Ichabod & the Lost Ark, Part 1
The king & the Kings: A Study in 1 Samuel
By Todd Stiles
Bible Text: 1 Samuel 4
Preached on: Sunday, January 22, 2017
First Family Church
317 SE Magazine Road
Ankeny, IA 50021
I’m not sure if you’ve heard the story of the farmer, the nobleman and the king. I’ve told it a couple of times here. Would anyone just happen to remember the story? I doubt if you will. It’s been 12 years, twice, it’s like, “Man, Todd, do you think I’m a genius or something?” I probably do think a lot of you are that smart but it goes like this. I first heard it or read it, it was one of Spurgeon’s ingenious stories. It’s the story of a king who was all-wise and all-knowing and in his kingdom he had various people who did various jobs. One of them was a carrot farmer and he grew the most beautiful carrots and so he brought his best carrot one day to the king and he said, “King, here’s the best carrot I could grow or I’ll ever grow and out of my love for you, I just want to give it to you.” Well, the king was so moved by that he knew the man’s heart, after all, he’s an all-wise, all-knowing, all-gracious king. He said, “Mr. Carrot Farmer, I’ve got some land just adjacent to where you’re living. Why don’t you just go ahead and take that land and just grow some more beautiful carrots?” The carrot farmer said, “I’d be glad to. Thank you.”
Well, overhearing that conversation was a nobleman who bred horses, many stables, and he thought, “Wow, if you get more land just for a carrot, like what would he give you if you gave him something bigger?” So he goes home, gets his best stallion. He comes back to the king, this all-wise, all-gracious, all-knowing king, “I bring you the best stallion I have ever raised and could ever raise. It was bred just for you and I just want to give it to you out of my love and devotion to thank you for being an all-wise, all-knowing, all-gracious king.” The king said, “Thank you.” But then he doesn’t say anything else and so the nobleman turns to go but he pauses because he’s kind of waiting, like, “This isn’t how this is to work.” So the king being all-discerning says, “I suspect you’re waiting for something else. Are you?” And the nobleman says, “Well, I overheard what you told the carrot farmer. I’m kind of waiting.” He says, “Let me explain it to you like this,” he said, “the carrot farmer gave me the carrot and you gave yourself the horse.”
Now, that may take you several minutes to process. While you do, that same principle, do we love God or do we use God, do we worship God or do we work him over, are we in a covenant relationship with him or are we in a contractual obligation to him? That same concept is discussed in the 3,000 year old story in 1 Samuel 4. Will you turn there and let’s examine this story just for a few moments this morning with the goal being that we’ll understand more about how to see God as a treasure and not as a tool, alright?
1 Samuel 4. I intend to read the entire chapter to you. I’ll make a few comments along the way. At some point, I’ll just simply take some questions from you guys on the text so if you have some, text those in earlier than later. Then we’ll make some application. I’ll take another maybe pause to kind of maybe take some questions about the application. I suspect the text may not have a lot of questions, it’s pretty straight-forward, but I suspect your greatest injury this morning is going to occur with your toes when we get to the application. You may have some questions there. So we’ll see how that goes, alright?
Let’s dive into this story, 1 Samuel 4, and let’s understand what it means for us today as we understand, first of all, its historical significance. Verse 1 says, “And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.” Of course, now you know Samuel has already grown. You’ll see at the end of chapter 3 he’s now grown. He’s simply waiting for the transition of power to occur. He has given Eli the news that God’s going to take his sons out. There will be a transfer of authority. His corrupt leadership will be over, not just now but in the future. But Samuel is patiently waiting for this to occur.
As he waits it says, “Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek.” They are kind of drawing up their battle lines, their battle plans.
“The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines.” That’s not supposed to happen, is it? I thought we were God’s people. We’re God’s team. We win, don’t we? Well, “four thousand men die on the field,” that day, the Bible says.
“And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, ‘Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines?'” Give them credit for this: they had no misunderstanding about who brought the defeat. And now if I could be just this transparent: they didn’t say, “Why has God allowed this.” They didn’t say, “What’s accidentally happened?” They just said, “Why has the LORD defeated us today?” It was a very active sovereign understanding of the power of God even in the time of their disobedience and darkness.
