So I've been swimming in 1 Samuel 4 this week.  It's a sad chapter of the Bible.  But it's also remarkably rich with spiritual lessons too.  I've posted a couple notes already… but I have one final one that's gripping me today.  Perhaps what stands out the most throughout this chapter is how we, people, think we can manipulate God for our own gain.

The Israelites at the beginning of chapter 4 are being whooped by the Philistines.  Thousands of men are being killed in battle.  So the leaders devise a plan to bring out the famous Ark of the Covenant.  At that time, no one had ever seen Indiana Jones, but they still knew of the power associated with the Ark.  The Philistines were afraid that this object contained the power of Israel's "gods"- and the stories of how God had defeated Egypt 300 years before still echoed in their fears.  The Ark represented God's Word, God's Law, God's Presence on earth… it contained the Ten Commandments straight from Moses' hand… the Word of the Almighty Lord.  God took this Ark very seriously and often allowed it to serve as a seat of his power and glory during times of battle or major moments in Israel's history.

But the Ark was not God.  Israel assumed that by wielding the Ark into battle that God's power would overwhelm the enemy.  Israel was superstitious.  Israel treated the Ark like an idol with a god's diety stuck within it's frame.  The Lord of Lords didn't like that much.  So when Israel carried it to the fight, God let the Philistines win.  Israel never asked God for help.  Israel never offered their hearts in pure service to the Lord.  They just assumed they could wield God's power because they were Israel and they had the Ark.

Well, the Ark was captured.  Thousands upon thousands of Israelites were killed by the Philistines.  The leading priests all died.  A child was born in the priestly family… and he was named Ichabod… "there is no glory."  The Glory of God had left Israel. 

Why do we think we can manipulate God?  I'll find myself thinking that if I just act good enough this week, then God will do what I want later on.  Or I'll see others rubbing their beads or wearing a cross around their neck, thinking somehow that God will be more with them because of these items that they wield.  I'll hear of people making deals with God, as if they can twist His arm.  And then we wonder why God seems to have left.


  1. 🙂 You are right, Andrew. We should move mountains. I’m realizing my Christ-likeness is pretty veiled.
    Manipulation may be part of the process. Just like a child learning how to ask his/her parents for things… we must learn the appropriate ways and behaviors and customs of being in God’s family. We are invited to ask… but eventually we must participate in the asking process… not just the receiving. Eventually our identity becomes enveloped in the asking as much as the receiving.

  2. Asssuming that I become more and more like Christ, then. I should be able to assume that I would be praying those things which Christ would and did pray for and receiving them. I agree. When I am Christ-like I will also know which of those around me are sick and to be healed for the glory of God and which people are not to be for the glory of God, but do I not pray for those who are not to be prayed for so that I know? Should I also not pray in the intermediary time while I am trying to figure out my Christ-likeness so that I don’t pray agains the will of God and therefore manage to avoid manipulation? Or is manipulation an integral part of learning to pray?

  3. I’m working this out, Andrew… and probably taking us on a rabbit trail…
    Simply, I wonder how Mark 11:22-25 can be true. I wonder how James 1:2-8 can be true. I think only if your will is “like Christ”. It just seems to me that we are to strive to be more and more like Jesus. Logically, it would be true that if we become more and more like Jesus, then our desires and “askings” will become more and more what Jesus would want us to desire and ask for.

  4. I am not entirely sure that I understand what you are saying here. I think that it has something to do with desiring gods will but I would never imagine that getting what I want is the same thing as that? I suppose if I was perfected then I would only ever pray for those things which are in the will of god, even then I am not so sure. It sounds to me like you are advocating prayer for the will of god from my post. Is there a other explanation you could use to help me understand better?

  5. I’ve wondered many times, Andrew, about prayer… and whether we shouldn’t strive to reach a place where we are wanting and praying “in God’s will”. I suppose we should be striving to live that way too. It just seems rational to me that if we pray in God’s will, and we want what we pray, then we will always get what we want. 🙂 Funny, but the aim isn’t to “get what we want” but it is the result of wanting God’s will and praying in God’s will. Hmmm…. Not sure If I’ve even begun to address your comment…

  6. I have trouble dividing some of these thoughts with other teachings I have received on prayers before. I agree that abusing God seems to be wrong in more than one way and I think that doing it to gain what you want is a truly terrible plan. However, are there not moments when people did supid things to gain God’s plan? Abraham argued with God about who God was and told Him off for his plan of destroying Sodom for the sake of Lot? David lay down on the floor for three days and nights, I think, until his son died from Bathsheba? David’s prayers in Psalms are often rather abusive in their directness? Even in Exodus, Moses tells God off for his plan to wipe out the Israelites and starting again with him. All of these seem, to me, to be situations where humans are trying to manipulate, or move, God to do as we will. Is it not the same thing that we do when we pray for healing? Does James not tell us to believe and it will happen or we are like waves dashed upon the rocks? PErhaps we should pray expecting God to do what He will do and not what we want, but it does not seem to follow the teaching of James on this point. What is the answer here? Do we bow down and worship God alone without care for our earthly situation as it is all a gift from God and good and bad alike can be taken as such things, or are we to pray for what we really want and express the reality of our humanness in our prayers? Jesus asked for God to remove his cup of suffering from him, but then told God that it was God’s will that should be done. This situation seems different to me because JEsus knew the outcome of God’s will, or even the direction God wished him to travel in, but most of the time we do not. How, then, are we to pray for His will in a given situation and not look like total pansy’s without any backbone to stand before God and declare our sense of right and wrong when we see God doing something we do not like? IS that an appropriate attitude?
    Sorry for the length. Just a question that has been bugging me so much lately.

  7. I think we too often assume that God exists to do our bidding… rather than the other way around. We drive in the car and occasionally throw up random prayers… we turn to God when we are in need and forget him when we’re not worried about anything… we expect God to help us win a game- even while half the other team is praying the same thing… I just think that we treat God way too flippantly way too often. The Israelites, in 1 Samuel 4, in a moment of intense panic and desperation, tried to use God to their benefit… without seeking God… without asking what his will was… They just assumed God could be used.
    God doesn’t like being played.

  8. Are you saying that you think that Christians have become too superstitious about God? Or are we taking Him for granted?
    I get the feeling most people just don’t experience God in a real and meaningful way. Perhaps contriving ideas of ‘that’s okay’ and ‘sometimes life is like that’ produces that type of complacent search for God. That is part of my theory, but why, exactly, do you think that God is missing?

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