Ichabod is an odd name. When you mention it, the average person’s mind goes to Ichabod Crane, the schoolmaster character in Washington Irving’s famous short story The Legend of Sleep Hollow. Students of the Bible, however, know that the name actually has a Biblical origin. The birth of the Bible’s Ichabod is recorded as part of the sordid story of Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas, and it’s one of the saddest tales in scripture.
In the days when the prophet Samuel was young, Israel’s high priest was a man named Eli. Eli was almost 100 years old (1 Samuel 4:15), obese (1 Samuel 4:18), and virtually blind (1 Samuel 4:15). Because of his physical condition, he delegated to his two sons the responsibility of sacrificing the offerings the people of Israel brought to the Tabernacle (Israel’s site of centralized national worship). Those two sons were named Hophni and Phinehas.
Unfortunately for all Israel, Hophni and Phinehas were spiritually lost unbelievers (1 Samuel 2:12) whose wickedness was evidenced in not only the unholy way in which they conducted their priestly duties (1 Samuel 2:13-17) but also in the rank sexual sin that marked their lives (1 Samuel 2:22). How bad were the two men? They were so bad that the Bible actually says the Lord desired to kill them (1 Samuel 2:25).
Their deaths came by way of a battle with the Philistines. As priests, Hophni and Phinehas carried Israel’s Ark of the Covenant into the battle, the idea being that Israel’s army couldn’t possibly lose as long as it had the Ark in the ranks. But that idea proved to be thoroughly false as the Philistines won a resounding victory in which Hophni, Phinehas, and 30,000 Israelite soldiers lost their lives (1 Samuel 4:10-11). As for the Ark, the Philistines captured it and took it to Philistia.
When all this tragic news reached Eli, he fell off his seat backward and died by means of a broken neck (1 Samuel 4:18). It is at this point that the story turns its attention to Eli’s daughter-in-law, who was the wife of Phinehas. She was far along with a pregnancy on that fateful day, and the news of all the happenings caused her to go into a hard labor (1 Samuel 4:19-20). She was able to give birth to a son, but she died as a result of the delivery. Just before she died, she named the boy “Ichabod” and said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark has been captured” (1 Samuel 4:21-22). Ichabod, you see, means “the glory has departed” or “there is no glory.”
The Bible’s only other reference to the man Ichabod comes years later when Saul was reigning as Israel’s first king. By that time Ichabod had grown up and was himself serving as a priest (1 Samuel 14:1-3). Other than that single reference, though, we know nothing about the actual person. Perhaps that’s why the name itself has become more well known than the man who originally bore it.
In regards to how the name is used today,”Ichabod” has come to symbolize any situation in which God’s glory has departed. The name is most often used in reference to a church or a denomination that has abandoned its Biblical moorings in favor of liberalism and worldliness, but it can be applied to any circumstance that reeks of a lack of God’s presence. And if you are looking for a classic tell-tale sign of an “Ichabod” circumstance, look for a circumstance that is operating without God’s word, in direct contrast to God’s word, or completely outside of God’s word. Remember, God’s presence and God’s word always walk hand in hand. Therefore, if God’s word isn’t part of a situation, it stands to reason that God isn’t part of that situation.