Lesson 83: 1 Samuel 4–8

“Lesson 83: 1 Samuel 4–8,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)

“Lesson 83,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 83

1 Samuel 4–8


The Philistines defeated the Israelites in war and took the ark of the covenant of God. Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas were slain during the battle. After being tormented by various plagues, the Philistines returned the ark. Samuel exhorted the Israelites to return to the Lord. After a brief period of repentance, the Israelites rejected the Lord and asked Samuel to give them a king to rule over them.

Suggestions for Teaching

1 Samuel 4

The Philistines defeat the Israelites and take the ark of God

Write the following question on the board: When will you need the Lord’s help today?

Ask students to ponder this question. You might invite a few to share their answers if they feel comfortable doing so.

Encourage students to look for what 1 Samuel 4 teaches about what they can do to receive the Lord’s help.

Invite a student to read 1 Samuel 4:1–2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for troubles the Israelites were experiencing.

  • If you had a chance to speak to Israel’s army after their defeat, what would you tell them to help them after that difficult experience?

Ask a student to read 1 Samuel 4:3 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for what the elders of Israel said to the army. (You may want to explain that in this case, the term elders refers to the leaders of the people, not necessarily the priesthood office.)

  • What did the leaders of Israel say the Israelites should do?

Remind students that the ark of the covenant represented God’s presence. It contained the stone tablets Moses received from the Lord on Mount Sinai.

ark of the covenant

A depiction of the ark of the covenant

You may want to suggest that students mark the word it, which refers to the ark, at the end of verse 3.

  • According to verse 3, what did the elders of Israel believe the ark could do?

  • What does their statement that “it may save us” show about their faith in the Lord? (They were placing their faith in an object [the ark] rather than in the Lord.)

Summarize 1 Samuel 4:4–9 by explaining that the Israelites requested that Hophni and Phinehas bring the ark from Shiloh to the battle.

Ask a student to read 1 Samuel 4:10–11 aloud. Invite the class to follow along and look for what happened when the Israelites brought the ark to the battle.

  • What happened to the Israelite army?

  • Why do you think the Israelites were defeated even though they had the ark of the covenant with them? (They did not place their faith in Jehovah.)

  • What principles about receiving the Lord’s help can we learn from the Israelites’ mistakes? (Students may identify a variety of principles, including the following: In order to receive the Lord’s help, we must place our faith in Him and obey His commandments.)

  • What are some things we can do to show the Lord that our faith is placed in Him?

Invite students to share experiences when they felt the Lord helped them as they put their faith in Him and kept His commandments. You may want to share an experience as well.

Summarize 1 Samuel 4:12–22 by explaining that when Eli learned that his two sons had been killed and the ark had been captured, he fell backward from his seat, broke his neck, and died. Eli’s daughter-in-law also died shortly after giving birth to a son. Thus were the words of the Lord fulfilled concerning the house of Eli.

1 Samuel 5–7

The Philistines return the ark, and the Israelites repent

Draw the accompanying illustration on the board. Explain that this illustration depicts one of the gods of the Philistines—Dagon, the fish god. The Philistines believed that Dagon had given them victory over Israel. After capturing the ark, they brought it to Dagon’s temple as a war trophy and set it before an image (or statue) of Dagon.


Dagon, a god of the Philistines

Ask a student to read 1 Samuel 5:3–5 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for what happened to the image of Dagon when the ark of the Lord was set by it.

  • What happened to the image of Dagon?

Invite a student to read 1 Samuel 5:6 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what happened to the Philistines while the ark was with them. Ask students to report what they find.

Explain that we do not know exactly what emerods were, but we do know they were a very destructive disease like tumors or boils (see verse 6, footnote a). The plague among the Philistines appears to have included an outbreak of mice as well (see 1 Samuel 6:5).

Summarize 1 Samuel 5:7–12 and 1 Samuel 6 by explaining that the plagues spread among other Philistine cities and some Philistines died. As the plagues worsened, the Philistines returned the ark to the Israelites in an attempt to pacify the Lord’s wrath.

Explain that although the Philistines returned the ark, they continued to be a threat to the Israelites. Ask a student to read 1 Samuel 7:3 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for what Samuel said the Israelites needed to do to be delivered from the Philistines. You may want to suggest that students mark what they find.

  • What do you think it means to “return unto the Lord with all your hearts” (1 Samuel 7:3)? (As students respond, you may want to point out that it means to sincerely repent.)

Write the following incomplete statement on the board: To sincerely repent, we must …

  • What did Samuel teach the Israelites they must do to sincerely repent?

  • What can this teach us about repentance? (As students respond, you may want to point out that just as the Israelites needed to put away their false gods, we must forsake our sins.)

Add to the statement on the board so it reads as follows: To sincerely repent, we must forsake our sins …

Ask a student to read 1 Samuel 7:4–6 aloud, and invite the class to follow along and look for what else the Israelites did to repent.

  • What else did the Israelites do to repent? (They confessed their sins to the Lord.)

  • Based on the Israelites’ actions recorded in verse 6, how would you complete the statement on the board? (After students respond, complete the statement so it conveys the following principle: To sincerely repent, we must forsake our sins and confess them to the Lord.)

To help students better understand this principle, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Elder D. Todd Christofferson

“Confessing and forsaking are powerful concepts. They are much more than a casual ‘I admit it; I’m sorry.’ Confession is a deep, sometimes agonizing acknowledgment of error and offense to God and man” (“The Divine Gift of Repentance,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 40).

  • How does confessing our sins help us turn away from sin and turn to God for forgiveness?

