So the people sent to Shiloh, and from there they carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts who sits above the cherubim; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
1 Samuel 4.4
The Israelites didn’t get their God right very much. It is pretty clear in most of the Old Testament histories. Here in 1 Samuel, they do something quite atrocious: they use the Ark of the Covenant as a talisman to help them beat the Philistines, and in response God gave them into the Philistines’ hands; more sadly they lost the ark. Their wrong view of God wasn’t just in thinking that the Ark had magical qualities, though. They also invited their favorite priests Hophni and Phineas to join them. The book of Samuel had already noted how evil these men were. They didn’t follow God’s laws, they offered sacrifices wrongly. Now here they permitted the use of the Ark as a weapon of war when it was an illustration of the presence of the invisible God in the midst of the congregation of Israel.
With the great loss of life (30,000 men) and in giving the ark to the Philistines, God had a message for Israel that is still important for us today as well: know me! If the priests had been faithful in expounding God’s word, if they had been faithful in offering proper sacrifices according to God’s word, if they had led the people in proper worship according to God’s word, if they had prevented idolatry according to God’s word, this would have never happened. But we have seen both in Joshua and Judges how the Israelites forsook God and how they built idols in the Image of God as though it was an honorable thing.
As we reflect on this apostasy, we should be reminded that on our own, we are no better. We have our own spiritual talismans which we think make us spiritual, but like we read in James last week we bless and curse God with the same mouth. We are good at doing the right things, but we won’t let go of our bitterness because we think it is justified bitterness. We are good at living in freedom, but we do not take the example of Christ Jesus who although he is in the form of God considered himself as nothing. The list could go on. In the second half of James 3, he provides us with two ways: the way of the wise and the way of the fool. We are not so far away from the way of the fool. It is very easy to have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition hidden under our piety. James doesn’t just say shame on you. He calls this demonic.
The other option is to follow the path of wisdom. Even if there are problems with others, James says that the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. The way of the wise is not bitter jealousy and selfish ambition but this: pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, and without hypocrisy. Where does this come from but by the work of the Spirit of God through the work of Christ to the glory of God the Father in our lives?
Paul reminds the Corinthians that some of us had once lived in the path of unrighteousness, but now we have been sanctified and justified: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” It is a blessed thing to live on this side of the cross and to know the grace and peace of Christ.
As we come to worship this Sunday we always ought to remember the great darkness we have been delivered from and the grace in which we now ought to walk, and if there is any sin residing in us, we need to always be putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit and thus we will have life.