Mercy, Magic and a Personal God
1 Samuel 4:1-10 :
The word of Samuel came to all Israel.
Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and encamped beside Ebenezer; and the Philistines encamped in Aphek.
The Philistines put themselves in array against Israel. When they joined battle, Israel was defeated by the Philistines,
who killed about four thousand men of the army in the field. When the people had come into the camp, the elders of Israel said,
“Why has Yahweh defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us get the ark of Yahweh’s covenant out of Shiloh and bring it to us,
that it may come among us, and save us out of the hand of our enemies.”
So the people sent to Shiloh; and they brought from there the ark of the covenant of Yahweh of Armies, who sits above the cherubim:
and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. When the ark of Yahweh’s covenant came into the camp,
all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again. When the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said,
“What does the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” They understood that Yahweh’s ark had come into the camp.
The Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God has come into the camp.” They said, “Woe to us! For there has not been such a thing before.
Woe to us! Who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods that struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues
in the wilderness. Be strong, and behave like men, O you Philistines, that you not be servants to the Hebrews, as they have been to you.
Strengthen yourselves like men, and fight!” The Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and each man fled to his tent.
There was a very great slaughter; for thirty thousand footmen of Israel fell.
I heard some of the things that atheists reportedly said right before they died. It was horrible to hear the fear and despair
in their tone. The way the Philistines acted when they learned that the Ark of God was in the camp remindes me of that. Even though
the Philistines spent most of their time opposing the God of Israel, fear gripped them when they realized that their end might be near.
They were wrong this time, however. God let the Philistines win. God's Ark was not a magical tool that a man could use for anything
He wanted. It's actually quite amazing that everyone who touched the Ark didn't die. The fact that they didn't demonstrated God's mercy.
The fact is, we all are still alive and we are supposed to be dead. That's what God told Adam and Eve when they sinned. The fact that
we are alive is an act of God's mercy too.
It is interesting that the Philistines were showing more fear of God than Israel. Israel had the actual words of God. They should have
been more afraid than the Philistines of not following protocol. No one was supposed to take that Ark out of the tabernacle without God's direction.
The Philistines, on the other hand, didn't even understand whether or not God was one God or many. It sounds like they almost started crying right
there in the battle field. That didn't stop them from fighting against God anyway.
God's a person and He expects to have a relationship with people, not to be treated like a magic wand.
God was clearly angry with Israel. He allowed them to lose 30,000 men that day, but that wasn't the worst of it, as we read next.