The Israelites were absolutely sure they could not lose if they followed the religious counsel of Hophni and Phinehas. Someone had told them, “If you believe, you can achieve.” They were cocksure health, wealth, and prosperity was theirs if they named it, claimed it, and declared it so. Therefore, in accordance with this vain philosophy, the Israelites escorted their priests and God’s box to the war-front. These religious worshipers trusted in their teachers and traditions to guarantee success. Foolishly, they did not really trust in God and his Word. And in the end, they proved to be dead wrong.
So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
When news of the battle reached Shiloh, the people cried, Eli died, and so too did his daughter-in-law. In her final words, she named her child and expressed her utter despair.
A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head … And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out. When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, “What is this uproar?” Then the man hurried and came and told Eli … “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy … Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her … And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” …
The situation was horrible, and much of her sentiment was true. Israel’s army was not fine. Her priests were not holy, happy, or healthy; they were dead. The ark of God was far away. The glory had departed from Israel. Everything was messed up.
However, truth be known, God, his ark, and his purposes were really in great shape. God’s hands were just fine.
When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord.
So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him ….
The hand of the Lord was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory. And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for his hand is hard against us and against Dagon our god.” So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” They answered, “Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought around to Gath.” So they brought the ark of the God of Israel there. But after they had brought it around, the hand of the Lord was against the city, causing a very great panic, and he afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them. So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. But as soon as the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people.” They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.” For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there. The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven. (1 Samuel 4-5)
Friends, not for a moment are we going to discount the trouble in which we find ourselves.
Our world is messed up. Using military, technological, and financial instruments, nations are warring against nations. Yes, our current world-condition is unstable. International peace is an impossibility. Who knows when and where the next war will break-out? It is a wild world we live in, and it is a mess.
Our governments are messed up. The more our executive, judicial, and legislative leaders discount the revelation of God, the worse it is for us being governed. We are suffering the hard consequences of God and his wisdom, and as we continue to do so we will reap what we are sowing, Sure, our nation’s borders and banks might be heading in the right direction. Sure, we might have a few more conservative justices and patriotic executives pointing the way, but as a whole, it still looks like we are losing on the judicial and legislative fronts. Our culture is heading in a Christless direction, and it is a mess.
Our churches are messed up. Some of our churches have forsaken God’s Word and his ways; they are no longer holy or distinct from the world. Then we have other churches who, while haughtily lauding their separation and holiness, have zero-impact on their community. Some churches are cults, some churches are cloisters, others are country clubs. We ministers are plagued with an almost endless number of sins. Our elders are no better. And our people, they are following our teaching and traditions, and it is getting them nowhere fast. In our individual households of faith, we do not see dozens of new disciples made every year. We do not see our people growing in both quality and quantity. By the end of college, half our children are walking away from the faith, and our footprint in our neighborhoods are decreasing. Oh, church leaders, how we need a fresh falling, filling, and fruiting of the Holy Spirit.
Our families are messed up. Husbands find themselves waffling between being abusive or apathetic in their leadership. Perhaps we should just say our servant-leadership is pathetic. Wives are not interested in encouraging and following the lead of their men. Children are not obeying the Lord or their parents, and they are constantly hating on their siblings. As stated above, sons and daughters are walking away from the faith, and our grandchildren don’t even know that from which their parents have departed. Our households are filled with iniquity. Sins of omission and commission are found throughout our homes. We are really messed up.
Then, let’s consider our own hands, heads, and hearts. Everything around us is messed up, and we are not the exception. We are faithful and faithless. We are obedient and disobedient. We are saints, and we are sinners. We are too often double-minded and unstable in all our ways. We have a new birth, a new heart, a new record, and a new relationship with God. However, our sovereign God has not chosen to remove the influence of the world, the flesh, and the devil. And sadly, we are still inclined to follow their lead. We are like all our Christian heroes in the New Testament.
- Like Peter, we are arrogantly over-confident.
- Like James and John, we strive for the chief seats.
- Like Thomas we doubt.
- Like Ananias and Sapphira, we court the praise of people.
- Like Onesimus, we dismiss authority.
- Like Barnabas, we struggle with racism.
- Like Peter, we struggle with legalism.
- Like the Corinthians, we struggle with licentiousness.
- Like Paul, we continue to do those things we have sworn away. All the while, we continue to not do all the things written upon our sanctified hears.
- Like church members in Asia Minor, Christ is at our door. He is lovingly calling us to repent. He has much to talk to us about.
Yes, in the words of Jesus, our “spirit is strong, but our flesh is weak.” Individually, internally and externally, we are really messed up.
However friends, while we are sinful and perplexed, there is no need for us to be distressed and hopeless. Our world, government, culture, church, family, and self might be messed up, but God, his Kingdom, his universe, his planet, his Church, his family, and his sovereign will, they are just fine.
- God is still omnipresent. He is here, there, and everywhere.
- God is still omnipotent. He dominates everyone and everything.
- God is still omniscient. He is all-wise and knows all things.
- God is still impassible. He is not affected at all by his creation and creatures.
- God is still immutable. He is not changing in his characteristics, promises, or plans.
- God is still sovereign. All he does, and all he will ever will do, is win, win, and win.
Therefore, let us again fall down and repent of our sin. It is time for us to do the next right thing. Wherever we are, and whatever we have done, let us bow the knee, talk with our Loving Savior about his Law and our faithless folly, and then let us hear from his Gospel balm. He is near to us. He hears us. He loves us. He is knocking, and he has already determined to respond fantastically to our humble prayers and pleas.
Then, let us get up and repent of our pessimism. It is time for us to walk forth and be Gospel optimists. God’s feet are founded, his back is stiff, his eyes are burning, his hands are strong, and his bow is bent. The gods of this world are nothing before him. God is not dead. He has not been kidnapped. He is not in distress. No, God is still humiliating his foes — in his own way and in his own timing. All is going according to his plan in his Kingdom, universe, planet, church, and family. His sovereign will is being worked out. All is good for God. He is not messed up. All he does is win, win, and win. Therefore, let us repent, believe, and go back to work plundering Satan’s house. God’s truth and his church marches on. You know why? It is because our God has very, very strong hands.