Their solution, however, wasn’t quite as bright as their initial understanding. “‘Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.’ So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.” Here are your corrupt leaders along with the elders of the children of Israel which, by the way, simply means heads of clans or heads of families. Out of those heads of families there would obviously be hundreds, there were probably 70 who represented them. We find this out in other parts of Scripture that these heads of clans, heads of families, would often elect other ones who would kind of represent them. So let’s just say there were 70 elders. Here are these two corrupt priests and they are employing their rabbit foot theology, as Chris Eller has so aptly put it in this weeks’ curriculum. “Hey, let’s get the ark. Let’s bring it in. Maybe that will give us the victory.”
But, “As soon as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded.” It’s looking good so far.
“And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, ‘What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?'” They just got beat. They were defeated. Why are they so joyful?
“And when they learned that the ark of the LORD had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid, for they said,” notice the use of the word little “g” god here. It actually was Yahweh in the camp but they assumed it was another one of the gods of the Israelites. Notice what he says, “‘A god has come into the camp.’ And they said, ‘Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty,” say it with me, “gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness.” That’s not even true but somewhere in the course of history, the Philistines simply looked at the testimony of Israel and assumed, “Well, that’s a polytheistic culture.” Isn’t that amazing? In a monotheistic environment such as Israel and Yahweh, their testimony had been so damaged that the neighbors and the nations thought, “That’s just like our culture, just a polytheistic, pluralistic society. They’ve just got another god added to the pot. That’s why they’re shouting.” That’s very sad, church. God’s only people who in Deuteronomy mandated that they worshiped the one God, “For the Lord your God is one God.” I mean, here they are now they’ve had idols set up, high places, they’ve been involved in adultery and idolatry. No wonder their neighbors and nations were thinking, “It’s just another god you’re adding.”
So they just said, “Take courage, and be men, you don’t want to be slaves, do you, so let’s fight hard,” is kind of my translation there.
Verse 10, “So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated,” but this time it wasn’t 4,000, “there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.” Just write this down, would you: the sovereign presence of God was a tool. Just mark it down, jot it down. We’ll keep reading. It’s not hard to understand. I think you get the point of this narrative.
Verse 12 is a further explanation of what happened after the battle. I will just kind of paraphrase some of this. A man of Benjamin ran from the battle. He arrives to tell Eli the news. He’s got dirt on his head, his clothes are torn. We suspect this may have been about 20 miles. He wasn’t dirty and torn because of the run perhaps, he was probably in the kind of garb that would represent a mourning, shamed, defeated individual. He arrives, Eli though is blind. He’s sitting there. His heart is trembling for the ark. He knew that they had let it go to kind of do its “magic.” He’s wondering what happened. However, the man tells the city the news first. They cry out. Eli hears the sound and he says, “What’s the uproar?” A man hurried and came and told Eli who was 98, who was blind and he says, “I am he who has come from the battle. I fled from the battle today.” “Well, how did it go, my son,” Eli says. “In essence, not very good. Israel has fled before the Philistines and there has been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas are dead.” Fulfillment of 1 Samuel 2:34. God kept his word and brought judgment upon the household of Eli. And the ark of God has been captured. Notice in verse 18 that it says, “As soon as he mentioned the ark of God,” and I think it’s striking that the author here does not tell us that it was upon the mention of his sons but it was upon the mention of the ark of God being captured that “Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.”
Let me pause here and just say that I think there’s an intended pun in verse 18, it’s the word “heavy.” In fact, I think the author intentionally used this word. In the Hebrew language it has an array of meanings. It means honored, as if we say, “Man, there’s someone here, he’s a heavyweight in our presence.” We would know he means someone of high honor like, “Man, a big influence.” Right? You’ve heard that phrase. The word also means heavy as in large, like in the amount of weight. It also means burdensome as if something is heavy upon you like, “Wow, we got some heavy news today.” This word means all three and I think it’s intentional that the writer here which is either Samuel or Gad or Nathan, one of the other prophets, he says Eli, he’s dead for he was old and heavy. Yes, he was honored as a forty year judge but he was also very large because he fattened himself on the wicked sacrifices of his two sons and how they misused and took advantage of the people and he was also a burden to the people. His leadership was corrupt. It was a weight. So when you read this, yes, it refers to his physical size but I think there’s more to the story that, “Wow, Eli, man, he was a burden to the people even in his honored state at times.” It’s just a fascinating word here.
