Description / Transcription
Our heavenly Father, as we think of those two truths, our worth and our unworthiness, we come to Your Word asking, believing in faith, that You would speak to us, tell us just what we need to hear, cut through all of the distractions. May we hear not simply a man speaking behind a pulpit from a book, but the very voice of God speaking from the very Word of God. Cut us to the quick, O Lord, lead us to the cross. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We live in a day of easy virtue signaling. Of course, virtue is good, and publicly indicating some virtuous cause can be a good thing. But virtue signaling, as the phrase has come to be used, is often a shortcut for real virtue. It means as a pejorative phrase, you simply have the right sign. You put the right symbol, and therefore you can be assured that you’re one of the good guys, instead of one of the bad guys.
And so if you have on your social media feed or somewhere in your corporate headquarters a rainbow flag, or a black square, or perhaps at the other end of the political spectrum an American flag, or even a cross, you have the right symbol. If you simply have the right sign, whatever else you do, whatever other sort of person you are, that indicates your virtue above all else.
It means you’re a good person. You celebrate the right things, you’re outraged over the right things. You have the right symbols, the right cultural signs, the right cultural artifacts, and it means no matter what else I do, what else I don’t do, no matter what sort of person I am to be around in the workplace, no matter what sort of husband or wife I am, whether I’m a faithful student or not, what sort of maturity I have as an 18-year-old or not, as long as I have the right culturally appropriate sign, I’m good. I’m on the right side. And we may even think God is on my side.
This chapter that we’re about to read, 1 Samuel chapter 4, is about the sin of presumption. Now, as a Michigan State fan, living in North Carolina, I immediately thought this will bring a little pain to Pastor Tom and a few others, but September 1, 2007. University of Michigan 32, App State 34. [laughter] Yes, you can clap for that. Vegas was so certain of the outcome they didn’t even put a betting line on the game. The final field goal went through and App State was victorious. The greatest upset in college football history, it was declared.
When we commit the sin of presumption as Christians, we assume that God will show up on our side no matter what, and we find in our hearts this attitude that says, “Oh, God, bring it on. Come, God, burn up the bad people.” Never imagining for a moment that perhaps we might be the ones in God’s sight. And instead of living as God’s servants, we make Him our servant. We want God to be a genie in the bottle, and you rub the lamp and He comes out and He gives us wishes and He does what He wants and He takes care of all of the people we don’t like, and lo and behold He likes all the things that we like.
And so often we end up with a domesticated deity, a god who does what we want, when we want, how we want, to whom we want, and we call him a god, but really it’s a god of our making. You look down the well of deity and wouldn’t you know it, the reflection is your own. God made us in His own image, and ever since we’ve been returning the favor by making Him in ours.
We will read from 1 Samuel chapter 4 and you will encounter in God’s people their great sin of presumption. Follow along as I read, beginning at verse 1.
“And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? 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.”
“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. And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “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 gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”’
“So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And 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.”
“A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head. When he arrived, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out. When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, “What is this uproar?” Then the man hurried and came and told Eli. Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see. And the man said to Eli, “I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.” And he said, “How did it go, my son?” He who brought the news answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, 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.”
“Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention. And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured. ””
1 Samuel chapter 4 is a two-act play with two scenes in each act. Act 1, verses 1 through 11, the Philistines capture the ark. That’s the first act. You can see it marked out there in sections in your Bible. Scene 1 we could entitle “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling,” verses 1 through 4.
Now last week, as you’ve been led so well by the pastors preaching through the first few chapters, we saw Samuel had grown to be a prophet, and we read at the end of chapter 3 verses 19 and 20 that he was recognized by all of Israel. Now curiously, we don’t see Samuel again until chapter 7, which is some 20 years later, we’ll read in chapter 7 verse 2. In the meantime we have in chapter 4, 5, and 6 a series of stories about the ark, and I believe the narrator has likely left Samuel out of the picture here to show that Samuel was not the one to blame for this whole business about the ark coming and going.
Now we don’t know if the events of chapter 4 took place immediately after chapter 3 or closer to the end of the 20-year gap, but apparently Samuel hasn’t yet been established as the political leader of Israel because we still have to see what had been prophesied in chapter 2, the fall of the house of Eli. We had heard this prophecy that on the same day his wicked sons Hophni and Phinehas would die, but we hadn’t seen the words fulfilled until here in chapter 4.
