1 Samuel 4:1-11

Philistines Take the Ark in Victory

Thus the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to meet the Philistines in battle and camped beside Ebenezer while the Philistines camped in Aphek. The Philistines drew up in battle array to meet Israel. When the battle spread, Israel was [a]defeated before the Philistines who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield. When the people came into the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us take to ourselves from Shiloh the ark of the covenant of the Lord, that [b]it may come among us and deliver us from the power of our enemies.” So the people sent to Shiloh, and from there they carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts who sits above the cherubim; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

As the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth resounded. When the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, “What does the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” Then they understood that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp. The Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who shall deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. Take courage and be men, O Philistines, or you will become slaves to the Hebrews, as they have been slaves to you; therefore, be men and fight.”

10 So the Philistines fought and Israel was [c]defeated, and every man fled to his tent; and the slaughter was very great, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

What? They took the ark into battle, and MORE men died? Why would God do that to them?

There are two possibilities, and a very good chance both were in play here:

  1. They weren’t really serving God at this point, and they hadn’t even consulted Him about going against the Philistines.
  2. They still weren’t interested in God, they just wanted Him to solve their problems by taking the ark into battle.

In other words, the Israelites treated the ark as a God. As if just having a token of God’s presence in their midst would give them power over their enemy.

But God wasn’t interested in winning a battle for a people whose hearts were cold to Him. He wanted their devotion, not just a Hail Mary attempt to win a battle.

The same applies to us in our lives. If we aren’t really following God, and we only call out to Him in distress, why would He answer? But God knows our heart, and some who do so, call out to Him in earnest. They really do want to follow Him now that they’ve hit bottom, and God will honor that.

But don’t treat God like a vending machine in the sky. He desires your love, and devotion, your trust and honor. Short change Him, and you’ll only hurt yourself. Give Him your whole heart, and see what God can do in your life.

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