“And when the people had come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, ‘Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies.’” 1 Samuel 4:3
Samuel’s life marked the transition of Israel being a people led by judges to being a nation led by kings. Samuel himself was the last of the judges.
The period of the judges was one of great inconsistency in Israel when it came to faithfulness to God. While there was a strong judge leading the people, as a nation, they tended to remain faithful to God but almost as soon as that judge died they fell away, and as they fell away the nations around them began to oppress them once again.
Samuel’s childhood marked a division between judges and the corruption present at the tabernacle in the lives of Hophni and Phinehas is a strong indicator of the spiritual decline present among the people of Israel. Predictably an idolatrous neighbor, this time the Philistines, began to oppress the people.
A call was made for the tribes of Israel to defend their land but the first engagement was a disaster, thousands died in the battle.
“Why has the Lord allowed us to be defeated?” They asked. But they didn’t attribute their unfaithfulness as a cause for the absence of God’s presence. Instead someone came up with the idea that they should bring the Ark of the Covenant to the camp. Apparently they felt that they could compel God’s presence and therefore his protection by bringing this symbol of his throne into the midst of the army.
Hophni and Phinehas were among those that brought the Ark to the field of battle.
This plan was also a disaster. The Philistines driven by fear of the God of Israel attacked with all the ferocity they had and slaughtered thirty thousand of Israel’s foot soldiers. They also captured the Ark of the Covenant.
Friends, we can’t manipulate God into providing for us and protecting us. He desires us but he doesn’t need us. We, on the other hand, whether we know it or not, and whether we desire him or not, we need God. We need his presence in our lives. We need the vitalizing, comfort bringing, strength giving, peace assuring presence that only he can give.
The presence of symbols of God’s presence won’t help us. Only God himself can and he’s told us what he requires: “…on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” Isaiah 66:22
Give yourself humbly to God. Confess your spiritual poverty and unworthiness and submit yourself to him. He’ll accept you and he’ll take care of you.