This week, I invited a new acquaintance at the gym to our Christmas Eve service. He seemed to be excited about it, as he and his family have been out of church for a while, and are looking for a way to “ease back in.” I keep a few of the invitation cards in my truck so I can continue to invite people. Who will be sitting with YOU on Christmas Eve?
If you haven’t already, why doesn’t your group take a second right now, go to our church Facebook Page, and like/share our Christmas Eve service event? Leave a comment also! Your social interaction EXPONENTIALLY increases our reach!
Respond To His Worth
Have you ever lost something of symbolic value (i.e., a wedding ring, a family heirloom, or some sort of memorabilia)? If so, explain what made this item special, how it felt when you lost it, and if you were able to retrieve it later.
Which is worth more to you—monetary value or symbolic value?
What does the way we treat items of symbolic value say about how we think about the things they represent?
God had commanded that His nation, Israel, care for something valuable… The Ark of the Covenant. That ark represented dtheir history and relationship with YHWH, the One True God.
The Israeltes made a big mistake, though. They assumed that simply possessing the ark meant their relationship with God was good. They thought that simply having the Ark would make them strong, and give them victory over their enemies.
1 Samuel 4:1–11 (NLT)
At that time Israel was at war with the Philistines. The Israelite army was camped near Ebenezer, and the Philistines were at Aphek. The Philistines attacked and defeated the army of Israel, killing 4,000 men. After the battle was over, the troops retreated to their camp, and the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?” Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it will save us from our enemies.”
So they sent men to Shiloh to bring the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, were also there with the Ark of the Covenant of God. When all the Israelites saw the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD coming into the camp, their shout of joy was so loud it made the ground shake!
“What’s going on?” the Philistines asked. “What’s all the shouting about in the Hebrew camp?” When they were told it was because the Ark of the LORD had arrived, they panicked. “The gods have come into their camp!” they cried. “This is a disaster! We have never had to face anything like this before! Help! Who can save us from these mighty gods of Israel? They are the same gods who destroyed the Egyptians with plagues when Israel was in the wilderness. Fight as never before, Philistines! If you don’t, we will become the Hebrews’ slaves just as they have been ours! Stand up like men and fight!”
So the Philistines fought desperately, and Israel was defeated again. The slaughter was great; 30,000 Israelite soldiers died that day. The survivors turned and fled to their tents. The Ark of God was captured, and Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were killed.
Israel got careless. They THOUGHT that simply having the ark with them in battle would be good enough… But Israel was supposed to care for and honor the Ark of the Covenant. It represented so much more than simple power.
Possessing the ark did not indicate a right relationship with God anymore than wearing a wedding ring indicates a healthy marriage. They symbol serves the greater reality, but the symbol does not control or define the greater reality.
Unfortunately, this was a tough lesson for the Israelites to have to learn. How many died that day?
This next set of passages is kind of long, but divide it up and read it together.
1 Samuel 4:12–5:5 (NLT)
A man from the tribe of Benjamin ran from the battlefield and arrived at Shiloh later that same day. He had torn his clothes and put dust on his head to show his grief. Eli was waiting beside the road to hear the news of the battle, for his heart trembled for the safety of the Ark of God. When the messenger arrived and told what had happened, an outcry resounded throughout the town.
“What is all the noise about?” Eli asked.
The messenger rushed over to Eli, who was ninety-eight years old and blind. He said to Eli, “I have just come from the battlefield—I was there this very day.”
“What happened, my son?” Eli demanded.
“Israel has been defeated by the Philistines,” the messenger replied. “The people have been slaughtered, and your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were also killed. And the Ark of God has been captured.”
When the messenger mentioned what had happened to the Ark of God, Eli fell backward from his seat beside the gate. He broke his neck and died, for he was old and overweight. He had been Israel’s judge for forty years.
Eli’s daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near her time of delivery. When she heard that the Ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth. She died in childbirth, but before she passed away the midwives tried to encourage her. “Don’t be afraid,” they said. “You have a baby boy!” But she did not answer or pay attention to them.
She named the child Ichabod (which means “Where is the glory?”), for she said, “Israel’s glory is gone.” She named him this because the Ark of God had been captured and because her father-in-law and husband were dead. Then she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured.”
