1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. 2 The 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. 3 And when the people came to 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 here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” 4 So 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. 5 As 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. 6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, 7 the 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. 8 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. 9 Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.” 10 So 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. 11 And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
(1 Samuel 4:1-11)
Yesterday we were introduced to a battle that took place between the Philistines and Israel. At this time in Israel’s history this was not unusual as the Philistines repeatedly invaded Israel for about 200 years. In this case, Israel was defeated by the Philistines. About 4,000 Israeli men were killed.
When the people returned to the camp, the elders of Israel asked “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines?” This is a very good question.
Notice that the elders understood that their defeat came about because God allowed it to happen. But they didn’t understand why God allowed it to happen. Frankly, the answer is obvious.
At this time in Israel’s history they had been in the Promised Land for a few generations. When they first entered the land they were excited because of the wonderful things God was going for them. He brought them out of the wilderness (where they had wandered for forty years) and He defeated their enemies in the land [Joshua 5:13-6:27].
But after a couple of hundred years had now gone by the people were no longer following God. They were doing whatever they thought was right [Judges 21:25]. They were not honoring God with their lives. And, as we recently learned, God will honor those who honor Him. Those who do not honor Him, He will not honor [1 Samuel 2:30].
The Israelites understood that God controlled their victories and defeats. But they did not understand that their own behavior played a part in whether God gave them victory or not.
When things went right they forgot about God. But when things went wrong they blamed God. Furthermore, they did not see the flaws in their own behavior. They thought they deserved God’s blessing all the time.
This reminds me of our current culture. We, too, are blind to our sinfulness. We don’t think we’re wrong to abort unborn human beings. We don’t think we’re wrong to celebrate, promote, and take pride in homosexual behavior. We don’t think we’re wrong to run up massive debt, or swindle people out of their life savings with surreptitious stock-market shenanigans. We think we are pretty good. But we are far from it [Ecclesiastes 7:20; Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10,23].
And just like the ancient Israelis we wonder where God is when something tragic happens. When a mass shooting takes place in an elementary school we wonder why God didn’t stop it. When Muslim hijackers fly planes into our buildings killing thousands we wonder why God allowed it to happen.
If something happens we think is good we take the credit. If something happens we think is bad we blame God. Invariably after some disaster – man-made or natural – CNN will run an article on their website with a headline with a large font-size reading “Where’s God?”. They ask this question, just like the ancient Israelite did – as if God has unwarrantedly abandoned them.
The answer is simple: God is exactly where we have placed Him. Just like the ancient Israelites we have pushed God out of our lives. We’ve told Him we don’t want anything to do with Him. We’ve removed Him from schools, government, and entertainment. In His place we’ve installed money, sex, and self as our gods.
Then we have the audacity to blame Him when He doesn’t come to our rescue when calamity strikes. It doesn’t get more arrogant than that.
God allowed Israel’s enemies to have victory over them. I have no doubt that He is doing the same thing with the United States and our enemies. And He’s doing it for the same reasons He allowed the Philistines to have victories over Israel.
God uses a nation’s enemies to bring judgment against them. We see that repeatedly in the Bible. And God does not change. He uses the same strategies today.
Just like He did with Israel, God is trying to humble us; to invite us back into a relationship with Him so He can bless us and protect us. For without God, nothing good can happen [James 1:17]. The only reason the United States has had so much success over the past 240 years is because God granted us that success. But during that time we walked with Him, for the most part. Over the past few decades we’ve distanced ourselves from God, however. And as a result, our blessings have been fewer and further between.
Ultimately, Israel was conquered by Assyria and Babylon. I have no doubt that the United States faces a similar future if we don’t turn back to God. And do it quickly.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.