So chapter 4, the curtain opens, and you have a battle scene. The Philistines are encamped at Aphek, near the Mediterranean coast and the territory of Ephraim, and the Israelites are 2 miles away at Ebenezer, and the two armies line up against each other and in dramatic fashion the Philistines are victorious, you read in verse 2. The battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines who killed about four thousand men. So the Philistines are victorious, they kill four thousand men, Israel is defeated.
And this prompts some soul searching on behalf of the elders in verse 3, and they think to themselves, “What went wrong here?” They’re the leaders, they’re the elders. They’re saying, “Wait a second. Philistines? Bad guys. Israelites, good guys.”
And notice where they’re encamped, Ebenezer, Eben-ha-ezer, stone of help, is what the name means. When they crossed the Jordan they would put the Ebenezer stones. They’re encamped at a city that literally means God is going to help them, and yet it doesn’t seem that God has helped them. They have this Promised Land, they’re God’s chosen people, His treasured possession, He rescued them from Egypt. He’s supposed to fight for us, they think. Israelites don’t lose to Philistines. God has lost that lovin’ feeling.
And so they come up a plan: Let’s get the ark. You see that in verse 3. Ah, this is bound to be a good plan. You look at what it’s called in verse 4: So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts.
Let’s take each of those phrases. The ark. You remember what the ark is. It’s a wooden box overlaid with gold, two winged cherubim, angels on top of the mercy seat. This lid was supposed to be the earthly symbol of God’s heavenly throne. It was said that God symbolically dwelt there. That was His throne, that’s where He sat. This is the holiest artifact in Israel. Only the priests and the Levites could carry it. It symbolizes the Lord’s presence.
Unlike the other nations, the Israelites didn’t have idols. They didn’t have their gods to look like animals or to look like humans. The box wasn’t God, but the box was supposed to be a symbolic representation of where God would dwell there in the tabernacle in their midst.
And as they call for the ark, you can imagine the wave of nostalgia sweeping over them. Ah, the ark. Probably slapping each other on the back, “We’ve had some good days with the ark, haven’t we? Remember when we, our forefathers marched to the Jordan River with the ark and the dry ground appeared? Oh, the ark was good. And remember then, we marched with ark around Jericho, and the walls came a tumbling down with just trumpets and singing and shouting. Ah, yes, the ark. Go, bring the ark.” They call it the ark of the covenant. “Remember, we’re the covenant people. We have the ark with us and God’s covenant blessings. He’s promised us through Abraham. He promised through Moses. We’re His special people. We have a relationship with God that nobody else on the face of the earth has, with the only true God, the Lord Yahweh, we’re His covenant people. Of course this’ll work. It’s the ark of the covenant of the Lord of Hosts.”
That word “hosts” has become unfamiliar to us. You could translate it “armies.” He’s the Lord of armies. When we have the ark, we have the God of armies. This is better than a tank, a bomber, a destroyer, an aircraft carrier. This is the ark of the Lord God of armies.
You can just imagine whoever had the first idea, “Hey, guys, the ark.” Now they’re getting high fives, yes, elbow/fist bumps, “Yes, exactly, go to Shiloh, and bring the ark.”
Not a bad idea, but the narrator here tells the story with brilliant intrigue and subtlety.
Look at verse 4. So just as you had this idea, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of Hosts, enthroned in the cherubim, the ark in all its glory, but wait a minute. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. So if this were a movie, there would be great melodious swelling of orchestra as the ark comes and then there would be a minor key, there’d be some sinister music, and you would see Hophni and Phineas. If it was a kids’ cartoon, they would have, you know, they would have jagged eyebrows and angular features and one of them would be doing a [sinister laughter], sort of evil maniacal laugh.
Hophni and Phinehas. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. You’ve got to be kidding me. You want the holiness of God on your side, and so you bring the holiest artifact of God’s holy people, and who comes with it but these two most unholy men. These are the men who took the flesh from the pot and slept with the flesh from outside the temple, in chapter 2 verses 12 through 17 and then down at the end of the chapter, verse 22. You can read about it. What were these men doing?
