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God Means What He Says


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)


Over the past few days we’ve been studying a battle scene between Israel and the Philistines. We’ve seen Israel defeated by the Philistines in two separate battles, losing a combined 34,000 men. But as bad as that was, it wasn’t the worst thing that happened.

After the first battle was lost the Israelites naively brought the ark of the covenant into the second battle. They lost that battle much more decisively than the first. And the ark of God was captured.

The capture of the ark would have been devastating to Israel. The ark was the most sacred object in all the nation and was the place where God met with the high priest once a year on the day of atonement (Yom Kippur) [Leviticus 16:2].

The Israelites saw the ark as a good-luck charm; thinking God would never allow it to be damaged, let alone captured by the enemy. But they were wrong.

God allowed the ark to be captured to teach Israel that there was no power in the ark itself. He wanted them to rely on Him, not on superstition. The ark was not as important to Him as His people were. Israel had been drifting away from God for generations. His main goal was to bring them back to Him even if He had to allow the ark to be captured by the heathen Philistines for that to happen.

God was not interested in things – not even the things He commanded the Israelites to build on His behalf, such as the ark or the tabernacle or even the temple. There is no power in those things. All those things merely pointed Israel – or should have pointed Israel – to Him.

But Israel had a distorted view of God. They thought that they were able to manipulate Him. But God doesn’t allow His arm to be twisted by superstitions and ultimatums. God is not a genie to be summoned by man’s beck and call. God is a person.

This does not mean God is a human being. But it does mean He has His own mind. He has His own thoughts and His own ways, all of which are higher are better than ours [Isaiah 55:8-9]. He is not under obligation to obey us. We are better served by obeying Him.

Notice also that the events of the second battle precisely fulfilled the prophecy God had given Eli years before. God had told Eli that, because of his sin, He would cut of Eli’s descendants from serving Him. This would happen long after Eli died so God gave Eli a sign to prove this would happen. That sign was that his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, would die on the same day [1 Samuel 2:34].

It is not common for two siblings to die on the same day unless they were involved in some common tragedy. As priests, Hophni and Phinehas would not normally be involved in a military campaign. They should have been home in Shiloh working at the tabernacle, out of harm’s way.

But the Jewish leaders made the stupid decision to bring the ark into battle. Hophni and Phinehas decided to go along. They were where they should not have been. And both of them died.

God also promised Eli that He was about to do something so outrageous that everyone in Israel would be shocked. The entire nation would be talking about it [1 Samuel 3:11-12]. I’m sure no one ever imagined that the thing that God would do would be to allow the ark to be captured.

The capturing of the ark was God’s way of reminding Israel that they had distanced themselves from Him and needed to return. It was a shocking event that was meant to get Israel’s attention and open their eyes to how far they had moved away from God.

We must not ever think that God is bluffing. He said Hophni and Phinehas would die on the same day and there should have been no doubt that that would happen. He said that something amazingly tragic was going to happen and it did – the ark was lost.

Likewise, God has told us that there is an eternity. And someday there will be a Judgment Day on which every human being who has ever lived will have the state of their souls evaluated to see if they spend eternity with Him (in heaven) or without Him (in hell). This will happen.

God always means what He says and says what He means. It would not be a wise idea to call His bluff.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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United We Stand, Divided We Fall


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.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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There Is No One Who Doesn’t Believe In God


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)


Over the past few days we’ve seen the Israelites reaction and response to being defeated in battle by the Philistines. They understood that God caused their loss but then decided to rely on superstition and emotion in their next battle.

Yesterday we saw that the Philistines heard the Israelite soldiers shouting when the ark of the Lord had come to their campWhen they learned what the shouting was about, they were afraid. As opposed to the Israelites’ behavior before God, the Philistines reaction was appropriate.

Notice that the Philistines recognized that a god had come into the camp of Israel. Israel, on the other hand, only recognized the ark as a good-luck charm. They did not recognize that God was with them.

God is holy. He is a superior being to us. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He does not possess the limitations that we, His creation, do. For that reason there should be a healthy fear (aka reverence) for God. The Israelites did not demonstrate this.

The Philistines, though, realized how much more powerful than they the God of Israel was. This caused them much distress (woe), as it should have.

But rather than submitting themselves to the more powerful God, the Philistines encouraged each other to be men and fight. They decided to fight harder than ever out of fear that they might become slaves to the Hebrews. Such is the way with people who do not recognize God as their god.

