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Chapter Four (ESV)
1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.
Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. 2 The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. 3 And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” 4 So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
5 As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. 6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. 8 Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. 9 Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”
10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
- The Israelites thought that the Ark was an actual source of divine power that they could plug into. In the emotional panic caused by the sudden Philistine victory, the Israelite leaders regressed spiritually to gross and unfounded superstition by bringing out the Ark of the covenant—which symbolizes Yahweh’s dwelling with them—in hope to turn the military situation around to their advantage (v4).
- The Israelites foolishly attempted to manipulate God. Therefore God allowed the Ark to be captured as a judgment of their religious corruption. If the Ark was supposed to give sanction to those possessing it, then its inability to protect them and itself was a public mockery of the total failure of their superstition of the Ark.
- There is much that is mysterious about our faith, but there’s nothing magical about it. Magic can be manipulated; mystery cannot. Magic breeds superstition, whereas mystery breeds a sense of the sacred. What about my faith in God? Do I want to manage and manipulate God? Or do I allow God to be in control of all situations?
Dear Lord, You are God who “made the world and everything in it”. And “(You are) the Lord of heaven and earth and (do) not live in temples built by human hands. And (You are) not served by human hands, as if (You) needed anything. Rather, (You Yourself give) everyone life and breath and everything else. Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.”(Ref. Acts 17:24, 25, 29)