Summary: The capture of the ark and its removal to the land of the Philistines only symbolizes what is already true, what has been true for a long time, the glory of God has departed from Israel.
A Study of the Life of Samuel
Sermon # 4
“Bringing Back God’s Glory!”
1 Samuel 4:1 – 6:17
We have seen how Samuel dominates the first three chapters of 1 Samuel and now he fades into the background while the spiritual condition and political affairs of Israel continue in a down-ward spiral. You need to remember that this is the period of the judges, a time that scripture characterizes as when “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). This dark time is epitomized by the departure of symbol of God’s presence, the Ark of the Covenant, from the people of Israel. Don’t forget how 1 Samuel 3:1 described this period as a time when God was not speaking to his people very often: “… the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation.” The spiritual leaders were corrupt and God’s people were not obeying his law so why should he say anything new to them? It seems that since men were not listening to God in those days he rarely bothered to speak to them. This lays the ground work for the departure of God’s glory from Israel. Unfortunately we will come to discover that the capture of the ark and its removal to the land of the Philistines only symbolizes what is already true, what has been true for a long time, the glory of God has departed from Israel.
In 1 Samuel Four, verse one, “… Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines, and encamped beside Ebenezer; and the Philistines encamped in Aphek. (2) Then the Philistines put themselves in battle array against Israel. And when they joined battle, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men of the army in the field.”
In the passage before us Israel is once again pitted against the Philistines. In this initial confrontation with the Philistines Israel suffered a defeat with a loss of 4,000 men, the elders and leaders of Israel were totally bewildered and perplexed. Calling an emergency meeting to analysis the defeat in verse three, they focused on one basic question, “Why did the Lord bring defeat upon us today?” (v.3). If they had stopped to evaluate their own sinful lifestyles they would have had the answer.
They asked the right question but unfort-unately they drew the wrong conclusion. The reminder of verse three reveals that they decided to use the Ark to try to manipulate God, “… Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies."
Keep in mind that God had given Israel very distinct instruction through Moses as to the way in which military campaigns were to be conducted (Deuteronomy 20) but none of them seem to have been put into practice on this occasion. No priest is called to ask counsel of God or bless the going forth of the army of Israel. In a very modern fashion Israel only seems interested in God getting them out of the mess they have gotten them-selves into. They did not begin to think either of God, nor of the Ark of the Covenant until after they had suffered defeat.
Instead of searching their hearts and confessing their sins, they decided to imitate Joshua and Moses and take the Ark of the Covenant into battle with them (Numbers 10:33-36). They apparently regarded the Ark of the Covenant as some sort of giant good luck charm saying, “If we bring the Ark here then our luck will change.”
The children of Israel either did not know or did not care to consider that the presence of a physical symbol of God’s presence would do no good, when the hearts of the people were far from Him! Even as believers today we need to get over the idea that God will bless us in spite of disobedience.
Notice with me that the text reveals three wrong ways in which people try to interact with God.
1. God Refuses to Be used As A Good Luck Charm (4:4-7)
“So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who dwells between the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. (5) And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth shook. (6) Now when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, "What does the sound of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?" Then they understood that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp. (7) So the Philistines were afraid, for they said, "God has come into the camp!" And they said, "Woe to us! For such a thing has never happened before. (8) Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness.”