Defeated? Rising out of Spritual Defeat – Step Two (1 Samuel 4:1-11).

This is the first time the designation “the God who is enthroned between the cherubim” is used in scripture” (1 Sam. 4:4). It is a highly significant phrase because it speaks to the heart of Israel’s concept of their relationship with God, and ultimately to the whole redemptive scheme of God.

There is an undeniable theme throughout scripture involving the presence of God. It begins in Genesis at creation with the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, surveying the creation ready to be shaped, and carries forward to the relationship God had with Adam and Eve in the garden. The presence of God is then seen as an integral part of the life of Abraham, who talks with God as easily as a man speaks with his friend. Later Moses liberated Israel from Egyptian bondage and slavery, and establishes a practice in their journey of setting up a tent apart and outside of the business of the camp where he could go to talk with God quietly and alone. From the first day of their journey the presence of God had gone before them in the form of a pillar of cloud and of fire. Soon standing at Sinai the powerful presence of God is manifested on the mountain in burning fire, speaking with his people. Eventually after Moses came by down from Sinai eh glowed with the glory of God, as an indication of God’s presence and purpose God had in mind of living among his people to change and refine them for his glory. And the plan was that the God of Sinai’s power would deposit a similar token of his presence in the midst of his people, at the place designated by him (the temple of Jerusalem). In Revelation John reaffirms that at the consummation of the redemptive purpose of God, when there is a new heaven and earth, he will take up his place among the redeemed people of the earth and he will be their God and they will be his people. This is God express purpose in creation. it is his mission! (A new heaven and earth is his vision, but his mission is to walk among a loyal saved and holy people, whom he has rescued and redeemed from sin, to be in eternal fellowship with him is an equally redeemed creation.)

In the meantime God had Israel construct a mobile temple, called the tabernacle, and to furnish it as he had instructed Moses. The ark would provide the provisional focal point for God’s presence among his people, because God’s central promise to them was that they would be his people and he would be their God and that he would walk among them. God’s presence was literally the distinguishing mark between Israel and all other people on the planet. After its completion the glory of God fell upon the tabernacle, and filled the Holy of Holies with his presence where the Ark of the Covenant was placed.

The Ark of the Covenant was a wooden box covered with gold, with a lid on it that had two cherubim carved into it. These cherubim bowed inward, in an attitude of worship. The lid on the ark was called the mercy seat of the ark, because the blood of the atonement sacrifice was sprinkled upon it every year. So when the high priest entered the Holy of Holies to sprinkle the blood, it was like coming before the throne of God, a throne of mercy and forgiveness, not judgment. For that reason the ark was considered by Israel to be the throne of God on earth, the place from which God ruled among his people. So the phrase enthroned between the cherubim is a reference to the sovereignty of God on earth among his people, where he had a throne set up from which he ruled. He was enthroned, not between heavenly cherubim, but between the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant.

But when Israel sinned in the affair of the golden calf, by worshipping it, while Moses was up on the mountain with God, God said to Moses “I do not intend for my presence to go up with you, because this people is sinful and stubborn and I will destroy them if they keep disobeying me.” Now Moses was really concerned and pleaded with God to change his mind, because, he said, if God’s presence didn’t go with Israel into the land, there would be no distinction between them and every other nation. It was only the presence of God that made them any different from other people!

Of course Israel acknowledged that the ark and even the temple was way too small to contain the whole presence of God, and they realized that any manifestation of God’s glory in the temple or tabernacle was an accommodation made by God for their sake. Israel’s prophets and worshippers spoke often about God being enthroned in heaven. And yet they felt that in a very real sense because of the ark and its relationship to the presence of God, having come from Sinai, God was also enthroned among his people.

David made an important contribution to Israel’s understanding of Israel’s relationship with God, when he called the ark the footstool of God on earth (1 Chron. 28:2). David said that he wanted to build a temple for the ark of God, for his footstool. Later on Solomon would build a throne with a magnificent footstool attached to it (2 Chron. 9:18), in imitation of the concept that while God reigned in heaven (the heavens cannot contain him Solomon once said), God does have a specific location on earth that can be considered his footstool and extension of his throne, part of parcel with it, one and the same piece (cf. Beale)!

Isaiah and the later prophets also spoke of this concept of God reigning in heaven, but having part of this throne on earth, reigning among his people. “heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool,” Isaiah wrote (Isa. 66:1). Jeremiah also speaks of the temple as the footstool of God (Lam. 2:1), and David in one of his psalms speaks of worshipping at the footstool of God, by which he means at the tent pitched where the ark of the covenant was residing (Psalm 99:5). Jesus himself acknowledges the theology of God reigning on earth among his people when he also speaks of the earth at the footstool of God (Matt. 5:35). The martyr Stephen also quotes Isaiah, reinforcing the idea of God’s reign in both heaven and on earth (Acts 7:49).

So there was a genuine concept in Israel concerning the presence of God, that God dwelt actively among his people, and that he reigned from his throne on earth jsut as surely as he reigned in heaven. Indeed the temple, and in particular the ark, was the part of the heavenly throne itself!

So while the ark was the symbol of genuine devotion, and relationship, of fellowship between God and his people, on this occasion the Israelites turned it into a religious luck charm! and it failed!
Israel had been consistently defeated by the Philistines. so they decided to bring up the ark to the battle, to bring the presence of God into the war against their enemies. the assumption was that by bringing up they ark, they were carrying God up with it! This was a fatal mistake, because unlike the idols of the nations around them, God was not bound to the religious symbols of their worship. they are lifeless carvings, but God is the true and living God, fully independent of the articles and places used as foci for worship and devotion.

Also, look who brought up the ark, Hophni and Phinehas, the wicked sons of Eli. Such a shout went up that the ground shook and it scared the Philistines to death (5). But the Philistines had nothing to worry about! The coming of the ark inspired a momentary religious excitement, but not a genuine spiritual move of God that would bring victory and power. The whole thing was simply symbolic, treating God, like any old God of Canaan would be treated. God refused to respond to such nonsense. The reason for their defeat was not the lack of his presence of the symbols of his presence, but their disobedience and failure to serve God as he had required in his covenant with them. The result was that they were defeated again, only this time it was far worse (cf. vv. 2, 10-11). Not only was Israel defeated, 30,000 men lost, Eli and Phinehas killed, but the ark was captured too.

You cannot make up for lack of faith in God, and spiritual slackness and obedience, by giving God some kind of religious token. God require heartfelt faith and genuine obedience. Step two in the process of gaining the victory over defeat, is to get your house in order and to begin to practice your genuine devotion toward god again, to talk to him walk with him, love him, obey him, serve him, worship him and live for him as you should. Until you do that you will never find victory in your life, even if you do go to church once each week! God is not interested in your tokenism!

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