Tasting defeat with God’s symbolic presence: When the Israelites went out to battle against the Philistines, they were defeated and about 4000 Israelites were killed. Then the elders of Israel reasoned among themselves: "Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies" (1 Sam 4:3). Nobody had bothered to consult with Samuel who was by now an established prophet in Israel. (1 Sam 4:1a). The Israelites assumed that if they could carry with them the Ark of God into battle, they would win the battle. The Ark of God - the visible symbol of God's presence and help - was like the straw that the Israelites tried to grab to prevent from drowning. Instead of humbling themselves, turning away from their sins and getting right with God, the Israelites took an easier course as they wrongly assumed that God would help them to defeat their enemy.
However, God did not operate on Israel's terms in the battle, and we see the sad account of what happened: "So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent. There was a very great slaughter, and there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. Also the ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died" (1 Sam 4:10-11). While 4000 soldiers were killed earlier, now with the symbolic presence of God 30,000 soldiers were killed and the Ark of God was captured by the enemy. On hearing this horrific news, the High Priest Eli fell backwards on his seat, broke his neck and died instantly. These were the dark days of Israel indeed!
This incident teaches us that we can taste defeat in our lives with just having a superficial relationship with God. We may have all the outward manifestations of being a spiritual person – attend church regularly, take part in church activities, pay our monetary dues to Church, etc – but if our hearts are far away from God we will taste defeat as well. Our Lord Jesus asks us a direct question in this regard: "But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). In the very words of Jesus, this will be fate of those who are satisfied with just God’s symbolic presence in their daily lives: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' (Matt 7:21-23)