1 Samuel 4:22
And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.
There was a dark cloud over Israel's firmament. It was a night of gloom; but amidst the revelry and excitement of sin, few could hear the hearings of the commonwealth, or discern the signs of the times that betokened national disaster. At length catastrophe came. The independence of the people was broken. The ark of God — the visible representation of Divine majesty — was in the hands of the Philistines. The outward form, the last remaining evidence of national religion, was lost. It indicates lamentable ignorance on the part of the elders of Israel, when they proposed to bring the ark of God to the field of battle — as if their God was Dot in all places, and able to help those who called upon him in faith. We do not wonder that when Eli beheld Israel's sun setting in such darkness his own flickering light paled and died away. "Precious in the sight of God is the death of His saints," but it was a sad scene in Israel when the ark of God was taken, and the pious priest who had ministered so long before it, gave up the ghost under the heavy tidings. Truly was Ichabod, the glory is departed, the appropriate name of Israel. The ark of God was taken! And Israel, who had staked at! their remaining piety within its mystic timbers, were left without their God. Their glory departed. It was the ebbing of their national religion. It was the blight on their spiritual profession. It sealed their estrangement from their God. There may have been, as we know there were, solitary instances of godliness remaining. There were Elkanahs and Hannahs, and such as they, who lived in sequestered nooks, and who kept alive a witness for the Lord. There was a Samuel in the deserted Tabernacle, in whose piety the hopes of the believing lay infolded, expecting from his growth the revival of religion and the recovery of independence. But meanwhile oppression, sin, and impiety afflicted the land. The people seemed for a season left to the sad fruits of their own ungodly course. This dark episode is suggestive of several important lessons.
1. It reveals the character of believers in perilous times. They tremble for the ark of God. When sin increases, piety degenerates, and the judgments of God alarm, believers tremble for the ark. In times of rebuke, and blasphemy, and sin, the genuine believer trembles for the cause of Christ. His dearest earthly interest is there. His Saviour's interest is there. The welfare of the soul is there. More than any other terrestrial object does the ark of God concern him. For its preservation does he pray and toil, and weep and watch.
2. We learn also the danger of a mere profession of religion. To have no more than the outward form is to be as Israel were when they thought the ark would save them from the Philistines. Over how many professors has this mournful title been inscribed! They surrounded the ark of God, reverenced its mystic symbols, were enrolled in the membership of the Church, partook of its sacraments, rejoiced in its sanctuaries, and hoped for heaven; but having a name to live while they were dead, neglecting the one thing needful — a personal interest in Christ — they realised at last only the miserable wail, "Ichabod," as they sunk into a lost eternity.
3. We learn also the advantage of personal piety in perilous times. Though Eli shared the judgment which overspread Israel and ruined his house, it was well with that aged saint when he fell down dead at the gate of Shiloh. He was saved, yet so as by fire. And though the wife of Phinehas shared the woe which afflicted the land and desolated her home — though an accumulation of sorrows and her painful solicitude at once oppressed her — it was well with her in dying. Her piety was her blessing. We doubt not that there were even in the army on the field a faithful few who were prepared to die, who mourned the infatuation of their brethren, and who rested on the Lord. To such, death on a field of battle would be their entrance into the saints' everlasting rest. Amidst the ungodliness and spiritual carelessness which often mark soldiers in a camp, it is blessed to know that some have kept the faith and died in Christ. Along with our sad memories of the winter before Sebastopol, we have comfortable thoughts of some who, while they fought bravely and fell in their country's service, passed away to glory. Of one, and he did not stand alone, it is told that after being twelve hours in the trenches, or out all night on picket, he visited hospitals and prayed with the dying, distributed tracts and exhorted the living. The man of prayer was a captain of courage; and amidst the gloom of that memorable night, a sudden moonbeam revealed Hedley Vicars waving his sword and crying, "This way 97th!" Another moment and he was lying in his blood. But so striking had been his personal consistency, that his brave men could testify that it was well with their captain then.
Parallel VersesKJV: And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.