Well, in the elaborate ritual of how the burnt offering and the peace offerings would take place, you’d bring the meat, and meat is a great rarity. This is a lavish feast when you get to eat meat, and these guys are just elbowing their way in because it would be the priest’s right to eat some of what’s left over to the offering, but they’re just there to get fat, just to get their fill. They don’t care about the sacrifices and the offerings, they’re just sticking their forks in and, “Here, feed us.” They’re not priests who want to serve the people, they want to be served.
And then later it says that they were sleeping with women outside of the tent, outside of the holy place. These guys are no good.
You can always tell the bad guys. They’ll zoom in and even if you don’t quite know yet in the story, there’ll be some sort of flash of red in their eyes or a pointy nose or their lips will curl up, some sinister music. Well, that’s Hophni and Phinehas, and the Israelites should have known better.
It’s like a church saying, “Why is our church struggling? Why are people leaving? Why aren’t we making budget? Why are our glory days gone?” and the church says, “You know what we need to do? We need to get a bigger Bible. That’s it. We need a bigger Bible. We need the biggest possible Bible that we can have in the pulpit, and if we get the biggest Bible, God’s going to bless us.”
Well, nothing wrong with wanting to have a nice big Bible, but then who do they get to preach from that Bible? Well, a well-known charlatan. Not Charlottian, they’re okay, but a well-known charlatan. A phony, a fraud, a hypocrite. Like these men, Hophni and Phinehas.
There was a story this week, it’s a sad story, you may remember if you follow major league baseball, the player Ben Zobrist. He won a world series with the Royals and then with the Cubs, and for the last several years has been protracted in an increasingly public mess with his wife. There’s two paragraphs from the New York Post this week: Ben “Zobrist, who retired who retired from a 14-season MLB career in March 2020, learned that his wife was having an affair with their pastor, according to court documents that surfaced last week. The same minister is also accused of defrauding Zobrist’s charity, where he was employed.”
“The 40-year-old ex-infielder seeks $6 million in damages from Byron Yawn, the CEO of Forrest Crain & Co., a Nashville-area business-consulting firm. Yawn is a former pastor and an elder at Community Bible Church in Nashville, where he met Zobrist and his wife, Julianna.”
He’s not been there for several years. You could go on Amazon. I looked just this morning, and you can buy Byron Yawn’s book, published in 2012, with a forward by John MacArthur. The book, What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him. Not blaming the church or blaming John MacArthur for doing a forward, that was almost 10 years ago. But it is to give just one more example and sadly we have too many examples like that. Ministry and life is littered with these kinds of stories.
Now I know nothing about this particular story other than what I’ve read to you, but you can imagine how these things happen. Perhaps you think that your position or your giftedness or your results or your family connections or your money or your fame justify your sin, and it can happen to men in ministry and it can happen to any of us, in any kind of ministry or life. And because you seem to be somebody, and you have a name or you have connection, or you have notoriety, or you have degrees or you have followers, somewhere along the line you’ve convinced yourself that it doesn’t really matter how you live, that God can bless you no matter what and that God couldn’t be against you. You’re one of the good guys, right? No matter what you do.
And you become blind to your sin and you think that you can be completely insulated from the consequences of your sin. Friends, you and I need to take a hard look at our lives. Easy to point the finger: “Oh, Hophni and Phinehas, how could you do it?”
Do you have sin in your life? Sin in your ministry? Sin in your work? Sin in your marriage? Now, we all sin, of course, but I’m talking about unchecked sin, unrepentant sin, duplicitous sin. You’ve kept it hidden. You don’t think anyone knows about it, but God knows about it. And if sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind, and more often than not, people find out, even the deepest, darkest secrets you think no one knows.
God knows, God sees with Hophni and Phinehas, their great sin of presumption. It doesn’t matter what we do and how we live, we’re on God’s side, we come with the ark.
That’s the first scene.
Here’s the second. If the first scene was “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” scene two is “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.”
You see, it’s a masterful act of storytelling, because we are certainly set up to think a terrific Israelite victory is coming. The people are shouting, a resounding noise. The earth is shaking, the rumbling, the Philistines are quaking, stand back, here comes the ark!