People who claim to not believe in God or who believe in some other god, often dig in their heels against the true God and fight against Him. We see this all over the world in various religions such as Islam and Hinduism where many of their members treat Christians violently. Groups like ISIS make it clear that they are fighting Christians and Jews – the very ones who follow the true God.

We also see it in our culture where atheist groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation and various LGBT groups work very hard to eliminate God from society. Just like the people who built the Tower Of Babel, there are many today who think they can be victorious over God – even if they don’t believe He exists.

As a former atheist myself, I can confidently say that no one truly disbelieves in God. They only hope He doesn’t or have convinced themselves He doesn’t because they don’t want to admit what they are. Deep down they know there is a god. For some, that truth has been suppressed deeper than others, to be sure. But there is no one who without a doubt believes God doesn’t exist.

In fact, the very efforts of those who are opposed to Him prove this. If there is no God then it makes no sense to fight against Him as it is ludicrous to fight against something that does not exist. So either God exists and they are fighting against Him. Or God does not exist and they are wasting their quixotic lives.

But notice what is actually motivating people to fight against God. We read that the Philistines thought there were multiple gods. They also thought that these gods had struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. They had their facts wrong (there is only one god and the plagues did not take place in the wilderness).

Everyone who is opposed to God does so out of ignorance. They think they understand but they don’t. They think they know what the Bible says (e.g. “God hates gays”, or “Women are inferior”). But the are wrong. Their opposition to God is based on faulty information.

As we learned yesterday, the right response to God is to humble oneself. This is what the Philistines should have done. It is what the members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation should do. It is what gays and lesbians should do. It is what we all should do.

But human pride prevents people from doing this. Instead people dig in their heels and fight against Him all the while knowing the truth. This will ultimately result in disaster [Leviticus 26:19; Obadiah 1:3;Psalm 10:4; Proverbs 16:18 et. al].

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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Outward Emotion Doesn’t Prove One’s Relationship With God


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.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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Our Problems Should Lead Us To God


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 post we read about a battle between the Philistines and Israel in which Israel was soundly defeated, suffering 4,000 casualties. The elders rightly recognized that their loss was attributable to God [1 Samuel 4:3]. But rather than humbling themselves and going to God in prayer and fasting to find out why He had let them be defeated and what their next step should be, they resorted to human logic. That is never a good idea.

Rather than seeking God’s help in their fight against the Philistines, the elders relied on superstition. They decided to bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord from Shiloh to the battle site.

The Ark of the Covenant was the center piece of the Jewish religious experience. God ordered it to be built and placed in the holiest room of the tabernacle and later the temple. It was a gilded box in which was placed the two tablets containing the ten commandments, written by God Himself. It also contained a jar of manna, from the days the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years [Hebrews 9:4].

On top of the Ark was the mercy seat on either side of which were two golden angels, facing each other, with their wings spread. The mercy seat was God’s throne – the very place where God dwelt in Israel [Exodus 25:10-22]. The Ark may have looked something like this:

d-render-ark-covenant-realistic-39183150

Notice that the elders thought that the ark would save them (it may… save us”). It was not God they were relying on. They were relying on the ark forcing God’s hand. They were trying to manipulate God.

The elders knew the Ark was sacred. They apparently thought, therefore, that God would want to save the Ark and, by extension, they would win a victory over their enemies. We’ll see how that turns out in a couple of days (hint: it doesn’t go as well as they hoped).

The elders actually had no authority over the Ark. The Ark was in the custody of the priests, namely Eli the high priest and his sons Hophni and Phinehas. We know that by this time Eli was old, feeble, and blind [1 Samuel 3:2]. He could have done nothing to stop the Ark from leaving the tabernacle. And since his sons go with the Ark, they apparently didn’t see anything wrong with this plan either.

Of course the elders weren’t the only ones wrong here. The people apparently agreed with this suggestion and sent to Shiloh to have the ark brought from there. It’s obvious everyone in Israel had no idea what they were doing when it came to their relationship with God. They didn’t remember – or hadn’t been taught – that they were to go to God; He didn’t come to them [Deuteronomy 12:5, 11].

Of course, this entire scene reveals the complete spiritual dysfunction in Israel at this time. Notice that no one asked Samuel what should be done. It was through Samuel that God spoke to the people at this time [1 Samuel 4:1]. But no one inquired. No one sought God’s wisdom. They just did whatever they thought was right [Judges 21:25].

