Last night at LightHouse we were looking at 1 Samuel 4 which led to some great discussion about living for God's glory, how we may forget to, and how we may find ourselves trying to manipulate God. I'm not going to post the discussion but below are my notes and the questions we thought about together.
1. What repeated words and phrases are there in this chapter? Do they help us see what the chapter is about? How?
2. What is the significance of the Ark of the Covenant? (Exodus 25:10-22, 40:1-5; Heb 9:1-7)
1. Knowing God, knowing history and examining ourselves
Israel are God’s people in God’s place; He has redeemed them from slavery to worship him and called them to live under his rule. The book of Judges tells us that after Joshua’s death Israel fall into idolatry and knowing and living as God’s people is rare. They didn’t totally abandon God but they worshipped other idols alongside Yahweh, when they were defeated they would call out to Yahweh and he would save them but then they would go back to their idolatry. So at the end of judges it concludes “everyone did as they saw fit.”
We’ve seen that continues to be the case in 1 Samuel even among the priests. But we also saw in Ch3 that God is not done with his people yet, he has called Samuel to speak his words to call them back to covenantal faithfulness. The grace of God in speaking to Israel again ought to amaze us, but we have also seen that grace goes hand in hand with God’s judgement on sin.
As ch4 starts the Philistines are still in the land and are a thorn in Israel’s side so Israel goes to war with them. **What did Israel expect as they set out to battle? Victory. **But what happens? Defeated with 3,000 killed. As they head back dejected to camp they ask a great question; “Why did Yahweh bring defeat on us today before the Philistines?”
**What answer do they reach? (3-4)It is because they didn’t take the Ark of the Covenant into battle with them, so they get the Ark so that God will go with them into the next battle. The Israelites theology is wrong, in fact they think just like the Philistines who assume that in the past god’s did this for Israel therefore this time they will do this.
Israel thinks that they just have to take the Ark of the Covenant with them and automatically they will win, they think they understand God and that they can control him. The problem is that they don’t know God and (10)they are utterly routed, having the Ark with them didn’t force God to act, it did not guarantee victory, God won’t be manipulated.
In some ways Israel know their history. For example in Joshua 3 when they cross the River Jordan the Ark is integral to their crossing on dry land, when they take the city of Jericho the Ark is again integral to the cities fall as it is taken around the walls. But in both those instances God instructs Joshua what to do with the Ark as a sign that he is giving the land to his people. Here he does not.
But their memory is selective they have forgotten something else history would have taught them. Straight after the great victory at Jericho, in the very next battle Israel are defeated and when Joshua asks God why, God says “Israel have sinned... that is why Israel cannot stand against their enemies” and that sin has to be removed before they win. It is part of a pattern; in Judges 2 we see that it is sin that leads to Israel being given into the hands of their enemies (14)“In His anger against Israel the LORD gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.”
If Israel had considered their history they would have realised that defeat was a sign of God’s anger at sin. Why? In Deut 28:25 one of the covenant curses for unfaithfulness was “Yahweh will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven and you will become a thing of horror to them.”
Israel didn’t know God because they didn’t know their history; who God has revealed himself to be in the past and in his word or covenant with them. And that leads them to think wrongly here about God and themselves.
So back to 1 Samuel 4, Israel’s question (3)is a great question, it is the right question “Why did Yahweh bring defeat on us today before the Philistines?”. But they don’t reach the right answer because they don’t examine themselves; they think proximity is the problem not sin. They don’t take the answer far enough, they don’t look at who God is and realise that as the sovereign God of the whole universe where the Ark is in relation to the battle field isn’t the problem.
**Who is it that carries the ark into battle? (4b)Hophni and Phinehas. Eli’s sons whom we know from Ch2 and 3 are under God’s judgement because of their sin.
The Ark of the Covenant was a sign of God in covenant relationship with his people, but the people have broken that covenant and so have the nation’s leaders. The ark was a sign of the need for atonement to be made for sin because the atonement cover was the place where sin was atoned for, yet God has said there will be no atonement for Hophni and Phinehas.
