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)
In yesterday’s study we saw Israel turn to superstition in an effort to overcome their problems when they should have turned to God. Instead of repenting of their previous behavior and humbling themselves before God in prayer, they tried to manipulate events by bringing the ark of the covenant of the Lord from its holy place onto the battlefield.
As soon as the ark came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout. The excitement of the soldiers was so great that the earth resounded.
After it was constructed the ark was placed in the Holy of Holies – the innermost and most sacred part of the tabernacle (later the temple). The only item in this room was the ark of the covenant of the Lord.
Since the Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the tabernacle by a veil, very few people ever saw the ark. Only the high priest was allowed in the Holy of Holies and even then only once a year on the day of atonement (Yom Kippur) when he would sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed animal on the area on the lid of the ark known as the mercy seat to atone for the people’s sin. It was on the mercy seat that God would appear to the high priest on this day [Leviticus 16:2].
As we can see, the ark was a very sacred object. It was not meant to be put on display or to send a message to anyone, as it was being used in this passage. The Israelites wanted the Philistines to hear the noise of the shouting and to realize that they (the Israelites) had God on their side.
Much like Christians may wear crosses around their necks to let others know they are Christians, the soldiers here were using the ark to identify themselves with God. But such a relationship doesn’t necessarily exist. The Israelites did not have a relationship with God, just like many cross-wearers today do not.
It is never a cross on a chain or an ark that identifies followers of Christ. It is (or should be) our dependency on God. The proof of one’s relationship with God is not identified by a shout for all to hear, but by quiet humility for all to see.
Of course the ark should never have been taken from the tabernacle. But even so, when it came into the camp the Isralites should have been humbled, not ebullient. They should have become immediately aware of their sinfulness and repented. This is the only right response to being in the presence of God – which is what the ark represented.
All the jumping and shouting meant nothing because these people did not have a relationship with God in the first place. Just because people show emotion doesn’t mean there is faith. In fact, often times (maybe even most times) there is not.
As I was studying today’s passage I kept thinking of some televised church services where people are having some obvious emotional experience. They are shouting and crying. But that means nothing. That is what is on the outside. It is what is on the inside – if anything – that defines one’s relationship with God.
And while is not inconceivable to be moved emotionally when in church or in prayer, the proof of one’s relationship with God is submissive humility [Ephesians 4:2; 1 Peter 5:6; James 4:7]. It is an on-going inner experience, not a singular outward demonstration.
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