Eli held thee office of a Judge and a High Priest. It was the first time in Israel one man had held both positions. Such was a reflection of Eli's character. He was a devout and godly man who judged Israel for 40 years. (Cf. I Sam 4.18). But the sons of Eli were as wicked as their father was righteous. Phineas and Hophni are described as followers of Belial. Worthless men! The Scriptures assert, "They knew not the Lord" (I Sam 2.12). And yet the sons of Eli were installed into the office of a priest (Cf. I Sam 1.3). The ultimate result was Ichabod (the glory departed from Israel).
The Meaning of Ichabod
The Philistines, arch-enemies of Israel, had gathered for battle at Aphek. Israel reacted and in the skirmish which followed lost 4,000 men. To insure victory, the ark of God was brought to Aphek. Along with the ark came its priests, Phineas and Hophni. A second battle was fought. This time 30,000 Israelites perished and numbered among them were the sons of Eli. But to add insult to injury, the Philistine captured the holy ark of God! Never had Israel in all of her history suffered such a devastating defeat! The flower of her army had been destroyed; her priests had been slain and the symbol of God's presence (the Ark of God) removed. It would not be until the time of David that Israel would recover from the stunning defeat at Aphek.
When Eli heard of the defeat, he fell backwards - broke his neck and died. The wife of Phineas (who was with child) bowed herself and delivered a son. She soon followed Eli in death. The name she gave her son was Ichabod. The reason is explained in the Scriptures: "And she named the child Ichabod, saying, the glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and became of her father-in-law and her husband. And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken." (I Sam. 4:21, 22). Ichabod literally means, "glory departed" or "where is the glory."
Israel had lost her battle with the Philistines not because of the superior strength of her enemy. In fact, militarily speaking, Israel was the stronger of the two nations. Ichabod is the key to the defeat and shame of Israel. The glory had departed from (Ichabod) Israel long before the battle at Aphek Phineas and Hophni were the reason. These mean and unscrupulous men were found in the priesthood of God. Neither man was qualified to be a servant of the Lord, yet both were supposed leaders on the behalf of God.
So it is today. When men who are unqualified lead spiritual Israel against her foes, the result will be Ichabod. The glory is departed from Israel. The God of Heaven will not be served by unqualified leaders.
Paul in writing to Timothy gave strict requirements for the office of a bishop or an elder. (Cf. I Tim 3). But oftentimes men are prone to forget what God has demanded of His spiritual leaders. Consequently men are often found in the eldership that are not truly qualified for the office. The result will be Ichabod every time. The glory is departed from Israel. The church of God will suffer defeat at the hands of her enemies.
The same is true of preachers. Paul spoke confidently of Timothy in his letter to the Philippians: "But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus . . . for I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state" (2.19, 20). The thing that made Timothy a good minister was that he would naturally care for the Philippians. The church at Philippi came first; Timothy was second. Timothy would stay at Philippi as long as he could do good. This young preacher would do what he thought best for the church where he labored.
But alas the preachers of today are not so. They frequently are hirelings instead of ministers. The Scriptures assert that every man who preaches the gospel has the right to live of that gospel. (Cf. I Cor 9.14). But these of whom we speak are like Balaam. They preach for hire (Jude 11). They are not ministers of God but ministers of mammon. To them a "comfortable job" comes first. "After all," says the hireling, "I have a family to support and besides I just don't fancy right now to moving." The Scriptures depict these as deceiving the hearts of the simple with good words and fair speeches. (Cf. Rom 16.18). When such men are in the pulpits, the result will be Ichabod. The glory will depart from Israel. The work of the church will turn into a campaign of strife and confusion. Congregations will split asunder and truth will be trampled to the ground. So it has been in the past, so it is now, and so it will be in the future.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 15, pp. 12-13