Of course upon his death, his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, she hears the news, basically the ark is captured, her father-in-law was dead and her husband is dead. Well, this brings about birth pains, labor pains for her. She gives birth and in the course of this birth, she dies, but they tell her, “Don’t worry, you’ve borne a son.” She didn’t answer or pay attention but she named him Ichabod. It’s this child whose name remembers the day that God judged Israel and departed from them. His name means “the glory has departed from Israel.” And she named him that because the ark had been captured, her father-in-law had been killed, her husband had been killed. She says, “The glory has departed from Israel!” God’s presence is gone for the ark of God has been captured.
Understand something here: you can go ahead and write by this set of verses that the sovereign presence of God was a treasure and you may find that odd because you find the story sad. Like, “Todd, how did they see the Lord’s presence as a treasure because they were both dead at the end of the story? It seemed like nothing good is happening here.” But don’t miss something in the writing of this narrative: for the first time – church, listen to me – for the first time there is an awareness that God has chosen to remove his favor and blessing. In fact, I think that’s really what toppled Eli. I think he was aware his sons were going to be killed. He had been told that, did you know that? 1 Samuel 3. But he wasn’t told that God was going to remove his blessing, that the ark would be captured. When he heard that news, it hit him, “Oh my goodness, what’s happening to our nation?” He falls over. She realizes for the first time, I think, “Wow, what’s going on? God is not with us!” And if I can say this to you in the right sense: it’s refreshing to see somebody in one of the darkest periods of Israel finally realize that, “We’re missing what matters most, God’s presence.” God is not here.
Now, when I say God is not here, I want you to understand what that means. God didn’t actually leave, alright? God is what we call omnipresent. He sees everything as it is in the present. God is, alright? But when we say God is absent, we mean that God has sovereignly decreed, decided to remove his power and blessing. Let’s be sure of one thing: God was actually there. The ark was present. It was God’s dwelling place within the tent of meeting. He was at the battle but what did he do? He sovereignly chose not to rescue his people in this battle in order to bring about the judgment that would actually eventually bring about their repentance. So you can’t say God wasn’t in control. He was there but he divinely chose not to bring his power or his blessing. You see, that’s what we mean when we say the absence of God. Don’t think for a minute God actually left your life. God is fully in control of your life even to those of you who are rebelling against God. Did you know that? But God can in response to our disobedience decide to remove his hand of blessing and power and it feels to you like, “Man, where did God go?”
I think this is the question that a lot of us, in fact probably all of us at some time have wrestled with. Are we going to love God or are we going to use God? Are we going to worship God or work him over? Are we going to follow him or give him orders? And this story really speaks to that concept. Do we see God as a relational treasure, one that we’re in covenant with by his initiation, or do we see God as a ritualistic tool that we can just use whenever we see fit? It’s kind of like our proverbial and modern day ATM card. “Hey, God, stay in my back pocket until I need you, then I’ll put you in the ATM and you give me what I need.” This is the underlying message and in the narrative he was telling his people, “I am in control and you are my people but I will not be manipulated.”
So let’s just put this in a simple sentence, at least the historical narrative aspect of it. What does this text say to us, this single chapter? That the Lord is sovereign over his people. He was there. He was in control. He actually kept his word that was given in chapters previously but he will not be manipulated by his people. God is not a rabbit’s foot or a good luck charm. He is the sovereign controlling Creator of the universe. Does that make sense? So can we say this together? This is just the historical understanding of this narrative. Say it with me: the Lord is sovereign over his people but he will not be manipulated by his people.
