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)
Today we read of a second battle between the Philistines and Israel. This first battle took place some days earlier after the Philistines had invaded Israel. Israel tried to displace them but was defeated, losing 4,000 soldiers in the process [1 Samuel 4:1-2].
In order to make things go better the next time, the leaders of Israel brought the most sacred object in all Israel, the ark of the covenant of the Lord, from its place in the tabernacle at Shiloh onto the battlefield. As we read today, this did not have the victorious effect Israel was hoping for.
Notice that the Philistines fought. But our text does not say that Israel also fought. It simply says that Israel was defeated. The implication is that they did not fight very hard or maybe not at all. They apparently thought that simply having the ark of the covenant with them would ensure their victory. They thought that God would do all the fighting for them in order to save the ark from destruction or capture. They were wrong.
Long before these battles, Israel had stopped recognizing God as their leader. Instead they were relying on human wisdom to decide what was right and what was wrong [Judges 21:25].
The people of Israel certainly believed that God existed. But their relationship with Him was broken. They didn’t realize that this broken relationship was the reason for their problems, including their defeat at the hands of the Philistines.
They thought that just because they were Israel – God’s chosen people – and that God had taken care of them in the past that He would do so now. So they didn’t fight as hard as they should have. They took God’s blessings for granted, never thinking He would allow them to be defeated.
But not only did He let them be defeated again, this second defeat was even worse than the first one. Thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel lost their lives. The remaining people fled. But notice that they didn’t flee back to the camp as they did after the first defeat. Every one of them fled to his own home.
They were no longer united as a nation. They returned to their homes, ready to defend their personal space. They would no longer fight for their country but for themselves. This entire scenario sounds exactly like the United States.
The United States is no longer a country that is united. Every one seeks their own rights. Every one is out for himself or herself. Our mentality is no longer win-win but win-lose. We want what we want even if it comes at someone else’s (or even the country’s) expense.
This attitude has arisen because our leaders, like the leaders of Israel, are ignorant. When nations are led by people who do not know God, those nations become fractured and fall apart.
Those who lead our country today – either as official leaders (such as elected officials or company executives) or unofficial leaders (such as entertainers) – have no regard for God. Many publicly reject the idea of His existence. Others blatantly reject His word as truth.
God is the only source of unity [Malachi 2:10]. When we reject Him we have nothing to hold us together. We are left only with our vain selves that selfishly protect our own assets and ego. A nation that lives like that will not last for long.
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