Let the Lord lead
1 Samuel 4-8
This passage begins by describing how and why the ark of the covenant of God was captured by the Philistines. In chapter 4, verses 1-11, the Israelites brought the ark to the battlefield. In that action, it appears they crossed the line from viewing the ark as a symbol of God’s presence to treating it as an idol. They were using the ark as a good luck charm. God was with Israel in many battles without the ark being present on the battlefield. The people were not living in honor of the covenant the ark represented, making the symbol of the ark’s presence useless. The ark was usually stationed in the tabernacle where the people worshipped. Eli’s sons despised that worship (1 Sam. 2:12-17), so bringing the ark to the battle was making a mockery of the true holiness of God it represented.
The true power behind any movement of the people of God is not in any symbol, but in the God Who commissioned us to move. Without total reliance on the Holy Spirit, our AHA symbol will have no meaning and, in fact, would be completely castrated in it’s ability to seed anything. We use the AHA symbol for a righteous cause, but we do not merely represent “AHA”, we represent our King.
In chapter 5, verses 18-22, we see dramatic reactions to the news of the ark being stolen. Grief was to be expected because lives were lost and an important symbol had been stolen. But, it seems, that the people were equating the ark being stolen as losing God. Yes, God dwelt in the ark, but He cannot be stolen. God was still in control. We tend to think that, when bad things happen, God has been removed by force and we must try to get Him back. God is not an idol that can be moved without His knowledge or consent. The abuse of the ark was symbolic of the people’s hearts. God had not been taken from them; they had walked away from His law and mocked His holiness. Losing the ark was merely an outward sign of a national sin. It was the symptom, not the disease.
But God still used the ark, the symbol of His holiness, His dwelling place, to judge his enemies. God doesn’t need us to prove He is God. He does not have to use us. The real God will not submit to false gods, regardless of the failures of His people. He allows us the privilege of serving Him. But, make no mistake, He can and will judge those against Him. You can choose to serve Him or be apart of that judgement.
The Philistines recognized the judgment of God. Their diviners warned them not to go against God by hanging onto the ark, referencing what happened to the Egyptians (6:1-6) several generations ago. Apparently it was a significant enough event that the story was passed down, even in other cultures. The diviners knew that they shouldn’t go against God because of the this historical example.
What will people say of our time in history? Will it be obvious that God worked and that we are His and He is with us? When God was chastising His people because of their sin, it was still obvious that the God of Israel was stronger than all other gods. When God puts down His enemies, He can do it even when His people are living in unrighteousness. We do not defend God. He defends us. We have the privilege of standing with Him in the fight if we are living a righteous life. But, rest assured, He does not need us. We need Him. If the abolition of abortion is to be accomplished, it will not be through rhetoric, clever slogans, symbols, or events, but by the hand of God.
So, the Philistines sent the ark back to escape further retribution from the God of Israel. The nation of Israel was still living in sin, however, and did not repent and put away their own idols until 20 years after the ark was returned (6:17-7:6). As soon as they gathered to sacrifice to God, the Philistines came at them again (7:7). God showed His strength once again, but this time His people, in repentance, got to participate in the victory (7:10-14).
The only thing God asks is that we live in obedience, not in sin. He does not need us. He fights for us. All the things that prevail against our enemies are the Lord’s doing, not ours. He can do it Himself, but He lets us participate and reap the benefits of victory. The Israelites prevailed this time, not because God made them stronger, but because God made their enemies weaker. While fear of God in obedience can make us stronger in the Lord, fear of God in disobedience most definitely results in weakness and defeat.
Years later, it appears the nation of Israel forgot that, ultimately, God must lead them. Samuel was getting old and his sons were not good judges, to say the least (8:1-3). It seems that they genuinely wanted a just ruler and respected Samuel as a judge (8:4-8), but failed to realize that God was their ruler and Samuel simply communicated God’s judgment.
Consequently, they asked for the wrong solution. A solution that leaves out God’s leadership is always the wrong solution. Human leadership can and does fail. The solution to leadership that fails is not to change the model of leadership to emulate another nation, another church or another family. It is to recognize the Lord as our sovereign leader. Rejection of the Lord’s leading will ultimately lead to the failure of any cause we undertake.
The Israelites were warned that an earthly king can only take, not give (8:9-13). How will people serve God or their own families if they are spent serving an earthly ruler? Our King in heaven gives us additional strength. We serve Him by His strength, not ours, but an earthly king does not have the power to empower us. We were made to serve a King who is all powerful. He can reign alone, but we get to participate in His power. Any other substitute will leave us discouraged, not encouraged. God is enough and He is everything.
Despite Samuel’s warnings, the Israelites still chose an earthly ruler over their true King (8:19-22) because they wanted a king to lead them in battle. The Lord was supposed to be the One fighting their battles. Listen to the godly leadership that God has set over you, but never set up a leader to replace the voice of God in your life.