Now, let’s see if there are any questions about the textual aspect first. I think there’s one. “Can you explain the significance of the ark of the covenant?” I will try briefly as in a few seconds, it really was the presence of God within the tabernacle. It would be called the dwelling of God. It lived within what we call the Holy of Holies and so God’s presence rested on the ark of the covenant. It was kept within the Holy of Holies which was the inner sanctuary of the tabernacle. Only the high priest could go in annually into where the ark of the covenant lived, we’ll call it lived or rested or resided. And so he atoned for the sins of the people in the presence of God which was on top of the ark of the covenant. Does that make sense? So it symbolized and it actually was God’s presence among the people of Israel. So when they said, “Get the ark,” they were saying. “Go get God.” Does that make sense? That’s what’s happening here.
So that’s a good question. It’s the reason and I don’t want to get too, I’m not a cultured guy, I’m not a movie buff at all but “Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones,” all those folks in the movies were trying to get the ark. Why? Because they felt it had some special power. If that’s where God dwells, if that’s what they used to kind of win their battles, go and get the ark. It’s kind of the same idea. But the ark was simply a place where God lived. Later, of course, Jesus came. Jesus was the embodiment, the actual God among us. So just in that culture, in that time period, that’s how God chose to build his dwelling place.
Pause here. A little current day theology lesson. Where does God choose now to live? In us. In fact, the Bible says we are his temple. Just a little bit of extra bonus material for you there, okay?
Good question. Anymore about the text? There is not. Okay.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Todd, that’s an interesting story. I was not quite aware of that but it’s not the 10th or 11th century, it’s 2017 and I’m just curious, we don’t carry around arks of covenants, we don’t have tents of meeting or tabernacles, we don’t line up for battle, at least in this fashion. Could you put this into current day perspective?” I’d be glad to. I’d be glad to. In fact, I’ve been thinking of this story like, “Man, what are manipulation situations today?” And it is striking how many there are.
Now, I’m going to wade into these with you. Here’s why: because the first ones are ankle deep and you’ll probably laugh, the water won’t seem that cold. We’ll get waist deep and then we’ll get about nostril deep and you’ll be hoping that you can breathe. But don’t you bail on me. Let’s run this book together. We’re going to see that probably there are more manipulators among us than we realize. There are more of us who use God instead of loving him than we want to admit.
For instance, as a kid I would do this with our teams. I was on the basketball team one year, that’s all. I wrestled after that. Just played baseball. So I went to a Christian school so we would gather before the games and if you went to a Christian school you’ve probably done this or you’re maybe doing this now so I’m going to burst your bubble. We’d say, “O Lord, help us win the game!” Now, I meant that well. Our coach meant that well but can I just be honest and transparent because I know I can be, I always am? God’s not worried about the scoreboard. He’s not. God does not care who wins today’s championship games either. Okay? What God cares is how you play the game. I would agree with that, but we’re not going to pray, “God,” and we used to do this, “Lord, that’s the public school in the city, we’re the Christian school, God, help us beat the pagans. Help us beat the heathens. I mean, we’re your people, right, not them?” I mean, some really shallow kind of thinking, right?
I remember one day my dad said to me, I was in high school and he said, “Son, I know you mean well but you know that God’s really not concerned about the score.” I’m like, “What? All those prayers didn’t matter?” Now, our hearts weren’t wicked, we meant it well but the truth is we thought, “Hey, before the game let’s just wave the rabbit’s foot real quick, let’s get God on our side before the tip-off.” It’s manipulation but you laugh at that. I do too.
