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?…
I. 'TIS SO NATURAL FOR MEN TO CLAIM THE DIVINE FAVOUR, IN SPITE OF THEIR IMPIETIES; AND WHEN THEY DISGRACE THE SANCTUARY, TO RELY UPON THE OUTWARD ADVANTAGES AND IMMUNITIES OF IT. And 'tis to be feared the case is too much our own, to be confident of God's defence when we renounce Him in our lives, and to boast of the purity of our religion when we shelter our vices under it. Upon this calamity what counsel do the Israelites agree upon? Is there a solemn day of humiliation appointed by them? Do they resort to the Tabernacle of the Lord with tears and supplications? Do they bewail their own iniquities, and those of their forefathers? It was madness in them to presume that God would be their champion, as long as they retained their vices.
II. WE KNOW WHAT MIGHTY VENERATION WAS PAID TO THE ARK BY GOD'S EXPRESS INSTITUTION; AND THAT HE GAVE IT TO HIS PEOPLE TO DISTINGUISH THEM FROM THE IDOLATROUS WORLD, both by a token of His extraordinary tuition, and by reserving them to Himself as a peculiar treasure.
III. To return then to the Ark, and Eli's PASSIONATE CONCERN FOR IT, LET US CONSIDER THE GROUNDS AND REASONABLENESS OF IT:
1. With reference to the dignity of the Ark; and,
2. With regard to the danger of it.
(1) I begin with the first excellency of the Ark, as it was the symbol of God's Presence. "There I will meet with thee" (Exodus 25:22). This then is the consequent thereof, That God blesses and defends a people with whom He dwells: And supposing the world to be governed by His Providence, we must acknowledge the necessity of His protection to succeed in any enterprise. To this purpose I shall argue upon two heads:
(1) That we may be secure in God;
(2) That we can be so in nothing else.
(1) That we may be secure in God, may appear upon three undeniable grounds; that no counsel can prosper in opposition to His wisdom; that no resistance can be made to His infinite power; and, that nothing can happen to us without His determination. From these considerations it may be seen how dismal a calamity it is to loss the protection of God; and how safe a nation is under this refuge, and this alone Let us compare it with the imbecility and deceitfulness of all human supports; none of which can bear the weight of our confidence, or justify our reliance upon them; and much less exclusively to God.
(2) Having thus considered the Ark, as it was the authentic token of God's Presence; let us regard it, as it was the centre of the true religion: for thither the sacrifices were commanded, and the prayers of the congregation went constantly along with them; and to worship before it was in the sacred style to appear before the Lord.For the plainer view of that assertion we may briefly consider three things.
(1) That religion is the greatest improvement of human nature, and does more distinguish it than all the endowments of reason: and that which raiseth the dignity of a man, and gives him the most honourable character, must in proportion increase the lustre of a community.
(2) Religion doth by a natural tendency promote the temporal peace and prosperity of a nation.
(3) Religion doth by a moral efficacy make a people happy, in that it engageth God to favour and protect them; His Presence goes along with the Ark of His testimony; and they that serve Him faithfully, have an especial title to the guardianship of His Almighty goodness.
(3) Supposing then, that pure religion is the greatest blessing of mankind, as united into public bodies, what more naturally follows from hence, than that good men ought to be affected as Eli was, and to be most warmly concerned for the Ark of God?I shall briefly subjoin four reasons:(1) Because the honour of God is dearer to them than anything else.
(2) Because nothing is more valuable to good men than what they expect in a better world; and desiring charitably for others what they justly prize for themselves, they consequently make religion their leading care.
(3) Another reason of concern for the Ark may be this, because God's protection is removed from a people together with His presence: and hereupon, in the prophetic vision, the glory of the Lord departed out of Jerusalem, to presignify the destruction of it. Wherefore, if God departs from a land, nothing but darkness and desolation can follow: and religion is the only way of retaining Him.
2. This brings me to a prospect of the Ark, namely, as it may be in danger by the sins of those who are in possession of it: and so it actually went into captivity, when the heart of good Eli was trembling for it.
(1) This judgment of God's removing Himself, and His Ark, is sometimes inflicted for national impenitence, when God hath long waited in vain for repentance of public sins.
(2) Another cause of God's removing His Ark, is the contempt of Divine truth, and the undervaluing of revealed religion, and of the Holy Scriptures. And when we treat them with scorn and niceness, or with sceptical pride and curiosity. No monarch will endure the despising of his royal proclamations: and we cannot think that God is less jealous for His holy word. The Tables of the Law were kept in the Ark, to intimate what value God was pleased to stamp upon them.
(3) A cause of God's withdrawing Himself and His Ark from a people, is the profaning of His worship: and this was the flagrant enormity which make it a spoil to the enemies of God under Eli's administration.
(4) Divisions and contentions about religion are another cause of desolation to it.
(5) Lastly, the abuse of the means of salvation, and unfruitfulness under them, doth often provoke God to withdraw them. And 'tis what our Lord threatens to His own people, the kingdom of God (that is, the Gospel, with the rich privileges of it) shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
IV. AND NOW TO CONCLUDE WITH SOME INFERENCES FROM WHAT HAS BEEN SAID.
1. Considering how necessary to us God's protection is, let us secure it as well as we can, and be careful not to unqualify ourselves for it. What the sins are that are most obstructive to our public peace, it is the business of the day to enquire impartially; and to dispossess them by prayer and fasting.
2. Considering that the great felicity of a nation is to have the true religion established in it, let us put a grateful value upon the communion of our Church; and bless God for the inestimable advantages of it; and improve them so well as to procure the continual preservation of them.
3. Considering how we ought to tremble in all the perils of the Ark, let us implore the Divine grace, that we may seriously lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; and let us ask our own consciences whether we have not deserved that God should take sway His gospel from us?
4. Let it be considered, that though we could be certain of having the Ark of God always with us; yet we should not be nearer to Him, nor to everlasting bliss, unless our adorations towards it were pure, and our lives answerable thereunto. And let us thus maintain the credit of our Church, and when the lustre of it will not be impaired by any eclipse. We think our religion is the best in the world; and if it be so, let not those that have a worse outstrip us in any virtue: let us strive to excel them in zeal and integrity, in peacefulness and moderation, in probity and temperance.
(Z. Isham, D. D.)
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."