Israel 2016

Israel 2016
Roman architectural influence in Bet Sean, Israel

Monday, March 27, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Mar 28, 1 Sam 4-8

Today's readings are 1 Sam 4-8.

Samuel grows in knowledge and stature. The Philistines invade! Remember them? The ones Samson struck a blow against (Jdg 16:30)? They're back, more aggressive than ever and more powerful too. Israel is losing the battle but understands that God is behind their dilemma (1 Sam 4:3), He's allowing the Philistines to do their damage. Rather than call out to Him, Israel superstitiously brings the Ark of the Covenant into the battle, putting their trust in the ark rather than the One the ark is meant to honor. They're using it as some kind of amulet or charm whose presence, they hope, will give them victory. Or, perhaps they think forcing the presence of God onto the battlefield will maneuver Him into gaining the victory for them. Either way, Israel is trying to control the situation to produce the outcome they desire. Rather than praying and seeking God’s will, they take things into their own hands.

The Philistines capture the ark (1 Sam 4:10) and the sad spiritual state of Israel is exposed as they lose one of their most precious possessions.  Eli’s sons die on the same day, just as prophesied in 1 Sam 2:34. Israel has allowed themselves to slip so far that they are no different than the nations around them. They put their faith in a symbol of God instead of in God Himself. Now, even the symbol is gone. 

Eli dies (1 Sam 4:12-18). The glory of God departs (Ichabod). There is little to distinguish them from the nations they have allowed to dwell among them (1 Sam 4:21-22). The warnings and curses pronounced in Shechem have all come true (Dt 27:11-28:68; Jos 8:33-35).

Having the ark does not go well for the Philistines. Judgment falls on them in 1 Sam 5. In fear, they acknowledge the power of Israel’s God (1 Sam 4:11). Yet, they do not worship and revere Him. Nonetheless, they are subject to His laws and guidelines for holiness. Now, He is among them. All they really want from the one true God is for Him to go away and leave them alone. While there is regard for His power and might, there is no commitment to Him and no effort to abandon their other gods and enter into an exclusive relationship with Him. They are like the demons who believe and shudder but are not His (Jam 2:18). The presence of the ark among them brings them nothing but trouble and hardship. Once again, we see that non-belief exempts no one from God's judgment.

In desperation, they return the ark to Israel (1 Sam 6:1-9). This is good news and reason for celebration. But God is still holy, still pure; He has not changed. There remains only one non-negotiable way to approach Him (Num 4:20). All the guidelines regarding the handling and display of the ark apply. God’s laws do not change according to circumstances. There is no “Well, you’ve had a hard time. I guess we can overlook your sin just this one time.” This becomes evident when those Hebrews who look directly upon the returning ark die (1 Sam 6:19). This incident is a harsh reminder of God’s perfect holiness and our desperate need for grace.

In 1 Sam 7:1, the ark is now installed in Kiriath-jearim, which is closer to Jerusalem than Shiloh. If you follow the ark from the moment it was built in the Wilderness at Sinai (Ex 25:10), you’ll see that every time it relocates among the Jews, it gets closer to Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Samuel continues to develop as a judge, prophet, and deliverer. Israel turns back toward God, trusting in Him rather than those things that symbolize Him (1 Sam 7:8). We see this in their cry for God to save them whereas they had previously believed the ark would save them.

Samuel becomes the leading figure in Israel. 1 Sam 7:12 tells us he sets up a stone, naming it Ebenezer (stone of help), reminding Israel that, in spite of their rebellion, God has been gracious and consistent in redeeming them. The glory has returned.

In 1 Sam 8:1 we hear that Samuel has sons that do not walk in the ways of their father. Apparently even the most pious men of the Bible can have difficulty with their children! But, the elders of Israel naively use Samuel’s struggling sons as an excuse to demand a king (1 Sam 8:4-5). Note, there is no problem with Israel wanting a king. They were actually designed to be led by a king, the King of Kings. The struggle Israel is having is over why they want a king. They want to be like the nations around them. They want a king to judge them and fight their battles for them (1 Sam 8:5, 20). Yet, God is their King. God is their judge and fights their battles for them. Grievously, Israel doesn't want a king that will make them holy. They want a king that will make them like the rest of the world.

They want to be like the nations around them. The evidence seems to indicate that they already are. This should cause us to ask ourselves, “What does the evidence in my life exhibit? Am I more like the people around me or my God?”

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