I don’t think it’s quite as funny that we do this in our nation when certain crises occur. I think it’s very ironic that we don’t think prayer should be allowed in our country in certain places but that wasn’t the case at 9/11. Nobody had a problem with prayer on 9/11 or 9/12. I mean, you could walk up to anyone at any place in public and say, “Hey, can we pray?” “Oh, please do. Ask God to help us.” Today if you go to the public place or you may run out. I mean, our country often uses God when they feel like they need him. You don’t believe me? I watched it Friday. Our church is not red or blue, our church is a Bible church. I think it’s interesting that there were, I think there were at least seven prayers offered at the Inauguration. Are there good people in that process? You bet there are. Are there Daniels and Josephs who are trying to see biblical principles enacted? I believe so. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to me that we kind of wave the rabbit’s foot of prayer at inauguration but then during the actual sessions, what are we trying to get done to stop the murder of babies in our country, babies that are in the wombs of mothers? I think that’s hypocrisy that some of our leaders would actually say, “Let’s pray,” and then turn around and actually support killing children in a mother’s womb. It’s wickedly hypocritical. And you can name other issues. Do you see what I’m saying? It’s like we kind of get all serious about God at certain times but in the normal course of life, “Hey, let’s just go back to approving that and approving that.” Again, I’m not saying there are not people who recognize that and are trying to turn the tide, but as a whole our nation views God as a tool they can use when they want to. Call it what it is.
It’s easy to think that and realize that when it’s about somebody else or something humorous like a sports team. I think this is also, though, what’s in the minds of individuals when around Easter or Christmas they’re like, “You know, we probably ought to get to church. I mean, we’ve not done good this year and maybe if we just go at this special day God won’t be quite as mad about us.” Who thought of that? So they pop in at Christmas Eve. Am I knocking them like in a bad way? But they show up at key times because they think that might do something. Would you agree with that? “Maybe something about me going would maybe make God, I can maybe get him to….” It’s just a whole manipulation mindset. Now we don’t call it that on Christmas Eve and Easter. We use that open door to try to speak in a way that would say, “Hey, there’s a better way to do this,” but let’s just call it what it is today. When you only show up to God’s family a couple of times a year, I don’t think you’ve got much relationship to it. You’re just feeling guilty and so you want to salve your guilt, show up, and it’s just a utilitarian, functional, manipulation mindset.
I think this is true also with the way that the world sees the church in regards to financial troubles. You know, I get about two or three calls every week, our staff does too, I get calls from missionaries every week who want support. I love those. We can never say enough yeses but I love getting the calls. We also get calls from folks who are needing a handout and believe it or not we don’t get those calls from our members and attenders. Most of those needs we know about, they come through our Lighthouses and we deal with that. We help them. We sit down and there’s a whole process by which we help people with those kind of needs. It’s the folks who are kind of traveling through and they just think, “You know, if I need a hand, who should I call?” Let’s call the church because God will get you out of a mess. Now, I’m poking a little bit here on purpose but you need to realize that I think that’s an indication that some people see God as a tool. Yeah, let’s just wave that, call the church, make them feel guilty, see if they’ll have some compassion and get us something.
Can I tell you, though, the one that I get, it’s not as often but the one that I get that I think is most disturbing is usually from couples who are about to get married. They’ll come and see me and sometimes they don’t know me, they don’t know our church, but they know I’m a pastor and they see our church and, “Hey, we want to get married but we don’t know if you’ll do the wedding.” And so I’m like, “Well, let’s talk about it.” They’ll come in and we’ll talk and I usually ask them at some point, “So are you believers?” “No, but we feel like we need a pastor to do our wedding.” I say, “Why do you need a pastor at your wedding?” “Well, we need a blessing.” Now, some of you are looking really nervous right now. Just relax, first of all. It’s kind of humorous. You’re not in the room, I have the conversations, it’s okay. Okay? But it’s like there is something more important here than me doing some hocus-pocus blessing on your wedding. Like where are you going to spend eternity?
So we have that conversation. There have been times, those two folks think, “We had no idea that this is the truth, this is the Gospel,” and they’ve been saved. Other times it’s like, “Well, we didn’t come for that. We just kind of came to kind of have the church side. Could you do the wave of the hand or something?” They say, “Thanks but no thanks,” and they’re out of there. Other times I’ll say, “Are you believers?” and one will say, “Well, I am but he’s not or she’s not.”
