Ichabod is an unusual name perhaps most familiar to those who have read Washington Irving’s “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” to hear about poor Ichabod Crane. However, the word Ichabod itself comes from scripture, and the namesake of Ichabod Crane was just as “inglorious” as he was, for the reason that he was part of a divine curse against a wicked family. Let us learn what we can from the sad birth of the poor little orphan Ichabod.
For The Glory Has Departed From The House Of Israel
We read about the tragic birth of little Ichabod in 1 Samuel 4:19-22, which reads as follows: “Now his [Eli’s] daughter-in-law, Phineas’ wife, was with child, due to be delivered; and when she had heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and gave birth, for her labor pains came upon her. And about the time of her death the women who stood by her said to her, “Do not fear, for you have borne a sin,” But she did not answer, nor did she regard it. Then she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”
Ichabod was born an orphan into the world, as his father and mother had died on the same day he was born, it would appear. His mother appears to have been (understandably) a state of catatonic depression when he was born, unable to respond with to joy to the news of the birth of her son, but merely repeating over and over again about the lack of glory (Ichabod means “inglorious” or “having no weight or glory”) in Israel because of the loss of the Ark of the Covenant. It is noteworthy that the word she kept on repeating was the Hebrew word kbd, which we would pronounce chabod, because this word relates to a curse that God had placed on the House of Eli because of their sins.
Those Who Honor Me I Will Honor
Though we might certainly feel sorry for little Ichabod, he came from a pretty evil family, that had invited God’s judgment. Let us reflect, though, on the severity of the sins of the House of Eli, lest we find ourselves condemned by the same standard. The sins of Eli, and his rather lame rebuke of them, are found in 1 Samuel 2:22-26: “Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such evil things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. Now, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the Lord’s people transgress. If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?” Nevertheless, they did not heed the voice of their father, because the Lord desired to kill them. And the child Samuel grew in stature, and in favor both with God and man.”
Here we see that Hophni and Phineas, the sons of Eli, were behaving like rock stars and treating the women who came to the tabernacle of meeting like their groupies. Clearly these were not loyal husbands. The fact that a report got around to their father meant that their wives probably knew, and grieved, over their disloyalty as well. In light of the severity of their sexual immorality, we might expect that there would be something besides a mild rebuke from their father about eternal consequences (that they cared nothing about), but no. They were not defrocked for their sins, as they should have been, but merely given a wet noodle lashing for their very severe moral failings and bringing the tabernacle of God into disrepute.
The fact that God wanted to kill the unrepentant Hophni and Phineas makes it even more ominous. How many religious leaders do we know who have pretended to be righteous even as they amassed unofficial herems and committed gross immorality and other sins. Nor was sexual immorality the only sin, for Eli too was implicated in a sin that greatly offended God as well and something that we would be extremely wise to avoid ourselves.
As is His fashion, God gave Eli a warning before striking down Eli’s wicked sons, from a prophet whose name is not recorded in scripture, but whose blistering prophecy is, in 1 Samuel 2:27-36: “Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Did I not clearly reveal Myself to the house of your father [Aaron] when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh’s house? Did I not choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be My priest, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod before Me? And did I not give to the house of your father all the offerings of the children of Israel made by fire? Why do you kick at my sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?’ Therefore the Lord God of Israel says: ‘I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.’ But now the Lord says: ‘Far be it from me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your arm and the arm of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. And you will see an enemy in My dwelling place, despite all the good which God does for Israel. And there shall not be an old man in your house forever. But any of your men whom I do not cut off from My altar will consume your eyes and grieve your heart. And all the descendants of your house shall die in the flower of their age. Now this shall be a sign to you that will come upon your two sons, on Hophni and Phineas: in one day they shall die, both of them. Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever. And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left in your house will come and bow down to him for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread, and say, “Please, put me in one of the priestly positions, that I may eat a piece of bread.’ ”
That is a stinging rebuke, full of puns on the word kbd, showing how God would show honor and glory to those who honored Him, as the House of Eli had not honored him despite being blessed with the priesthood at Shiloh. Interestingly enough, one of these puns comes when the prophet of God condemns Eli and his sons (Eli shares in the blame here), for getting fat off of the offerings of God’s people while not showing honor and respect to God. Sometimes I wonder if many people do not seek leadership positions for the dough and fail to appreciate what a blessing it is to be able to serve God, more interested in their own access to the feeding trough than in actually being servant-leaders to God’s flock. God does not wish to give weight (either literally or figuratively) to those who will not honor Him above all. This warning applies as much to us as it does to the House of Eli.
I have often wondered if the lack of glory we see in our own institutions and organizations is related to the lack of glory given to God. Do we take pride in our knowledge or in our godliness and fail to give proper glory and honor to God for having given it to us without our having merited it? All that we have is a gift from God, and we need to be thankful for it, for it can be taken away if we do not show honor and give glory to the giver of all good gifts. For in a day the immoral Hophni and Phineas were struck down by the hand of the Philistines fulfilling the judgment of God, and the overweight and blind Eli fell and broke his neck, and a little baby was born an orphan with an inglorious name because of the disaster that had fallen upon a wicked house. May we avoid the same cruel fate ourselves.