When people fall away from God they turn to superstitions and believe external rites will bring blessings. For example, the Catholic Church teaches that a baby that is baptized will go to heaven. They believe that the act of baptism itself is all that is needed to save a person from hell. Likewise, a dying person may have the sacrament of last rites performed, thinking it will ease her transition into the next life. This is all nothing but man-made superstition.

It is not man-made rites or talismans that bring salvation to a person. It is Jesus Himself. We are not told to look to the ark, or to rosary beads, or temple garments (aka Mormon “magic underwear”). We are told to look to God [Isaiah 45:22].

But the problem is we, just like ancient Israel, don’t have godly leadership anymore. Our leaders are just as ignorant as the elders in Israel. So they cannot offer any real solutions to the problems we face. Those who are ignorant cannot lead people to wisdom. They can only lead them to ignorance.

The majority of America is unchurched. Hence they have no relationship with, or understanding of, God because they aren’t being taught how to do so. Our government doesn’t teach this. Our education system certainly doesn’t.

To fill that void, people will turn to other human beings – like their friends or Oprah or Ellen – who don’t have any better understanding of life than they do. This is a classic example of blind leading the blind [Matthew 15:14].

The answer to our problems – both individually and collectively – lies in prayer. We must humbly bring our problems to God. He wants us to do this. If we do, He will answer [Psalm 55:22; 1 Peter 5:7]. Relying on anything – or anyone – else will ultimately result in disaster.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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God Uses A Nation’s Enemies To Bring Judgment Against Them


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 PhilistinesAbout 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.

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The Bible Is Historically Accurate


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)


Samuel is now the main voice through whom God speaks to all Israel. During this period in Israel’s history they were facing serious threats to their existence from the Philistines.

The Philistines lived in the area that comprises modern-day Gaza and towns north (shown in red on this map):

By Kingdoms_of_Israel_and_Judah_map_830.svg: *Oldtidens_Israel_&_Judea.svg: FinnWikiNoderivative work: Richardprins (talk)derivative work: Richardprins (talk) - Kingdoms_of_Israel_and_Judah_map_830.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10876701

The name “Philistine” comes from the Hebrew. Their Greek name – “palaistinei” – gives us our modern-day name “Palestine”. The Philistines originally came from Crete [Amos 9:7] and brought with them many advanced technologies from the Greek culture, including iron weapons which were superior to those used by Israel, which were made of bronze. Even after Israel adopted iron weapons, they did not have the technology or expertise to care for these weapons and relied on the Philistines to sharpen and repair them [1 Samuel 13:19-21].

The Philistines were also known for their manufacture and consumption of alcoholic beverages, notably beer. Many breweries and wineries have been unearthed in ancient Philistia as have numerous beer mugs and other drinking vessels. Samson’s wedding, as recorded in the book of Judges, was a week-long drinking party, not unlike those known to be held by the Philistines during their celebrations [Judges 14].

With their more advanced weaponry and aggressive military tactics, the Philistines were able to repeatedly invade and harass Israel for about 200 years. Yet they were never able to displace them from the land. Obviously God was on Israel’s side having had promised that land to Israel. It wasn’t until King David that the Philistines were defeated and ceased to be a thorn in Israel’s side [2 Samuel 5:22-25].

From what we can tell the episode in today’s passage took place shortly after Samson’s death at the hands of the Philistines. The Philistines were Israel’s primary enemy to the west at this time [Judges 15-16]. And perhaps, as a result of killing Samson, they felt emboldened to invade Israel.

Since the Philistines encamped at Aphek – which is in Israeli territory – we can assume they were the aggressors. Considering their military might – and Israel’s military weakness – at this time, this makes sense. Israel, as a result, went out to battle against them. Israel was fighting for their existence against a superior enemy.

All this is interesting, but the most interesting aspect is that the Bible has recorded information that we know is factual and which lines up with history and geography.

For example, historians have tons of information about the Philistines from outside the Bible. And all the mentions of the Philistines in the Bible sync up with what we know about them from these other sources.

The Bible also tells us that this battle took place somewhere between the towns of Aphek and Ebeneazer. We can identify the ancient town of Aphek as modern-day Antipatris. In 1972 the location of Eben-Ezer was unearthed at Izbet Zartta. There was also found at Izbet Zartta an inscription describing this battle, including the capture of the ark, although the exact translation of the inscription is doubted by some.

