The Ark is Taken


Eli the priest at Shiloh
Corpulent, narrow eyed, benign
Imparted to Hannah’s child
Instruction holy and divine.
The adult sons of Eli
Were self-indulgent and malign;
On the sacrificial meat
They battened with the greed of swine;
They looked on the pilgrims’ wives,
Their expressions were saturnine.
None of this did Eli see
Or advanced age made him supine.
He was absorbed by Samuel,
The infant serving at the shrine.

These two sons – one was Hophni
And Phineas the other’s name –
Grew in arrogance and pride
While Eli spoke no word of blame.
A prophetic man of God
Came before Eli to proclaim
Both sons would die by the sword,
Shiloh would never be the same,
Eli would have sight of war,
With devastation, loss and shame.
The Philistines grew stronger
But chose to play a waiting game.
The Israelites lived in fear
And dreamed of iron, sword and flame.

The boy Samuel lay awake,
The Temple was not fully dark;
In the sanctuary a lamp
Still burned above the Holy Ark.
He heard someone call his name
The child sat up and whispered ‘Hark,
Whose voice is that?’ then, bravely,
‘Here am I,’ was his prompt remark.
He ran to Eli: ‘Master,
To serve you, I rise with the lark.’
Eli said ‘It was not I
But God who called; some sacred spark
Enables you to hear God’s voice,
Like Abraham, our patriarch.’

Samuel was obedient,
He always did what Eli said,
He returned to his alcove
And lay down on his narrow bed.
Soon he heard God call again
And, overcoming natural dread,
Samuel spoke, said ‘Here I am,
I shelter where your wings are spread,’
God said Eli’s house was doomed,
The corrupt sons would soon be dead.
At sunrise, Eli rose up,
Approached the child with heavy tread,
Enquired about God’s words,
Was answered and was not misled.

The Philistines now mustered,
Deploying a large battle force.
The Israelites were routed –
The foe had chariot and horse.
The troops of Israel withdrew,
They saw they could not stay the course;
The elders were consulted
And said ‘Willingly we endorse
Taking the Ark from Shiloh;
In the fray, it will reinforce
The courage of our fighters,’
They believed the Ark to be a source
Of martial power; in this
They blasphemed, but felt no remorse.

The elders gave poor advice.
The men of Israel charged again,
Thirty thousand fell that day,
Hophni and Phineas were slain;
The Philistines took the Ark,
One Benjamite, a bloody stain
Seeping fast through his tunic,
Ran to Shiloh despite his pain,
Told Eli the Ark was lost
And Israel’s glory on the wane;
The old man fell from his chair
His body could not take the strain,
He died. The Benjamite said
‘Baruch Dayan ha emet, amen.’

Eli’s son’s wife was pregnant,
She raised her voice to weep and wail,
Hearing Phineas was dead
And at once commenced her travail,
But her strength deserted her,
Her labour seemed to no avail
In the hour before dawn
The baby came, a healthy male,
The mother, close to death, said
‘My child will live, I did not fail,
Call him Ichabod which means
“Glory is exiled from Israel.”’
Saul the Benjamite heard this
And he survived to tell the tale.

August 2013