“Why do you suppose the Lord allows such awful sin to happen in the midst of His people?” A conversation, a sermon, and a few chapters in 1 Samuel collided this morning into a few thoughts on sin made public. Whether it is the travesty of Ravi Zacharias or the narcissism of Mark Driscoll or Josh Harris’ apostacy, we have all been hurt, even devastated when friends, parents, or leaders fail.
Perhaps, our heroes’ undoing is one way that the Lord reminds us that our hope and salvation come from Him alone. No, not this theologian, not that friend. Nope, that pastor isn’t it. This one is not your Messiah.
Take a look at 1 Samuel 4-5. These chapters contain some of the most tragic and ironic passages of the Old Testament. The Philistines are at war with Israel, Israel is looking for a victory, so Eli’s wicked sons take the Ark of the Covenant to the battle-line where the Ark is captured. The sons are killed, Eli falls over and dies, and the Ark is the undoing of the Philistines and their god, Dagon.
War, animism, gold tumors, a fat priest, and an idol that lost its head–it sounds so strange compared to what we encounter day by day in Los Angeles or Charlotte or Toronto, and yet so similar. Sure, the names and geography are unfamiliar, but the struggles of God’s people’s misplaced trust are so relatable.
Distrust your own strength. Israel was losing the battle against the Philistines–4,000 men were struck down in one day’s battle. They cried out, “Why did the Lord defeat us today?” They asked the question, but then their next response gives us the understanding that they had not sought the Lord’s guidance on the battle in the first place. They had a lot of men on the front lines. There is strength in numbers? Maybe they–we–could learn something from God’s use of just 300 men under Gideon. It’s not the size of your army (or bank account or intellectual prowess or. . .) that will win the day, but the power of your God!
Don’t rely on your religious activities to save you. Following their defeat, Israel thought they should bring the Ark of the Covenant to the battle, so they sent for Eli’s wicked sons to bring down the Ark. Maybe they wanted to show the gold off to the Philistines, to show that they too had an image they could carry to battle. Remember those mathematical equations from school? If you get the X’s and Y’s on the right side of the equal, everything works out. The Israelite equation looked something like this: Ark + priest (2) = Victory. Maybe they thought that God was obligated to go with the Ark and bring a victory. Maybe the priests’ presence would increase their spiritual power. Whatever the rationale was, Israel was putting their trust in something that they thought they could control.
Remember the sinful humanity of your religious leaders. Eli was a priest of the Lord, and here he was at the end of his days, an unfit, insipid leader with two sons who were spiritually and morally bankrupt. He was called to lead and serve, and in the first chapters of 1 Samuel, we see how inconsistent he actually was. Too often, we revere “princes” (Psalm 146:1-3) who were never meant to bear the hope of our salvation, and then we are crushed and embittered when their own weight brings them down.
Paul told the Athenians in Acts 17, “The God who made the world and everything in it–He is Lord of heaven and earth-does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is he served by human hands as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to everyone life and breath and all things.” God isn’t wringing His hands in heaven, wondering how on earth anyone will ever come to know Him when His people fail so miserably so often. He is the All-Powerful Creator, Holy Judge, and the comforting Father of all Mercies. May we rejoice today knowing that He welcomes all the weakest, the vilest to trust in Him alone as the Redeemer of our lives, our Messiah.