1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Eben-ezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek.
2 And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men.
3 And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.
4 So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth betweenthe cherubims: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. (1 Sam. 4:1-5)

Just some background on this—In the chapter before this, Samuel has his first encounter with God, and is told that the Lord will punish Eli the priest because he didn’t restrain his sons and the Lord will do something in Israel that makes everyone’s ears tingle.

Now, in the situation of these verses, it is possible the Israelites were attempting to reconquer the land or finish the job Joshua started. Some of the things they do echo Joshua’s campaign against Jericho—calling for the ark of the covenant to go with the army. Later verses say they also shout, which reminds me of the shout that had once leveled the walls of Jericho.

However, if this was the case, these Israelites did not go spiritually purified and prepared like Joshua’s army had. Joshua’s army purified themselves, circumcised those not yet circumcised (which was a sign of entering the covenant), and celebrated Passover. Further, they got their battle plan from the prophet, who got it from God.

These Israelites all knew Samuel was to be a prophet, but they didn’t consult him. Maybe they got Eli’s blessing and thought that was enough. I get the impressing that with Eli and the corruption of his sons, there was not much chance they would have been prepared in the first place.

This campaign ultimately fails, and they lose the ark for a time. The failed campaign underlines to them the uselessness of trusting in religious objects to save them, so in 1 Samuel 7, once they are suitably chastened, we see Samuel persuading the people to put away their idols and to prepare to serve God only. The people fast and confess their sins, they ask Samuel to pray for them continuously, and Samuel offers sacrifice…and then the Lord helps the Israelites win against the Philistines.

This becomes another religious tradition of battle to have the prophet offer sacrifice and pray for the people, and sadly this becomes misunderstood by King Saul, who becomes so anxious for the pre-battle sacrifice that he offers it himself, usurping authority because Samuel is not present “in time.”

Hopefully we can learn from this that it isn’t just the religious ritual that is efficacious, but the practice paired with sincere repentance and purity. Without the broken heart and contrite spirit, without the consistent obedience to the commandments, religious ritual is empty, even if done the right way with proper authority.

If we rouse ourselves to fight any kind of obstacle, make sure to repent and seek sanctification first and be anxious to keep the commandments.

Continue reading at the original source →