The problem is sin and Israel haven’t examined whether the problem is with them, they have assumed it is with God. They don’t examine their hearts or think over what history and the Torah reveal about them and about God. So they reach the wrong conclusion and are defeated again, and the defeat is far worse: 30,000 deaths, loss of the Ark and the death of Hophni and Phinehas.
God won’t allow his people to be comfortable with sin, he will not allow them to continue thinking wrongly about him and unaware of the covenant they are breaking. God won’t allow priests who despise his name to continue to lead. And so God acts to defeat his people showing mercy even as he judges wanting them to examine themselves in the light of the covenant and who their history and the Torah revealed God to be.
We ought to ask ourselves whether we are in danger of making these same mistakes. Do we know God? Are we sometimes in danger of thinking we can manipulate God? If we do this God must do that? I can’t help but wonder sometimes if that kind of thinking is behind days of prayer, or fasting, or Lent and the like – if we do this God must do that!
Do we know our bible and how God has revealed himself and live life in light of this revelation? Israel have drifted so far from God that they assume the problem is with God rather than them. Do we search the Bible for answers about who God is?
Do we examine ourselves? When we face hardship and persecution do we instantly ask why God is allowing this to happen? Or maybe we question God’s sovereignty? Or do we ask God what he wants us to learn through this? Do we stop to examine ourselves to see if God is disciplining us in love to make us aware of sin? Or do we think about and focus on God’s goodness in making us more like Jesus through the situations we face?
It is worth asking these three questions when we experience hardship, suffering and or persecution; 1. What worldly reliance is God seeking to wean me off so that I rely totally on him? 2. Is God lovingly disciplining me to make me aware of sin so I turn in repentance to him? 3. How is God using this to make me more like Jesus?
2. Be Concerned About God’s Glory
As the runner takes this tragic message from the battlefield there is something odd about the reactions of those who receive this news. **What is it? The focus of every reaction is the loss of the Ark of Covenant. It is when the messenger reaches the climax of his news that the Ark is captured that Eli falls off his chair breaks his neck and dies. **Who would you expect Phinehas wife to name her son after? Phinehas, but Ichabod is named after the loss of the Ark and therefore God’s glory.
The capture of the Ark is a tragedy on a scale that has never happened before and in fact would only happen once more when Israel are taken into Exile. God sends the ark into captivity as a sign of what has already happened; his people have already abandoned him and broken his covenant and the Ark going into exile is a sign to them that his glory has left his people already.
But what is God’s glory? It is his active and visible presence in all his majesty and splendour, it is everything that God is, all his attributes and character. The Bible gives us glimpses of God’s glory but majestic as they are the words used to describe them are trying to convey what the heavens and earth cannot contain – the glory of God.
God’s glory is his active presence, and Israel as God’s chosen people had enjoyed that presence. In fact it was what they were to be concerned with, they were to mediate God’s glory to the world in the distinctive way they lived, loved and worshipped but now God’s glory has departed.
God judges Israel’s leader’s who have no concern for his glory but have treated him with contempt, and he removes the visible sign of his presence and glory from Israel as a sign to them of what has already happened because of their sin. And God removes that sign so that they repent and turn back to him.
We don’t have an Ark as a visible sign of God’s presence. John1:14, it is in Jesus that we see God’s glory, God reveals himself, his presence, is not in a box but in a person. And as his people we are called to live in such a way that brings God’s glory as we live under Jesus rule(John 15:8). Knowing that by grace we have a certain future where we will both see and know God in all his glory and be glorified ourselves so that we can share in God’s glory. And because of that hope and by his Spirit his presence is a daily reality which is seen in us as we live as his people saved by grace for his glory, and increasingly reflecting his glory as we cooperate with the Spirit.
God’s people are to be a people concerned about his glory. The tragedy is that Israel haven’t been, and so God removes the visible sign of his glory and presence with them.
Am I concerned for God’s glory? We are concerned for God’s glory when we delight in his grace shown to us in Jesus and when we live as his people under his rule.
1. How might we think we can manipulate God into doing what we want?
2. “We often settle for surface answers rather than examining our hearts simply because we don’t know how to do it.” Do you agree or not and why?
3. How is God glorified in us practically?