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God in my Pocket

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Story

Begins back in 1 Samuel 4
Israel was in a state of rebellion and unbelief. We have come through the time of the Judges when there was terrible wickedness.
Now we have Eli the priest, the religious leader of Israel who had wicked sons
God promised through the little boy Samuel, that he and his household would be judged for their wickedness
Israel was in constant conflict with their close neighbors, the Philistines.
says that Israelites went out to fight the Philistines and camped at Ebenezer. We read later that this was not a town, but a memorial that Samuel set up between Mizpah and Shen
And the Philistines were attacking from the direction of Aphek
The Israelites were beaten badly. Lost 4000 men
They asked, “Why has the LORD defeated us today?”
They did NOT ask, “LORD, why have you defeated us.”
So because they did not ask the LORD, they devised their own strategy for victory
They said, “hey, let’s go get the Ark of the Covenant from Shilo and bring it into battle with us. Then God will be with us and will defeat our enemies”
Eli’s two sons brought the Ark to the camp
This didn’t work.
The Philistines heard the noise of celebration and asked what was going on
The report was brought that the Ark of the Covenant had arrived in the Israelite camp.
The Philistines were terrified.
“We are doomed”
These are the gods that struck the Egyptians with all sorts of plagues and destroyed them
We have no option but to take courage and fight like men!
So man up, all you Philistines and fight your hardest because otherwise we will be slaves to the Israeiltes just like they have been to us
Israel was beaten even worse than before: 30,000 men killed
Eli’s sons were killed
But the worst thing was, the Ark was captured
, and Eli was so distraught that he fell backwards off the rock he was sitting on and died.
The Philistines took the ark and put it in the temple of their god, Dagon.
In the morning, the came and found that Dagon had fallen face down in front of the Ark
They set him back up but the next morning, they found that again, Dagon had fallen face down. This time his head and hands had broken off.
Besides that, The LORD brought sickness and tumors and death upon the Philistines and they began to panic
The leaders got together and devised a plan to build a cart and put the ark on it and send it back “home”
And that’s what happened.
The ark came to the land surrounding Beth Shemesh.
The people welcomed it gladly
But 70 (some manuscripts say 50,070) of them died because they looked into the Ark
The people wept and wailed and said “Who can stand in the presence of this Holy God”
And they called the men from a nearby town, Kiriath Jearim, to come and get it.
Instead of returning it to the place of worship in Shiloh
And it was taken to a house, the home of Abinidab and that’s where it stayed until David became king.
You remember King David, right?
Samuel calls him “a man after God’s own heart”.
David was a man who valued what God valued, wanted what God wanted
After David established Jerusalem as his capital, he wanted to bring the Ark back from the house where it had been sheltered, to Jerusalem and make Jerusalem the center of worship as well
David takes 30,000 chosen men and goes to the house of Abinidab to bring back to ark.
A huge deal! A huge celebration!
But look what he did:
The Israelites had been well-schooled in the holiness of this Ark. It was where the very presence of God was to dwell.
The instructions for handling the Ark were clear.
Carried by Levites (not just anybody) on poles made of Acacia wood, covered with gold
it was not to be approached and touched by anyone, except for the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.
David does something that is almost mind-boggling—something impossible to understand for an Israelite
A huge deal! A huge celebration!
But David puts the Ark on a new cart
Just like the Philistines had done!
Make sure we notice this. David was acting just like the Philistines.
Possibly he had heard what the Philistines had done years before
And he thought, well it worked out alright for the pagans
And he completely ignored what God commanded about the Ark
We see the result:
As the oxen are walking along, pulling the cart with the Ark on it, disaster strikes
they stumble, the cart lurches, and without thinking, Uzzah puts out his hand to steady the Ark
Quick as a flash, God strikes him dead!
What is David’s response?
David gets mad and throws a bit of a hissy fit
“If God’s going to act like that, how am I ever going to get the Ark of the LORD
God, I thought you wanted us to worship you
But I’m not going to do it if that’s the way you are going to act
So he abandons his mission and puts the Ark in the house of Obed-Edom, the Gittite (a Philistine from Gath)
So here we have 4 people or groups of people who just didn’t seem to get it. They just didn’t seem to understand what the Ark of the Lord represented.
The Israelite army—including the priest Eli who let the Ark “get away”
The Philistines (you can sort of forgive them since they were pagans)
The people of Beth Shemesh who looked into the Ark
King David
The Philistines (you can sort of forgive them since they were pagans)
They had forgotten that the ark was NOT God.
The ark was the presence of God. And the presence of God was contingent on the people surrendering their will to Him.
The Israelites seem to have forgotten about the God of Israel.
They had forgotten reverence toward Him—living in fear and awe toward Him
The Israelites seem to have forgotten about the God of Israel.
They had forgotten about loving God with all their hearts
His goodness
His power
His love
His covenant promises that He had made to them
That if their heart was turned toward Him, He would be their God, their shepherd, their king
They had forgotten about walking in submission to Him and following Him
Instead, they seemed to have taken the attitude of the surrounding nations. Their gods were those of wood and stone and metal.
Their gods could be set up and taken down and carried around on the back of carts
God, and the symbol of His presence, the Ark had become little more than a good luck charm, one to be taken out at just the right time, perform a service and then be stuck back into their pockets.
And if God didn’t perform like they wanted, they threw a hissy fit and put Him away again.
Look again at the actions of the Israelite army in 1 Sam.
Were they walking in obedience to God? Little indication that they were. Context indicates that they were in deep disobedience and wickedness if Eli’s sons are any indication
Did they bother to consult God before going out to battle? Again, we don’t read that they did.
But when the chips were down, they wanted to be able to take their ace out of their back pocket and play it.
It was their casual treatment of God that is the most troubling.
In fact, the Philistines seemed to have more respect for the God of Israel than the Israelites did. I find their behavior more explainable than the Israelites who knew better.
The only gods they knew about were those that could be overcome through sheer effort
Even the god who had brought terror upon the Egyptians
“Man up, Philistines! This is the god that brought terrible things upon the Egyptians and surrounding nations”
But with all the death and sickness that came upon them, they realized that they were up against something bigger and more terrible than they could overcome.
And so they sent the ark away with a guilt offering.
What about the people of God today? What about us?
This story might cause us to ask some hard questions of ourselves
For the Israelites, the symbol of their religion had taken the place of God
Their symbol had become a good luck charm to them
Have the symbols of our religion taken the place of God in our lives?
Do we take Him out of our pocket when we need Him and ask Him to perform for us?
Our culture/way of life
Our distinctive way of dress
Do we get mad and throw a fit when our irreverence is punished by Him?
Our denomination
Our Bibles with their preferred translations
Our church building?
Our preferred style of worship?
Our routines or acts of devotion or service?
Devotions
Giving
Serving?
When we want God’s attention, we can take these things out of our pockets and say
God, look, I read my Bible this morning
God says, that’s nice. What I really want is your heart
God, look, I didn’t miss a Sunday morning or a Sunday evening the whole year.
That’s nice. What I really want is your heart
God, I tithed, 11% faithfully
That’s nice. What I really want is your heart.
And when God allows us to be defeated in order to get our attention, do we throw these back at Him and say “fine! I thought you wanted me to do this or give you that. But OK, if that’s the way you are going to act, see if I ever try that again.”
Ultimately, what God wanted from the Israelites was their hearts
Their devotion, their obedience, their love
And that’s what he wants from us today.
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