And when he came,.... To Shiloh; he either passed by Eli, who being blind could not see him, 1 Samuel 4:15 or he came in at another gate of the city on the other side of it, as Abarbinel thinks; though the former seems more likely by what follows, he not choosing to deliver the bad news to Eli first, whom he knew it would very much grieve, and therefore slipped by him into the city:
lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: by the "hand" of the way, as the marginal reading, and which we follow; it seems to be a place where two ways or more met, and where was a way post erected, with an hand directing what places they led to. The text is, "he", or "it smote", as if his heart smote him for letting the ark go; so KimchiF6Vid. David de Pomis, Lexic. fol. 47. 1. ; here Eli had a seat placed, which, as the Targum says, was at the ascent of the way to the gate; and so the Septuagint has it, at the gate; and JosephusF7Ut supra. (Antiqu. l. 5. c. 11. sect. 3.) says it was at one of the gates; either of his own house, or of the tabernacle, or rather of the city; here he was watching for news, to hear what he could, and as soon as he could, how it fared with the army, with his sons, and especially with the ark:
for his heart trembled for the ark of God; not so much for his sons, whose death he might expect from the divine prediction, but for the ark, about which he was doubtful; fearing lest it should fall into the hands of the uncircumcised Philistines, who would triumph upon it, and which would make sad the heart of every true Israelite, and reflect much dishonour on the God of Israel; and very probably he might tremble the more when he reflected on his own sin and folly in suffering his sons to take it with them. Eli here may represent a good man in pain for the church of God, and the interest of religion in declining times, both with respect to ministers of the word, and members of churches: as when Gospel ministers are removed by death, few raised up in their stead, and those that do appear in the ministry, either unregenerate, as it may be feared; or have not gifts and abilities qualifying them for it; or are of immoral lives and conversations, or propagate false doctrines, errors, and heresies: and also when among professors of religion and members of churches there is a great decay of powerful godliness; and they are got into a drowsy, sleepy, frame of spirit, are become lukewarm and indifferent to spiritual exercises, want zeal for the Gospel and cause of Christ; are careless about the honour and interest of religion, unstable and inconstant in doctrine and worship, and in their affections to one another, and the ministers of the word; and their conversation not as becomes their profession:
and when the man came into the city, and told it; how that the army of Israel was beaten, what a number of men was killed, among whom were the two sons of the high priest, and the ark was taken:
all the city cried out; that is, all the inhabitants of the city, having most of them perhaps relations and friends in the army, for whom they were concerned, fearing their lives were lost; but especially the loss of the ark was insupportable by them, it being of so much advantage to that city particularly, both with respect to things temporal and spiritual; wherefore, upon hearing this bad news, there was a general shriek and cry throughout the whole city.