Remember that Samuel is coming onto the scene at the end of Judges, this time where the Israelites were described as doing what seemed right in their own eyes. Things were messed up. The priests, who should have been the model of holy living, were living in greed and sensuality.
In Samuel 4, we read about the Israelites being defeated in battle, when four thousand men die. After the battle, they ask why “the Lord has defeated” them? They acknowledge the Lord’s power to win a victory if He chooses. But here, they go wrong. They don’t ask God. They are talking about Him, not to Him.
How often do you throw out comments or questions or requests without actually talking to God? They needed to stop and humble themselves and present themselves before the Lord with humility, acknowledging His rightness and their need for Him. Instead, they come up with their own plan.
Since God didn’t choose to go with them into battle, they are going to force God to go with them into battle by taking the ark of the Lord with them.
The Ark is brought by Eli’s two sons. Israel is defeated. The two sons are killed on the same day as was prophesied.
The Ark is taken into the camp of the Philistines. They think they have defeated the God of Israel.
Eli has gone blind but “watches” to see what happens. He learns of the disaster and falls over dead at age 98. His daughter-in-law goes into labor and names her son, “The glory has departed from Israel.”
Before, when the Ark had been brought into the Israelite’s camp, the soldiers shook the ground with their cheers. They didn’t understand you can’t contain God in a box. He’s not held in a box. He had departed from Israel because of their sin.
Now, He hadn’t abandoned His children, but He is not controlled by them either. They don’t get to tell Him when and where He will be and how He will act.
They don’t know Him. They are rejoicing in their idea of God’s glory and His victory. They wouldn’t see either that day.
How much of the church is shouting and praising and celebrating “the Presence,” when God has already long departed from their midst?