19 Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. 20 And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention. 21 And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”
(1 Samuel 4:19-22)
Yesterday saw Eli’s reaction to the capture of the ark of the covenant by the Philistines. Today God tells us about the reaction of Eli’s daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas.
At the time she was pregnant and was very close to her due date. When she heard the news that the ark had of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead she went into labor. Sadly, she died while giving birth.
While she was dying the women attending her tried to comfort her because she had borne a son. For a Jewish woman having a son was considered a great blessing. But this did not console her. The national tragedy was too great for her.
Certainly this was a bittersweet moment for this woman. She had a new child but the tragic news of the day overshadowed what should have been a joyous occasion. As such she names the child Ichabod which means “no glory” or “no greatness”.
This woman believed that the glory had departed from Israel. She, like the others in town whose reaction we saw yesterday, believed that God had abandoned Israel as evidenced by the ark of God having been captured.
As we’ll see as we continue our study of 1 Samuel, this was not true. God had not departed Israel. He was still very much with them. And He had great things in store for them. Things for Israel will get better – much better. But first God had to humble them and get them to return to Him so He could bless them.
But people often misunderstand. They don’t see God’s discipline for what it is. Rather than admit that it was necessary and change our sinful ways, we often see it as a devastating event. But God doesn’t look at it this way. God disciplines those He loves [Hebrews 12:6]. God disciplines so that we will correct our behavior.
In this case, as we’ve seen, Israel was no longer a godly nation. They didn’t seek His council. They simply did what they wanted [Judges 21:25]. As such God couldn’t bless them.
God isn’t going to bless those who aren’t walking with Him. This includes individuals and nations. If He did then people would give the credit for such blessings to other human beings or to karma and they would never come closer to God.
God first has to get the people to recognize Him for who He is. So He disciplines in the hopes that we will learn. If we don’t then things will get worse until we do (assuming we ever do).
The ultimate definition of “hell” is “life without God”. God will not be present in hell. That is why hell will be so bad. The only ones there will be sinful angels and people. There will be nothing good there because good only comes from God [James 1:17].
Even though the woman in our passage misunderstood what had happened, her thought process is correct: there is nothing more devastating than not having God’s presence.
This is certainly true on earth. Having God with us results in a better life. But it will be much more true in eternity.
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