So I’ll say, “Do you know what the Bible says about that? Do you know what the Bible says about intimate relationships with someone of fundamental difference? The Bible says that there is no fellowship between light and darkness. Christ or Belial. And so he says do not yoke yourselves up.” And by the way, it’s not just a marriage verse, it’s a business verse, it’s a relationship verse, it’s a marriage verse, yes. God warns against intimate connections at a fundamental level with people who are fundamentally at odds with our theology. That’s what he’s saying. “So hearing that, how do you feel about marrying someone that is fundamentally at odds with what you believe?” “Well, you know, I think this is how they’re gonna get saved.” I usually say, “How’s that working so far?” Or they’ll say this, “Yeah but…” The minute you hear a “yeah but,” you’re looking at a manipulator. Some of you are nervous. You’re like, “Man, Todd, you’re putting it to us straight.” It’s good to hear it straight. “I know what God says. I know he’s King. I understand he writes the book. It’s his call but…” That’s a problem. In other words, you want to use God when you need him but, “Hey, I don’t want to follow him other times.”
Then it gets more intense when I’ll ask, “Hey, tell me something, how is the living arrangement right now?” “Well, we are living together.” To which I’ve often said, “So, are you sleeping together? Having sexual intimacy that’s reserved for married people?” “Yeah, we know it’s wrong but…” “Let’s do something about that. Let’s just separate. Let’s go back to God’s design. Let’s seek purity before the covenant, intimacy in the covenant. Can we do that?” “Well, you know, we’ve already made plans…” It’s like pulling teeth to talk people out of sexual sin. I use the word “talk about it,” that’s not what I meant to say but try to help them see God’s word and they’re like, “Well…” Sexual sin is so strong and what I found is God is to many engaged couples a tool. “Bless our marriage. We don’t really want to adjust to what you say but, hey, could we come to the church and could we get a pastor, could they bless our wedding?” You see, this is the nostril deep part I was telling you about.
You think it’s funny that sports teams pray for a win. We go, “That’s funny.” But you’re thinking of someone right now who is actually trying to manipulate God. They are holding onto their sin but they want the church to bless it. It’s 1 Samuel 4 3,000 years later. It’s people saying, “Go get the ark! That’ll solve the problem.” The whole time what’s happening is God is withholding his blessing and power. He’s present, he’s in control but he is refusing to honor and bless sinful disobedience.
Now, you say, “Todd, that’s pretty harsh. You’ve been pretty direct today.” I have. You’re right. I haven’t been harsh but I’ve been very direct on purpose. Why? Because here’s what I think is quite ironic: it’s in these very moments that God often does his best work. Did you know that? It’s when someone hears, “Oh my goodness, I’ve been trying to manipulate the God of the universe. I’m just using the one who actually came and died for me.” And the Holy Spirit convicts them and humbles them and they go from being a user – watch this phrase here – to being a lover. They go from seeing God as a tool to valuing him as a treasure. How does that occur? When often in the pages of Scripture, in the voice of the pastor, in the voice of friends, someone is saying, “Hey, this is not good.”
Proof is a couple named Brandon and Sarah G. She was at 8:30. They were in a mess when they showed up in my office in this church. I mean, just a wicked mess and they confessed their sin and said, “Todd, we don’t know what to do. We have sinned against God.” I explained the Gospel to them and she goes, “I didn’t know that’s how you receive forgiveness,” and she got saved and was baptized here later. They got married. They are taking the next right step every step of the way. This morning they were both serving at 8:30, one was in here and then they…. It’s a beautiful sight to see God take what was going to be ashes and turn it into something beautiful, amen?
I could point to folks in this room, same situation. Like, “Man, I just disregarded God. I just manipulated him. I tried to. But in the middle of that manipulation or that seeking to use God, in his graciousness he reached out to me and humbled me and I repented.” You see, this is the difference, this is what makes one situation a continuation of just continuing in blindness and missing God’s presence and the other one is a rescue. Like, “Wow, I realized how bad this is. God, save me! God, forgive me! God, restore me!” It’s the word “repentance,” and the minute in the middle of those dire situations someone repents and says, “God, you are right. I am wrong. Forgive me!” God in his incredible uncanny way, in his supernatural, gracious, merciful way, he takes what’s going to be disaster and he redeems it for his purposes.