Michael Jordan or Lebron or Steph Curry coming off the bench in your pickup game. Renaldo. Katie Ledecky’s going to swim a lap for you. Jeff Bezos is going to open up his check and give you a gift. This cannot go wrong.
But something strange happens. The presence of the ark makes the Philistines desperate, but it also makes them brave. They fight like men, we read twice. The Israelites have grown soft. They’re presumptuous. The battle is even more disastrous with the ark than it was without the ark. Really, things could not have gone worse.
So the Israelites were defeated. Remember the first time they lost 4000 men? Well, here we read that they lose 30,000 men. 30,000 foot soldiers compared to 4000 last time. Not only that, but we read that every man fled to his home. And not only that, but the leading men of the nation, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead. And not only that, but the holy ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts has been captured. This could not have gone worse.
If scene one ended with the curtain closing and sort of an ominous picture of Hophni and Phinehas and some sinister music in the background, what’s going to happen with these unholy men carrying nearby the holy ark, then this second scene fades to black with a shot of these two men lying dead on the ground. The narrator was trying to tell us in the first scene, yes, these guys are the problem, and the narrator says here, “See what I mean? Didn’t I tell you these guys were the problem?”
Just as the prophecy said in chapter 2, 29 through 34, a disaster would befall both of them on the same day. Surely now it has happened.
But lest we’re too quick to just point the finger at Hophni and Phinehas, there was a problem with the people at large. They presumed upon the Lord.
Now this was public sin. Eli knew of this sin. This was sin in public places. This wasn’t something, well, we didn’t know it was happening and once we found out what was happening we did something. We tried to make it right.
That happens all the time. No, this was a public sin. People knew they were sleeping with these women. People knew what they were doing with the meat of the sacrifices, and they presumed upon the Lord, and thought, “Well, as long as we get the ark here, so be it. God will show up as long as we have the ark.”
And you know what? They were right. God did show up. They were certain that if they had the ark, God would show up to judge the wicked people. And about that they were exactly right. What they hadn’t counted on was that it is us. It’s we. We’re the bad guys. We’re the ones deserving of judgment. We’re the covenant breakers.
The ark of the covenant, in other words, did not save them, it testified against them, against their lawlessness, against their impurity, against their moral permissiveness. They were certain that they could manipulate God’s power like you might with an artifact. There are all sorts of religions in the world and sometimes Christianity even gets perverted in this way, that you trust in icons or pictures or relics or here’s a lock of hair from Jesus or here’s a piece of the cross from Peter, and if we just venerate these things, or here’s a special picture, and if we just have these holy artifacts, God is on our side.
Or some kind of incantation, some kind of spell. If I just say a prayer, if I just pray in Jesus’ name, if I just claim the blessing.
Or if I just have a certain posture. Maybe if I pray facing Jerusalem. Or maybe if I go to the woods or the mountains or the ocean, those are special places. There God will really show up.
Friends, the power of God does not work like a video game, you just collect your special potions and items and then just use your special items, and there you have special powers, God shows up.
Listen, we can rely on something good and rely on that thing in a way that is bad. I’m a Presbyterian, this is a Presbyterian church, I love the Westminster Confession of Faith. It’s a very good thing to know it, to believe it, to teach it, to understand it. It could be a danger. Well, we are after all the good kind of Presbyterians. We have the Westminster Standards. Or “I’m a church officer, don’t you know?” Or “I’m a pastor, I’ve been to seminary.” Or “I teach at seminary. I have a Greek Bible with me. I’m a missionary. I lead Bible studies. I read Calvin. I say my prayers before I go to bed. Don’t you know?”
Well, those are all, of course, very good things, but you can trust in them in a very bad way.
The Philistines, did you notice? They actually had better theology than the Israelites. The Israelites don’t have a transcendent God. They have a box that they think will do special favors for them. The Philistines have better theology. Now, they don’t understand who Yahweh is, they think it’s the gods and they’re confused. They have their own pagan filter, but at least they understand this God of the Hebrews is to be feared.
The Israelites figure this God of the Hebrews was to do tricks for them. The Philistines said, “Oh, no, everyone man up because this God does amazing things. This is the God who did the plagues in Egypt. We better be ready. This is a fearful God.”
They didn’t worship Yahweh, but at least they feared Him. The Israelites had domesticated Him. Just bring in the ark, that’ll take care of business.
