1-samuel: Boxed-up Theology

Sermon by on April 5, 2009

1 Samuel 4:1b-22

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The Lord’s Day
Evening

April 5, 2009



I Samuel 4:1-22


“Boxed-Up Theology”

Dr. Derek W. H.
Thomas

Now turn with me if you would to I Samuel 4. In our studies
which we began a few weeks ago in the First Book of Samuel, we come tonight to a
very solemn passage. I can’t help but think before I read this passage how
contrasting it surely is to the passage we were looking at this morning. This
morning we were in grace and the overtures of the gospel: tonight we see the
consequences of refusing the gospel. What is there outside the gospel? What is
there outside of grace? Well, pay attention to the passage and we’ll see all too
clearly what it is.

Let’s look to God in prayer.

Father, we thank You for the Scriptures. We pray
now for Your blessing. Help us as we read it together to understand that which
You are saying to us. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

This is God’s word:

“And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

“Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at
Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up in line
against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the
Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. And when
the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, ‘Why has the Lord
defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant
of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the
power of our enemies.’ So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the
ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And
the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the
covenant of God.

“As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp,
all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. And when the
Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, ‘What does this great
shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?’ And when they learned that the ark of
the Lord had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid, for they said, ‘A
god has come into the camp.’ And they said, ‘Woe to us! For nothing like this
has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these
mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of
plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you
become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.’

“So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled,
every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for there fell of
Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. And the ark of God was captured, and the
two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

“A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the
same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head. When he arrived, Eli
was sitting on his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark
of God. And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city
cried out. When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, ‘What is this
uproar?’ Then the man hurried and came and told Eli. Now Eli was ninety-eight
years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see. And the man said to
Eli, ‘I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.’ And
he said, ‘How did it go, my son?’ He who brought the news answered and said,
‘Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat
among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark
of God has been captured.’ As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over
backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he
died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.

“Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about
to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and
that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for
her pains came upon her. And about the time of her death the women attending her
said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.’ But she did not
answer or pay attention. And she named the child Ichabod, saying, ‘The glory has
departed from Israel!’ because the ark of God had been captured and because of
her father-in-law and her husband. And she said, ‘The glory has departed from
Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.’”

May God bless to us that reading of His holy word.

You notice how this chapter begins: “The word of
Samuel came to all Israel”…and then as you’ll see in the next three chapters, we
don’t hear a word from Samuel. And that is probably to indicate that although
Samuel had been preaching this whole time, Israel had not been listening. And
before God can do what He intends to do, and to do it through the
instrumentality of this great prophet, Samuel, He must first of all remove the
old guard — Eli and his two sons.

This passage is all about superstition. It’s
about a box — a box about the size of a chest that some of you have at the
bottom of your bed in which you keep linens…maybe handed down to you from your
parents or grandparents, or whatever. We have one at the bottom of our bed.

It was about that size, maybe a little bit bigger,
covered in gold, on top of which were two cherubs with their wings outstretched.
You never saw this box. It was in the temple in Shiloh. It had been carried
through the wilderness, but now was in the temple in Shiloh and it was hidden
from view by a curtain. Only the high priest would ever see this box. It was
called the ark of the covenant. The top of it was called the mercy
seat
, because on the top of this box would be sprinkled the blood of the
sacrifice to atone for sin.

But tonight we’re going to see superstition at work,
because there is a war. Israel is at war with the Philistines. The Philistines
occupy the land to the west and somewhat to the south towards the coast from
Shiloh. The Philistines are encamped in a place called Aphek, 22 miles from
Shiloh (imagine Edwards from Jackson), and the Israelites are in another place
nearby called Ebenezer. And there’s a battle, and it doesn’t go well. Four
thousand Israelites, Hebrew men, are killed. And then someone has this bright
idea: Let’s take the box, let’s take the ark of the covenant. Let’s take the ark
of the covenant that is symbolic of the presence of God. Let’s take it into
battle with us.

And it doesn’t go well, because now thirty thousand
Hebrew men are killed and the ark is taken by the Philistines. It’s a tragic
chapter, and I want us to learn three things…if I have time! it’s already ten to
seven…let’s see how far we can get.