The point is the Bible is accurate. It references real peoples and real places that are known to historians. Not all so-called inspired texts can make that claim. For example, while the Book of Mormon does refer to historical events, none were contemporary at the time it was written by Joseph Smith in the early 19th century. Instead it refers to peoples (e.g. Nephites and Lamanites) who allegedly existed 1,800 years earlier. But no evidence of these people has ever been found.

In fact, many reputable archaeological research organizations including Yale University (in 1973), The Smithsonian (in 1982), and National Geographic (in 1998) have publicly stated that there is no historical or archaeological confirmation of any of the people, places, or events mentioned in the Book of Mormon. In some cases the historical references in the Book of Mormon have been proven false. A similar conclusion also exists regarding the Quran and other religious writings.

This is all very important because a faith-system whose writings are unproven at best and proven-false at worst is not worth following. Only the Bible has proven itself to be an accurate record of history. And while we don’t have external corroboration for everything in the Bible, we are able to corroborate much of it. It’s also worth noting that we have yet to discover any historical record that contradicts an event described in the Bible.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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God Speaks Through The Unlikely, Not The Likely


11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’” 15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.” Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.” 19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.
(1 Samuel 3:11-21)


As we learned yesterday, all of Israel came to recognize that God was speaking through Samuel. What is amazing about this was that Samuel was still a boy. Notice the phrase “as he grew up“. Samuel was not yet fully grown. As best we can tell, he was about twelve years old here.

God will very often use the most unlikely of people to accomplish His goals. We see this repeatedly in the Bible. A few examples:

Moses was a criminal who had murdered an Egyptian and was living in Exile in modern-day Saudi Arabia [Exodus 2:11-16]. Not to mention he was far from eloquent [Exodus 4:10]. Yet God used Him to deliver a message to the most powerful man in all of Egypt [Exodus 5:1].

David was just a boy – the youngest and least impressive of eight brothers [1 Samuel 16:6-13]. Yet God chose him to be king of Israel.

Esther was a Jewish woman who became the unlikely queen of Persia. God used her to save the Jewish people from extinction [Esther 7:1-7].

Saul was devout Jew who did all he could to stop people from believing in Jesus, even killing them [Acts 7:54-58]. Yet God used him to plant churches all throughout Asia Minor and Europe and to write most of the New Testament.

Peter was a fisherman who had an impulsive personality but down deep was a coward [John 18:15-18, 25-26]. Yet God used him to deliver His message to the Jews after Jesus ascended into heaven.

Similarly, Samuel was just a boy when God called him to be the first prophet in Israel. 

Samuel has essentially been raised in the tabernacle by Eli, his surrogate father, from the time he was five. He faithfully served there doing menial, but important, tasks like opening the doors and doing errands for Eli.

As a result of his faithfulness, God rewarded him with further ministry opportunities. Because he was faithful in the small things, God gave him more important things to do [Luke 16:10; 1 Timothy 1:12].

At a time in Israel when the nation was not paying any attention to Him, God raised up an unlikely prophet. The fact that this prophet was just a boy proved that his message was from God because how else could such a young person be able to speak such truthful words 100% of the time?

God will not use those who are already famous or those who people already consider to be leaders. Otherwise, people will not understand and believe that the message comes from God. They will give credit to the human speakers, not to God. And as a result, people will not be drawn to Him.

He will not speak through Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton. He will not speak through Oprah or Madonna or Kanye. If He did these people would get the credit and people would put their faith in them for their futures. As a result, they’d end up in hell after they die.

God wants people to be drawn to Him not because He is an egomaniac. He wants people to be drawn to Him – and Him alone – because He – and only He – has the power to save people from their sins.

So He doesn’t speak through those that the world knows. He speaks through those that the world knows not.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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Our Faithfulness To God Can Impact Others


11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’” 15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.” Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.” 19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.
(1 Samuel 3:11-21)


Over the past few days we’ve studied God’s call to Samuel to become a prophet. God gave Samuel a message which he fully and faithfully delivered to Eli at the appropriate time, despite it not being a pleasant message to deliver.

After years of being employed as a servant to the priests in the tabernacle, Samuel was now a prophet. His training was in one area but after he came to know God [1 Samuel 3:7, 10], God called him to do something else with his life.