As part of this discussion, students may ask what sins need to be confessed and to whom. Explain that we need to confess all of our sins to Heavenly Father. Serious sins should also be confessed to a bishop or branch president. If students have questions about what constitutes a serious sin, invite them to talk with their parents or their bishop or branch president.

Summarize 1 Samuel 7:7–8 by explaining that the Philistines came again to battle against the Israelites. Ask a student to read 1 Samuel 7:9–13 aloud, and invite the class to follow along and look for what happened in this battle.

  • How was this battle different from the previous battles the Israelites fought against the Philistines?

  • How do you think the Israelites’ repentance affected the outcome of this battle?

Testify of the principle you have discussed regarding repentance. Invite students to ponder whether there are sins they need to repent of, and encourage them to repent as needed by confessing and forsaking their sins.

Summarize 1 Samuel 7:14–17 by explaining that throughout the rest of Samuel’s life the Lord continued to help the Israelites succeed against the Philistines.

1 Samuel 8

The Israelites reject the Lord and ask for a king

Divide the class into small groups. Appoint a discussion leader in each group, and give him or her a copy of the following lesson material. Invite students to follow the instructions as they study 1 Samuel 8.

handout, 1 Samuel 8

Discuss the following question:

  • What are some ways we might be tempted to follow the world instead of the Lord?

Read aloud the following incomplete statement, and as you study 1 Samuel 8 together, consider how you might complete it: If we choose to follow the world instead of the Lord, then .

Ask someone in your group to read 1 Samuel 8:1–5 aloud. Invite the rest of the group to follow along and look for what the Israelites asked for as Samuel neared the end of his life.

  • What did the people want Samuel to do?

Ask someone to read 1 Samuel 8:6–8 aloud. Discuss the following question:

  • How was asking for a king a rejection of the Lord as their leader?

The Israelites’ desire to have a king “like all the nations” shows that they placed their trust in man rather than in the Lord, who was their true King. Take turns reading aloud from 1 Samuel 8:10–18, and look for what would happen if the Israelites appointed a king to rule over them.

Discuss the following question:

  • Which of the consequences of having a king do you think would be most difficult? Why?

Work together to complete the principle above based on what you have learned from 1 Samuel 8:10–18.

  • When have you seen someone choose to follow the world instead of the Lord and experience sorrow and regret as a result?

Ask someone to read 1 Samuel 8:19–20 aloud. Invite the rest of the group to follow along and look for the Israelites’ response to Samuel’s warning.

Discuss the following questions:

  • Why do you think the people rejected the prophet’s warning?

  • What are some ways we might make similar mistakes?

Invite group members to share their testimonies concerning the importance of choosing to follow the Lord instead of the world.

To conclude the lesson, you may want to invite several students to summarize what they learned in their group discussions of 1 Samuel 8. Encourage students to act on the truths they have learned today.

Commentary and Background Information

1 Samuel 6:19. Why did the Lord smite the Israelites who looked into the ark?

“The ‘fifty thousand men’ appears to be an added phrase, or gloss. The Septuagint and Josephus both have merely ‘seventy men’” (Ellis T. Rasmussen, An Introduction to the Old Testament and Its Teachings, 2nd ed., 2 vols, [1972–74], 1:163). Exactly what the Israelites did to bring the curse upon them is not clear. However, because the ark of the covenant was a physical symbol of the living presence of Jehovah, any unholy action, whether Philistine or Israelite, was not to be tolerated.

1 Samuel 8:1. What type of government did Israel have under Samuel and those leaders who preceded him?

For an explanation of the different types of government in the Old Testament leading up to Samuel’s time, see Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 271.

1 Samuel 8:3–7. What caused Israel to desire a king?

“Samuel’s sons set a poor example to the people. They turned aside from the religious truths they had learned in their youth. They used their judgeships to seek monetary gain, betraying their sacred trusts by taking bribes and giving perverted judgments. But, even more than this, the Israelites as a people had become weak and sinful and were envious of surrounding kingdoms, even though their governments were wicked and oppressive. So they used Samuel’s sons as an excuse to justify their desire to be governed by the same system as the gentile nations.

“‘The people of Israel traced the cause of the oppression and distress, from which they had suffered more and more in the time of the judges, to the defects of their own political constitution. They wished to have a king, like all the heathen nations, to conduct their wars and conquer their enemies’ [C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 10 vols. (n.d.; repr., 1975), 2:2:78]” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual], 271).

1 Samuel 8:5, 20. “Make us a king … that we also may be like all the nations.”

President Ezra Taft Benson stated:

“Sometimes [God] temporarily grants to men their unwise requests in order that they might learn from their own sad experiences. Some refer to this as the ‘Samuel principle.’ The children of Israel wanted a king like all the other nations. The prophet Samuel was displeased and prayed to the Lord about it. The Lord responded by saying, Samuel, ‘they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.’ The Lord told Samuel to warn the people of the consequences if they had a king. Samuel gave them the warning. But they still insisted on their king. So God gave them a king and let them suffer. …

“Sometimes in our attempts to mimic the world, and contrary to the prophet’s counsel, we run after the world’s false educational, political, musical, and dress ideas. New worldly standards take over, a gradual breakdown occurs, and finally, after much suffering, a humble people are ready to be taught once again a higher law” (“Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” New Era, May 1975, 17, 18).

The scriptures further teach about the problems that can arise when unrighteous kings rule (see Proverbs 29:12, 22, 27; Mosiah 29:33–36; D&C 98:9–10).