I. God will suffer defeat
rather than let you think that you own Him

First of all, God will suffer defeat rather than
let you think that you own Him.
He’d rather suffer defeat than to let you
think that you own Him. It’s amazing how many people who know that they have a
problem but they don’t know what the solution to that problem is — they have a
God-shaped void in their hearts, and they think the solution is religion. They
turn to religion. They look to religion to get them out of trouble. They’re even
prepared to face death, with religion. ‘We’ll get the ark, and it will save us.’
They’ll go to mass…they’ll go to Easter service at First Presbyterian Church.
They’ll invoke the minister when they are threatened with cancer. Politicians
will invoke religion if it gets them some more votes. Do you know that the Nazis
had inscribed on their belts, Gott Mit Uns? “God is with us,” inscribed
on their belts. God is with us. Both sides in the Civil War invoked God,
Southerners and Northerners. I’m telling you tonight that many will go before
the Judgment Seat of God, and they’ll say, ‘Lord, we carried the ark into battle
with us. We carried the ark. We went to church. We said our prayers. We gave
money to this organization, and that church.’ And God will say, “Depart from Me,
I never knew you.”

I’m saying there’s a lesson here that God will suffer
defeat rather than let you think that you own Him, that you can manipulate Him,
that you can use Him like you use a rabbit’s foot. [I trust you don’t use
rabbits’ feet here at First Presbyterian Church, but you know what I mean! A
lucky charm, something to invoke simply because you’re in trouble.] My dear
friends, there are hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people, who do
just that. Just like the Israelites here, they were in trouble; they were in
desperate trouble, so they thought to themselves, ‘Let’s bring God into this.
Let’s bring the box into this’…led by two of the worst charlatans you could ever
imagine, Hophni and Phinehas.

Do you remember what we were looking at this morning
in Psalm 40? “Sacrifices and offerings I do not desire.” Because
unless your heart is right, it’s just superstition
.
Unless your heart is right…unless you have a relationship with Jesus Christ,
it’s all just superstition.

II. God fulfills His word even
in what looks to us like disaster.

There’s a second lesson here, that God fulfills
His word even in what looks to us like disaster.
You see, there’s an
extraordinary thing in this passage. From the perspective of the Hebrews, from
the perspective of Eli, from the perspective of the folks back in Shiloh, this
was an unmitigated disaster. Thirty-four thousand people had been killed. That’s
a lot of people. That’s a tremendous lot. Thirty thousand in one day,
slaughtered on the field of battle. My dear friends, it was not a pretty sight.

But, you know, from the perspective of God, He was
actually fulfilling His word. Do you remember? An unnamed prophet had come to
Eli back in I Samuel 2 at the time when Samuel was growing up in the temple. Do
you remember what that prophet said to Eli? That he would see his two sons
killed on the same day. It was a judgment of God. These two sons, Hophni and
Phinehas — you remember their lifestyle, how they cavorted with female servants
in the temple, how they manipulated the sacrifices in order to get the best cuts
of meat for themselves, how they threatened with bullying tactics sincere
worshipers who came to the temple in Shiloh. What do you think God cares about
the most, the fact that the Philistines have this box or the fact that His
people are not giving Him honor? Which do you think God cares about the most,
the fact that this box was in the hands of the Philistines or the fact that His
people in their hearts were not honoring Him?

So Hophni and Phinehas are dead. Eli’s two prodigal
sons, they’re dead. God is not mocked. What a man sows, he will reap. If you sow
corruption, you will reap corruption. If you say no to grace, what are you going
to reap? Judgment. The fires of damnation. That’s what you will reap. Yes,
Reverend Hophni and Reverend Phinehas, priestly servants in the temple in Shiloh
with a genealogy some of you would die for: sons of Levi; sons of Aaron. Now,
that is some genealogy! They could trace their lineage all the way back to
Aaron. Ministering in the First Church of Shiloh…actually, the First Church of
the whole land. But God had written in His word, they will fall and die in their
sin. God had spoken. God had given His word. And His word came true.

Do you see that? Does God say there is a heaven for
those who love Jesus Christ? Does God say that there is an eternity of
blessedness and joy for those who lean on Jesus only for their salvation? Does
God say that for those who reject the gospel and for those who say no to Jesus
Christ, there is only a fearful waiting for a judgment? Does God say that in His
word? Yes, He does. Yes, He does, and God’s word doesn’t change. God’s word
cannot be broken. His word always comes true – His promise and His threat. His
blessing and His curse.

