How the Idol Fell Down Before the Ark
Eli Bible Story
1 Samuel iv: 1, to vii: 1
While the old priest Eli was still the judge, though he was now very feeble, the Philistines came up against Israel from the plain beside the sea. A battle was fought, and many of the Israelites were slain. Then the chiefs of the people said:
"We have been beaten in the battle, because the Lord was not with us. Let us take with us against our enemies the ark of the covenant from the Tabernacle, and then the Lord will be among us."
So they went to Shiloh, and they took out from the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle the ark of the covenant, and the two sons of Eli the priest went with the ark to care for it. When the ark was brought into the camp of the Israelites all the men of war gave a great shout, so that the earth rang with the sound.
And when the Philistines heard the shouting they wondered what caused it, and some one told them that it was because the God of the Israelites had come into their camp. The Philistines were afraid, and they said to each other:
"Woe unto us, for such a thing as this has never been seen! Who shall save us from this great God who sent plagues on the Egyptians? Let us be bold, and act like men, and fight, so that we may not be made servants to the Israelites, as they have been to us!"
The next day there was a great battle. The Philistines overcame the Israelites and slew thousands of them. They killed the two sons of Eli, and they took the ark of the Lord away with them into their own land.
On the day of the battle Eli, old and blind, was sitting beside the door of the Tabernacle, his heart trembling for the ark of the Lord. A man came from the army running, with his garments torn, and with earth on his head as a sign of sorrow. As the man came near the city and brought the news of the battle a great cry rose up from the people. When Eli heard the noise he said:
"What does this noise mean? What has happened?"
The man came before Eli, and said:
"I have just come from the army. There has been a great battle. Israel has fled before the Philistines, and very many of the people have been killed. Your two sons are dead, and the ark of God has been taken by the enemy."
When the old man heard this last word, that the ark of God was taken, he fell backward from his seat and dropped dead upon the ground. And all the land mourned and wept over the loss of the ark more than over the victory of the Philistines.
The Philistines took the ark of God down to Ashdod, one of their chief cities. They set it in the temple of Dagon, their fish-headed idol. The next morning, when they came into the temple, the image of Dagon was lying upon its face before the ark of the Lord. They stood the image up again; but on the next morning, not only was Dagon fallen down before the ark, but the hands and the head of Dagon had been cut off and were lying on the floor.
Besides all this, in the city of Ashdod, where the ark had been taken, all the people began to have boils and sores. They saw in this the hand of the God of Israel, and they sent the ark to Gath, another of their cities. There, too, the people broke out with boils and sores. They sent the ark to Ekron, but the people of that city said:
"We will not have the ark of God among us. Send it back to its own land, or we shall all die."
Then the rulers of the Philistines resolved to send back the ark of God into the land of Israel. They placed it upon a wagon, and before the wagon they yoked two cows. The cows had calves, but they tied the calves at home, in order to find whether the cows would go home to their calves or would take the ark away. But the cows took the road which led away from their own calves, straight up the hills toward the land of Israel, and they turned neither to the right hand nor the left.
The cows drew the ark up to the village of Beth-shemesh, where the people were reaping their wheat harvest on the hillsides. They saw the ark, and were glad. The cows stopped beside a great stone in the field. Then the men of Beth-shemesh cut up the wagon, and with it made a fire, and on the stone as an altar offered the two cows as an offering to the Lord.
But the men of Beth-shemesh opened the ark and looked into it. This was contrary to God's command, for none but the priests were allowed to touch the ark. God sent a plague upon the people of that place, and many of them died, because they did not deal reverently with the ark of God.
They were filled with fear and sent to the men of Kirjath-jearim, asking them to take the ark away. They did so, and for twenty years the ark stood in the house of a man named Abinadab in Kirjath-jearim.
They did not take the ark back to Shiloh, for after the death of Eli the place was deserted, the Tabernacle fell into ruins, and no man lived there again.