After the Philistines captured the Ark of God, they took it from the battleground at Ebenezer to the town of Ashdod. They carried the Ark of God into the temple of Dagon and placed it beside an idol of Dagon. But when the citizens of Ashdod went to see it the next morning, Dagon had fallen with his face to the ground in front of the Ark of the LORD! So they took Dagon and put him in his place again. But the next morning the same thing happened—Dagon had fallen face down before the Ark of the LORD again. This time his head and hands had broken off and were lying in the doorway. Only the trunk of his body was left intact. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor anyone who enters the temple of Dagon in Ashdod will step on its threshold.
Why do you think losing the ark to the Philistines was a big deal to Eli and the Israelites?
How did losing the ark reflect the spiritual state of Israel at the time?
How did the Philistines repeat Israel’s mistake regarding God’s power and holding possession of ark?
God does not allow false gods to rob Him of His glory. How do you see this demonstrated in the passage so far? (Dagon’s statue)
What did the symbolic objects representing Dagon (statue) and Yahweh (ark with tablets) say about each of them and the differences between the two divine figures? How is Dagon about man reaching up to God, and the Ark about God reaching down to man?
What is God showing us in this incident between Dagon and The Ark?
1 Samuel 5:6–12 (NLT)
Then the LORD’s heavy hand struck the people of Ashdod and the nearby villages with a plague of tumors. When the people realized what was happening, they cried out, “We can’t keep the Ark of the God of Israel here any longer! He is against us! We will all be destroyed along with Dagon, our god.” So they called together the rulers of the Philistine towns and asked, “What should we do with the Ark of the God of Israel?”
The rulers discussed it and replied, “Move it to the town of Gath.” So they moved the Ark of the God of Israel to Gath. But when the Ark arrived at Gath, the LORD’s heavy hand fell on its men, young and old; he struck them with a plague of tumors, and there was a great panic.
So they sent the Ark of God to the town of Ekron, but when the people of Ekron saw it coming they cried out, “They are bringing the Ark of the God of Israel here to kill us, too!” The people summoned the Philistine rulers again and begged them, “Please send the Ark of the God of Israel back to its own country, or it will kill us all.” For the deadly plague from God had already begun, and great fear was sweeping across the town. Those who didn’t die were afflicted with tumors; and the cry from the town rose to heaven.
So, now it isn’t just Dagon. Now it is the Philistines themselves “falling down” before The Ark. What does this part of the story suggest about God’s commitment to display His holiness to the world?
The Philistines were just passing The Ark… The Holy Ark… The dwelling place of the presence of God… They were passing it around from place to place… How is this like the way people today think about God and worship Him?
What were they overlooking about The Ark? What were they missing here?
1 Samuel 6:1–9 (NLT)
The Ark of the LORD remained in Philistine territory seven months in all. Then the Philistines called in their priests and diviners and asked them, “What should we do about the Ark of the LORD? Tell us how to return it to its own country.”
“Send the Ark of the God of Israel back with a gift,” they were told. “Send a guilt offering so the plague will stop. Then, if you are healed, you will know it was his hand that caused the plague.”
“What sort of guilt offering should we send?” they asked.
And they were told, “Since the plague has struck both you and your five rulers, make five gold tumors and five gold rats, just like those that have ravaged your land. Make these things to show honor to the God of Israel. Perhaps then he will stop afflicting you, your gods, and your land. Don’t be stubborn and rebellious as Pharaoh and the Egyptians were. By the time God was finished with them, they were eager to let Israel go.
“Now build a new cart, and find two cows that have just given birth to calves. Make sure the cows have never been yoked to a cart. Hitch the cows to the cart, but shut their calves away from them in a pen. Put the Ark of the LORD on the cart, and beside it place a chest containing the gold rats and gold tumors you are sending as a guilt offering. Then let the cows go wherever they want. If they cross the border of our land and go to Beth-shemesh, we will know it was the LORD who brought this great disaster upon us. If they don’t, we will know it was not his hand that caused the plague. It came simply by chance.”
So these instructions were carried out. Two cows were hitched to the cart, and their newborn calves were shut up in a pen. Then the Ark of the LORD and the chest containing the gold rats and gold tumors were placed on the cart. And sure enough, without veering off in other directions, the cows went straight along the road toward Beth-shemesh, lowing as they went. The Philistine rulers followed them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh.
What does this discussion and action of the Philistines show us about humanity’s knowledge of spiritual things?
I think the lesson for us here is, “Don’t take God’s presence for granted.”
What do you think? How do we become careless and presumptuous about God’s presence?
What steps should we take right now during the holiday season to respond appropriately to Him?