After such a crushing defeat — 30,000 soldiers lost, the ark of the covenant captured, and Eli’s two sons killed — Eli hears the town’s outcry from the news and asks “What is the meaning of this uproar?” (v. 14).
Blind and 98 years of age, the man reveals the details of Israel’s defeat. Upon hearing of the ark’s capture, Eli fell backward off his chair, broke his neck, and died — “for he was an old man, and he was heavy.” (v. 18). He had led Israel 40 years.
Phinehas’ wife goes immediately into labor upon hearing all the bad news. She is told as she is dying, “Don’t despair — you have given birth to a son.” She named the boy Ichabod, a name meaning “the glory has departed from Israel” because of the ark’s capture and the deaths of her father-in-law and husband. Her last dying words? “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured” (v. 22).
There is an extensive article on the Ark of the Covenant in Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ark_of_the_Covenant). Briefly, the Ark was a gold-plated chest containing the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, and a pot of manna (Heb. 9:4). God had Moses construct the Ark a year after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.
It was carried by staves in advance of the people when on the march (during the 40 years in the wilderness) or before the Israelite army. Its dimensions were approximately 53x31x31 inches (around 4 1/2 feet long by 2 1/2 feet wide by 2 1/2 feet tall). The Ark was carried by the priests into the Promised Land (led by Joshua) (Josh. 3:3), causing the river to become dry for passage. The Ark was carried around the city of Jericho and the walls “came tumblin’ down” (Josh. 6).
We saw in I Samuel 4 that the Ark was captured, but eventually (because of several plagues) was returned by the Philistines to the Israelites (I Sam. 5). In the days of King David, Uzzah, one of the drivers of the cart, was struck dead for touching the ark (2 Sam. 6). David put the Ark in the tabernacle (I Chron. 16).
King Solomon housed the Ark in the newly constructed Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple (I Ki. 8). We are not sure what happened to the Ark after the Babylonian invasion in 587 B.C. [It becomes the primary focus of the movie “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Very quickly a symbol of God’s presence can degenerate into a good luck charm. Superstition can replace genuine spirituality. A relic can become a substitute for the reality of knowing the living God!