Mathew 24:12-13). God’s Spirit no longer dwells in a wooden box, but when we invite Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit then dwells in us and His glory is made known through us. The apostle Paul says this, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NLT). “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV)
Maybe you recently received bad news or are currently walking through a difficult season, unlike Phineas’ wife/Eli’s daughter-in-law, and we have hope. The good news is our hope is found in Jesus Christ who has set the captives free, paid the debt for sin with his life, and gives us victory over death. Jesus said in this world we would have trouble, but to take heart because he has overcome the world (John 16:33). Don’t lose hope in your circumstance, but trust God with your future because He holds the future in His victorious hand!
Good News to Headline Your Day!
Psalm 33:20-22, NIV: We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. 22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.
Deuteronomy 31:6, NKJV: Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”
2 Corinthians 4:8-9, NKJV: We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—
Psalm 34:18, NIV: The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Isaiah 41:10, NKJV: Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
Isaiah 43:2, NLT: When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.
Psalm 46:1-3, MSG: God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in sea-storm and earthquake, Before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.
Psalm 9:9-10, ESV: The Lord
is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
Habakkuk 3:17-18, NKJV: Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls—18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
Psalm 37:5, NLT: Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.
Romans 15:13, NIV: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
*This information was complied by the R.E.A.L. Women Bible study out of Hills Church in Laguna Hills, CA.