TRAGEDY AFTER TRAGEDY
Almighty God, above time and yet with me in the passing of time, I want to do all things on your timing.
Read 1 Samuel 4:12–22
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[a] 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,[b] 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.
‘… be strong, and let your heart take courage.’1 Is this a message you need to hear from God?
Eli had made mistakes, but he clearly did not share the army’s superstitious attitude to the Ark, as we are told that his heart trembled for it. When he finally heard the tragic news of defeat and capture, told so succinctly in verse 17, it’s no surprise that the shock killed him. Phinehas’ wife (we don’t know her name) was sent into premature labor and death, but she also seems to have been more concerned about the spiritual implications than anything else. ‘The glory has departed from Israel’ (vs 21,22). That was the great fear. If God had given up on them, there was no hope: just total desolation. A feeling shared by many today, because of personal or international tragedy.
Had God departed? Of course not! It was the end of an era for Israel. Eli’s family did not die out,2 but it no longer played any significant part in the nation’s leadership and the Ark never returned to Shiloh. God had by no means given up on his people, as subsequent scriptures show. He did, however, use Shiloh as an example of the way something he blesses does not necessarily remain blessed.3 When we are tempted to fall back on our laurels because of some past success (in evangelism, or children’s work, or whatever), we need to remember that God is not bound by that. What matters is how we are trusting him and serving him now.
It must have been dreadful for the messenger, knowing that his message had killed his priest, on top of the horror of what had happened. How do we cope with tragedy and bad news? Are we tempted to think that God has abandoned us? There may be times when we feel we’re only hanging on in faith by a gossamer thread, but that’s enough. God is there with us.
Pray for those you know facing great tragedy.
Holy One, I am reminded today that you are in control. Even in the darkest days your light will shine through. Thank you for that glorious hope.
1 Ps 27:14, ESV 2 Cf 1 Sam 14:3 3 Jer 7:12–15; and see Mary Evans, 1 and 2 Samuel, NIBC, Paternoster Press, 2000, p32
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