Today’s reading essentially deals with the Philistine capture of the Ark of the Covenant and the repercussions for both Israel and the Philistines. There’s plenty to think about in this section of 1 Samuel.
For example, why was Israel defeated by the Philistines? Was it because of Eli and his wicked sons? Was it because of Israel’s unfaithfulness? We know that either is a possibility; perhaps both were the reason. You know, although it is not always true that bad things happen to people because of sin (this is very clear in places like Job), it is also true that sometimes God does punish in a physical way. This is important to realize, because the politically correct explanationfor disasters these days, even among the religious, is that it is just random — it is not a punishment from God. I’m not sure, but I suspect it has to do with our desire that no one should get the idea that God is mean or will punish us. We want everyone to believe that God is nothing but love and grace. And don’t get the wrong idea, the Bible says that He’s full of love and grace, but He’s also full of wrath and punishment, too. God is both just and merciful, and we do no one a favor by giving a lopsided vision of God’s true nature. Yes, sometimes He does punish and sometimes it is physical in nature — probably because He doesn’t want us to forget that He does intend to punish sin in an even more serious way, if we fail to repent.
But when Israel is defeated the first time, the elders of the people suggest that perhaps they should bring the Ark of the Covenant into the camp — surely God wouldn’t allow His Ark to be captured or His people who defend it to be defeated! But they were wrong. You can’t do wrong, be unfaithful, and then do something “holy” for protection from harm and guarantee of blessings. Jeremiah warned the people of his day to not rely upon such a foolish “king’s X”: “Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’” Jeremiah 7:4, NAS95. Neither can we live a worldly life and then go to church, or do a good deed, or give to the poor and claim salvation. We can’t live sinfully and claim that we’re still saved, just because we’ve been baptized. Israel would have done much better, if they had lived according to God’s Law; then God’s would have been with them. We can be confident of salvation, if we live a godly, disciple’s life.
I’d also like to observe a small detail in 6:9. You know, modern people like to think of their ancestors, especially ancient peoples, as being too credulous, too simple, and too easily duped by natural phenomena — all because they believed in God or gods. This verse points out that the Philistine rules took into consideration that the disasters that had befallen their cities might not be supernatural, and could be simple chance. Yet, at the end of the day, even after it could be argued that they had “stacked the deck” against the supernatural, they became completely convinced that the diseases that had infected their cities was truly from God. They weren’t simpletons, they weren’t just back-woods dupes, they weren’t blinded by superstition. Maybe their age wasn’t the blind one; maybe ours is. There’s a saying: “There is none so blind as him who will not see.”
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.