|Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines... 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. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, "Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD's covenant from Shiloh, so that it 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. (1Samuel4:1-4)|
This is what Israel does here. They are defeated by the Philistines and instead of taking the route of humility and repentance, they take the route of manipulation:
"Let's take God's Ark into battle - He'll defend His ark and we'll have the victory." (The movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark" has a similar theme.) Eli's sons, Hophni and Phineas are there too: this is their moment as bearers/wielders of the ark - if God gave them victory, the sons would be the heroes of the day.
The story unfolds tragically. The arrival of the ark in the Israelite camp gets the soldiers so hyped up that they believe their own plan. They shout and cheer so loudly that the Philistines hear it. But the Philistines are not filled with holy fear (which would have been the case if the Israelites were inspired by God's glory instead of their own hype) instead they are filled with grim determination - they say to each other: "Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!"
And so the battle commences and the Israelites are defeated, the Ark is captured and Eli's boys die in battle.
It is a devastating setback.
But it was the result of presumption, hubris and manipulation.
Did you notice the irony in the text?: "and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim"
The Israelites saw the Ark as the remote control for God.
They had to learn that the God of Israel - the Lion of Judah - is not a tame lion.
He doesn't bow down to our will but we must bow down to His.
This weekend we will celebrate Trinity Sunday. We think of the Father who created a Universe that astronomers tell us is still expanding. We worship the Son who faced the cross and defeated sin, death and Satan. We serve the Holy Spirit whose power took the gospel from eleven frightened disciples to the ends of the earth.
He is not a lucky rabbit's foot or a good luck charm.
He is not at our bidding but we should be at His.
He is God and we are not...