I Samuel 4:1-22. In parts I and II the Israelites lost 4,000 men in a battle with the Philistines. While the heathen rejoiced over the victory, and Israel mourned the defeat, Israel brought the Ark of God into camp. Its arrival spread terror among the Philistines and delight among the Israelites.
In the next battle, Philistia so dominated that 30,000 Israelites died; the priests carrying the Ark died; the Ark was captured; Eli fell and broke his neck on hearing the news; Israel fled from the surrounding cities and Philistines occupied them.
Consider only two of more points this chapter teaches.
First, while single wrongs can harm people, the linkage of wrongs over a period of time will bring disaster. Everyone in Israel knew the iniquity of Hophni and Phinehas, but they all tolerated their continued leadership. And, truly, laymen could do little about it, in that clerical-dominated age. But Eli could have done something had enough lay leaders protested his sons’ wickedness. Yet, it’s well-known that laymen bear with abuses rather than demand correction.
That has a direct warning to America. I recently read that WWI brought into being the revolution in the men’s and women’s roles. That isn’t true. Millions of women did work in factories and business during WWI. But after the war, most of them returned to being homemakers. During WWII millions more women worked in defense industries. With the coming of peace, most of them stayed in the workplace. That change contributed to the secularization of America, but it began in WWII.
The author also wrote that America began to lose faith in God because of WWI. Again, not really true. In fact, significant revivals in music and evangelism occurred after WWI. Then, in the aftermath of WWII, particularly with the discovery of the holocaust, even theologians began to doubt God. Of course, they’re often the first to doubt; and, in doubting, flee from the FACTS. The reason for the destruction in WWII was the Nazi acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution, which German philosophers wove into the superior race theory, which Hitler adapted as the basis of genocide. It’s far more correct to say that skeptical theologians weren’t looking for answers to the gas ovens, as they claimed, but were fleeing the reasons for those ovens—the godless theories of Darwin adapted to politics.
In the 1950’s, then, Americans began a descent from belief in God, which became obvious only in the 1960’s, with the rise of rock and roll music, the violent, profane free-speech movement at Berkeley and the anti-establishment underground groups. The clamor of homosexuals for freedom to choose followed in the 1970’s , the affliction of AIDS its bequest in the 1980’s. (Thanks to drugs, many active homosexuals and reckless heterosexuals are living longer. But a rise in AIDS among homosexuals proves that they have learned little.) And now follows the demand of homosexuals for same-sex marriage.
None of this happened over-night. Much of it happened as single episodes of wickedness that many didn’t even consider harmful, let alone evil.
Any complex problem in a life, a church, a society has at its base a deadly combination of wrongs that people tolerated at the time as single deviations from normal behavior. Left unchallenged they become unmanageable disasters.
Second, symbols matter only as adjuncts to the spiritual life. The Ark, God’s own gift to the Israelites, and a visible expression of his invisible presence, meant nothing if the people didn’t yield their lives to God. However, the elders had come to look on the Ark as a god itself, not the symbol of God. The same fixation on the temple afflicted the Jews in Jeremiah’s, then Christ’s generation. It stood forever, they felt, and because it did, Israel would remain intact.
God has consistently used symbols to explain himself and his covenants: circumcision, baptism (which is far more than a symbol), a Passover Lamb, the Lord’s Table. But they take their meaning from the spiritual life that creates them. They remain the shadow cast by the substance, and must never be mistaken for the substance.
Humanity has demonstrated a perverted skill in upending this reality. This has led people to content themselves with cosmetic changes in lifestyle and attitudes while maintaining the same basic, carnal nature week after week. This is a curse on American Christianity today, with its emphasis on numbers, entertainment and relational preaching.
We should always pray to be renewed from within, where thought begins and motives originate. And to pray that God will be a Living Presence, rehabilitating our brokenness into the image of the Christ. – Fini –
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