WHEN PEOPLE KNOW LITTLE about the God who has actually disclosed himself, it is terribly easy for them to sink into some perverted view of this God, until the image held of him has very little to do with the reality.
One can understand the Philistines' ignorance (1 Sam. 4). In their polytheistic world, full of idols providing concrete representations of their gods, the arrival of the ark of the covenant in the Israelite camp is understood to be the arrival of the Israelite god (1 Sam. 4:6-7). But this god, even if he proved so powerful that he could at one point take on the Egyptians, is merely one more god, finite, limited, local. So the Philistines, having to choose between buckling under and courageous defiance, opt for the latter, and win. Implicit in their win are an assumption and a result: the assumption is that God is no longer laying on the hearts of the Canaanites the mortal dread of the Israelites that had accompanied the early Israelite victories (and this spells judgment for the Israelites); the result is that the Philistines will now have an even more diminished view of God. Knowing the God of the Bible, we can be certain that this is a situation that will not last long; God will take action to defend his own glory.
The Israelites' ignorance of God is wholly without excuse, but is of a piece with the horrible declension toward the end of the period of the judges. They are getting trounced by the Philistines. Their theological reasoning is so bad that they think they can reverse the fortunes of war by bringing the ark of the covenant into the military camp like an oversized good-luck charm. The writer hints at the sheer preposterousness of the notion; they bring "the ark of the covenant of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim" (1 Sam. 4:4). Sadly, Eli's sons, the priests Hophni and Phinehas, are complicit in these arrangements. Is God's favor so easily manipulated? Does he care as much about the location of a box as he does about the conduct and (in)fidelity of his image-bearers and covenant community? What kind of pared-down and domesticated image of God did the leaders of Israel hold at this juncture that they should utter such nonsense?
Yesterday I received in the mail a letter from one of America's premier television preachers, inviting me to send money and offering me in return a Christmas tree ornament of an "angel" with a trumpet, to remind me that God had commanded the angel looking after me to blow a trumpet to celebrate me. What kind of pared-down and domesticated image of God do such leaders hold that they should utter such nonsense?
1 Samuel 4; Romans 4; Jeremiah 42; Psalm 18
is a post from: For the Love of God