If an enemy were to come against England and steal the Crown Jewels, it would be like ripping the heart out of England. If in the US an enemy came against it and stole the Declaration of Independence and the Statue of Liberty, it would be like stealing the heart of the nation. But to conquer Israel and steal the Ark of the Covenant was like stealing the soul and spirit out of Israel. It was almost as if God was being removed from Israel.
That’s what happened.
The Philistines came against Israel and made war against them. The Philistines won in their first battle. Devastated, the Israelites returned to camp. They then decided to take the Ark of the Covenant with them into battle. It didn’t matter that they had rebelled against the Lord and the people as a whole were acting wickedly, the very reason they were losing to the Philistines. Surely the Ark of the Covenant was so close to God’s heart that it would act like a good-luck charm.
The Philistines utterly routed the Israelites and what was worse, they captured the Ark of the Covenant. Nothing could have been worse for Israel.
The Scriptures say that Eli was blind, fat, and old when the battle with the Philistines took place. When he heard that both his evil sons had been killed in battle, and that the Ark of the Covenant had been taken by the hands of their enemies, he fell off his chair, broke his neck, and died. When his pregnant daughter-in-law heard that same news, she went into labor and died, although the baby lived. But she named her son Ichabod, which means
“The Glory has departed from Israel,” she said, “because the ark of God has been captured” (1 Sam 4:22).
This event was utterly unthinkable. That the Ark of God could fall into enemy hands…
Would God humble himself so deeply and be so distraught over the sin of his people that he would allow such a thing? Yes.
There comes a point where there is so much evil that he will allow his own name to be defiled in order to bring discipline to his people. That’s pretty bad. But the very fact that they could live in evil and think that the Ark would save them tells us how bad things had become.
And lest we think we are much different, it often happens today. People sometimes will bury statues or medallions of Jesus or Mary in their yard. Some will wear crosses on their neck for good luck charms (but not always for this purpose). Some will go to church and tithe and live far from him yet feel like he must run to them when they’re in trouble.
It’s easy to use God sometime. Like a crutch. Or a good-luck charm. But the very fact that we would so reflects that which is in our hearts.
The Israelites were going through the sacrifices but their hearts were far from him. We too can go through the motions and yet be far from him. And sometimes he allows the unthinkable to wake us up.