Wednesday, November 02, 2022

2022.11.02 Hopewell @Home ▫ 1 Samuel 4:1–11

Read 1 Samuel 4:1–11

Questions from the Scripture text: What did Israel go out to do (1 Samuel 4:1)? Where did each army encamp? What happened in the battle (1 Samuel 4:2)? What did the people ask (1 Samuel 4:3a)? What did they think would change the outcome, and what did they think would save them (verse 3b)? Who dwelt between the cherubim (1 Samuel 4:4)? Who else were right there, when they were retrieving it? How did Israel respond when the ark arrived (1 Samuel 4:5)? What did the Philistines ask in 1 Samuel 4:6? What did they understand? What did they call the ark in 1 Samuel 4:7? Where did they assume that God was not, before? What did the Philistines think of this new development at first (1 Samuel 4:7-8)? But how did they determine to respond (1 Samuel 4:9)? How did the outcome of this battle compare to the outcome of the earlier one (1 Samuel 4:10, cf. 1 Samuel 4:2)? What was captured (1 Samuel 4:11a)? Who died (verse 11b)?

Why did God kill thirty-four thousand (and two!) Israelites? 1 Samuel 4:1–11 looks forward to the first reading in morning public worship on the coming Lord’s Day. In these eleven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that in all things, God acts for His own glory, especially avenging Himself upon manmade worship and religion.

God acts for the honor of His own glory. We do a dreadful thing, when we take God lightly or treat Him as an easily manipulated genie in a bottle. Israel asks an important question in 1 Samuel 4:3, “Why has Yahweh struck us down”? 

The answer (or at least a significant part of it) is buried way down in 1 Samuel 4:11: “and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.” Their death is a sign that we have been expecting for the desecration of God’s worship ever since 1 Samuel 2:34, and especially after 1 Samuel 3:12, 1 Samuel 3:19, 1 Samuel 4:1a. So, if we have been paying attention, the answer is, “Out of respect for His own honor in His own worship!”

That God cares so much about right worship may be startling to us, if we live in a day of worship chaos, where “everyone does what is right in his own eyes, and there is no king in Israel.” If that’s true of our worship situation in the churches, then we can see the parallel with Samuel’s situation, coming out of the period of the Judges.

Yet, we have seen that this is the answer to the “why” the army of God’s people was defeated and slaughtered: “Out of respect for His own honor in His own worship!”

Worshiping according to our will belongs to a superstitious approach to God. Israel was treating Yahweh as a deity that could be easily manipulated. His worship was being desecrated, but this was not their answer to why they lost. Instead, they concluded that they had forgotten the magical furniture (1 Samuel 4:3-4). It was as if the ark had God’s power infused in it in such a way that God would have to give them what they wanted. It turns out, from 1 Samuel 4:7, that this was also the Philistine view of how deities work.

The Lord punishes Israel’s superstitious, manipulative approach to Him with a defeat more than seven times as bad as before (cp. 1 Samuel 4:4 with 1 Samuel 4:10). He takes from them that symbol of His presence that they had treated as more important than Him Himself (1 Samuel 4:11a). And He crowns the defeat with the fulfillment of His judgment (verse 11b).

We must recognize and refuse those compromises by which we provoke God in His worship. The question for us, then, is where we might be doing such things. 

Are we bowing to God’s complete authority over His worship, or do we seek to modify worship to be more pleasing to ourselves or others? 

In those things that God has given us as means by which He works, are we trusting in Him and interacting with Him, or are we trusting the means and using them in a way that is not mindful of Him? 

If Scripture teaches us that God acts in such a way as to vindicate His glory and honor over against the church’s cavalier approach to the means of grace, then let us bow and worship and repent and confess that He is righteous and just and holy to bring upon us whatever judgments that He determines.

What are some manmade additions to God’s worship that are widely tolerated and approved in the churches? What are some judgments in which the church has been defeated by the world around it? What does this passage teach us might be the connection between those things?

Sample prayer: Lord, forgive us for doing in Your worship that which pleases us instead of that which You have prescribed. Truly, You are righteous in the devastating defeats that Your church has been losing to the world around it, just as You were righteous in the slaughter of Israel, the loss of the ark, and the deaths of Eli’s sons. Grant repentance to Your church and the purification of her worship we ask, in Christ’s Name, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP32AB “What Blessedness” or TPH130A “Lord, from the Depths, to Thee I Cry”

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