Copyright © 2016, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter.
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www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
There is little doubt that members of the Christian faith understand and support the practice of worshipping the LORD. Since the biblical narrative does not provide a single formula or model for worship, different faith groups worship the LORD in many different ways. How we worship is not as important as the necessity that we actually do participate in the worship of the LORD who we love. Worship is not a spectator sport, but a sincere and personal veneration of the LORD, the creator of the universe, who has reached down through time and space to touch your heart and provide you with a means of forgiveness simply because He loves you, and desires you to respond to His grace in faith.
However, an honest introspection of our worship will likely reveal that Christians actually put very little effort into worship, replacing a personal veneration with corporate attendance at a meeting where one watches a program take place. When people miss the opportunity for true worship, they leave the experience unchanged and no closer to the LORD.
By the time that Eli’s sons, Phineas and Hophni were responsible for Temple administration, the worship of the LORD had been lost. Faith had been entirely replaced by religion, a system of rites and rules that the Israelites believed appropriated for themselves some form of righteousness. This is not unlike modern religion that serves the same purpose: devoid of true faith in God its adherents believe that they find some form of righteousness through their religious activity.
However, God is not mocked by the behavior of those who replace Him with their own plan. There are consequences that result from rebellion against God’s instruction, and Israel would experience the devastating consequences that would result from the sin of Eli and his sons.
Devoid of dependence upon the LORD, the nation of Israel, characterized as a somewhat loose federation of the tribes of Israel, had become fully engaged in the intrigue of the pagan world within which they were immersed. Rather than conquer the Promised Land as they were commanded by God, they chose to conquer only that which they needed to gain independence, and literally moved into the pagan communities in the region, taking on their belief systems and much of their culture. A large part of that culture included the frequent fighting between tribal groups. One of the most persistent powers in the region were the Philistines, maritime immigrants from Greece who were skilled in the fabrication of iron instruments, including weapons.
By rejecting God, the Israelites stepped out from under His “hand of protection,” exposing themselves to the intrigue nations. Their immediate southwestern border with the aggressive Philistines would become a continual example of their replacing God with their own agenda, and God’s judgment that would come upon them would be significant. Far better prepared for warfare, the Philistines were a formidable enemy, one that Israel would have been wise to leave alone. Led by the sons of Eli, Israel engaged the Philistines in a border battle between the Philistine village of Aphek, and the Israelite village of Ebenezer. Again, separated from God’s protective hand the Israelite army went up against a prepared army and suffered great losses.
The Israelite response was instructive. Aware of their history, the appropriated for themselves what they thought was the ultimate battle weapon.
GOD WILL NOT BE USED
These Israelites entirely missed the point. They thought that the Ark of the Covenant was little more than a talisman, a magic tool to be used to guarantee victory. We might recall that Samuel was sleeping next to the Ark when He was called by the LORD. The Ark had lost its holiness to the people. They had long forgotten the rules that God had placed upon the handling and use of the Ark, rules that were intended to maintain its holiness among the people.
The reference to the LORD as “their gods” is instructive as it demonstrates their lack of understanding of the nature of God. Their world view held to a pantheon of hundreds of gods, deities that served to explain virtually every event of nature that they did not have an explanation for. For example, thinking that a god of rain brings rain, they would hold that their rain god was real when rains came. However, none of the gods in their pantheon had ever stepped in and destroyed their enemies, so their fear of this one of “Israel’s many gods” was real.
Their belief in an Israelite pantheon illustrates the true nature of the nation: Israel did follow a pantheon as it left the LORD to follow the mythical gods of the Canaanites. The testimony of the church today can be observed by others in a similar fashion when its spiritual integrity is compromised by worldly living.
The presence of the Ark only served to embolden the Philistine army. Rather than serve as a guarantee of their victory over the Philistines, the presence of the Ark will have had exactly the opposite of their expected response. Not only did its presence not include the protective hand of the LORD, it strengthened the resolve of the Philistines.
The battle that ensued was rather one-sided. The grammar reveals that the fighting was done by the Philistines while the Israelites expected to simply witness the destruction of their enemies. When they were completely overrun by the Philistine army those who remained ran in retreat, leaving behind the Ark of the Covenant. It is not surprising that those responsible for its security, the sons of Eli, would perish in the battle. The consequences of the sin of the Elidan dynasty was being realized at the Ark was abandoned on the battlefield.
When Eli heard the news of the loss of the Ark to the Philistines he literally swooned, fell backward off of his chair, broke his neck, and died. The idea behind the word that is rendered “chair” is that of a throne of one’s own making. There is a symbolism behind his falling from the throne as this would be the event that would remove all the authority that was held by he and his family.
