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—FEBRUARY 21.—1 SAMUEL 4:1-18.—
A CORRUPT PRIESTHOOD—A DEMORALIZED PEOPLE—ATTEMPT
TO BRING GOD INTO THE WAR—THE ARK OF THE COVENANT
CAPTURED—PUNISHMENT AT THE HANDS OF THEIR
ENEMIES—THE SAME PRINCIPLE IN OPERATION TODAY—
TRAGIC DEATH OF ELI AND HIS SONS—WHICH NATIONS
ARE IN COVENANT RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD?
"Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only,
deluding your own selves."—James 1:22 .
SOME twenty years after God's prediction of the calamities that would befall Eli and his family, the tragedy related in this lesson occurred. In all those twenty years, apparently no reformations had taken place—the aged Eli, now ninety-eight years old, had not purged the servants or the service of the Lord. He had allowed matters to continue in the hands of his sons, notwithstanding their continual dishonesty in the things of God, and their immorality and pernicious example. Samuel, apparently, may have been absent at the time of this lesson, and perhaps for years before. Wherever he was, we may be sure he was a true servant of God, and more and more recognized of the people as such.
We are not to overestimate the moral and religious conditions of the people during those twenty years; but we may assume that the evil example of the priests, the sons of Eli, whom he had associated with him in the priestly office, had an injurious effect upon the people—a demoralizing effect. According to God's covenant with the nation, He was bound to reprove them, punish them. A fresh invasion of the Philistines took place. The Israelites went out to meet them in battle and were defeated. In their chagrin, and groping after some help, they looked to God, just as all the nations of Europe today are looking to God for help and praying in vain.
The usual customs under such conditions today are the same as then; namely, an attempt to bring God into the war, an attempt to invoke the assistance of religious symbols, etc. And, indeed, the Israelites had more ground for so doing than have the warring kingdoms of today; for God had declared Himself to be the Keeper of Israel, and that they were His special nation, His ward, and that He would protect them as long as they would be loyal to Him. On the other hand, the kingdoms of this world have no such Divine promise, have no ground for such expectations of Divine aid. They are falsely styling themselves Christian kingdoms, "Christendom"; whereas they have neither part nor lot with the Lord. He recognizes no nations except Natural Israel of the past and Spiritual Israel of the present. "Ye are a holy nation, a peculiar people, a Royal Priesthood, to show forth the praises of Him who hath called you from darkness into His marvelous light."—1 Peter 2:9.
The Israelites doubtless had read how the Ark went before them in the Wilderness journey, how it was in the midst of the River Jordan when the people crossed over dry-shod, and how it was in the procession that marched around Jericho when the walls fell. And so they determined to bring up the Ark of the Lord and put it in the battle with the people of Israel; and thus they thought they would insure victory. Their reasoning, apparently, was that God would not permit the Ark of the Covenant to be injured or to be captured; and hence they would be safe and victory would be bound to come to Israel.
With our mental eye we see the pageant: Here come the Levites, bearing the holy Ark of God, and the two sons of Eli, arrayed as the priests of the Most High, the representatives of God's Holiness; and the people, enthused with the thought of victory through the Ark of God, shouted their usual battle-hymn, "Rise up, Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee."—Numbers 10:35.
The people forgot that they had been living irreligiously, in violation of their Covenant with God; and that that Covenant called for punishment upon them at the hand of their enemies. They forgot that the two representative priests by no means represented God and His Righteousness—that they were thieves and robbers, garbed as the priests of God; that they were immoral, impure, posing as the representatives of the Divine Holiness. They forgot that God's blessing was not to be expected under such conditions.