Where are you tonight, my friend? Where are you
tonight? Are you on the side of God’s blessing? Are you building your life on
the solid rock of Jesus Christ? Are you living your lives endeavoring by way of
gratitude to give yourselves entirely to the Lord because God has renewed your
heart? Or are you engaging in superstitious religion that is empty and that will
always fail you, and in the end will catastrophically fail you on the Day of
Judgment?

III. Christ will remove those
who do not abide in His word.

But there’s a third lesson here. It’s a very
solemn lesson. I want you to pay attention to it for a few minutes. It’s the
lesson that we learn from Phinehas’ wife.
Eli is now dead. He has a weak
heart. He’s 98, after all. He hears the news of his two sons, and he falls over
backwards and snaps his neck and he’s dead. He’s been a priest for forty years.
Now, we criticized him for the way he’s reared his children perhaps, but you
know there was some godliness in Eli, too. You remember how he had said to
Samuel, ‘Don’t hold anything back. Whatever God has said to you, don’t hold it
back’…even to the point that the word had been given that his two sons would be
killed.

But now Phinehas’ wife…she’s pregnant. She hears the
news of Eli’s death and her husband’s death, and she goes into labor. And before
she dies, she names her son Ichabod. Do you know what Ichabod means? “The
glory has departed.” [You understand glory in the Old Testament is
synonymous with God himself. God is the glory.] Because when the ark of the
covenant had been taken, as far as she was concerned,
God had departed out of Shiloh. When they had decided,
you see, to use God superstitiously and the ark was in the hands of the
Philistines, He was no longer in Shiloh
. Under the old covenant God
was present in Shiloh, as later He would be present in the temple in Jerusalem.
But He’s not there anymore. He’s gone. There’s a solemn passage in Ezekiel 10 —
you can study it later — where Ezekiel prophesies the glory of God departing
from the temple in Jerusalem. And you say, “Well, that’s just Old Testament
stuff”…until you go to the letters in Revelation 2 and 3, the letters to the
churches in the apocalypse of John. And you remember the warning, the threat
that Christ will remove the lampstands from certain churches that do not abide
in His word. Ichabod.

I remember walking around a church in New England a
couple of years ago, reading something about its extraordinary history in the
early Puritan period in New England, how that pulpit had been occupied by men
who loved the word of God and preached it faithfully. And now it was a bastion
for liberalism and gay rights, and women’s rights, and all kinds of other
things. I remember thinking as I was reading it that Ichabod was written
all over this place. God had departed.

Now, my friends, the question I want you to think
about tonight before you go home on this Lord’s Day: do you think that could
happen to First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi?
This great
church, wonderful church that we love so much? Do you think it could happen to
First Presbyterian Church? That Ichabod could be written over the
doorposts? That it becomes just an empty shell? My dear friends, I could take
you not just to one or two, I could take you to hundreds of churches in this
land tonight where once the gospel was preached, but it’s not preached there
anymore. Another gospel is being preached there now, and Ichabod is
written all over them.

Elders, let me give you this charge tonight: that you
do all in your power, whatever that means and whatever it takes, to ensure that
Ichabod is never written over the doorposts of this church; that the
gospel is always preached here; that the word of God is always believed here;
that Christ is always exalted here; and that this story dog us all the days of
our life to that end.

Let’s pray.

Father, we thank You for the Scriptures, solemn as
this passage is. We pray tonight for Your blessing, because unless the Lord
builds the house, they labor in vain that build it. Grant to us Your tender
mercies, we pray, and Your persevering grace. Rebuke us if we need it. Draw us
again and again and again to the foot of the cross and to Jesus Christ, for it
is in Jesus’ name we ask it. Amen.

Please stand; receive the Lord’s benediction.

______________________________________________________________________________

© First Presbyterian
Church, 1390 North State St, Jackson, MS (601) 924-0575

www.fpcjackson.org

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FIRST
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
● 1390 North State Street Jackson,
Mississippi 39202 ● (601) 924-0575

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.