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?…
Two great lessons were taught the Israelites by God's revelation and dealings, viz., the peril of irreverence, the peril of superstition.
I. PROFESSING CHRISTIANS, WHEN CONTENDING WITH THEIR SPIRITUAL FOES, ARE TEMPTED LIKE ISRAEL TO TAKE REFUGE IN SUPERSTITION, TO PUT THE FORM FOR THE REALITY. For instance,
1. Mistaken view of sacraments. Reception of sick and dying regarded as a guarantee of safety.
2. Mistaken use of the Bible. Supposed virtue in the bare reading of a chapter. Like Pharisees of our Lord's days, or Saul of Tarsus before conversion.
3. Mistaken view as to use of certain religious language — a "shibboleth." These may be all either means or signs of grace, and may be full of blessing; but in themselves they are profitless, like the ark without God's presence.
II. PROFESSING CHRISTIANS, TRUSTING TO SUCH EXPEDIENTS, MEET WITH DISASTROUS FAILURE.
1. What did the ark contain? The tables of the law, which only condemned. These ungodly men only proclaimed their own condemnation. The law cannot save.
2. What gave it its special holiness? The presence of the Sheckinah on the mercy seat; God manifesting Himself in atonement of sin. When this was absent, the ark could not save, any more than the temple saved Jerusalem from her foes.
III. PROFESSING CHRISTIANS SHOULD LEARN HEREFROM SOME IMPORTANT LESSONS.
1. God values the substance more than the shadow, the reality more than the form. He will even sacrifice His own ark rather than let it conduce to superstition.
2. God rejects superstitious worship, and requires the heart and sincerity.
3. The presence on the mercy seat alone gives strength for conflict or peace in trouble.
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."