Where is the Glory?
“She named the child Ichabod––”Where is the glory?”––murmuring, “Israel’s glory is gone.” She named him this because the Ark of God had been captured and because her husband and her father–in–law were dead.” – 1 Samuel 4:21 NLT
Chapters three and four continue to use contrasts to set the scene of what is going on in Israel during these closing days of the judges. Eli, the current judge is old and has done a poor job of judging Israel. In fact, he has done an even worse job of judging his own sons, Hophni and Phinehas. God has had to condemn them for their disobedience and immoral habits. He has pledged to punish Eli and his entire family for their failure to live in obedience to Him (1 Samuel 2:30-35). Yet in spite of all this, God Himself appears before Samuel in the tabernacle and breaks a long period of silence by opening up the lines of communication again to His people. His first assignment to Samuel, his new judge and prophet is to tell Eli, the current judge, that the judgment of God is about to come on he and his house (1 Samuel 3:11-14). It is the end of one judge’s rule and the beginning of another. One is advanced in years. The other is young. One is tied to the years of rebellion associated with the people of God. The other is linked to the future of Israel and the hope that God is about to do a great thing among His people. There had been a shift in leadership and the people knew it. God had visited His people and Samuel was His new spokesman. “Samuel grew up. GOD was with him, and Samuel’s prophetic record was flawless. Everyone in Israel, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, recognized that Samuel was the real thing–a true prophet of GOD. GOD continued to show up at Shiloh, revealed through his word to Samuel at Shiloh” (1 Samuel 3:19-21 MSG).
It is interesting that after a detailed introduction to Samuel and his new role as God’s mouthpiece for Israel, he disappears from the story until chapter seven. He is mentioned in verse 1 of chapter four, but then we don’t hear from him again for several more chapters. Why? Again, I think it is to set up another contrast. The people of God had lost touch with God. Chapter 3, verse 1 tells us that a word from the Lord was rare in those days and that visions of God were infrequent. In other words, they were not used to hearing from God. So they didn’t know what to do with Samuel. They were used to doing things their own way. Eli had provided lousy leadership, so they had developed a bad habit of self-rule and self-administration. They didn’t really know or understand God. So when chapter four opens with another pending conflict with the Philistines, we find the people of God reacting in the flesh again. They go to battle with their arch enemies and lose. They immediately question why God has allowed them to lose, but never seem to ask why they never inquired of God regarding whether they should fight or not. As a remedy to their problem, the elders decide to send for the Ark of the Covenant, a symbol of God’s power and presence, which was housed in the tabernacle. The Ark contained the ten commandments written on stone and was topped by the mercy seat where the high priest atoned for the sins of the people. They send for the Ark like it was some kind of totem or talisman for good luck. In doing so they turn it into an idol or a good luck charm. They have no idea what the real presence of God might look like. Seven times in the next few chapters we read about the Ark of the Covenant. It becomes the focus now. The people are about to learn that having the things of God is not the same as having God. The presence of the Ark was not going to save them. In fact, we read in verse 17 of chapter four the bad news that was given to Eli by a messenger, “Israel has been defeated, thousands of Israelite troops are dead on the battlefield. Your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were killed, too. And the Ark of God has been captured” (1 Samuel 4:17 NLT). Israel has been defeated, thousands are dead, including two priests of God, and worse yet, the Ark of God is now in the hands of the Philistines. At this news, Eli topples over in shock, breaking his neck and dies. The chapter ends with the birth of a son to the wife of Phinehas, one of Eli’s rebellious sons. At the news of her husband’s death, she goes into premature labor, and in giving birth to her son, she too dies. But not before she names her new son, Ichabod, which literally means “where is the glory?” In her mind the glory of God had departed with the loss of the Ark. Her words reflect the attitude of the people. God was gone. All was lost. But the truth is, God was far from gone. He was using these dire circumstances to reestablish Himself as Israel’s King and sovereign Lord. He was in control. He was orchestrating events to accomplish His will. He used the battle with the Philistines to remove Hophni and Phinehas. He would use the capture of the Ark to defeat the Philistines. He would use the return of the Ark to bring a period of revival among the people of God. The glory of God had not departed. The people had left God long ago. He was now calling them back. Difficult times do not indicate that God has left us, but are simply opportunities to see God’s power revealed among us. The capture of the Ark did not limit God’s power or impact His presence. He was there. He was in control. But He needed to get their attention. Is He trying to get ours today?
Father, You are here. You are deeply engaged in the lives of Your people. We can’t always see You and we don’t always understand how You are working. But You are here. Open our eyes and help us recognize Your power and presence in the middle of even our darkest moments. You are not limited by circumstances, no matter how bleak they may appear to be. You are always working behind the scenes orchestrating events and situations in such a way that Your divine will is always accomplished. Give us eyes to see You clearly. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men