The narrative notes that he was old, and “heavy,” a term that is not as much a reference to his physical weight as it is to the great burden he was carrying. Though he was supposed to be responsible for the nation, he lost this position to the child, Samuel who was now exercising the spiritual leadership over Israel. He was supposed to be responsible for the security of the Ark, but he allowed his sons to take it without any of the prayer, precautions, or handling requirements to a place of their own choosing, something that had never been done before. To this point, the movements of the Ark had been made in response to leadership from the LORD. Finally, the Elidan dynasty was now extinct with the loss of his two sons. He knew his demise was complete, and a fulfillment of the prophecy that was given to him earlier by both the LORD and the child, Samuel. It is little wonder that he simply collapsed.
Has the church today, like the Israelites, replaced faith with religion? Is the LORD truly present in and pleased with our worship? Or, has our Christianity become a religion of rules, rites, and practices that have taken upon themselves some form of power? The Israelites thought that the power of God was in the Ark, and people today can come to believe that the power of God is in their church building or in their religious practices. When these things take on such power, they become idols that turn us away from the truth of God’s Word and serve, not to enhance our worship experience, but rather to replace it, leaving behind a powerless experience that may give us a warm-fuzzy feeling, but lacks the power of the Holy Spirit to truly move us.
Compromising the holiness of God will have consequences, and the Philistines are about to learn of these.
GOD WILL NOT BE MOCKED
1 Samuel 5:3. And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.
Since the mythical gods were, indeed, products of their own imagination, they both did not exist, and therefore had no power. Though they attributed to their gods many things they did not understand, there was never an occasion where a god actually did anything. The Philistines were now witnessing something that is tangible and physical, denoting the literal humiliation of their god by the God of Israel. They had witnessed something “spiritually” significant, making this section of the Temple a place of consecration. Without any explanation as to their reasoning, denoting the lack of necessity for doing so, the writer simply moves us to the resulting tradition to avoid stepping on the threshold as one enters the throne-room. The threshold represents the entrance to this place, and by treating the threshold as holy, they were recognizing this place is holy. Since the prohibition of treading on the threshold was instituted following the humiliation of Dagon, it is clear that the Philistines recognized that this God of Israel has power, and it was natural for them to consider the location where this duel took place to be a special holy place to be revered.
There has been no little interest in determining the nature of the plague that was experienced by the Philistines. The similarity of the sound of “emerods” to the English word “hemorrhoids” has led some to connect the latter with the former, but this is actually not an appropriate means for biblical interpretation. The context will reveal an attachment of the plague with rats, and by this time there had been several breakouts of bubonic plague, a rat-borne disease, that was not uncommon to the maritime cultures. For this reason, and the baubles (Old-English “poseys”) that would be later described, there is better evidence that they were suffering from the plague.
The scripture denotes, they “carried the Ark” to Gath. Ignorant of God’s rules concerning the Ark, their logic was badly flawed. Disregarding the true holiness of the Ark, they moved it without the LORD’s command to do so, and they moved it in a means that was contrary to God’s instruction. Furthermore, their thought that bringing Israel’s God closer to His “homeland” would change things was flawed. The ancients held that gods were territorial, and Israel’s God would be placated by bringing Him closer to home.
Still unwilling to surrender control of the Ark, they sent it on to Ekron with similar disastrous results. The death spread dramatically with the men dying without evidence of the plague.
From that point, their strategy took on a pagan traditional direction that was entirely ignorant of God’s instructions for the Ark. Rather than approach the Israelites, offer to return the Ark, and seek instructions on how to properly do so, they chose to simply take the Ark to them and accompany it with a “trespass offering” using their own religious practices.
The nature of the offering is instructive. First, they fashioned five golden “emerods,” images of the sores that the plague produced, and five golden “rats.” The number five was selected to represent each of the five Philistine city states, Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron. The images of their rat god represent the authority behind the plague, and served to represent the authority of the kings of their city states.
Unaware of the necessity of a blood sacrifice, they substituted for it their pagan practice of creating golden images, quite the opposite of God’s instructions against the creation of objects of worship. Their creation of golden images of the tumors caused by the plague was consistent with a pagan practice that was common in their “houses of healing” where people would bring images of their illnesses or the ailing body parts and put them on display. Then when others would see a similar malady and find healing, they would attribute it to the idol and the house of healing. The use of golden images of their rat god demonstrates their understanding of the direct influence that rats had on the plague. Since it was well-known that rats were often present with the plague, they understood that there was a significant connection between them, though ignorant of the nature of that connection. In typical pagan religious practice, they would fashion golden rats and worship them with the hope that the rats will relent.
