Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by John Nelson Darby, [1857-62], at sacred-texts.com
The following commentary covers Chapters 4, 5, and 6.
In chapter 4 the enemies of God and of His people display their strength; the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel. God, in overruling providence, makes all things concur to bring about the purposed result. We shall do well to pause a moment here; for the Philistines are of considerable importance, on account of the part they take in this history, as the power of the enemy. They appear to me to represent the power of the enemy acting within the circle of God's people. They were in the territory of the Israelites-within the land, and even on this side of the Jordan. They were not, like the Egyptians or Assyrians, enemies from without. Habitually hostile to Israel, to those who by God's appointment should have possessed the land of promise-so much the more dangerous from being always at hand, and claiming possession of the country, the Philistines set before us in type the power of the enemy acting from within. I do not mean the flesh, but the enemy within the pale of the professing church, acting of course through instruments, the oppressor of God's true people to whom the promises belong.
Israel, corrupt in all their ways, and daring in their ways with God, because they had forgotten His majesty and His holiness, seek to identify Jehovah* with them in their unfaithful condition, as He had been in their original state, instead of coming before Him to learn why He had forsaken His people. God will neither acknowledge nor succour them. On the contrary, the ark of the covenant, the sign and the seat of His relationship with the people, is taken. His throne is no longer in the midst of the people; His tabernacle is empty; all ordered relationship is interrupted. Where can they offer sacrifice? where draw nigh to Jehovah their God! Eli, the priest, dies; and his pious daughter-in-law, overwhelmed by these disastrous tidings, pronounces the funeral oration of the unhappy people in the name she bestows on that which could no longer be her joy. The fruit of her womb bears but this impress of her people's calamity; it is only Ichabod in her sight.
What a blessing to have had through grace the song of Hannah already given by the Spirit to sustain the faith and hope of the people! All outward connection is broken; but God upholds His own majesty; and if unfaithful Israel had not been able to withstand the worshippers of idols, the God whom Israel had forsaken vindicates His glory, and proves, even in the heart of their temple, that those idols are but vanity. The Philistines are obliged to acknowledge the power of the God of Israel, whom Israel could not glorify. His judgments suggested a means to their natural conscience which, while proving that the influence of the almighty power of God is felt even by creatures devoid of intelligence, causing them to act against their strongest instincts, manifests also that it was indeed Jehovah, the Omnipotent God, who had inflicted the chastisement under which they were suffering. God maintains His majesty even in the midst of Israel. He is no longer among them securing their promised blessings. His ark, exposed through their unfaithfulness to the unworthy treatment of the Philistines and of the inquisitive, becomes (as the token of God's presence) the occasion of judgment inflicted on the temerity of those who dared to look within it, forgetful of His divine majesty who made it His throne and kept His testimony therein. But how often the absence of God causes His value to be felt, whose presence had not been appreciated! Israel, still deprived of Jehovah's presence and glory, laments after Him. Let us remark here that God could not remain among the Philistines. Unfaithfulness might subject His people to their enemies, although God was there. But, left (so to say) to Himself, His presence judged the false gods. Association was impossible; the Philistines desire Him not. You cannot glory in a victory over One who, when captured, is your destroyer. The Philistines get rid of Him. Never can the children of Satan endure the presence of the true God.
Moreover the heart of God is not alienated from His people. He finds His way back to the people of His choice in a sovereign manner, which proves Him to be the God of all creation. But, as we have seen, He asserts His majesty. More than fifty thousand men pay the penalty of their impious temerity. God returns; but still it needs that He open a way for Himself after His own purposes and dealings, according to which He re-establishes His relationship with the people. Thus Samuel appears again on the scene when, the ark having abode in Kirjath-jearim twenty years (chap. 7), Israel laments after Jehovah. The ark is not put back in its place, nor is the original order restored.