The Theft of the Ark of the Lord

Eli judged Israel for 40 years from 1080-1020 BC. During this time God trained Samuel to be the next judge in Israel. In Eli's later years and 20 years into Samuel's administration the Ark of the Lord is taken by the Philistines. The Children of Israel were being attacked by the Philistines and in their reasoning they thought if they brought the Ark of the Covenant to the battle that God would be with them and help them overthrow the Philistines. Well, it doesn't work that way. When Israel had to go to battle in the past God would tell them what to do and as long as they followed through God fought their battle. There is no record of them asking God what they should do. They behaved like the nations around them relying on objects of faith instead of Almighty God. Consequently the Ark is taken by the Philistines (I Samuel 4). When Eli heard this he fell backward off of his seat and brake his neck and died; he was 98 years old, he had judged Israel 40 years.

After the Philistines capture the Ark it doesn't go well with them.

I Samuel 5
:1 And the Philistines took the ark of God,
    and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod. [a principal Philistine capital]
:2 When the Philistines took the ark of God,
    they brought it into the house of Dagon,
    and set it by Dagon.
:3 And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow,
    behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD.
    And they took Dagon,
    and set him in his place again.
:4 And when they arose early on the morrow morning,
    behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD;
    and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold;
    only the stump of Dagon was left to him.
:5 Therefore neither the priests of Dagon,
        nor any that come into Dagon's house,
    tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day.
:6 But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod,
    and he destroyed them,
    and smote them with emerods, [boils]
        even Ashdod and the coasts thereof.
:7 And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said,
        The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us:
            for his hand is sore upon us,
                and upon Dagon our god.

God's will is to have the Ark reside in Shiloh and for the men of Israel to come once a year at Passover to offer sacrifices of atonement. The Philistines have transgressed the law of God. Consequently God cannot protect them from ravages of the devil.

 Ashdod sent the Ark to Gath and they ended up with emerods in their secret parts (5:9) so they sent it to Ekron where 'there was a deadly destruction' and those who didn't die were plagued with boils.

The ark was with the Philistines for seven months before they wised up and sent it back. They made an offering of golden emrods, one for each principal city and mice representing the towns and villages and put them in a vessel next to the ark. They set it upon a new cart and hitched to two cows that have never been yoked and sent it away.

:12 And the kine [cows] took the straight way to the way of Bethshemesh,
    and went along the highway,
        lowing as they went,
    and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left;
    and the lords of the Philistines went after them unto the border of Bethshemesh.
:13 And they of Bethshemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley:
    and they lifted up their eyes,
    and saw the ark,
    and rejoiced to see it.
:14 And the cart came into the field of Joshua,
        a Bethshemite,
    and stood there,
        where there was a great stone:
    and they clave the wood of the cart,
    and offered the kine a burnt offering unto the LORD.
:15 And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD,
    and the coffer that was with it,
        wherein the jewels of gold were,
    and put them on the great stone:
    and the men of Bethshemesh offered burnt offerings
    and sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto the LORD.
:16 And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it,
    they returned to Ekron the same day.

Just because the Ark is returned doesn't mean the people returned to worshipping God. They continued to worship false gods and reap the consequences for 20 years. They then cry unto God for help.

God's response:

I Samuel 7
:3 And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying,
        If ye do return unto the LORD with all your hearts,
        then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you,
        and prepare your hearts unto the LORD,
        and serve him only:
        and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.
:4 Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth,
    and served the LORD only.

The next time the Philistines rose against Israel they asked Samuel to ask God what to do . Now they are back to believing. While Samuel was offering a burnt offering God discomfits or confuses the Philistines and the men of Israel was able to overcome them and they had rest from the Philistines and were even able to take back some of their cities.

The power of God is not in symbols and icons, not in idols or images but in believing God and going to Him for guidance.