Again, demonstrating their ignorance, the priests gave instruction to make a “new cart,” giving it a form of holiness in that it had never been used for anything else. Though their intentions may have been logically reasonable, the carrying of the Ark on a cart was forbidden by the Law. The Ark was to be affixed with poles that were lifted and carried by Levites.
The priests then devised a plan to put God to the test. They yoked two untrained milking cows and separated them from their calves. Believing that the Israelite God would desire that the Ark be returned, they held that their God would cause the cows to leave their calves and pull the cart without any other guidance along the road to Bech Shemesh, an Israelite village a couple of miles away. They held that if the Israelite God would do this, they would know that the plague was caused by the vengeance of their neighboring God. However, if the cows failed to do so, they would believe that their sickness was a random event and had nothing to do with the Ark.
Now that the Ark is back into Israelite territory the Philistines who followed the Ark to Beth Shemesh turned back and returned to Philistine. With the Ark safely “home,” we would expect that the Israelites would respond to this miracle by praising God, and treating the Ark in the manner that the LORD intends. However their treatment of the Ark was not that much different from that of the Philistines.
The first response of the Israelites is their rejoice upon seeing the Ark. Beth Shemesh was a Levitical city. Unbeknownst to the Philistines, this would be the appropriate place to return the Ark. The Levites would know exactly how to treat the Ark upon its arrival. However, they immediately began to desecrate the Ark. Seeing the Ark, their very first task should have been to cover it. Nobody other than Levites were permitted to see the Ark. However, there is no indication that they made any effort to treat the Ark with appointed reverence.
This passage records the experience of the Israelites and the Philistines as each interacted with the Ark of the Covenant of God. The three chapters of 1 Samuel can be organized into three events: the taking of the Ark into battle by the Israelites who abandoned it in battlefield, the suffering of the Philistines that resulted from their seven-month possession of the Ark, and the response of the Israelites upon the Ark’s return. In each of the three events, the Ark of the Covenant was treated in a detestable manner, and in all three events thousands of people died.
In all three events those who were handling the Ark did so in a “religious” manner. Both the Israelites and the Philistines adopted their own practices, assuming them to be an appropriate way to treat the Ark.
The only proper way to treat the presence of God is in sincere worship and obedience to Him. The consequences of false worship are devastating. The vast majority of the people of the world today will spend an eternity separated from the God who loves them simply because they have replaced the truth of the gospel with their own religious beliefs, rites, and traditions.
Even people who have heard the gospel have designed for themselves an extreme set of rites and traditions with which to “worship” God. Through it all, the vast population of this earth are separated from God for eternity, and the few who seek God are engaged in faith communities that fail to truly worship God as He deserves. Most simply attend “services” and observe the activities that take place, often music, prayer, and teaching, and then leave the session unchanged. Very little worship is taking place.
The history of 1 Samuel 4-6 can serve as a wake-up-call to all who profess faith in Christ, and re-examine the nature, context, and content of their “worship.” Have we, like the ancients, replaced worship with our own model of “religious” behavior while denying the LORD the display of sincere love, awe, and wonder that He deserves? The ancients received nothing from their “worship” of God, only to die in a manner that was consistent with their behavior. Likewise, we receive nothing from false worship, and having received nothing will all die in the manner consistent with our own behavior.
Let us look past the rites and traditions of the organized church and look to the personal relationship that we have with the LORD, and work to worship Him as He is worthy to be worshipped: from our own hearts and minds, and not through the activities that someone else engages. Worship is personal. Worship is real. Worship the LORD in all that you do.
 Galatians 6:7.
 Some may have viewed the movie, “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark,” where godless German forces attempted to obtain the Ark of the Covenant to assure their victories in battle. Their ignorance of God’s intent towards the Ark and its use is portrayed in a manner similar to that demonstrated by the Israelites at Ebenezer. (1981, Paramount Pictures, Lucasfilm. Directed by Steven Spielberg.)
 The Israelites would continue this belief even to the end of the nation, believing that Jerusalem could never be overturned because of the presence of the Temple. Likewise, the Temple was no longer a place of worship, but rather a traditional talisman that was overrun and destroyed by the Babylonians who destroyed Jerusalem and took many of its people, including the remnant of faithful beliers in God, into a three-generation captivity.
 Bergen, p. 97.
 2 Samuel 4:12, e.g.
 Exodus 3:5; Zephaniah 1:9.
 1 Samuel 4:8.
 1 Samuel 5:9-12.
 It is likely that the term “seven months” is more of a metaphor than a literal period, as the number seven is used to identify completeness.
 Leviticus 5:14, ff.
 Apollo Sminthus was the Philistine’s god of mice and rats.
 Numbers 7:7-9.
 Numbers 4:5-6.
 Leviticus 1:3.
 1 Samuel 6:16-18.