How many times do we find ourselves in situations where we should have known better? Why do mistakes seem so obvious only after the fact?! It’s easy to see the mistakes of the Israelites at times, a whole lot harder to catch my own.
1 Samuel 4:1-3 shows me how easy it is to miss the obvious in life. The Israelites had gone out to fight against the Philistines and they were defeated, losing about 4,000 men that day. There was not any one particular judge or prophet leading them into battle at this time. Samuel was a boy growing up under Eli the priest’s care, but he was not yet a judge. The elders of Israel, collaboratively, gave direction to the nation as they processed events.
It says in verse 3, “When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, ‘ Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD’S covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.'”
Immediately, two questions pop into my mind because I’m the kind of person who longs to understand. If I see something go wrong, I want to know why it went wrong and how it could have happened better. I want to understand so I can learn from it before I am faced with a circumstance that would require similar reasoning. For me to see something happen, without understanding why it transpired in such a way, brings anxiety to me because I fear I am just as vulnerable.
I first notice that the elders do ask a question of “why”. But what astounds me is that they asked the question almost rhetorically. Why did they not ask the LORD the question? Red flag #1. In the past, under the leadership of Moses and Joshua, the nation would inquire of the Lord Himself to determine direction and events that happened. They were dependent on the Lord as their leader to go with them into battle, giving them victory as they fought against the enemies in their promised land. They also looked to Him when they lost a battle to see what the problem was, and He would faithfully explain what went wrong.
As a nation, they were slowly drifting away from their close connection with the LORD. They had stopped asking, and He had stopped delivering. Although they wondered why the LORD allowed it, they did not bring the question to Him specifically. They were left leaning upon their own reasoning. Red flag #2.
They decide to look to the ark of the LORD’s covenant to save them. They thought that if the ark was with them, they would be protected and victorious. Why would they place more importance on the ark, an object, rather than the God who was represented by the covenant in the first place?
It was God who had made promises to them and they had responded in agreement with this covenant. Now when they had broken faith by drifting from Him, they wondered “why” and sought to cling to the object rather than the God it represented.
This looking to something other than the Person of God for power and provision is nothing less than idolatry. He is what they were to depend upon and look to for help. Not what He had used in the past as a symbol or tool.
The “obvious”, asking God specifically why they had lost, and then asking for further direction, was lost on them. And of course, it only got worse for them as they lost an even greater battle, as well as the ark itself to the Philistines.
The nation suffered a stunning blow at losing the ark. They were aghast. The glory had departed from Israel, just as Israel had departed from their God.
How had it come to this?
Haven’t I asked the same question of myself ? Hadn’t I missed the obvious at times just as much as the Israelites?
Whenever I cease to look to God personally for direction, or guidance over things that have gone wrong for me or my family, I have been left just as devastated. Ignorance is not an excuse. Denial and rebellion is the explanation.
I don’t ask because I don’t want to know. That is the bottom line. If I don’t ask, it is probably because I already know what He is going to say and I don’t want to hear that.
He is patient enough to let me, and all of us, have our way and reap our consequences. Then, when we have been left with a stunning blow, we repent, running back to the arms of a Father waiting and wanting to rescue all along. He loves us too much to condone our sin. Thankfully, we reap what we sow, and finally, we are able to see the obvious. He is of utmost importance to us and we are in much peril when we drift.
Are you drifting friend? Have you stopped looking to God first and foremost for your “happiness”? Have you stopped asking what He thinks? Have you pulled back from His Word? From His church? Are you surrounding yourself with people who neither look to God nor care what He thinks?
They world cannot advise you nor satisfy you like your Heavenly Father, who sent His only Son to die for you. The world offers cheap substitutes, and in the end, the glory departs just the same as it did for the Israelites. The obvious is unmistakable……..given enough time.
May we open our eyes to the value and love of the One who died for us. May we bend our knee in submission and receive the forgiveness He offers when we have gone our own way. He is faithful, even when we are faithless. Glory to God for that!!