Thank heavens Samuel knew what God was about to do. The people were already listening to Samuel and the words he spoke. But Samuel is not the focus of this reading. The Ark of the Covenant takes center stage now.
We are reminded that Israel is fighting with the Philistines. This has been an ongoing saga. We read of it in the Book of Judges. I’m not certain if this reading is a parallel time to battles described elsewhere in Scripture. But the Israelites are not winning. What are they thinking? Where is God?
Of course, that was the question of the day. Elders of the defeated Israelites get the bright idea to bring the Ark up to the front line. After all, if God is there at the source of the conflict “physically,” they should not lose again. Their thought was this. “If we carry it into battle with us, it will save us from our enemies.”
Other Israelites must have been in agreement with this idea and were overjoyed to see the Ark approaching. Imagine their lament when it was stolen from under their noses following another defeat by the Philistines. They not only lost their sacred Ark, but they lost the sons of Eli. God’s prediction was coming to pass.
I think one of my favorite lines from this reading comes from a Philistine. “Help! Who can save us from these mighty gods of Israel?” Short of not understanding there is only one God, this is powerful. It signifies that even a non-believer can recognize the power AND existence of our God. Coming from a tradition who has many gods, a god for this and a god for that, the Philistines can’t wrap their heads around the idea that one God can do so much.
We know who our help comes from. Psalm 121:2 says, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” The same God who was letting the Israelites be defeated. He had his reasons. We just aren’t sure what they might be, any more than the Israelites were in real time.
Instead of running the other way that day from fear of the ark’s power, the Philistines dug deeper for the will and fortitude. The end of that story was victory for them after all. Their biggest prize of the day must have surely been capturing the Israelite gods (Ark) that day.
Yet the defeat brought great anguish to the Israelites. They had thought the Ark would bring them victory. What happened? Had God left them completely? Now, the Ark was even gone. Were they totally alone?
Have you ever felt like you were abandoned by God and left alone? Have you ever experienced a disappointment so deep it rocked your faith? Take some time to thank God that he never left your side during those times. He has brought you to this moment. Rejoice in him.
Let’s pray …
Lord, I know you’re there even when I cannot feel you. I’m sure the confused Israelites weren’t sure what to think. Thank you that we can use the lessons they lived and learned to keep us more focused on you and attentive to what you want rather than what we want. Help me to bring light into this world. Show me the way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.