This is a good lesson for those of us who are God’s children. Before we know God we do one thing with our lives. Maybe we are a doctor, or teacher, or computer programmer. But after being born-again, it is very possible that God may call us to do something else with our lives – something that more directly impacts His eternal kingdom.

While there is no guarantee that God will do this we should not resist Him if He does. No matter where we are at in life we can live for God in some way. A doctor can volunteer her skills to help others through a Christian charity that brings health and the gospel to those who don’t know it. A lawyer can donate part of his income to his church or charity that does work in the name of Jesus.

God doesn’t always call us to change professions. But He may. I know many pastors who were not believers in college. They were studying to be stock brokers or teachers. But after they came to know Christ, God called them into full-time ministry.

When the Lord does this, and we obediently follow His leading, He will be with us to make sure we succeed just like He was with Samuel and continued to appear at Shiloh (where Samuel was living) where He revealed Himself to Samuel.

God did not leave Samuel on his own to figure things out. He continued to teach Him how to be a prophet. But notice how God did this. He did it through His word.

God’s word – the Bible – is our main source of information about Him. He certainly speaks to us via an inner voice when we pray. But we primarily get our information about God from the Bible.

The result was that everything Samuel said about God was true – God let none of his words fall to the ground. An arrow that falls to the ground has missed its mark – it has failed to accomplish its mission. The words of a true prophet never fall to the ground. They are always 100% accurate.

Since everything Samuel said came true, all of Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was a prophet of the Lord. Dan was a town in northern Israel and Beersheba a town in the south. This phrase is similar to our saying “from New York to California” – that is, the entire country.

God can use us to impact others, just like He did Samuel. Maybe its just a few people – like our friends on Facebook. Or maybe it is an entire nation. Or, as in the case of Billy Graham, the entire world.

But we have to be like Samuel was – open to hearing His voice, faithfully studying His word, and willing to do with our lives that which He asks us to.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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God’s Discipline Is Always Fair


11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’” 15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.” Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.” 19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.
(1 Samuel 3:11-21)


Yesterday we read how Samuel told Eli the words God had spoke against him (Eli). Today we study Eli’s reaction.

Previously, Eli had received a message from God through a mysterious stranger [1 Samuel 2:27-36]. It seems that message was delivered months or even years before God spoke to Samuel. In that first message, God told Eli that He would bring judgment against Eli and his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, for their behavior which they knew was wrong yet engaged in anyway.

It may be that this first message to Eli was a warning and if he and his sons changed their behavior God would spare them. But they did not. The message God spoke to Samuel confirmed His previous message and made it clear that God was no longer willing to wait for Eli to change his own behavior.

For all his faults, Eli was a man of God. He was a man of God who was involved in sinful behavior. Bible critics often want to point to the behavior of professing Christians as “proof” God does not exist. They believe, mistakenly, that someone who is born-again should live a perfect life. But this is not a reasonable conclusion.

All human beings are flawed right from birth. We do things, say things, and think things that are wrong and which go against God’s design for our lives. It is part of our nature. This is how we are [Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10, 23]. We are all no good. We are all inherently evil. This is true of Christians and non-Christians.

The difference between Christians and non-Christians is simply that Christians have come to understand that their behavior is wrong and have believed in God’s plan to forgive our sins through Jesus. We have repented – changed our minds regarding our sinful nature – and now agree with God. As a result, we have eternal life with God in heaven forever [John 3:16].

Sometimes our behavior becomes an addiction, like pornography or drug use. Sometimes we don’t want to change our behavior because it will bring ridicule from family or friends. Eli knew his behavior was wrong. But for whatever reason he was unable or unwilling to stop it.

But notice his reaction when told by young Samuel that the judgment God warned him (Eli) about was definitely coming: he resigned himself to it.

Eli knew that God’s judgment against him was justified. He knew that He is the Lord and he submissively surrenders to God’s decision much like Aaron did when his sons sinned before God [Leviticus 10:3]. Contrast this with Cain who after killing his brother Abel, whined about his punishment being unfair [Genesis 4:13-14].

God is righteous in all his ways and holy in all his works. He is not impatient or impetuous. If anything, God is overly patient – more patient that He should be. Therefore we have no right to complain against Him.

When we receive discipline from God for our sinful behavior we should not whine or grumble. We should quietly and willingly submit to His authority and accept His decision [Micah 7:9]. 

After all, He loves us immensely and is only trying to get us on the right path [Hebrews 12:7].

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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