Brad M. is an example. Many years ago, he’s in jail, an OWI, a lost… He was in there, he picked up a Bible and began to read. Read the prodigal son. He got out from his classes and he said, “I need to go to a church.” Went to church, heard the Gospel, then went to a Promise Keeper’s event, heard the Gospel, walked down to the front and said, “God, save me.” If you ask Brad, “Are you glad you were in jail?” He’d say, “You bet I am. That’s where God got my attention.” And then the moment God got his attention, he repented. Does that make sense?
And some of you right now, you have been exposed this morning as a manipulator. God has taken your heart out of your chest, he’s put it before you and it’s beating, “I use God. I use God. He’s a tool. He’s a tool.” But instead of running from that, would you repent and say, “God, you’ve been so gracious to spare me. May the very thing that could be my judgment actually be my rescue.” And fall on your knees before God and say, “God, I’m sorry. Restore me.” Or, “God, save me.”
There may be couples in this room who need to do the right thing in their marriage or their soon-to-be marriage. There may be men, women, you need to adjust things in your life. There may be children who need to mend things and make things right. I don’t know but here’s the question: when you begin to see, “Wow, I’m just like Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, I’m like the elders. I just want God to fix my problem. I want to use him.” That’s the moment to actually say, “God, forgive me. I’m wrong.” And begin to treasure him for what he is. He’s your heavenly Father who loves you, gave himself for you, and wants to be in relationship with you. He has no desire to be your ritualistic tool. He has every intention to be your relational treasure. So run back to the God who loves you.
Are there any questions about the application part because I realize that’s a little more tenuous, a little more direct, but are there any at all? We’ll take a couple here before we wrap up today.
Q. What about men and women who stand on the side of the road with signs that read, “Hungry. God bless you.” How should we handle that? If they’re using God as a tool, should we help them?
A. Next question. Steve, this is what you do when you don’t know, okay? Yeah. Pray and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. How many of you believe that God’s Spirit leads and guides his children? I do and I believe it’s constantly. I believe a lot of us have bad ears but it’s not God’s voice that’s the problem. So if that happens, there is some freedom in there and some areas of discernment. So instead of leaning to your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he’ll direct your path. Pray and say, “God, what do you want me to do right now?” I think the Holy Spirit will tell you. And then if he says, “Not now,” don’t feel guilty. Obey the Holy Spirit. Is that a decent answer? Amen.
Q. Does manipulating God fall into the same category as mocking God as referred to in Galatians 6:7?
A. In my opinion it would come extremely close. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a category for that but I think the person’s mind is leaning towards, it’s this idea of just kind of mocking God, of thinking that you’re in control, that you kind of set the table. So I would say yes. There is an attitude that’s underlying both of those verses that we can do what we want and then bring God in at will and he’ll submit to what we think he should do. It’s the whole, “Christ is our consultant, not our King,” mentality. So, yes, I think those are both scary attitudes that should when we are exposed to them and we realize that’s part maybe in us, man, we should just fall on our faces and say, “God, I’m sorry.”
Now, before I lead you in closing prayer, in worship, I want to give you two final tips that I think will help you value God’s presence, because this is not an easy thing to grasp; it’s difficult to kind of get your hands around. A lot of us feel guilty. I mean, we’ve all violated this at times. The question is: is this your direction? Is this your posture? I want to give us some ways we can treasure God’s presence and stop tooling around with him, okay? Let me give this to you briefly. I think you can find these, by the way, in the contrast of the first four chapters between Samuel and then the household of Eli. But I’ll give them to you briefly.
