I love reading the Old Testament. The events that are captured in the Hebrew Bible are amazing displays of God’s faithfulness, his compassion, his righteousness, and his justice. I am preparing a for a Bible studying in 1 Samuel 4-7. In this passage, the army of Israel is in conflict with the Philistine army. In the first battle, the Israelites lose. They ask themselves what went wrong, and they determine that they need to bring the Ark of the Covenant to the battle field.
It makes sense, the would have remembered the stories of God’s power as the Ark went before their ancestors into the Jordan River, and the water stopped. As Joshua led the army throughout the promised land they had many victories as the LORD fought for them. Now they are facing a powerful enemy, the Philistines, they should get the Ark.
When they Ark arrives in the camp, it was brought by Eli’s sons Hophni and Phineas. They were leading priests, serving under their elderly father’s authority. There is a problem though, Hophni and Phineas are corrupt, they are abusing the people, and Eli knew about it, and warned them, but he didn’t stop them. He may have even benefitted from their wickedness. It’s not a good scene for Eli’s family. A prophet came to Eli and told him that his sons would die on the same day, and that he would die as well. Every day after that message the clock was ticking for Eli’s family.
But the Army believes that now that the Ark is with them they are guaranteed a victory. But that’s not how the story unfolds. The army of Israel was treating the Ark (the symbol of the Lord’s presence among them) as a good luck charm or some kind of totem that they can control. The Philistines hear the Israelites getting excited for the battle, and they determine to fight even harder. So when the battle begins, the Philistines tear apart the army of Israel. Hophni and Phineas die, and the Ark is captured and carried off by the Philistines. When Eli hears all of this, he falls out of his chair and breaks his neck and dies.
It seems like this would be the end of the people of Israel. The Glory of God, symbolized in the Ark, has been taken away. They thought surely, God is lost. But GOD IS NEVER LOST.
As you continue the story the Philistines, think that the Ark is just like any idol, and so they place it in the temple of their god Dagon. But Every day, the statue of Dagon falls over, and one day the hands are broken and the neck is broken. Then the people in the city experience an infestation of rats, and the people begin to have tumors (some people think it may have been hemorrhoids). The God if Israel is causing these troubles for the philistines. And so they try to send it away.
The people thought God was lost, but God was not lost. He was not defeated. And even as they were grieving their losses, God was continuing to fight the Philistines. God is never lost.
Over the past several years, I have heard many people mourning the loss of godly character in our nation. And I agree that there have been radical changes in our country. It doesn’t take long to see things that show that people have chosen to live for themselves and to reject biblical principles. In reading these passages in 1 Samuel, I think it’s important to remember that God’s judgement started in the home of the religious leaders, then it affected the nation. While America is not Israel, and the church is not the priestly community from the Hebrew Scriptures, there are principles that we can learn from.
The scandals in the church in America may be serving as a wake up call to the community of faith. Are we going to continue to live in ways that do not glorify the LORD? Are we going to be more shaped by the worldly culture around us or by the way of Jesus? Are we willing to let go of power and prestige so that we can pick up faithfulness?
But I read passages like this in the Bible and I find comfort. The people thought God was lost, but God was not lost. God is NEVER lost. He is always working.