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Posts Tagged ‘1 Samuel 4’

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 4:11-22

We are continuing on with several stories about the ark of God in 1 Samuel that prepare us for the emergence of Samuel as the prophetic leader of Israel.

As you will remember from earlier in 1 Samuel, God has foretold judgment on the high priest Eli and his two sons – Hophni and Phinehas. They treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt, taking the best portions for themselves. And also his two sons treated the women workers at the tabernacle as prostitutes. 1 Samuel 2:12 says of these two, “They were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.”

And so an unnamed prophet came and told Eli that his house would no longer be the high priestly line – 2:27-33. And that the sign that this will surely happen is that his two sons would die on the same day – 2:34. And then the Lord told Samuel as a boy, “11Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” – 3:11-14

The title of the sermon is “The other shoe drops.” You know the phrase “waiting for the other shoe to drop” right? It means waiting for something bad to happen. Something bad has happened and something else bad will happen. If these pronouncements of judgment are the first shoe that drops, then waiting for the fulfillment of these words of judgment is the other shoe. And it drops decisively in our text today.

Our story picks up with the fallout of the battle between Israel and the Philistines that we looked at last week, where Israel was severely defeated, even though they brought the ark of the covenant to help them.

Judgment on Eli and his house

4:11And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

Not only did the use of the ark not bring victory, it was captured by the Philistines. It was under enemy control.

And just as the Lord had said, Hophni and Phinehas died on the same day as a sign to all that Eli and his house were being set aside as the high priestly line in Israel.

12A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head.

So this man ran for some twenty miles from Aphek/Ebenezer to Shiloh, quite a feat. And he comes with torn clothes and dirt on his head as an indicator of mourning for the many who have died.

13When he arrived, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God.

Eli was devoted to God in his own way. We see this in his teaching Samuel about the Lord and here in his concern for the ark. Despite his sin, he still had this.

And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out.

As the Lord said to Samuel, God would “do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.” (3:11). And they must have all been stunned to hear the report. They are crying out not just in general, but because many of their own fathers, brothers, husbands and sons were now dead. And their lives may well be in danger, as we will see.

14When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, “What is this uproar?” Then the man hurried and came and told Eli. 15Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see.

So Eli can hear – he hears the city cry out, but he can’t see, which is why he didn’t see the messenger or how he was dressed. He is still wondering what’s going on. So the messenger comes and tells him the report in person.

16And the man said to Eli, “I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.” And he said, “How did it go, my son?” 17He who brought the news answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”

The man tells Eli in ascending order of importance about Israel’s defeat, the death of his two sons and then that the Philistines now have the ark of God.

Eli doesn’t seem that concerned about his sons, for the story continues . . .

18As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.

His sons are dead and now he dies after hearing the fate of the ark. In a way his own sin is a part of this, for he fell off his chair and broke his neck not only because he was old, but also because he was heavy –perhaps related to his eating the best portions of the Lord’s offerings.

This is the only place that mentions Eli as a judge; he ruled for 40 years. The Hebrew word for “seat” here (and also in v. 13) also means “throne.” So Eli is symbolically dethroned and his reign comes to an end.

19Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. 20And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention.

The bad news induced her labor. She was so overcome by what happened that she didn’t even care that she had given birth to a son.

21And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

Before she dies, in the naming of her son she gives insight into the situation that is going on in Israel. Ichabod is taken by her to mean “the glory has departed.” This a reference to God, who is the glory of Israel (1 Samuel 15:29). 1) God was not with the Israelite soldiers, even though they brought the ark; 2) the leaders of Israel are now dead – Eli and his sons, including her own husband; 3) but above all else, repeated twice here (5x in whole story) the ark of God is now gone. God has truly abandoned them. What was apparent, even when the ark was present, is made perfectly clear with the capture of the ark. God had already left them because of their sin and unfaithfulness.

In the phrase “the glory has departed,” the word “departed” can also be translated, “has gone into exile.” God has gone into exile in a foreign land. God is absent. Why? Israel’s sin drove God away.

If the pattern later was Israel left the land and went into exile, here God leaves the land in exile. And they become slaves in their own land (1 Samuel 4:9; Psalm 78:62-64). (But also see Ezekiel 10:18 where the glory leaves and the people go into exile.)

Psalm 78:59-61 says of this event, God “utterly rejected Israel. He forsook his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt with people, and delivered his power to captivity.”

