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?…
1. Learn that the formal is useless without the spiritual. There is the ark, made as God dictated — a sacred thing: the law is there; the mercy seat is there. Yet Israel falls by the arms of the Philistines, and the sacred shrine is taken by the hands of the idolaters. The formal never can save men; the institutional never can redeem society. This is, emphatically, the day of bringing in arks, societies, formalities, ceremonies. You have in your house an altar; that altar will be nothing influential in your life if you have it there merely for the sake of formality.
2. Learn that religion is not to be a mere convenience. The ark is not to be used as a magical spell. Holy things are not to be run to in extremity, and set up in order that men who are in peril may be saved. "That it may save us." That sounds like a modern expression! To be personally saved, to be delivered out of a pressing emergency or strait — that seems to be the one object which many people have in view when identifying themselves with religious institutions, Christian observances and fellowships. We must not play with our religion. We might guarantee that every place of worship would be filled at five o'clock in the morning and at twelve o'clock at night under given circumstances. Let there be a plague in the city — let men's hearts fail them with fear — and they will instantly flock to churches and chapels. That will not do! God is not to be moved by incantations, by decent formalities, and external reverence. He will answer the continuous cry of the life.
3. We learn that the Philistines took the ark of the covenant. But though they had captured the ark, that sacred shrine made itself terribly felt.
(J. Parker, 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."