Updated: Nov 4
"The Glory has departed from Israel for the ark of God has been captured." (I Samuel 4:22)
When I read these words the other morning, I was struck with sadness that the glory of the Lord had departed from amongst His chosen people. That instead of granting His "treasured possession" (Deuteronomy 7:6) victory over the enemy—in this situation, the Philistines—God allowed thousands of lives to be destroyed. And the Philistines' possession of the Ark of the Covenant.
For the Israelites, the Ark symbolized the presence of God. Contained inside were the tablets of the Ten Commandments, a gold jar of manna (from the Israelites years of wilderness wanderings), and Aaron's staff that had budded. Each was representative of God's sovereign rule over His people's lives. Representative that, as their Lord, from Him would come instruction, provision, and anointing. But, as indicated in this chapter, the Ark had become nothing more than a religious token, in an attempt to manipulate outward success and favor from God, apart from internal submission and faithfulness to God.
In between the first defeat that resulted in the loss of 4,000 lives (I Samuel 4:2) and the second defeat that resulted in the slaughtering of 30,000 (4:10), the decision was made by the elders to bring the Ark into their realm. "Let us bring the ark of the Lord's covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies" (4:3). A maneuver to do something external in order to bring God into the picture. In order to get the desired physical outcome.
But God cannot be manipulated by His people, and He's always about internal response. The prophet Joel put it this way: "Rend your heart and not your garment" (2:13), because God's people had a propensity for being adulterous within the covenant relationship they had with the One True God—the God who had brought them out of bondage into the promised blessings of His abundant goodness.
The Israelites had a long history of trying to manufacture desired covenant outcomes while disregarding obedient commitment.
For disciples of Christ, there's a beneficial lesson from their Old Testament example.
As Christ-followers, when we become habitually distracted, habitually consumed by the worldly, spiritually worthless idols in our midst. . .when we become spiritually indifferent and spiritually unfaithful. . .when we become spiritually anesthetized by Satan's lies and the lure of sin (all realities the Israelites were guilty of), we then give the enemy permission to shroud the felt, visible presence of the Lord in our life.
Please know that I am not inferring abandonment by the Father. As God's children, He has promised to never leave or forsake you or me (Hebrews 13:5). But if I keep disregarding the Lord's right to sovereignly rule my life, just as the Children of Israel so often did, then His interactive flaming presence in my daily life will diminish, like smoldering embers. And what will tragically result is a departing of His felt, visible glory on my life.
And try as I might, I cannot manipulate its way back.
I cannot manufacture God's authentic presence in order to benefit from His powerful interactions, while knowingly and willfully living in a manner that contradicts His precepts. Regardless of His unmatched love and mercy and grace, via Jesus Christ, I cannot knowingly operate in the flesh, and then expect God to manifest His glory in my personal life. God just doesn't operate on such terms with His people because He's a heart-rendering worthy God.
Exactly what, though, do we do or not do as His people that causes God's authentic glory to withdraw?
Again, do not misunderstand what I'm inferring. I'm not meaning a departing of our salvation. If we've genuinely repented and invited Christ to be our Savior, our sins are forgiven, our debt is paid. His blood has sealed the deal. What I am meaning, however, is a diminishment of His holy presence, holy purposes, and His honor and praise. All poor representations of the abundant life Christ's great sacrifice on Calvary makes available.
And all results of the nucleus sin of unbelief.
When we give consideration to I Samuel 4 and its backdrop, as well as the overall backstory of the people of Israel, we realize that a cyclic pit of unbelief is the pit that God's chosen people frequently fell into. After having been miraculously set free from Pharoah's grip, not fully trusting in God's personal communications—past and present—remained the warp and woof of their struggles and stumbles. It really always came down to whether they would choose to believe—and act upon that belief, for actions are always a demonstration of core belief—their Covenant God's declared words. Regardless. No matter the varying situations and varying details of their historical story, documented throughout Scripture, would they choose to daily function by His Words—live by faith—or not?