And then we have something that is not recorded in this passage, but almost certainly happened at this time –

The destruction of the tabernacle at Shiloh

In Jeremiah 7:12, several centuries later, the Lord says, “Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.” In other words, God is saying to the people of Jerusalem, “you think I won’t judge you because you have the temple in your midst? I’ve don it before! Just as I destroyed the tabernacle in Shiloh, so I will destroy the temple in Jerusalem. (Also 26:6, 9)

And this fits with what we find in 1 Samuel. Shiloh is never again mentioned as a worship center in Israel; the ark is not taken back there when it is recovered from the Philistines later; and Samuel goes back to his home in Ramah as his center of operations. (Bergen. Even Eli’s descendants are later found in the city of Nob.) 

Given this, along with the capture of the ark, this was surely the lowest point for Israel since their time of slavery in Egypt.

What do we learn from all this?

1. Our sin drives God away from our lives, just as we see in this story. In Isaiah 59:2 the Lord says, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” Our sin creates a barrier or a wall between us and God. And so we have to deal with our sin through confession, repentance and receiving forgiveness from God, so that we can have a relationship with God. This is what Israel failed to do, but this is what the story teaches us. Don’t be like them! Act and make decisive changes so that you can be reconciled with God and experience renewed relationship and help.

2. God keeps his word. Now we like it when God keeps his word to bless us and help us. But God just a surely keeps his word when it comes to judgment and the many warnings that he gives us about walking in sin and unfaithfulness.

In Eli’s case God spoke it through two prophets – and as Scripture says, let everything be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). And it surely came to pass. And just as surely God will keep his word of judgment if we walk in sin. We may think we are fine because nothing bad has happened yet, so it seems like God doesn’t care or that God won’t act, but the other shoe will drop – whether it is today, tomorrow or on the final day. We will reap what we sow. There are consequences for our unfaithfulness to God. Our sin will find us out. And so this should encourage us all the more to deal with our sin and come back into a right relationship with God.

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 4:1b-10

This morning we are back into our series on 1 Samuel. And today we begin a sequence of four stories that focus on the ark of the covenant, and which don’t even mention Samuel. These stories show Israel’s sad state at this time and God’s judgment on their unfaithfulness. And they also tell how Israel came to a place of repentance that sets up the narration of Samuel’s ministry in chapter 7 and beyond.

Our story today is about a battle between Israel and the Philistines, starting in the last half of v. 1 of chapter 4.

Israel is defeated

1bNow Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. 2The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle.

The Philistines were settled along the coast in five key cities. They were the archenemies of Israel at this time and were dominating them militarily (some of the Israelites were forced into servitude – 4:9). The battle took place in Aphek about 20 miles north of Philistine territory and about 20 miles west of Shiloh (where the tabernacle/temple was). Israel was encamped at Ebenezer, probably just East of Aphek. Israel suffered a great loss.

3And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines?”

When ancient peoples fought, as they saw it, it really involved a fight between the God or gods of the two nations. And so if you lost it meant that your god was defeated, or perhaps it would be interpreted that your god was unhappy with you. And this was certainly the case for Israel’s God, Yahweh – the only true God. The Lord God is all powerful, so he must have allowed this, as the Elders surmised.

So the Elders of Israel come up with a plan.

“Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” 4So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

(One is justified in wondering why the Elders didn’t consult Samuel.) The ark of the covenant looked something like this.

ark of the covenantIt was approximately 4x2x2 in size and covered in gold. (Exodus 25:10-22). On the top were two cherubim; angel-like creatures. It served as the visible throne of Israel’s invisible God. He sat, as it were, above the cherubim. As v. 4 says, the Lord, “who is enthroned on the cherubim.” (Also, Jeremiah 316-17; Isaiah 37:16; Psalm 99:1-3) In other places it is also called God’s footstool, which is also throne language (1 Chronicles 28:2; Psalm 99:5; 132:7).

Now it wasn’t necessarily wrong to bring the ark. The ark was used in battle, for instance when Israel defeated the city of Jericho (Joshua 6). And the title for God here, “Lord of hosts,” refers to God as the leader of his armies, both human and angelic.

The problem is that the diagnosis of their defeat is too shallow. In truth God allowed them to be defeated because of their unfaithfulness – which is highlighted here by the mention of “the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas.” As we have already seen these two sons of Eli the high priest were publicly known, flagrant sinners. And Eli did not stop them from being priests while they broke God’s law.

