Last week during our Connect Groups, we took a look at how Samuel was taught to hear and answer God’s high calling. The same is true for us today. God has the same high calling and we need to learn to hear it and respond. This week, we are going to continue to look at the ministry of Samuel. We discovered, last week, that Samuel spends the rest of his life taking the Word of the Lord to His people. That does not mean that the people always followed the advice that Samuel gave to them. Like all of us, the children of Israel battled with their sin nature on a daily basis. One of the biggest battles that the Lord warns us of is our battle with idolatry. Anything, even positive things, noble things can be turned into idols.
Samuel was a daily reminder of the importance of obeying the Lord. The name Samuel is composed of two different Hebrew words. The first is the word “shama“. It means to listen with the intent of obeying. The second is the word “el“. It means “the Mighty One“. Samuel’s name literally means, “I hear and obey the Mighty One“. Samuel is a very public figure so every time his name was mentioned the people were reminded to listen to and obey the Mighty One, God. Even with all of this, the people of Israel lost focus on the Lord and turned a holy relic, the ark of the covenant, into an idol.
I. Israel disrespects the Lord
The sworn enemy of the children of Israel, the Philistines, had come to do battle. The army of the Lord is ready to fight. They battle commences and the children of Israel are defeated in the initial skirmish. The army of Israel had chosen to camp at Ebenezer. The location means, “stone of help” or “support stone”. The text does not inform us but, I believe that the army of Israel was trusting on their previous success, thinking that this location would give them the ability to conquer. They lost. Instead of turning to the Lord, they seek to manipulate God and try to force Him to win the battle for them by bringing the ark of the covenant to the battlefield. The ark was the physical representation of the presence of God among the people. They began to look at it in a ritualistic manner. It is almost as if they were saying, “Lord, if we bring this ark, You have to fight for us“. God is not mocked. He cannot be manipulated by religious rituals. The children of Israel disrespect God by treating Him like a genie that they can summons at any time and command what they want. The leaders send out men to retrieve the ark of the covenant and bring it to the military camp. Once the ark is brought into the camp, the soldiers take courage. At the same time, the Philistines are frightened by what they see and hear from the enemy’s camp. They go out determined to fight for their lives. The army of Israel believes that victory is theirs because they have successfully manipulated God. When the battle begins the next day, Israel is routed. 30,000 soldiers of Israel are killed. The Philistines capture the battlefield and the ark of the covenant. Israel runs away utterly defeated. It’s almost as if Israel has turned the ark of the covenant, a good thing, into an idol. They trust in the representation of the presence of the Lord instead of actually trusting in the Lord. They disrespect the Lord and pay a heavy price for it. God does not just punish His own people for disrespecting Him, He is also going to punish the Philistines for disrespecting Him.
II. The Philistines disrespect the Lord
In I Samuel 5, we see that the Philistines have taken the ark of the covenant back home with them and they set it at the feet of the representation of their god, Dagon. The next morning, the statue of Dagon has fallen. It happened during the night. The people pick the statue back up and place it in its proper place. The next day, the statue has fallen again and this time it is broken. Not only that, but, disease has broken out among the livestock and the people. The Philistines move the ark from city to city and the same thing happens. Disease begins to destroy the people. They recognize the power of God and they want to get the ark as far away from themselves as possible. Now, they learn to fear God but that fear does not drive them to repentance, to cry out to God for mercy, grace, and salvation. They simply feel bad because this is happening to them. This reminds me of what the Apostle Paul presents in one of his letter when he teaches about worldly sorrow vs. godly sorrow. Worldly sorrow causes you to feel bad for what you did or, for the fact that you got caught. It does not lead to repentance. Godly sorrow, on the other hand, leads to repentance. We cry out to God for mercy, grace, forgiveness, and salvation. The Philistines experience worldly sorrow. The children of Israel have experienced godly sorrow that is going to lead them to repentance.
III. Israel and the Philistines both learn to respect the Lord
In I Samuel 6, we discover that it took the Philistines 6 months to come to their senses and finally seek to send the ark back to Israel. They admit to their wrong doing. What they do not do is cry out to God for His mercy, grace, and forgiveness. They do acknowledge their mistakes but, they just want to be free of the ark and they just want to go back to normal life, worshiping and serving their idols. Their encounter with God does not change them for the better. The children of Israel still need to learn to fear (respect) the Lord. When the ark returns to Israel, the children of Israel rejoice greatly. They begin to worship the Lord. But, in their joy, they forget the importance of obedience to the Word of God. The people of Beth-shemesh do not treat the ark with reverence. They actually look inside the ark to see what is in there. They are not supposed to do this. God had commanded them to keep the ark covered when it was not in the sanctuary. They continued to disrespect the Lord and they paid a heavy price for it. The text informs us that over 50,000 of the children of Israel are put to death by the Lord because they did not respect His Word and they did not treat the ark with reverence. More died at the hands of the Lord than at the hands of the Philistines in battle. Israel had to learn a tough lesson. The Philistines had to learn a tough lesson. Let’s learn from their mistakes and not disrespect the Word of the Lord. Let’s do as Samuel’s name suggests, hear and obey the Word of the Lord.