They Lost the Ark
In 1 Samuel 4 Israel goes out to battle against the Philistines. They draw up in battle against them and no doubt confident that they would emerge victorious, they suffer a great loss. 1 Samuel 4:2 says that four thousand men of Israel are killed that day.
They come back to their camp and ask an important question. They asked “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines?” It’s an important question to ask and to seek the answer to. Sadly though, they didn’t seek the answer but rather they thought up a supposed solution to the problem.
They send to Shiloh and have the Ark of the Covenant brought into their camp. Eli and Hophni, the sons of Eli, accompany it to the battle field. We know that from 1 Samuel 2 these two men were ungodly and were disgracing the position they held among the people of God but none the less they are there.
Israel’s army and leaders are full of excitement and passion when the Ark makes its way into the camp, so much so that the text says the earth resounded. The Philistines are taken a little of guard by this but muster up the courage to go and fight and not only defeat Israel again mightily but also capture the very object Israel's identity.
Israel lost the Ark… When Eli was told it seems he was more concerned over the Ark than his own sons and dies when he hears the news. Eli’s daughter-in-law who was pregnant also seemed more distraught over the Ark than of her husband’s death and named her son Ichabod which means “the glory has departed from Israel.”
We remember that this event takes place in the time of the judges. This means that if Israel went out into battle and suffered defeat or faced oppression from another nation it was ultimately their fault. Samuel eventually answers that question they asked back in chapter 4 when he says in chapter 7 “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign Gods and the Ashtoreth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hands of the Philistines.”
Instead of seeking the answer from the Lord when they were defeated in battle the first time and recognized that God was against them they depended upon themselves to come up with the solution. How often do we do the same today? We may recognize struggles or sin in our lives at times but instead of seeking God for his forgiveness and grace we depend upon ourselves to fix the problem and “deserve” the forgiveness.
Instead of understanding that God’s presence was meant to be in their hearts Israel focused on the literal representation of God’s presence. While acts of worship are commanded and vital to obedience how often do we put so much emphasis on literal acts of worship rather than what’s in the heart?
How sad it was for Israel to lose the Ark. Not because of the physical object but the message God was sending them by allowing it to be taken. Let’s not make the same mistake and lose God’s presence in our lives. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psa 16:11)