News of the battlefield catastrophe soon found its way some twenty miles back to Shiloh. A man fleeing the conflict, with torn clothing and dust on his head (expressions of grief and mourning in ancient Israel) ran past a waiting Eli. He had been sitting beside the main road to Shiloh awaiting news from the front. The elderly, blind Eli, however, couldn’t see these expressions of grief and mourning. He could only hear the sound of all Shiloh’s people crying out in anguish. Hearing the sounds of a city suffering, he knew. But he didn’t know the details. How many had died? Who had died? What happened to the ark? Eli’s, “was anxious about the ark of God” because it was his responsibility.
The awful details were revealed:
1 Samuel 4:17-18 The messenger answered, “Israel has fled from the Philistines, and also there was a great slaughter among the people. Your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are both dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” 18 When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off the chair by the city gate, and since he was old and heavy, his neck broke and he died. Eli had judged Israel forty years.
The awful details so stunned Eli that he fell off his chair/throne, broke his neck, and died. Eli’s and his sons period as priest is finished. Eli’s fall from his chair literally dethroned his dynasty in Israel.
The writer notes that at the time of Eli’s death he was “heavy.” Heavy can have multiple meanings. Indeed, tseveral of these meanings are in play. Heavy as in “too fat?” Heavy as in “burdensome or burdened?” Heavy as in social “weight or significance? Or heavy as a result of the sins he permitted in his own life and household? Eli and his sons, were a burden that weighed down and ultimately brought disaster upon Israel. The death of Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas died quickly and violently.
On the same day that Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas died, Phinehas’ wife went into premature labor. Fatal complications in the birthing process caused Phinehas’ wife to die shortly after giving birth to a son. But instead of rejoicing in the birth of a son (the most honorable achievement a woman in the ancient Near East could attain), she was grieving all her losses.
With her dying gasps she named the child “Ichabod.” This Hebrew name (ʾî-kābôd) literally means, “Where [is] glory?” or “Nothing of glory.” Her husband, his brother and father are dead. More than that, the glorious “the ark of the covenant of the Lord of Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim,” had “been captured.” For Israel on that day the glory/kbd was gone.