Tasting defeat with God’s symbolic presence
March 21 Bible Reading: 1 Samuel Chapters 4-6
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!