At first, the next story seem unrelated to the message that Samuel delivers to Eli. However, this story provides description of the ruin of Eli’s family line, just as Samuel had promised Eli. As He had done before, the Lord would bring judgment on the sins of his people through foreign army, in this case the Philistines. In so doing the Lord demonstrates his Promise, “I AM in control.” even of those outside the Promise Land.
The Philistines, had become a serious threat to the Israelites during the period of the Judges. We all remember the stories of the judge, Sampson. The Israelites engaged in a “fight against the Philistines”. The Philistines attacked and killed “about four thousand” Israelites.
The leaders were stunned at the defeat. Although the elders understood Israel’s defeat as a judgment from the Lord in other battles, (Judges 2:14; 3:8; 4:2; 1 Sam. 12:9), they conspired to find another solution. Their solution was to bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant into the battle arena.
We can’t be sure of the motivation of this solution. However, based upon the results, the conspired solution wasn’t God’s plan. Perhaps, the elders, under the leadership of Hophni and Phinehas, appear to twist God’s arm into helping them instead of trying to find out the reason for God’s judgment. Maybe the elders believed the ark’s presence among them would save them. There are examples of how the ark was present among Israel’s forces for leadership and protection at various times in Israel’s history (Numbers 10:33–36; Joshua 3:3–7; 4:1–18; 6:6–21).
The problem with Israel was not the bad theology of the elders—faith in things rather than faith in God—but the sins of “Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas,” who “were there with the ark of the covenant of God.” All of Israel would have to suffer because of the sins of a very few.