1 Samuel 4:12-22
12 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. 13 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. 14 When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, “What is this uproar?” Then the man hurried and came and told Eli. 15 Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see. 16 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?” 17 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.” 18 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. 19 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. 20 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. 21 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.”
Today’s passage is part of the larger narrative that starts in chapter 4. This passage reveals more of this sad time for the people of God and the fulfillment of what God said about Eli.
Notice how people feel about the ark, what they express about each other, and how they think of God. Their concern is for the Ark, not for the people that have died or even for the Lord. The Ark had become something that the people of God used as they saw fit. Their relationship with the Lord was very secondary, in fact, there is hardly a relationship at all. The starkest realization of all is to note that the people don’t cry out to the Lord for help and deliverance.
In Judges, (especially in chapter 2) we see a pattern of sin, consequences, crying out to the Lord and God saving His people from their enemies, but here, the cry to the Lord never comes. The people are so disconnected from the Lord that they never think to repent; therefore, God doesn’t respond. Their hearts were centered on their own wants and desires rather than on the Lord.
The only one who even comes close to recognizing the problem is the mother of Ichabod. She cries out that the glory of the Lord has departed from Israel, but even that is in relationship to the loss of the Ark. The Ark was seen as the visible sign of God’s presence with the people. The loss of the Ark was understood as God’s departure because their sins had driven Him away. When this young mother names her son Ichabod, (which literally means “Where is the glory?”) she is recognizing the departure of God from His people, but it’s because of the loss of the Ark and fails to recognize the loss of the relationship with the Lord.
A good question for us to consider is, what are we pursuing? Are we pursuing the good or the better? I know that sometimes I get caught up in pursuing the good over the better. There are so many good things to be pursuing throughout my day. They are good and probably no one would fault me for pursuing those things, but the better thing, the best thing, to pursue is Jesus. If we do that, everything else will fall into its right place. Even when things seem difficult and disastrous. Remember, God is still on His throne!
And the Lord is on His throne. As disastrous as all of this is for the people of God, don’t forget He is at work. He is on the move. Remember Samuel.
And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord. And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord. 1 Samuel 3:19-21 ESV
Even when it seems like everything is going against you, remember the Lord is for you. He is at work in your life and He is working for your good although we may not see or recognize all of the Lord’s work in and around us. In this context, we see God working in and through Samuel - even in this epic failure on the part of Eli and the people. We know that Samuel is part of a larger work of the Lord where His goodness, love, and grace are ultimately expressed in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
As I consider this passage, there is one thought that holds me captive - call out to the Lord. Don’t let anything stop you from turning to Him or returning to Him. The Lord is waiting and willing to hear you and welcome you into His presence.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
Psalm 145:18-19 ESV
God bless you and know that you are constantly in my prayers.