Israel is in a battle with the Philistines and they are losing. They send for the Ark of the Lord to save them. But things do NOT go as planned.
Anyone who has been listening to God speaking to Eli knows that trouble is brewing. In the first part of the story Israel is jubilant! They are convinced that they are going to be victorious because the Ark is with them.
Israel had a great history on which to base their beliefs. During Joshua’s campaign the Ark went with them and they were victorious in MOST of their battles. The ones where they lost they turned to the Lord for answers and He faithfully gave them. They ALSO repented and corrected their sins that resulted in defeat.
There is a difference here though with bringing the Ark to this battle. When the Ark went into battle before, God was the one who called for it to go. This time the elders who are discouraged by the way the battle is going send for it. God DID NOT tell them to bring it.
They tried to “put God in a box.” They believed that the Ark and God were interchangeable. If they had the Ark God HAD to move on their behalf. “If I do A then God HAS to do B.” God doesn’t work that way, which they will soon find out. He did promise to bless them when they kept His commandments but this group of people was FAR from God’s commandments at the time. Even their priests are out of order and the two that brought the Ark were the worst of the bunch.
When they sent for the ark Eli allowed his two sons to take it. Yes he was old. But he was still the high priest. And he had already been warned twice by God that his sons were going to be punished. In one prophecy he was told that they would be killed on the same day. If it were me, I wouldn’t let my two boys do ANYTHING together! Yet Eli allowed them to carry Israel’s most precious possession into BATTLE with judgement hanging over their heads.
I can just imagine Hophni and Phinehas strutting out of the city with the ark most likely following behind them. Their arrogance was beyond belief! I wonder how they made the journey. I doubt they walked as they priests were supposed to. These two men ate of the choicest foods from ALL the sacrifices. They were probably very rotund men. We are told in tomorrow’s reading that Eli was “heavy” and I suspect his sons were even more so.
I LOVE Israel’s reaction to the arrival of the ark. They are overjoyed! They can already taste the victory. Maybe this attitude resulted in them figuring that God was going to fight this battle for them so they didn’t have to worry about their own tactics. God supplied tactics when HE called for them to bring the Ark. This joy didn’t last because God’s presence didn’t come with the ark and neither did His victory.
I also LOVE how the Philistines reacted when they learned that the Ark was in the camp. At least I love their initial reaction. “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness” (verses 7b-8). They got that right! But it wasn’t gods it was God who did all this and who Israel was celebrating.
The ultimate effect on the Philistines is that Israel’s reliance on the Ark spurred the Philistines to fight even harder. “Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight” (verse 9). This was exactly the opposite of what happened when God’s favor accompanied His Ark. He made the hearts of Israel’s enemies faint. But since He wasn’t calling for the Ark to be brought He didn’t put fear in the Philistines hearts.
Israel was soundly defeated! It wasn’t a partial victory. It was a “very great slaughter”! And the Ark of the Lord was taken captive. Eli’s sons received exactly what the Lord had promised; they both died that day. “Thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell” (verse 10b). God was NOT in this battle on Israel’s side!
There are people today that still try and put God in a box. I believe it is arrogance to act this way. God DOES NOT have to act in any fashion because I want Him to or I perform some ritual. He is Lord of ALL the universe! He will NEVER act in a manner that is contrary to His word. And He ALWAYS keeps His promises. But sometimes how He keeps His promises looks different than what we are demanding He do.
He cared for Israel even when they were rebelling against Him and that “care” involved discipline. The people’s question “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines?” (verse 3b) should have been followed with a soul searching and repentance, NOT a ‘formula’ to force Him to act according to the people’s desires. His people got a lesson in humility instead. I hope to see true repentance in the near future in our reading.
Father God, forgive me for ever trying to ‘put You in a box.’ I want Your will in my life, not my formula for success. My ‘formulas’ mean nothing if You are not in them, even if they come straight out of some ‘Christian how to’ book. Those are the ones I find myself running away from any more. There may be some very good material in them but I’m afraid to get wrapped up in the formulas. I want a deeper relationship with You that WE develop together. Keep me coming to You Father God. Thank You for drawing me onto Your lap tonight even when I thought I had other things I HAD to do instead. Thanks for helping me make the right choice of how to spend my time tonight. NOT because of some requirement but because of our relationship. I LOVE You Lord and truly want to spend time with You every day. Help me rest tonight and not focus on the other things that got left by the way in this day so I could spend a little time on Your lap. Good night Daddy (God).