1 Samuel 4:3
And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Why has the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines?…
This cry of amazement stands between two defeats. Defeat astounded Israel: it fell in despite of priests and religious parade. We should study defeats. Personal and corporate both. Army cadets at Sandhurst and Woolwich prepare to achieve victory by the study of military failures. Good will come of such study in spite of its sadness.
I. DEFEAT THAT COMPELS ENQUIRY INTO OUR MORAL DISCIPLINE IS GOOD.
1. Defeat comes as a surprise. We are in the hosts of the Great King. We have been educated to expect victory. Our base, our supplies, our alliances, our history, have led to this.
2. We should be grateful to the first questioner in the Church, who demands research into the Church's character. "Wherefore?" is the prelude of "Hallelujah." So, too, in the life of the soul.
3. Enquiry will demonstrate the omission of some condition essential to success. A little later (1 Samuel 7:8) Samuel explains the double disaster. Our "Leader and Commander" has not promised unconditional triumph. "The promises are made to character." "If ye do return unto the Lord...He will deliver you."
4. Each day may be with us a day of battle.
II. IT IS NO SMALL GAIN WHEN WE SEE DEFEAT TO BE THE FRUIT OF PAST NEGLECT.
1. Had Israel been true long before, there would have been no Philistines now to vex and humiliate them. At the conquest of Canaan they had their chance. But fatigue set in, and enthusiasm faded away before the conquest could be completed. Awed and crippled remnants of heathen nations were left. Jebusites in Mount Zion, Philistines on the southwest border. They were the seed of future miseries and shames to Israel.
2. To every Christian there comes a time of special power and possibility. By laying hold on God's strength it would be easy then to slay our native foes, our inbred sins. Conversion should bring us more than pardon. It should bring the mastery of sin. Too often, the forgiven soul carries into the Christian life sins which, though crippled, are by no means dead. Rightly taught, we should seek their extermination.
III. IT IS AN ADVANTAGE WHEN DEFEAT PROVES THE WORTHLESSNESS OF SUPERSTITION.
1. Some sacral warrior, looking on the field with its 4,000 slain, cried, "Let us fetch the Ark...that it may save us." Superstition added to sin does not improve the position. Israel called for the Ark, instead of for the God of the Ark and of the nation.
2. High regard for the Ark was natural. Read its history. It was made on a Divine plan; and housed in the Holy of holies; it was the resting place of the Shekinah. By grand histories it had taken a deep place in their reverence and love. Here lay the danger. It is easy to cling to the visible loved symbol, whilst the invisible world of truth for which it stands is "let slip." We may carry to life's battlefields all our religious methods, and fail in the fight. Faith in God would have purified their hearts (Acts 15:9) and made them heroes in the fight. The historian Napier, speaking of our army in Spain, said, "Incalculable is the preponderance of moral power in war." Superstition may be described as moral faith lowered from the living God to things. It is incapable of faith's valiant movements. It has no grip of God.
3. Superstition shows itself in the Christian congregation. A modern form of it is Ecclesiolatry. The Church is unspeakably great, sacred, and dear. And it is not difficult to set it in the soul's faith and love as a rival to God.
IV. IT IS A GAIN WHEN DEFEAT REMOVES UNWORTHY LEADERS. The peril of Israel lay as much in their leaders' unworthiness as in their own vices. The nation was like a drifting ship. With men of high character at the helm she might have recovered leeway. But of her steersmen two were drunk with iniquity, and one lacked energy to the point of criminality. It was necessary to get rid of these helmsmen if the ship's company was to be saved. First, Hophni and Phinehas were slain (1 Samuel 4:11). Next, Eli fell. With the death of these men a new era opens — the epoch of Samuel. Storms shake rotten wood from living trees to make way for fresh and healthy development.
V. THOUGH DEFEATED, WE MAY WIN ON THE SAME SITE ERE LONG. The battles were fought at Ebenezer (1 Samuel 4:1). Here the armies met again soon (1 Samuel 7:12). Then victory sat on the banners of Israel. It was a day of praise and monument raising. We improve our record of deeds done when we improve our character. (1 Samuel 7:2, 4.) Let no man lose heart. Rather let him seek victory through repentance and faith in God alone. Defeat is not God's design for us. "Thanks be to God which always causeth us to triumph in Christ."
Parallel VersesKJV: And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.
WEB: When the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, "Why has Yahweh struck us today before the Philistines? Let us get the ark of the covenant of Yahweh out of Shiloh to us, that it may come among us, and save us out of the hand of our enemies."