Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Speaking of resignation...

... the Philistines were afraid. "A god has come into the camp," they said. "We're in trouble! .... Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the desert.
1 Samuel 4.7-8
What did these Philistines do right after this? Any guesses? Did they run and hide?

Nope. They encouraged each other, "Be strong, Philistines! .... Be men, and fight!" (1 Samuel 4.9)

They beat the tar out of the Israelites, proving (so they thought) that the Ark of the Covenant was just like one of their gods -- it didn't really protect the Israelites from military defeat.

So they took it home -- a Really Bad Idea because wherever the Ark went in Philistia there was trouble. Their god (a statue of Dagon) was trashed. The people were afflicted with tumors.

So I see two, maybe three things here.

First, in contrast to Eli, who supposedly knew the Lord, these Philistines didn't just give up when they thought they were in trouble; they strengthened themselves and went for the gusto. I think the Philistines had the exemplary behavior whereas Eli contented himself with just sounding pious.

Second, the Israelites put too much faith in religion and not enough in the Lord himself. What does he say, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" and "what does the Lord require of you but that you do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God"? Eli's sons were corrupt and unrepentant; in the face of that, religious objects were meaningless.

Third, the Lord wanted the Philistines to understand that his Ark was not like one of their dumb gods, to be carried here and there and placed in some other god's temple. He wanted them to understand that He was in a different category even from their gods, and used the Ark to show it.

So how about me? Unless I change my heart, any amount of pious behavior is valueless. And if I think the Lord is comparable to the minor gods (or what should be minor gods) in my life, like money and toys and job satisfaction, then I'm asking for trouble.

May the Lord help us to take the next step in His direction, to make our paths a little less crooked.

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