There are some things we take a little too lightly.
We sometimes take lightly the warnings about obeying road rules until we have an accident ourselves, or someone close to us has one. We don’t so much fear the ‘weight of the law’ but the consequences that come from breaking it.
God’s glory has a ‘weight’ to it that we should take even more seriously.
‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ .
Taking God Lightly 4:1-11
The nation of Israel, hear the word of God through Samuel, a word of judgement against Eli’s house (4:1),but if they really believed the word to be true – they would not have done what they did in bringing the ark of the covenant out to the battle as a ‘good luck charm’, and the very men that came out from Shiloh with the ark were the men God said He was going to judge ( 3:11-14;2:26;4:4,11b). This is not going to end well.
We would call something like this ‘sacrilegious’, but there is far more happening here than just desecrating something holy. What the Israelites did was take God lightly.
Israel had ‘tamed’ God. He was not all-powerful Sovereign.He was quite literally their ‘God-in-a-box’ ( Eugene Peterson)
“The living God cannot be used, manipulated, or managed. Spiritual power is not a matter of getting our hands on the right method or technology. The personal God cannot be reduced to an impersonal power.” Eugene Peterson
There are ways we do the same.
-We want all the comfort of a divine reality without any of the demands.
-We ‘observe’ and ‘participate’ in or at church, without actually being the church.
-We have knowledge of the Gospel, and it’s power, but we do not seek to live it out.
-We say we believe in God and think He can help us, heal us, guide us, but we do not pray or ask others for prayer.
-We have an appearance of godly wisdom of self-control and restraint of our appetites, but our hearts are far from God.
When we make light of God, we cannot expect to have a burden for His glory, and our end is sure defeat.
The great irony is, that while the Israelites were busy not taking God seriously, the Philistines were. ( 4:7-11).
They have a better theology and knowledge of God than God’s people do. They remembered the stories of the Exodus ( 4:8;6:6), and although the Israelites also knew the story of their redemption, they did not live in light of it.
In 4:1-2 they lose to the Philistines “without” God. In 4:10-11 they still lose, even though they have the symbol of God’s presence with them.
They didn’t lose because God wasn’t on their side, but because they were not on His. God’s glory must central to the life of His people. If it is not, we are in a losing battle.
The Death of Eli 4:12-18
The news of this defeat comes to Eli, who awaited, not to hear of the news of his sons ( their death came as no surprise to him as he had accepted God’s judgement – 3:18 ) his heart trembled for the safety of the ark( 4:13). He had failed so disastrously in his priestly duties, that even the most sacred symbol of the presence of God had been taken from it’s rightful place.
Eli’s felt the weight of the seriousness of God’s glory, but although his heart now as he died was for God’s glory and holiness, his life had been lived for his own indulgence and his compromises had terrible consequences.
‘The Glory Has Departed’ 4:19-22
The news of death kept spreading, and it brings on the birth of Eli’s grandson.
What a legacy to be born into. This child should have been born as heir to the priesthood, instead he comes into the world the very day his grandfather, father, and uncle die as a result of direct judgement from God.
Phineas’ wife names the child “Ichabod”, because the glory of God had departed from Israel.
Where had the glory gone?
In a way, it had been stolen by Eli’s family. Their contempt for the sacrifices of God and other pagan things they had done had taken away God’s glory so they could have their own.
We bemoan the ‘missing’ glory of God in our day, and in some ways it’s true, even in some churches, that God’s glory has left, but God’s glory is never ‘missing’ it is just too often stolen, or misplaced.
– We don’t give Him the sacrifices He requires ( Psalm 51:16-17;Romans 12:1).
We don’t give Him the worship He deserves for what He has done.
We do things to please ourselves or men more than to please God.
The Weight of Glory 5:1-7:2
The captured ark was taken by the Philistines first to Ashdod (5:1-2) where they placed it with their idol, Dagon.
What was meant to be sign of the defeat of Israel and the Israelite’s God, soon turned into an embarrassment and then a humiliation, both spiritually and physically for the Philistines.
