Bible Readings for August 14th

1 Samuel 4 | Romans 4 | Jeremiah 42 | Psalm 18

In 1 Samuel 4, Yahweh brings three major forms of judgment against the people of Israel. First, when the Israelites bring the ark of the covenant out in battle with them against the Philistines, Yahweh hands them over to defeat, and the Philistines capture the ark (1 Sam. 4:11). Second, Hophni and Phinehas are put to death in battle just as Yahweh had promised in 1 Samuel 2 and 3 (1 Sam. 4:11). Third, when Eli hears the news of these first two judgments, he falls backward from the gate where he was sitting, breaks his neck, and dies (1 Sam. 4:18). These judgments are not random; rather, God’s people reap exactly what they have sown.

Israel’s specific sin in this chapter is that they treat the ark of the covenant as a magic wand, thinking that bringing it to battle will draft Yahweh into battle to fight for them (1 Sam. 4:3). In this thinking, Israel makes their decision based on two half-truths that amount to one deadly lie. First, they are correct in believing that they need Yahweh to fight for them, since the title LORD of hosts (1 Sam. 4:5) is not describing Yahweh’s ability to host a dinner party or social event but rather indicates that he commands the armies (the hosts) of heaven. Second, they are correct that Yahweh sits enthroned upon the cherubim of his ark (1 Sam. 4:4). Their mistake, then, comes from believing they can drag Yahweh around and sic him like a dog on their enemies. Yahweh had promised to fight for his people if they would ask him to, but he refuses to be treated with contempt in this way.

In fact, God is not giving Israel a stone when they ask for bread. Rather, Israel has requested a stone, and God gives them a stone. They are treating Yahweh’s glory with contempt, so Yahweh allows his glory to depart from their midst altogether, which is why Phinehas’s wife names their son Ichabod, meaning “no glory,” since “The glory has departed from Israel” (1 Sam. 4:21). The same is true for Eli. He did not want to discipline his sons himself, so Yahweh did it for him by putting Hophni and Phinehas to death—and then by putting Eli himself to death. Very often, when God gives us what we want, we discover that what we have desperately sought actually qualifies as judgment.

The question, then, is this: What do you want? As C. S. Lewis rightly noted, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.”1 Do you want Jesus and his righteousness, or do you want the hell of your own sin?

1 C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), 75.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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