First of all, value who God is, not only what God does. I’m not saying don’t value what God does. We’re going to sing in a minute, our first song is about how great God is, our second song is about how his love has come down. One is first about who he is, one is second about what he’s done. It is a both/and but I think there’s a biblical order of personal worship involved here that we start with God’s character and we move to his conduct. Why does the Lord’s prayer begin with this: our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name? And it is God’s name that communicates at least to his people what he does. So when he is the Lord that provides, the Lord that battles for us, the Lord that heals, that Lord that sustains, all these different names for God, they communicate what he does but it’s wrapped up first and foremost in his name. Remember, God always does because God is and if you flip that around, when God doesn’t do like you think he should do, you’ll begin to think God isn’t the way he should be. This is why I so appreciate the women’s event yesterday. It’s called, “Return.” For two times now they have just hammered home with our women the character of God. And I’ll guarantee you, the more we look into that and study that, the more we’ll understand the conduct of God.
You see, church, God always acts according to his character. Which means, let me put this in some shoe leather for you: God never does any unloving thing. He never asks any unloving thing from you. Why? Because God is love. It is impossible for God to do anything that is unloving. God can do no unholy thing. Why? Because God is holy. God can do nothing unjust. Why? Because he is the epitome of justice and righteousness. So everything God does, whether we think it’s good or in our terms bad, is loving, holy, just, righteous, perfect. Why? Because that’s who God is and so we worship him for that.
You read through the Psalms and you find that many of the Psalms talk about what God did. So, again, man, let’s praise him for his wonderful acts of mercy, amen? But they are rooted in the fact that God is a God of mercy. So the Psalms and much of our doctrine, it’s a combination of both of these: who God is and what God does. But I think the order matters and I want to encourage you, when you pray, when you pray, I would encourage you to start with God’s character and then move to his conduct. It will begin to change how you treasure God’s presence and value it even above, let’s say, all the time what God does. So when God has to do difficult things, when God does a 1 Samuel 4, you’re still confident. You’ll worship God, that he loves you because that’s who he is. Okay?
Now, if you get this backwards some days, like God does something awesome for you and you’re like, “Man, God, thanks for doing that!” You didn’t sin, okay? It’s a mindset we’re after that even in that spontaneous exuberation of praise you still know, “Wow, God, do you know why you did that? Because that’s just the kind of God you are.” It’s this constant understanding God does because he is. So it’s value his character as well as his actions.
The second tip I’d give you is this: value continual obedience, not just initial repentance. I think we are a people, especially in the American church, we love the rescue story and I do too, by the way. But do you know what? It’s the path after the rescue that often matters most. How are we traveling that? I’m all for God doing what only he can do, save people from their sin, hallelujah, but he calls us after that to obey everything he’s commanded us to do, Matthew 28. And can I just exhort you as your pastor to establish a biblical order of personal priorities that you will obey everything Jesus said regardless; that when the Lord speaks, here’s the answer, “Yes, I’m in. Now, what do you want me to do?” That’s the motto of a disciple. When that happens, you’ll begin to value God’s presence, that he’s with you, over man’s presence. Well, if I do this, you’ll give me what? Or if I don’t do this, you won’t give me…? You have all these negotiations. Chuck that stuff. God has promised to be with us so let’s obey him, period.
His presence is far greater than man’s presents with a “t.” In fact, consider this and then we’ll move to communion: what did Jesus promise the disciples on the heels of the Great Commission? He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations. Teach them, baptize them, and I am with you.” He didn’t say, “Hey, and enjoy the first thousand converts.” He didn’t say, “Man, you’ll have church planting in 15 states.” He didn’t say, “You’ll see miraculous revival in four countries.” He promised one thing, “I’ll be with you.” Why would he say that? Here’s my opinion, your pastor’s opinion is this: because he knew the first few hundred years of the church’s life would be extreme persecution. In fact, ten regimes of persecution marked the beginning of the church and why did they not quit? Why does the blood of the martyrs act as the seed of the church? Because they knew, “Man, you can do whatever you want. God is with us.” And they treasured his presence most.
Perhaps this is what is so stark about 1 Samuel 4, it wasn’t until 1 Samuel 4 that someone finally knew God is gone. You talk about sad. We’ll see next week that for the next 20 years they lamented what for 40 they never recognized. Are you there today? Is God gone? Missing? No, he’s fully in control but he’s chosen to remove his blessing and power to get your attention. Would you now in humble submission repent to God and let what could be your judgment actually be your rescue?