GOD SETS THE RULES
Dear God, I rejoice and praise you that your love is forever, yet I experience it anew every day.
Read 1 Samuel 4:1b–11
The Philistines Capture the Ark
Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. 2 The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. 3 When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”
4 So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
5 When the ark of the Lord’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. 6 Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”
When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid. “A god has[a] come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before. 8 We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. 9 Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!”
10 So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
- 1 Samuel 4:7 Or “Gods have (see Septuagint)
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
ReflectHow do you know God is with you?
Sometimes a politician has been notable by their absence in a political debate or press conference, whether this is due to sickness or political expediency! In this story, God is notable by his absence (as is Samuel!).
This battle may have taken place while Samuel was growing up, or maybe 20 years later. The Philistines have been long-term enemies of Israel. Remember Samson (Judges 13–16)?! The leaders of Israel’s army assume God is to blame for their initial defeat. There is no suggestion that they consult him, but they grasp at an obvious solution to bring God onto their side. Note what the author says about the ark of the covenant (vs 3–5).
But the appearance of the ark of the covenant makes the Israelites assume victory, and fires the Philistines with renewed determination to win. Utter devastation follows (vs 10,11). Who are we to demand that God plays by our rules? He is the ever-present God. We believe this, by faith, even if we don’t ‘feel’ it all the time. He was present on both of Israel’s battlefields. There is no point in bargaining with God or performing superstitious rituals to force his hand. He will decide when and how he will act.
Finish this prayer in your own words. ‘Lord Jesus, you promised to be with us to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Because I believe that…’
Sovereign Lord, thank you for your timely interventions in my life and circumstances. I look to you for grace and wisdom.
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