In today’s tragic episode, so many things are lost, the battle, the thousands of soldiers, Eli’s sons, and the ark of the covenant.
1 Samuel 4:1b-11
Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. 2 The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. 3 When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”
4 So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
5 When the ark of the Lord’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. 6 Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”
When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp,7 the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before. 8 We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. 9 Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!”
10 So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
What a terrible day for Israel! It must have seemed like God himself was against them. They were so unused to defeat and yet in this double blow they were vanquished by the Philistines.
After the first loss, if they had remembered the times in the wilderness, they would have recollected that defeat in battle means something has gone wrong, that they had lost their way in their relationship with God.
Instead they look for a quick fix. Bring the ark of the covenant into the battle, and God will win it for us. In the attitudes of elders, we see they have lost their reverence for their God. He seems to have been reduced to some superpower at their beck and call and the ark but a magic box of sorts that ensures He turns up.
Even the Philistines have more respect, so much so that their fear drives them to fight even harder. And the army of Israel is crushed, and the very symbol of God’s presence seems lost to the enemy.
God the Saviour is not just about helping us win our battles, He is about our hearts and the state they are in. We cannot reduce Jesus to just a symbol that will protect our lives in some mystical way. He is God, and He is King. He is all powerful. And even if He is let down by people who serve Him imperfectly, who wander off like lost sheep, He is the great Shepherd waiting for them to come back home. Even then, His might is boundless, and will continue to be shown to those who do not yet know Him, that they may be convicted of their lost state and also come to Him.
We don’t need an ark now as the Spirit of Christ resides in us. Now we ourselves, by our very lives represent the presence of God with us and in this world. May we continue to bring Him glory and demonstrate that we are the lost that were found, those once far away who have been brought near, the sinners saved.
Head: The ark of the covenant was a symbol of God’s presence. Have a think of some modern day symbols. Is it sometimes easier to look to the symbols than what they represent?
Heart: Sometimes when things just aren’t going right, it is a call to our hearts to line up with God. Has your heart had any such calls lately?
Hands: Think of a task you have to do today.. it might be ordinary, or it might be a battle.. Take time to commit it to the Lord and seek His wisdom
Prayer: Dear Lord, may I keep close to you and not wander off and get lost. Thank you for your presence with me and may I always reflect that in my life.
A song to listen to: O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer
Nicole Davenport- Creek Road Presbyterian Church- Carina