And alas! Although we are many centuries removed from their time, we see much of this same principle today—much sham, much pretense, much misrepresentation of God on the part of those who profess to be His representatives. We behold the present war, with the Kaiser of Germany at the head of the Lutheran Church; with Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria-Hungary, the chief son of the Papacy; with King George at the head of the Church of England; with the Czar, the "little father" of Russia, the chief representative of the Greek Catholic Church—all these marching out to battle, each rallying his soldiers with the thought of God, each treading the precious Name of the Prince of Peace into the dust, each bent on the use of the sword for the selfish purpose of promoting the greatness of his empire and its commercial prosperity, and, incidentally, upholding the traditions of the past respecting his authority to establish the Kingdom of God upon earth.
Today, as in the days of Eli's sons, the people give a [R5626 : page 43] shout as they couple the Cause of God with their national projects. Again they forget that the two are entirely separate; that God's Cause is under Divine direction; and that His Cause will prosper best by the permission of a great defeat to all these systems of men, preparing incidentally for the establishment of Messiah's Kingdom, after the Armageddon of the Bible shall have humbled the world and made them ready to acclaim the new King Immanuel and His Kingdom "the desire of all nations."
Calling upon the Name of the Lord and having the Ark of God in the battle did not help the Israelites, even as the carrying of the ikons by the Russian soldiers will not give them the victory, or the wearing of the name of God upon their belts give the victory to the Germans, or the carrying of the Cross of St. George give victory to the armies of the British.
There was a great slaughter and a scattering of the forces of the Israelites. The two sons of Eli were slain. The Ark of God was captured. A swift runner from the army brought the sad intelligence to Shiloh, where Eli as judge sat upon his high seat in the gate, anxiously wondering, fearfully remembering the twenty-year-before prediction of disaster. The runner reported to Eli that the battle had gone against the Israelites, that his two sons were slain, and concluded by telling that the Ark of the Lord had also been captured by the Philistines.
Eli heard all with equanimity until the last sentence. When he learned that his precious treasure, for which he was the guardian by Divine appointment, had been taken by the Philistines, the poor man fell over in a faint, his chair toppled, his neck was broken. Although faithful at heart until death at ninety-eight, he, nevertheless, is not without reproof in that he neglected his family and neglected to see that the work entrusted to him was not interfered with by those of his own household. His loyalty to God was not sufficiently great to hinder him from shirking his responsibility. In his character was too much of the spirit of "peace at any price," not enough of that courage which is prepared to die for righteousness' sake.
The lesson taught to God's Covenant people, Israel, the Lord next sent chastisements upon the Philistines, so that they were glad to return the Ark to the people of God. Some are inclined to make light of the declaration that the Philistines were plagued with mice and with hemorrhoids so long as they had the Ark with them; and that when the Ark had been restored to the Israelites, these plagues were removed. We have no reason, however, to doubt that the Philistines had cause for the realization that these were special plagues, and the Scriptures seem to uphold the thought that they were of the Lord.
This does not authorize us in supposing that every kind of plague today is of the Lord—that pestilences, etc., are special punishments of God. We must remember, when considering this matter, that the nation of Israel, and everything appertaining to it, was in a special covenant relationship with God and under Divine supervision. Whoever touched Israel or any of the things pertaining to the typical system was to that extent adverse to the Lord, His Cause, His interests, and this could be done only by the Lord's permission; and when the Lord wished to bring back the Ark, or deliver His people from such circumstances, it was for Him to bring to pass conditions necessary to that end.
There is no such condition of things prevailing today. The nation of Israel is temporarily cut off from the Divine protection which was with them—until the full number from the Gentiles shall have been brought into Spiritual Israel. Then all Israel will be recovered from their blindness and their alienation from God, as it is written: "This is My covenant with them when I shall take away their sins."—Romans 11:26-32.
The only people or nation now in covenant relationship with God, according to the Bible, is Spiritual Israel, "a holy nation, a peculiar people." And, as respects [R5627 : page 43] Spiritual Israel, their interests are spiritual; and the Divine promises do not guarantee them earthly blessings and protection, but rather the reverse—persecution and opposition. God's guarantee to Spiritual Israel, however, is that all the adversities of the present life which He permits to come to them will work out to their eternal spiritual welfare, if they are rightly exercised thereby.