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.