But it will be a constant theme throughout the Old Testament, the Lord saying, “Don’t I desire obedience more than sacrifices? Don’t I desire your heart to be fully engaged with Me more than I desire these perfunctory rituals? Or these artifacts?”
God wants heartfelt love and obedience, not just some vague religious ritual. Is it possible that some of you are desperate to have the power of God in your life, but you’re not dealing with Hophni and Phinehas? You’re not dealing with sin you know you have to deal with. And in that way, you’re not really getting serious about God. You are hoping that you can do a couple religious activities, bring in a couple religious artifacts, have the biggest ESV study Bible, and things will be good.
You’re not trusting. You’re not treasuring God. You’re presuming upon God, and there is a world of difference. Trusting and treasuring or presuming “I’m good, I’m a Christian, I’m Reformed, I got a Bible, I do Bible studies, I give money, I’m good. I’m one of the good guys.”
The second act we can deal with much more quickly. The first act, verses 1 through 11, the defeat of the Israelites, the capture of the ark, act two is the death of Eli. Scene 1, you have a bad day.
They return to Shiloh. Shiloh has been the setting for the first three chapters. Shiloh is where Eli resides, and it’s the holy place before you have Jerusalem. It’s where the sanctuary is, some 20 miles east from the battle. This Benjaminite has his clothes torn, dirt on his head, he’s in a sign of mourning and distress. Eli, sitting by the road, watching for some news about the battle.
You read in verse 13 his heart trembled for the ark of God. It gives some indication that Eli even knew that this ark idea was a little far-fetched. No doubt he’s worried about his sons, but he knows that the ark is supposed to be in the holy place. This is a prized possession and your sending it into the battle, this is high risk, high reward. He’s anxious about the ark.
It’s likely another example of Eli’s failed leadership. He knows what the right thing is and yet he doesn’t do it. He probably knows sending the ark is not a good idea, but he lets it happen.
So what happens? Eli finally gets the whole story from this man, and it’s one bit of bad news after another. You imagine this man running, he’s huffing and puffing: “All right, Israel defeated and they ran, a bunch of scaredy cats, they just ran away. And before we ran away, we got totally crushed on the battlefield, 30,000 people, and your two sons are dead, and you’re not going to believe this, but we lost the ark.”
All the news was bad news. And we read it was the news of the ark, verse 19, that got to him most. He fell off his rocker, literally. You see what’s happening here? Eli is literally dethroned. He was not the leader that Israel needed, making the way that Samuel will judge the people and then there’s going to be a king, but he judged the people through all these decades and now he is literally dethroned; old, heavyset, falls backwards after off his chair, breaks his neck, and dies. The prophecy had been fulfilled. Eli’s two sons killed in the same day, Eli himself judged because it seems that he loved his sons more than he loved the Lord.
That’s one of the hardest lessons any of us ever have to learn. I’ve heard it said before, “Blood is thicker than theology.” It should not be so.
Eli, okay, God, you can just imagine his internal wrestling. I want to kind of do the right thing, but the one thing I can’t do is I can’t come down on my boys.
He loved his sons, good thing. But he loved his wicked sons more than he loved the Lord. He failed to restrain them. He failed to judge Israel with integrity. He failed to exercise the kind of leadership that was necessary.
You have this terrible day in Israel, which gives way to the second scene of the second act, the birth of Ichabod.
You’ve heard, perhaps before, me say that the Hebrew word for “glory” is “cavod.” It’s the word for glory, for weight, for heaviness, so “Ic-cavod” is the absence of glory, the departure of glory. This is a dark day. There were would be nothing quite like this until Ezekiel 10 where the glory of the Lord leaves the temple.
The Philistines thought they had captured Israel’s God, and Israel may have thought this as well. They figured the glory has been exiled from Israel, and so as a kind of totem, a sign of this, Phinehas’ wife, she mourns the death of her husband, of her father-in-law, soon she will die. She calls this son no joyous name, but calls him Ichabod, the glory has left Israel.
Phinehas’ wife was wrong and she was right. Now on the one hand she was wrong. She was wrong in that God’s glory was not really in danger of being lost. In fact, God had showed himself to be glorious in the judging of Eli, his sons, and Israel. So however much she fears God’s glory has been lost, no, God’s glory was evident on that battlefield. God’s glory was manifest in the judgment of His covenant people. And God’s glory will be supremely manifested in chapter 5 among the Philistine captors.
