This week we return again to the Ancient Near East of nearly 3000 years ago. We return to a time when Israel and the Philistines were locked in an ebbing and floing struggle. Last week we read of Samuel being brought onto the scene by God. This week we see the Israelites seemingly trying to take things into their own hands. After a defeat to the Philistines, the elders of Israel ask “Why did the Lord bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.” (1 Sam 4:3)
On the surface, this seems to be quite a rational and logical thought. If God is with us then of course we will gain victory! … Or so they thought. To much fanfare and excitement, the ark of the covenant of the Lord Almighty enters their camp. And in spite of their thinking that God would win for them, the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tents (1 Sam 4:10). 30, 000 foot soldiers were lost, the ark of God was captured and Eli’s sons died.
Why? If we have learnt anything so far, it is that God is sovereign over the entire universe. His plans cannot be thwarted and God cannot be contained. When the Israelites thought of bringing the ark into battle, they were conceiving of God as a lucky amulet or attempting to manipulate God by thinking that “He would not let the ark be captured!” But God cannot be confined to our human purposes and desires. God cannot be told how he will display his power and glory. The Creator is not manipulated nor cow-tows to his creation. And mankind has always struggled with this concept. For that is how they treated our Lord Jesus – saw him as weak and pathetic; rejected the way that God was going to save the world; demanded God to work in ways that might impress us. But God is God and we are not. As for God, his way is perfect: The LORD’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him (Psalm 18:30).
And so the message of 1 Samuel 4 to us is the same – give God the honor and respect that is due to Him, continue trusting and be obedient to him and his plans all the days of our life.