There is much talk these days about spiritual victory and living the victorious Christian life. The airwaves are filled with televangelists who fluidly pronounce God’s intentions for every believer to live in victory. Why then are so many Christians living totally defeated lives? Like the Israelites of old, too many of God’s children have wrongly placed their confidence in religion instead of trusting their relationship with the Living God.
Misplaced trust (1 Samuel 4:3-5, 10)
The armies of Israel were at war with the Philistines. In a battle somewhere between Ebenezer and Aphek, the Philistines routed Israel who lost 4,000 men in the battle (v. 2). As would any responsible army, Israel evaluated why the battle had been lost. While this passage does not reveal all the conversations, in the final analysis it was determined future fights would prominently feature the Ark of the Covenant (v. 3).
It is hard to criticize the thinking of the Israelites. The ark was the earthly symbol of the presence of God and it had been their deliverance in times past. So confident were they of the blessing of the ark when it arrived in camp, the armies of Israel celebrated so loudly, “the ground shook” (v. 5). Even the Philistines were impressed with the plan of Israel for they thought, “a god has come into the camp” (v. 7). Yet when the next battle took place, Israel was more soundly defeated, this time losing 30,000 men in a “slaughter” (v. 10). What had gone wrong?
Two critical mistakes readily are apparent. First, there were misguided ministers manipulating the ark. From previous lessons, it is obvious Phinehas and Hophni, the wicked sons of Eli, clearly were not resting under the blessings of God. Holy things are defiled and potentially rendered useless in the hands of unholy men. Just as obvious, however, was the gross mistrust placed in the ark itself. It was not the ark that possessed power, it was the indwelling presence of the person of God himself who made the ark a dynamic instrument.
Times change and people do not. Today, many still believe in and rely on the power of religious icons. Cross jewelry and sainted medallions are worn by many for protection and to receive blessings. Automobiles display statues of Jesus for travel protection.
Most mature believers are able to quickly dismiss the fallacy of religious icons only to fall into the trap of embracing and elevating other aspects of faith and using them in a fashion equally offensive. Some are guilty of bibliolatry, the practice of using the Bible icon of faith while failing to recognize the victory that comes through a relationship with the God revealed in its pages.
It is interesting to note how few historical pieces of biblical history have been discovered. The Ark of the Covenant, despite the best efforts of Indiana Jones, never has been located. The original autographs of the Bible are yet to be discovered. God has hidden them away. He knows of the human tendency to place trust in the icon when what he desires is for the believer to place trust in him. He is the only source of victory.
God is not in them (1 Samuel 4:20-22)
Not only was Israel massacred at Shiloh, the Ark of the Covenant, the very object of their faith, was captured by the Philistines (v. 11). Hophni and Phinehas were killed (v. 11) and when Eli the prophet heard of the death of his sons and the capture of the ark, he fell from his chair, broke his neck and died (v. 18). The daughter-in-law of Eli, the wife of Phinehas, was expecting a child and the excitement and despair of the events of the day sent her into labor and she too died in childbirth (v. 20). She gave birth to a son who was named Ichabod, which meant, “the glory has departed” (v. 21).
Many believe the naming of the child symbolized the glory of God departing with the capture of the ark. Clearly, however, more was involved. The ark did at one time hold the glory of God, but so did his people. When the people of God place their trust in someone or something other than God himself, God’s glory departs and God no longer is in them.
Recent years of political discourse have given birth to a new word, gravitas. It is used to explain the seriousness of one’s political contacts and experience. The more serious experience a candidate has the more gravitas, political weight, the candidate has.
The word glory has a similar connotation. The root Hebrew word, from which the English word glory is derived, means weight. The true weight of God, the glory of God, is revealed through the lives of believers who unequivocally place their trust in his indwelling.
Treating the holy as common (1 Samuel 5:1-4; 6:19-21)
The Philistines defiled the ark by placing it in their pagan temple (5:2). When the ark returned to Israel it was further defiled by the child of Israel who broke the commandments of God by, “looking into” the ark (6:19). Even though the presence of God no longer rested in the ark it remained holy unto God.
The holy things of God must be treated with great reverence lest they become defiled. The most holy thing a believer will ever handle is the holy, personal relationship they have with God himself. Every believer must not allow anything to supplant that relationship; they must never allow anything, even religious icons, to become more important that that relationship. When they do, the glory of the Lord departs.