The Philistines had defeated Israel. The elders, under the leadership of Eli’s wicked sons, Hophni and Phinehas, conspired to find another solution. Their solution was to bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant into the battle arena. The arrival of the “ark of the Lord’s covenant” was greeted with wild shouts of exhilaration that caused “the ground” to shake. So great was the commotion in the Israelite camp that the Philistines heard it two miles away.
1 Samuel 4:4 So the people sent men to Shiloh to bring back the ark of the covenant of the Lord of Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
The Philistines expressed two significant reactions to the ark’s arrival: fear and vigorous determination to defeat Israel and its God. Fear arose in the Philistine camp. They apparently understood that the ark was throne of Israel’s God. The Philistines understood that Israel had experienced a supernatural deliverance from the Egyptians, though the details were muddled
Knowledge of these muddled details, compounded by a motivating fear, energized the Philistines to battlefield bravery. Israel’s shouts proved premature. The Israelites expected God to be an ally against the Philistines, but the Lord had his own agenda. Judgment would begin at home; sons of the Promise who violated the Promise would experience God’s wrath first.
The Israelites were defeated again, even more ruthlessly, “the slaughter was severe,” 30,000 Israelites died. As staggering as the loss of life was, it was dwarfed by the losses dealt to Israel’s confidence. For the first time in history Israel’s most focus, “the ark of the covenant of the Lord of Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim,” was now in the hands of pagans, and its two most powerful priests, Hophni and Phinehas, had died at the hands of the Philistines exactly as Samuel had reluctantly prophesied.
The sanctuary at Shiloh was destroyed by the Philistines shortly after this time. It appears the sanctuary—was violently ransacked during this period of hostility. Archaeological evidence at the site confirm that Shiloh was destroyed by fire in the mid-eleventh century b.c.