Dagon falls over, gets propped up, then gets decapitated( 5:3-5).
If you have a god that needs your help to stand up when it falls over, you probably need to reconsider your belief system. If your god can’t defend itself, you have a false god.
Our God needs no propping up.
Before THE LORD, all other gods must fall and will fall. Only YAHWEH, the God of Israel has glory and substance. Nothing else can rival Him.
He cannot and will not co-exist with our idols.
“The hand of God was heavy against the people” ( 5:6;9;11;6:3;5) wherever they sent the ark to escape the judgement, the heavy hand of God followed, and no one escaped this humiliating punishment.
The tumours they received were a sign of uncleanness, of impurity, of disgrace.
When you disgrace God, you will end up disgraced yourself.(2:30). When you seek to humble God, rather than being humbled by Him, His hand will be heavy on you.
Judgement follows wherever God is not taken seriously.
The great danger is not that people do not believe in God. Those who don’t believe may one day come to believe, by grace. The greater danger is that people would believe and know of God, as the Philistines did ( 4:7-8), but then ask Him to co-exist with all the other ‘beliefs’ they have as well. That is dangerous because an absolute truth can never be watered down to be palatable. It must be accepted, not merely ‘accommodated’.
There are people we have as ‘friends on FaceBook, but we certainly don’t ‘follow’ them. You can’t treat Jesus that way.
The Philistines knew God’s hand was upon them (6:5) and knew again the danger of hardening their hearts towards Him ( 6:6).
They sent the ark back, with a guilt offering, hoping to appease God.
What a relief to us that the ‘appeasement’ of God’s wrath doesn’t come through our efforts.
The ark is back in Israel, where it belongs (6:13-16) , but even the Israelites had not yet learnt their lesson. Some of the men take the sacredness of the ark lightly yet again, and now the Israelites mourn over the weight of God’s hand of judgement. ( 6:19-20).They cry out that God’s holiness was too great for them to bear, and it is.
This is the turning point in story. We might well smirk at the humour of Dagon falling down, or the Philistines getting humiliating tumours, but this incident brings us back to where we are meant to be – God’s people are still taking God lightly, and they are finally starting ask the right kind of questions,questions we need answers to also.
When the weight of God’s glory presses down, who can stand?
Who is safe in the presence of a Holy God?
The Philistines were no real threat to Israel. God’s glory and their holy obedience to Him is what they should be concerned about, and they are realising they need help to do what God has called them to do – be holy because He is holy.
They ‘lamented after the Lord for twenty years’ ( 7:2), and God hears their prayers, and sees their hearts are finally ready to receive more of His Word, and Samuel’s words again go out to all of Israel, and this time, they are ready to hear and obey ( 7:3).
The Thunder of Heaven and the Rock of Assurance 7:3-17
Samuel speaks to the hearts of the Israelites, because that’s where their cry and lament had come from.
There is no point in changing our behaviours unless our hearts have been captured by God’s glory.
He calls the people together for prayer, for fasting, for worship, for confession of sins, and they come. They truly repent from other gods. They are not just sorrowful, they worship. They don’t just turn from sin and idols, but they turn back to God, which is what true repentance is.
The thunder of heaven came down ( 7:10), and God delivered His people. What a way for the glory that had once departed, to return! It also again, fulfils Hannah’s prophecy in chapter 2. ( 2:10)
The thunder of heaven is a sign to us that it is God who does the work of deliverance and salvation.
God takes the weight of His glory so seriously, that He took all of that weight on Himself.
Jesus took the full weight. He was crushed for our iniquities.
We should die for what we have done, but instead we have this Ebenezer we can come to, the Cross of Christ, and we can say, ‘This is what God had done to help me.’
The Israelites now told their history in such a way that they no longer knew the name of place of their defeats, only of their salvation. (4:1;7:12).
Our rock of assurance is that Lamb of God Who bore the thunder from heaven so we could be delivered.
Truly, we can say again with Hannah, “There is no rock like our God!”( 2:2)