1 Samuel 4:1b-11 (Part 1 of 3)
The Phillistines Capture the Ark

Yesterday morning, I found out as soon as I returned from my usual morning 1 hour and 40 minute walk (usually between 4:20am and 6:00am weekday mornings) that my Michelle (my stepdaughter) lost her paternal grandfather to the Lord this morning. He had been lingering on in hospice care for the last few weeks. This grandfather is Michelle’s biological father’s dad. Although Michelle’s mom and dad divorced long ago, Elena still has fond memories of her ex-husband’s parents. Michelle was close with her paternal grandparents so you can understand that she is distraught this morning. But from what I understand of Michelle’s grandfather, he was a devout Christian and a caring man. Just and old school Southern man that loved the Lord and did things the right way and a man of honor, dignity, and morality. You might consider him backward or boring by today’s standards. He saved his money, lived modestly, gave generously and quietly, and provided for his family. From what I know of this man from the glowing reviews that my wife gave him, there is no doubt in my mind that at 5:55am this morning, Michelle’s grandfather made the transition from his earthly shell of a body into the presence of the Lord and is no longer wracked by the pain of being a soul in an earthen vessel that was incapacitated. Michelle can take comfort in knowing that her grandfather is now in heaven and is free of pain and is celebrating the joy that is living in the actual presence of God in heaven. She can take comfort in knowing that her grandfather was not one to fake his faith. He lived it out quietly and unassumedly each day. He was, from what I understand, the real deal. What he was at church on Sunday is what he was on Monday-Saturday, every day. The fact that this man lived out his faith every day is something to take comfort in. There is joy in knowing that someone you loved is dancing in heaven right now and will do so for eternity.

For what shall we be known when we die? Will we be known for being a man of God? Will we be known for being a man whose word you can count on? Will we be known for being a man of integrity? Will we be known for being a man of morality of doing the right thing even when it costs us something? Will we be known for being a man who would give another person the shirt off their back if necessary? Will we be known for being a man who was generous to a fault? Will we be known as a man who lived by biblical principles? Will we be known as a man who shared his faith whenever the opportunity was presented?

Or will God be our fallback position? Will we love God only in times of crisis? Will we love God only when the chips are down? Will we love God only when we have no other option? That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through this passage, 1 Samuel 4:1b-11 – how there are people who treat God as a fallback position or as a last resort. Let’s read the passage now:

At that time Israel was at war with the Philistines. The Israelite army was camped near Ebenezer, and the Philistines were at Aphek. 2 The Philistines attacked and defeated the army of Israel, killing 4,000 men. 3 After the battle was over, the troops retreated to their camp, and the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?” Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it[a] will save us from our enemies.”

4 So they sent men to Shiloh to bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, were also there with the Ark of the Covenant of God. 5 When all the Israelites saw the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord coming into the camp, their shout of joy was so loud it made the ground shake!

6 “What’s going on?” the Philistines asked. “What’s all the shouting about in the Hebrew camp?” When they were told it was because the Ark of the Lord had arrived, 7 they panicked. “The gods have[b] come into their camp!” they cried. “This is a disaster! We have never had to face anything like this before! 8 Help! Who can save us from these mighty gods of Israel? They are the same gods who destroyed the Egyptians with plagues when Israel was in the wilderness. 9 Fight as never before, Philistines! If you don’t, we will become the Hebrews’ slaves just as they have been ours! Stand up like men and fight!”

10 So the Philistines fought desperately, and Israel was defeated again. The slaughter was great; 30,000 Israelite soldiers died that day. The survivors turned and fled to their tents. 11 The Ark of God was captured, and Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were killed.

In this passage, we see that the Ark of the Covenant, as you may know, contained the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses. The Ark was supposed to be kept in the Most Holy Place, the most sacred part of the Tabernacle that only the High Priest could enter only once per year. Hophi and Phinehas desescrated the room unlawfully by entering into the Most Holy Place and removing it. Not only were they not the High Priest and not only was it not the proper time of year for the room to be entered, they did not enter for the right reasons. The only reason that the High Priest was to enter was either to prepare the entire Tabernacle to be moved or to enter at that one time per year that he was to intercede on behalf of the people of Israel for their sins during the past year. It was always to be entered into in humility and honor. I bet most likely Eli’s horrible sons probably just ran in there slammed things around and took the Ark out without paying due honor and respect for where they were and to God himself.

Here, we see these men, the sons of Eli, who were immoral, greedy, lecherous men. They seduced women and had sex with them because they had loose morals. Sex was a recreation sport to them. Stealing was a way of adding to their wealth and power. Taking advantage of people was the way they accumulated wealth and showed their power. A relationship with God was not a part of their lives. They were out to satisfy their lusts for power, money and sex. And they were destroying Israel in the process. They were causing distrust of the Tabernacle as a place of worship. They were breaking down the honor and integrity of the priesthood. They were all about getting what they could get and as much as they could get. It did not matter who they hurt in the process. However, when the chips were down and Israel was about to be crushed. They went “oh, yeah, there is God. He will help us!” Living all their lives thumbing their nose up at God but now when they were about to lose their wealth and power, they fall back to God. Sound familiar? Are you and I out for ourselves and God is the farthest thing from our minds until something doesn’t go our way and THEN we cry out to God? Don’t we live our lives for ourselves more often than not? Doing things and wanting things and not caring who we hurt to get what we want? Are we not Hophni and Phinehas? Are we not arrogant in the face of God thinking we know better and thinking we can do it all by ourselves? Do we not try to get all we can get when we can get it? We know of God but we don’t care about Him until something goes awry? We think we can fix our relationship with Him later? You know later in life when we get older? You know! Some time before we die! God is our fallback position. That was me before I met the reality of my eternal destination of the night of my salvation. That was the way I lived my life before Jesus. I am not perfect post-salvation for sure, but I do love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I want to please Him now. He is front and center in my life. He is part of my everyday life. He is part of everything I do. He is no longer my fallback position.

Hopefully, when I die, people will speak of me as I have been hearing about Michelle’s paternal grandfather. God was not his fallback position. He lived it and breathed it when it came to his faith. Because in the end, it is when we meet our Maker that we want Him to say to us “well done, good and faithful servant! You have run the good race. You have fought the good fight!” Welcome to your mansion that I have prepared for us. When we only use God as a last resort, Jesus said that there will be many running around saying “Lord! Lord!” but he will say “away from me for I never knew you!”

The choice is yours. You can be like Hophni and Phinehas that used God as a good luck charm for bad times or you can have a real relationship where you love Him and put Him first in your life and obey like Michelle’s paternal grandfather, Paw-Paw.

Are you going to be Phinehas or Paw-Paw?

Amen and Amen.

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