The proper course of action would have been to seek the Lord and to repent of their sins, thus restoring God’s blessing to their lives. But they didn’t think the problem was with them. They just thought that if the ark came, God would come and help them. As v. 4 says,  “that it (the ark) may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.”

The story goes on,

5As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded (or shook).

Israel has new morale and boldness, because they think that God is now with them. [The shout here and the movement of the earth echoes the story of Jericho – Joshua 6:6-21].

6And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?”

You can feel their concern rising. And they must have sent some people to check out what was going on, because next it says,

And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, 7the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. 8Woe 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.

Here their fears are on open displayThey don’t quite get the details right – they talk about Israel’s gods and think the plagues took place in the wilderness, but they have heard of how Yahweh’s power struck the Egyptians. And now here is the visible presence of Yahweh, his throne, in the Israelite camp, which must have been quite unusual for the Israelites to do, at least with the Philistines, since they say, “nothing like this has happened before” – v. 7.

They can only say, “Woe to us, woe to us.” This is certainly what the Elders of Israel had wanted, to put fear into their enemies. But then something suddenly changes, because they don’t stay afraid.

9Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”

After having said “Woe to us” twice, here they rally and call each other to “be men” twice. Instead of giving up, they decide that they need to fight harder than they ever have to overcome such a powerful foe, so that they don’t become the slaves of the Israelites.

And then the story ends,

10So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell.

Even though they brought the ark, the Israelites suffered a much worse defeat, more than seven times the losses.

Israel’s problem

The title today is “The futility of lucky charm religion” A lucky charm is something that you think has power to protect you and give you success. In Israel’s time of difficulty – a military defeat – instead of coming to God and repenting and moving into faithfulness, they treated the ark of the covenant as a lucky charm; as an object that would bring God’s power to protect them and give them success. Instead of right relationship with God, they went with a mere object that represents God to bring them the help they needed.

I say “The futility of lucky charm religion,” because we see the results of this – their defeat was increased over seven-fold. 

This just isn’t how a relationship with God works. God and the things of God are not magical. God can’t be manipulated by us. It is God who is important above all else, including the ark that represents him. And right relationship with God is important above all else – and not other things that represent God to us.

Well, there is –

A challenge for us

– in this story. Sometimes we act just like these ancient Israelites. We are not walking in right relationship with God; we are unfaithful to God. And when God disciplines us with hard times for this – instead of dealing with the real issue – our unfaithfulness (hey, the problem can’t be with me!), we look to things that are connected to God and think that these will guarantee that God will take care of us.

  • Perhaps coming to church is a lucky charm for some. You are walking sin, but think, “If I go to church I believe God will take care of me.” Well, going to church is great. But it can’t take the place of repentance and walking in a right relationship with God.
  • Perhaps it’s calling yourself a Christian. You are unfaithful to God, maybe you don’t even have a relationship with God, but you think, “If I identify as a Christian God will take care of me.” Identifying as a Christian is wonderful. But it can’t take the place of having a right relationship with God. Calling yourself a Christian is not a substitute for actually being a real, faithful Christian.
  • Maybe it’s wearing a cross or having a cross or a crucifix on your wall. There is nothing wrong with this. But jewelry or artwork that represents God will not save you in the day of trouble. Only being in a right relationship with God can do this.
  • Maybe it’s your connection to a godly person. You know that you are not walking with God, but if you know someone or have a family member who is godly you think, “God will take care of me too.”

None of these things are wrong, just as it wasn’t wrong to bring the ark. They are wrong only when we make them substitutes for dealing with the core issue of our sin and unfaithfulness. And given our undealt with unfaithfulness, we turn these things into lucky charms which can’t protect us and take care of us.

No, God is patiently waiting for you to turn from your unfaithfulness and come into a right relationship with him through confession of you sins, repentance and finding forgiveness. And then God will make his power and love known to help you and take care of you.

[This is also the message of Jeremiah in chapter 7 to a later generation of Israelites, who thought that God would not judge their sin because they had the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. Jeremiah refers back to this episode in 1 Samuel. That’s because, as we will see next time, the tabernacle/temple at Shiloh was destroyed, even as the ark was captured by the Philistines. God brings judgment, not salvation when we turn his things into lucky charms.]

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