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SAMSON was the last hero stirred up to deliver Israel from oppressors. After his death, the civil government devolved on the high-priest, and Eli, therefore, may be considered his successor. It has been seen, in a foregoing article,” that Samson only partially delivered Israel from the yoke of Philistia. At his death, indeed, he swept away the flower of that nation; but, within forty years, the Philistines had recruited their strength; and observing it with fear, the Israelites, without consulting their Divine King, rashly embarked in a war with them. In their first engagement the Israelites were defeated, with the loss of four thousand men; and, astounded by it, they sent to Shiloh for the ark of the covenant, feeling assured that under its protection they should prove victorious. But no! They went out to war without the consent of their Divine Leader, and hence they had forfeited all claim to His protection. The armies again met; the Israelites were again defeated, with great slaughter; and the ark of God fell into the hands of the uncircumcised. Great was the grief which the Israelites felt on hearing this disastrous news. It was the death of Eli the high-priest, and of the wife of his son Phinehas, who was slain in the battle: the one fell backward from his seat on hearing the tidings, and his neck brake; and the other perished as she gave birth to a child, whom she named Ichabod, or “Inglorious;” for she said, “The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.” In proportion as the Israelites were cast down by the capture of the ark, the Philistines were elated. But they soon found that they had small cause to rejoice in the possession of the glorious trophy. They deposited it in the temple of their Dagon, at Azotus, by way of insult to Jehovah; but twice they found their idol overthrown, and the second time shivered to pieces. Nor was this all. Further to demonstrate his glorious power, the Lord smote the people of the place with hemorrhoids, or the piles, and that mortally, while a swarm of mice, or jerboas, were commissioned to consume the products of their fields.
* See “Samson in Captivity.”
Justly attributing these calamities to the presence of the ark, the Philistines sent it to Gath; and the same inflictions following its removal, it was taken to Ekron. The ark was received by the Ekronites with terror, and, in an assembly of “the lords of the Philistines,” it was proposed that it should be sent back to its own place in the land of Israel. This was determined; nor was the determination made too soon. Already was the hand of God heavy upon Ekron, so that “the cry of the city went up to heaven.” The ark was sent back, after it had been seven months in the land of the Philistines. It was accompanied by votive offerings. Five golden hemorrhoids and five golden mice, one from each of the Philistine states, were deposited in a coffer beside the ark, as a trespass-offering; and the whole was placed in a new car, to which were yoked two kine, whose necks had never before been subjected to the yoke. The kine were left free to take their own course, and, guided by an unseen power, they took the road towards the town of Bethshemesh, in Judah, which was the nearest city of the Levites towards the Philistine frontier. It was in the time of wheat harvest when the ark reached Bethshemesh. Its inhabitants were in the valley reaping the fruits of their fields, and they beheld it advancing with great gladness; and when the kine stopped of their own accord near a great stone, in a field belonging to one Joshua, the Levites who were present detached them from the car, and offered them up in sacrifice upon that stone before the ark. Then, the stone being thus consecrated, the ark was removed from the car, and deposited thereon. How long the ark remained on the stone in the field of Joshua the sacred historian does not relate. Its constant exposure to their sight, however, begat in the Bethshemites an undue familiarity towards it, which was repressed by a judgment from the Lord. Consternation seized the inhabitants, and the people of Kirjath-jearim were invited to take the ark away. They did so, and it was placed in the house of Abinadab, who set apart his son, Eleazar, to take charge of the sacred deposit. The ark remained in the house of Abinadab till the days of David. That pious king, when he was established upon the throne of Israel, gathered together all the chosen men of the nation, to bring it up from thence to Jerusalem. Contrary to the requirements of the law, it was placed upon a new cart, and, as it proceeded along, the multitude exhibited their gladness