1 Samuel 4:11 - And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.
I grew up in the ’70s and knew a lot of people who had a rabbit’s foot as a good luck charm. If something good happened throughout their day, they would credit the rabbit’s foot. As if the good luck did not come from their hard work, discipline, study habits etc.…I have talked with many sports fans who believe their jersey or blue socks is/are the key ingredient in their team’s success. In the summer of 88, my brother, friend, and I drove from Cincinnati, Ohio to Washington D. C. for the weekend. I remember when we finally made it back home and parked the car in the lot of the apartment complex we lived in, patting the car on the hood and praising the car for a job well done. Even now, I laugh at my ignorance believing that 1986 Ford Escort was able to rise above having no oil change, tune-up, or new breaks and get me to Washington D. C. and back safely. Evidently, twentieth and twenty-first century America is not the only ones that lived with good luck charms. During the time of the Judges, the Israelites viewed God as a rabbit’s foot or their lucky blue socks. They thought they could pull God out whenever they needed a victory. The Lord in 1 Samuel 4:11 took umbrage with the Philosophy of being used as a good luck charm.
Leading up to 1 Samuel 4:11, Israel had distanced themselves from God. Eli was the High Priest and his two sons, Phinehas and Hophni, were the priest who managed the daily affairs of the tabernacle. Phinehas and Hophni were wicked. The bible mentions they were the sons of Belial and did not know God (1 Samuel 2:12). They stole the portion of the sacrifice that belonged to God (1 Samuel 2:13-17), and they slept with other women outside of the tabernacle (1 Samuel 2:22). Their father Eli, the High Priest of Israel, knew their wickedness and other than give a weak rebuke that had no teeth (1 Samuel 22-26), he did nothing. This led many in Israel view worshipping God scornfully because of the priests’ wickedness. The entire worship of God had broken down into a series of wickedness.
While this sinful behavior prevailed in Israel, the Philistines decided the time was right for an attack. The Philistines defeated the Israelites between Ebenezer and Aphek. Four thousand Israelites had died in the battle. Israel was stunned by the defeat. They believed in spite of their wickedness God would not allow His name to be thrown in the mud; therefore, they decided to take the Ark of the Covenant to battle (1 Samuel 4:1-5). The Ark of the Covenant was the most sacred item in the tabernacle and represented the presence of God. Even though they had lived wickedly, they foolishly believed could pull God out like a rabbit’s foot and good things will happen. Little did they understand or want to know that God’s presence, power and blessings is with obedience and not religious worship (1 Samuel 15:22).
Israel went into battle with new vigor and passion but the battlefield results were worse than the first battle. Not only did they lose the battle and thousands of lives lost, but the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 4:11). The Philistines killed the wicked priest of God, upon hearing the news of the Philistines taking Ark of the Covenant Eli fell backwards and died (1 Samuel 4:18), and the Philistines destroyed Shiloh, which was the worship center of Israel. With the loss of the Ark of the Covenant, Israel lost her identity.
Israel learned an important lesson that fateful day. Victory in battle does not come by good luck charms but obedience and worship. They could not live their life anyway they pleased and expect God to bless in battle. I mentioned a few sentences back that they learned an important lesson. Twenty years later, they are faced with a similar situation. The Philistines had oppressed them for twenty years and now laid siege at Mizpeh. Their response was not a good luck charm but a passionate confession: “We have sinned against the LORD” (1 Samuel 7:6). With this confession, God gave them victory over the Philistines.
The lesson for us this month is God’s presence and power over our worship time does not come by accident. We cannot do whatever it is we want Monday through Saturday and expect God to powerfully bless us on Sunday. We cannot just pull God out of our pockets whenever we need Him and then keep Him in our pockets the rest of the time. He does not operate that way. My prayer for us is the same as the Psalmist in Psalms 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”