Sadly, and tragically, so often they chose not to.
And one of the primary reasons the Bible documents their story in great detail is so that God's people, including you and me, might live differently.
Apostle Paul, writer of a significant portion of the New Testament, penned,
"Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were. . .We should not test Christ as some of them did. . .These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!" (I Corinthians 10:6-12).
Such words, like a strong cup of "black coffee" (my mom's comparison when I first shared this blog with her), are meant to sober us up.
Fellow sojourner, as it was for God's chosen people, and for you and me and all who are in Christ, it always comes down to this: Will I choose to believe—in this moment, on this day, in this one life I've been gifted—God's authoritative, life-giving words? And because core belief always determines action, will my life reflect this? Will I choose to live by faith? Or, like the Israelites so often did, will I live by the decrees of a fooled, deceived heart?
Will the Word of God have a revered place in my life? Will I daily read it as one who's eager to know what God has to say? Or will the Word of the Lord become a rarity in my daily life, as was the case at the beginning of I Samuel (3:1)? And if I do choose to read it, will I heed His rebukes, acknowledging that His decrees lived out in my life is always the best thing for me? Or will I foolishly disregard them, being duped by the Great Liar's deception that I know what's best? And when the blessing of conviction from the indwelling Spirit of Christ attempts to deliver me from the pit of unbelief and lovingly realign me, will I submit and repent and shift direction? Or will I continue with foolish disregard, while still tying to petition His authentic presence?
Will my life be an environment in which God's glory is on display and His glory is at work? Or, sadly, will it not?
As authentic disciples of Jesus—one whose life was a consistent, daily demonstration of God's authentic glory—these are questions we owe consideration to.
Right now I'm thinking of a song that was written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. I've been listening to this beautiful "prayer" (which I've included at the end of this blog) for a couple of days now. Here are the words, which I believe are presently fitting:
"Speak, O Lord, as we come to You To receive the food of Your holy Word Take Your truth, plant it deep in us Shape and fashion us in Your likeness
That the light of Christ might be seen today In our acts of love and our deeds of faith Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us All Your purposes for Your glory
Teach us, Lord, full obedience
Holy reverence, true humility Test our thoughts and our attitudes In the radiance of Your purity
Cause our faith to rise, cause our eyes to see Your majestic love and authority Words of pow'r that can never fail Let their truth prevail over unbelief
Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us Truths unchanged from the dawn of time That will echo down through eternity
And by grace, we'll stand on Your promises And by faith, we'll walk as You walk with us Speak, O Lord, 'til Your church is built And the earth is filled with Your glory"
(Keith Getty & Stuart Townend)
As His treasured possession in this time and space in history, may the words of this song be the sincere prayer of your heart and mine. For, truly, it's when our genuine heart's desire echoes the message of this song, that we know that we've come to understand and accept that it's not merely outward religious tokens (corporate Sunday morning worship, the giving of our tithes, acts of service, etc) that reflect God's glory, but a life that's being daily transformed by His Word and Spirit.
A closing thought:
One recent morning as I was on my way to work, I was contemplating this blog, which I had worked on earlier that morning, when this thought regarding God's people entered my mind: They were His "treasured possession." But He was not theirs.
This sobering thought remained with me for days.
Truly, it's when you authentically treasure another above yourself, you give consideration to what they think. When you authentically treasure another above yourself, you honor them more than yourself. When you authentically treasure another above yourself, you respond in sacrificial humility instead of self-centered pride.
When you truly treasure someone above yourself, submissive love trumps selfish gain.
Fellow sojourner, my heartfelt prayer right now in this moment is that we fall so in love with Jesus that authentic faith—belief and submission—is just a natural overflow of our authentic love. And, as a result, may we, empowered by Christ's indwelling Spirit, live lives that are authentic demonstrations, and not a departing, of His glory.