1 Samuel 4
I love finding out what colliqualisms mean and where they came from – “the cat is out of the bag”, “keeping my powder dry” and so on. So the shocker of R.E.M’s famous song “Losing my religion” is that it is not about losing faith at all. Losing my religion is a Southern US phrase that means losing one’s temper or “at my wit’s end,” meaning as if things were going so bad you could lose your faith in God. Singer Michael Stripe writes “Now, some people still think that it’s a song about religion; it’s not. It’s just a song about having a crush.”
The irony is that in today’s reading the Israelites had swapped trusting God for religion and really did lose their religion! They lost the presence and power of God. Here’s why and what to watch for…
They depended on human wisdom not God’s wisdom.
In v1-3 we see Israel lose 4,000 men in one day in battle. To put that into perspective the UK lost 454 servicemen in the 14 years of Afghan war. D-day in 1944 saw 4413 dead. It was for Israel a horrific day, a crushing defeat. The problem is that the elders of Israel asked each other why – they didn’t go to the prophet Samuel who is completely missing from this entire chapter. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”But Israel didn’t do that. They relied on human wisdom rather than God’s word.
They tried to manipulate God for their own purposes.
In verse 3 the elders decide to bring the ark of the covenant to the battle – without consulting God, or checking with the prophet they thought that the ark would bring them victory. The ark of the covenant was the symbolic place of God’s presence on the earth. They were manipulating God – if we bring the ark, You can make us win. Have you ever done that? If I pass this test I will serve at Newday? If I win the lottery I will give half to the church?…
They focused on religious objects rather than God
Notice when the decide to bring the ark, it was so “that it may come among us and save us from our enemies.” It not he. It was meant to be the visible presence of God on the earth, not a substitute for God himself. Any time we substitute a religious onject for God himself we are in trouble – prayer beads, WWJD bracelets, St Christophers, crucifix necklaces. It is superstition or idolatry.
They expected God’s blessing without repentance.
Hophni and Phinehas bringing the ark is not good. They abused the sacrificial system and slept with the faithful. As they turn up, bringing the symbol of God’s presence, Israel should have been on their knees repenting, tearing their clothes and throwing dust on themselves. Not raising a great shout. They were expecting blessing without holiness, favour without repentance.
The glory has gone. Eli’s daughter in law was pregnany and on receiving the news goes into labour. A baby is born, a day normally of great happiness, is a day of mourning. She names him Ichabod – the glory has depated from Israel.
What do we learn from this disaster? Go with God’s wisdom; Don’t manipulate God with if you do this then…; seek the Lord to stay pure and holy.
Marinate on that