The Weight of Sin
Lord, may this be my opening prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psa. 51:10, KJV).
Read 1 SAMUEL 4:1b–22
And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.
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 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.
Death of Eli
12 That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh with his clothes torn and dust on his head. 13 When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair by the side of the road, watching, because his heart feared for the ark of God. When the man entered the town and told what had happened, the whole town sent up a cry.
14 Eli heard the outcry and asked, “What is the meaning of this uproar?”
The man hurried over to Eli, 15 who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes had failed so that he could not see. 16 He told Eli, “I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.”
Eli asked, “What happened, my son?”
17 The man who brought the news replied, “Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”
18 When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and he was heavy. He had led Israel forty years.
19 His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near the time of delivery. When she heard the news that the ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth, but was overcome by her labor pains. 20 As she was dying, the women attending her said, “Don’t despair; you have given birth to a son.” But she did not respond or pay any attention.
21 She named the boy Ichabod, saying, “The Glory has departed from Israel”—because of the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 She said, “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”
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.
It could be that the disasters (defeat in battle and the loss of the Ark of the Covenant) that befall Israel are the result of the collateral damage from the sins of Hophni and Phineas. Sin does have social repercussions.
I suspect that old Eli knew this day was coming. Ever since he heard God’s words of judgment (1 Sam. 2:27; 3:11–18), he must have been living with a sense of apprehension. When the report from the first battle arrived—4,000 Israelite soldiers lost—you’d think he’d say something, like Jonah did in the storm (Jonah 1:7–16). Instead, he nervously watches as the Ark is sent into battle, like a military rabbit’s foot for good luck, but the result was even worse—30,000 lives lost—and Israel’s secret weapon had been captured. Sadly, their idolatry had deactivated it (1 Sam. 7:3,4), like Samson with a crew cut (Judg. 16:17).
There are many people in the Bible whose example inspires me: Moses, Ruth, David and Paul, to name a few. The example of Eli jolts me. For 40 years he had been the spiritual leader in Israel. As we’ve seen, he cared about God’s work, fulfilled his priestly duties and at times exhibited genuine spiritual sensitivity. Somehow, though, he missed the point and he was severely judged by God (1 Sam. 2:30–33). What went wrong? If we examine the clues given us so far it seems that Eli knew the right things to do but just couldn’t bring himself to take action. He scolded his sons but still fattened himself on the delicacies they had taken by force (1 Sam. 2:29). The weight of sin became his undoing (18).
That should be a warning to those of us in ministry today. Merely going through the motions as a spiritual leader is not pleasing to God. J. B. Phillips put his finger on the problem when he translated 2 Timothy 3:5 this way: “They will maintain a facade of ‘religion,’ but their conduct will deny its validity.” The tragedy of Eli’s life is that his spiritual laziness caused “the Glory” (21,22) to depart.
How could you act on both parts of the statement “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God” (Rom. 6:11) in the week ahead?
Father, when it comes to sin I know I have a battle on my hands. I need to be clothed in Your righteousness so that each day I can walk victoriously in You.
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