The Israelites feared that the loss of the ark meant, well, God’s no longer in control and the Philistines must be more powerful than Yahweh, but as we’ll see, the exact opposite is the case. The loss of the ark will pave the way for demonstration of God’s power, almost unlike anything any of them had ever seen, and the Philistines’ capture of the ark is going to result in the indisputable display of God’s glory among these uncircumcised Gentiles.
So she was in a way wrong. The glory of God was not in danger of ultimately being lost, but actually this was its display.
But of course, in another sense, she was right. The ark was a symbol of God’s presence, and that presence was gone, that much was obvious. And she was also right to think that God had left Israel. Not left them ultimately, not forsaken all of His covenant promises, and of course God is omnipresent, so He was with them in that sense, but if you think of God’s presence as His favorable disposition, his blessing upon them, then certainly His face was no longer shining upon them, he had turned His back. They had despised His word, presumed upon His power, and He would not overlook their disobedience. And so the glory had left.
So what do we do? Well, in one sense, it would be nice if I just kept preaching, but I see my time’s almost out. And I got to chapter 5, and we see what’s God glory is really like, and we got to chapter 6 and the ark returns to Israel, but here at the chapter 5, what do we do? What do we do when it seems as if the glory has departed? Does it feel like some ichabod in your live? You think I don’t feel that way that I used to. There’s something missing in my marriage. Something missing in my family. Something not quite right in our church, in our denomination.
Where do you feel ichabod, has God’s glory left us? And what do we do?
Let me give you two things. Look inside and look up.
Look inside. And look inside before you look outside. If you sense that there’s something not right spiritually in your life, in your home, in your marriage, before you look outside, and that can certainly play a part, but before you look outside and you say, ah, what’s the culture doing and what are these people and what are the circumstances at work and who’s not been treating me well, what sort of bad things do I have happen in my life…
Before you look outside, look inside. Is it possible you’re presuming upon God’s favor? You’re like those in 2 Timothy 3:5. You have the form of godliness, but without the power. It is still relatively easy in a place like south Charlotte to have the form of godliness but deny the power thereof. And you look the park and you have the holy artifacts and you have the holy clothes to wear on Sunday, and you know how to say the right things and look the part, and you would have been there, we all would have been there, yes, bring in the ark of the covenant, oh, we love the ark.
But it’s a form of godliness without the power, because you haven’t dealt with sin. You haven’t turned from sin. You haven’t owned up to the sin in your life, to the unchecked rebellion, to the ways that you’re cutting moral corners, turning a blind eye to Hophni and Phinehas.
So look inside before you look outside.
And then after you’ve looked inside, be sure to look up. Be sure to look up. Because we who live on the other side of the cross do not have to end the story at 2 Samuel chapter 4, verse 22. Because we know John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” And we have seen what? His glory. Glory as of the only Son from the Father full of grace and truth.
As long as you turn from your sins, and you turn in faith to Christ, the glory dwells among you. The glory dwells in our midst. Glory more powerful, more real, better than any gold-plated ark of the covenant, the glory not of a box but of God’s only begotten Son, sent from heaven to earth for our sakes, died on the cross, rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven, seated at the right hand, coming again in glory.
The glory in chapter 4 of 1 Samuel was lost, the glory they needed. But the glory would return. Most immediately, the ark would come back. But later the glory would depart, would leave the temple, and they would be waiting, waiting, waiting for a return of the glory of God to dwell in their midst, but this time not in a box, not in a temple, not in a cloud, but in a person, who lived and died and rose again, and now dwells among us by His Spirit, forgiving our sins, ministering to us, grace upon grace, for all of our disobedience, all of our presumption, when we turn to Him and say, “Lord, we don’t want ichabod, we want Your glory to return.”
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, we given thanks for Your most holy Word, do a might work in our midst. Convict us of sin. We want the glory to dwell among us, not the glory as the world may understand it, but the glory of the risen, conquering Christ, in our midst. Forgive us our sins, lead us to the cross, give us more of Christ. In His name we pray. Amen.