A Godless church, Godless community, Christ-less church, and a Christ-less community—this is how our society, our church, and our Christianity is. We lost God in his own house! When God leaves, an utter chaos sets in. We no longer feel the guilt of sin. Immorality rules our families, society, and our churches. Moreover, we, Christians, while claiming that we know God; we live quite the opposite of our claim. This morning, I would like to challenge us all to evaluate ourselves to see whether we have lost God in our midst or He lives in our midst. 1 Samuel 4 talks about how people of Israel attempted to manipulate God into giving them victory. However, the same chapter sternly expresses that God cannot be manipulated and that He co-exist sin. Therefore, as Christians we cannot manipulate God to bless us while we live totally in opposition to the Word of God.
II. Context of the Text:
The read text comes before Samuel took over leadership from Eli. The period is almost the end of Judges. The people of Israel are now in the Promised Land but their lives were not worthy of the promises of God. Samuel’s day was marked by immorality and corruption. There was leadership corruption, religious corruption, and economic corruption.
This chapter expresses an on-going conflict between Israel and Philistines. Furthermore, it also expresses Israelite’s false hope in YHWH that He would save them in spite of their constant sin and disobedience. In that Israelites thought that the Ark of the Covenant would give them victory. They saw it only as a symbol or an object but not as “YHWH’s presence.” It is in this context, we see the downfall of Eli which symbolizes the fall of worship and also the departure of God’s glory from Israel.
III. Ichabod: The Glory Departed (1 Sam 4:12-22)
- Ark of the Covenant:
The details of its construction have been recorded in Exod. 25:10-22. The details express the meticulousness of YHWH regarding the materials that are to be used, measurements that are to be maintained in building the ark. In other words, God is very concerned about the place where He is going to dwell. There is a theological significance which we will discuss in the application.
Another aspect of the Ark is that it is the “seat of God’s presence.” It is placed in the Holy of Holies. It is from the mercy seat of the Ark, God would relay His commandments to the people of Israel. The presence here is not an illusion, but is a ‘living presence of YHWH.”
The Ark is the symbol of Israel’s identity. It is because of the Ark which is the symbol of YHWH’s presence that legitimizes Israel as the “people of God,” a “Priestly nation” among the other nations. If there is no Ark, there is no Israel! However, in the read text, the Ark has been captured. As a result, glory of the LORD has departed. So, what are the reasons for the departure of the glory of the LORD?
- Reasons for Ichabod:
The first reason is a family’s failure. Eli failed more as a father than as a priest. 1 Sam 2:22-25 expresses Eli’s laxity in disciplining his sons stringently. We do not see any action taken by Eli.
Secondly, the abuse of the power by the Eli’s sons. They used their priestly roles for self-benefits. They had no regard for God (1 Sam 2:12). As a result there was no real knowledge of God, and no fear of God. The offerings that were brought to the temple were profaned.
Thirdly, religion was used to manipulated and oppress people for selfish motifs and indulgence.
Fourthly, Israel’s attempt to manipulate YHWH in order to win the battle against Philistines. 1 Sam 2:5-10 expresses Israelite’s false hope for victory while living in utter disobedience to the Law. The bringing of the Ark to the camp shows the intensity of their false hope. Israelites thought that the Ark would save them. However, they experienced quite the opposite of what they have hoped for. Here we need to take note of two shouts. One is a shout of victory (1 Sam 4:5) and another is a cry of failure (1 Sam 4:14). The former is a shout of victory stemmed out of false hope whereas the later is the experience of failure and defeat. The reason for such an unprecedented outcome is that Israelites objectified God. They were under the false illusion that YHWH would never abandon them. Similar tone can be heard in the 8th century where people of Israel held on to false claim that “Jerusalem cannot be destroyed.” While holding on to this claim, Israelites profaned the Temple. So, God rejected their worship as it has become a noise (Amos 5:23). God prophesied that Temple will be destroyed. So the bottom line is that God and sin cannot co-exist.
- Consequences of Ichabod:
The sinfulness of Israel has led to the capture of the Ark and consequent departure of the glory of YHWH. We also see Eli’s sons’ death and Eli’s death. Israel was defeated. They hoped for victory as they brought the Ark to the camp but instead Philistines won the battle. It is quite interesting to note that God raised Israel as His instrument of judgment to punish the seven Canaanite nations. However, later, he raised pagan nations to punish His own people.
1 Sam 4:18 symbolically expresses Eli’s death. We should take note of two phrases here. First, “fell over backward” is indicative of the apostate state of Israelites. Israelites have fallen back from the Covenant. Secondly, the word “heavy” indicates the physical stature of Eli who is quite hefty. This is due to consumption of meat from the offerings. This shows the self-indulgence of the priestly office during that time. Eli failed as a father. As a result his sons failed. As a result religion failed. As result the whole nation failed. As a result Ichabod.
A stage is set by YHWH to raise his “faithful priest” who would steer Israel once again towards the delegated purpose of YHWH to the people of Israel to be a “priestly nation”—a nation in whom YHWH dwells!
Lastly, the final stroke was Ichabod. This is most gruesome consequence of all. 1 Sam 4:21-22 shows the intention of the narrator how the departure of the glory of the LORD is quite real. Here we see Eli’s daughter-in-law who names her son as “Ichabod” remembering the pain of God’s departure from Israel. Glory departed means Israel’s glory departed. As a result there is no hope. Shiloh where the Ark resides, now that it is no more there, lost its significance. Here we see God himself went into exile. The reason is Israelite’s disobedience to the law (Jer 7:1-4).
Many a times, our churches can lose God. We hold on to false hope in our offerings, worship as there is no real transformation of the heart. Today our churches are filled with corruption, disparity between the poor and the rich, immorality in the leadership and a hypocritical worship. The worst of all is our claim that God lives among us while we mock at His presence with our spiritual decadence.
Is there any relevance for us today from the chosen text? Exod. 40:34 records the filling of YHWH’s glory in the Tabernacle, only when it is finished according to the meticulous instructions given by YHWH. This indicates the meticulousness of God in the place of His residence. On the other hand, 1 Sam 4:12-22 shows that God cannot stay in a place where it is marked by sin. God’s departure is God’s judgment.
In John 1:14, we see Jesus Christ who is the eternal word of God “tabernacled” among us. He is the true manifestation of the glory of God. Later on, Paul, most probably taking his cue from the incarnation of Christ, writes in 1 Cor. 5:19-20: “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were brought with a price; therefore glory God in your body.” If God is so meticulous about the place of His dwelling, we, who are the “temple of the living God”, how meticulous we are to be with our bodies? Paul’s rhetoric expresses the ethical, moral, and spiritual significance of our bodies. This concept is quite pervasive that it impacts every minute aspect of our lives. By the virtue of being the “Temple of the living God,” it is imperative for us to reflect God’s glory in our most private and public spheres. Failure to relay God’s glory in and through us, will result in Ichabod and God would raise another “faithful priest” who does according the “heart and mind” of God. It is only at the feet of the Cross, as we truly repent, the glory that has departed will be filled in our bodies once again.
So, it is my prayer that we would be that “faithful priest” with an absolute realization that our bodies are God’s temples and we become “points of contacts,” and “tent-meeting place” of God with the world outside. In other words, we are the church; I am the church—relaying God’s glory to the world that is darkened by sin, and immorality.