Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 15. Don’t Mess with God
1 Sam 5:1,2 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon.
Face the ‘Bad News’: As much as I would like to move on to deal with expectations we may have as Christians – expectations of blessings – while we remain in the Old Testament we must accept the lessons that come through there, and if we think them negative, that is because we have never perhaps considered the seriousness of the ‘bad news’ of the Bible, that sinners should not mess with God but put their lives right with Him – and we’re all sinners. Having done some fairly in-depth studies in the Old Testament, my conclusion why it is there is twofold: 1. To reveal the glory and greatness of God. 2. To reveal the folly and sinfulness of mankind and the need we have of salvation.
Two Modern Failures: I would add that I find two faults that often appear in modern Christianity. First, that ‘Sin’ has gone out of fashion and so it is only dealt with in a legalistic condemnatory sort of way, so we fail to see the depth of the problem of sin, both before we come to Christ and, indeed as something to be rejected as a spoiler of the Christian life. Second, because of that, we so often fail to see the wonder of the Christian life and experience, failing to appreciate and apprehend the full wonder of what Jesus has done for us and the wonder of life in the Spirit that he has opened up for us.
The Backdrop: So here, back still in the Old Testament, there are lessons to be faced, very real lessons that impact on modern day living as much now as then. We come to a time when the period of the judges is almost over. Eli the priest is coming to the end of his time, Samuel has just been called by God and Israel are at war with the Philistines – and the Philistines have just won a battle over Israel. This had already happened once (1 Sam 4:1,2) and so the people of Israel rashly decided their failure was because God was not with them (that part was true), and so they would take the ark of the covenant with them into battle the next time (4:3,4) – but that was superstitious folly. So the Lord allowed them to be defeated and the ark taken. Now I think He allowed that, not so much as to lose the ark but to show Israel that they couldn’t use Him as a talisman or good luck charm. However He would also use this incident to teach the Philistines some things about Him.
Two sets of Wrong Expectations: Now on to expectations. First Israel: they expected that if they took the ark with them it would force God to turn up for them. Wrong! Repentance would do that, but they weren’t ready to do that yet. Second the Philistines: they expected the ark to be just another representative of just another ‘god’ who they half believed in, gods who they sought to appease because it is sometimes a hard world and you need every bit of help you can get, and if this works, so be it. That is what is behind so much idolatry (worshipping idols representing ‘gods’), not any real relationship with a deity. All such ‘gods’ were of course, mere figments of superstitious, fearful, human imagination. Isn’t that how some people still treat God today – some superstitious entity to be appeased or placated in an endeavour to get help to handle this fallen world?
Philistines under Pressure: The story of what follow is worth a reading, if for no other reason than to get a laugh, but the better reason is to see the sovereignty and power of God Almighty, the Creator God of all things. Let’s summarise what happened:
- The Philistines put the ark next to the idol of Dagon their god. After all, the god of Israel is just another god, isn’t he?
- Next morning Dagon is found flat on his face (5:3) and when they replace him, next morning, he’s flat on his face again but now headless and with no hands (5:4)
- Then the people of Ashdod, where the ark was, all start suffering from bad tumours or maybe boils and so send the ark to another group (5:6-8)
- The same thing is repeated in Gath (5:9) and then Ekron where it got worse and people started dying (5:9-12)
- To cut a long story short the ark was returned to Israel (6:1-12)
God IS Lord! What we have here is an example of how God looked after His own image. We need to learn a lesson: God does not need defending. When He is rejected by a people or nation, that nation starts falling apart. We might say it is the way He has designed us and so, when people start living contrary to that design, it all starts going wrong, but as much as that is true, it is more than that: He lifts off His hands of protection and even invites the enemy to have free reign until people come to their senses (and that may take a long time).
Our Testimony: However, all the while He will have His representatives, His people, there as a testimony, there as a witness for Him and He longs to bless us in the midst of the rebellious nations of the West, so that we will stand out as demonstrations of His love, His power and His revelation. That is what we can expect in the midst of this fallen world and being part of nations that have largely rejected Him. He will deal with these nations, but in the meanwhile He wants you and me to be His representatives as the body of Christ, revealing Him to whoever’s hearts are beginning to soften and turn and look for answers to the mess. At the moment, these nations, just like the Philistines, think they can play with God – largely reject Him but maybe play lip service to Him, allow Him to be mention as big state occasions and so on, but not be Lord.
Failing Society: That is their folly and the fruit of that is being seen in the breakdown of society in so many ways, with unrighteousness being seen again and again at the very top levels. Some of us tolerate this as the best of two evils, but we are called to stand out and reject ANY injustice, any unrighteous tweets, words, dealings or whatever, by whatever party. If we fail to do that, we align ourselves with unrighteousness and that will probably be seen in other ways as well – family unfaithfulness, break-up of marriages, rebellious out-of-control children, financial difficulties, chaos and confusion in general.
Stand Up, Stand Out! If we will not stand out as a holy, righteous, just, loving, caring and serving people, we align ourselves with the people of Israel in Samuel’s day, thinking we can get away with it because ‘we are the people of God’ and our expectations are false for, as the apostle Peter said, “it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God,” (1 Pet 4:17). When God comes to do a clear-up job, He starts with His own people and then moves on to the world. That’s what we see in the first part of 1 Samuel, and we should heed the lessons. In a day when we rightly emphasise the grace and goodness of God, we should also remember that we cannot use that to excuse our infidelities. May we hear it today.