Losing Godís Presence and Favor

2 Samuel 4 SCC 10/12/14



1. The Philistines have dominated the Israelites for some time so that the Philistines look upon them as their slaves (4:9). For some reason, battle breaks out between the Philistines and the Israelites, and the Israelites are badly beaten. When the dust settles, we learn that 4,000 Israelites have died v 2. When the Israelites return to camp, they cannot understand how God would allow them to suffer this defeat v 3a.


2. The Elders reason that the Ark as a symbol of Godís presence is a magic lamp, which they but need to rub rightly to summon God to their aid v 3b. The Ark is a good luck charm, so that wherever they take it, they will be blessed. They reason since we didnít take the Ark along with us, weíll take the Ark when we go to battle tomorrow, and weíre certain to win. God is sure to be with us because His Ark is with us. Note it is the recognized leaders of the nation who foolhardily decide this is the plan.


3. The plan is set in motion, no one seems to reconsider, v 4. Hophni and Phineahas are part of the show and are ominously participating in the charade. Of all people to be touted to be with the Ark at this precise time, everyone knows of their trifle treatment of the priesthood. Why would anyone think that this is a good option? But when the Ark is brought out of the tent and into its place before the Israelite soldiers, a great shout resounds from the Israelite camp. It becomes like a huge pep rally before a football game. The Israelite warriors are really pumped. They cannot lose. God is going to be with them.


4. The Philistine soldiers hear the uproar coming from the Israelite camp and wonder what could cause such a shout from the Israelite camp v 5. Then they learn that the Ark has been brought out into the camp of the Israelites v 6. They, like the Israelites, look upon the Ark as though it is capable of magic. They recall that when God led the Israelites against the Egyptians, they were defeated v 7-8. They remember the stories of the victories God gave the Israelites over their enemies, and that whenever the Israelites fought their enemies, they took the Ark with them. They now fear that the presence of the Ark before the Israelite armies assures Israel of a victory. They might die but at least they can die like men. And so, rather than give up, the Philistines become motivated to fight to the death, and to die like heroes v 9.


5. The Elders and peoples plan backfires miserably. In retrospect it is a huge disaster from the perspective of those who thought the Ark would assure them victory. The Philistines being even more motivated to fight than the Israelites, the Philistines once again defeat the Israelites -- only this time 30,000 Israelites are slain. Among the dead are Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, who are slain as the Ark of God is captured as a trophy of war v 10. The fact that the Israelites suffered a devastating slaughter many times worse than their earlier recent defeat proved that victory did not come from the ark but from the Lord.


NB: Defeat was due to sin in the camp, including Hophni and Phinehasí sin. Israel had suffered defeat at Ai about 300 years earlier for the same reason: sin among the people. To duplicate previous spiritual victories by going through the same procedures is no substitute for getting right with God. The Israelites foolishly conclude that taking the Ark of God to war is their guarantee of success in battle. In the plan of God, the Israelites taking the Ark into battle is the means of fulfilling the words of prophecy God had spoken through the unnamed prophet 2:27-36.

PT: The paraphernalia that modern believers sometimes rely on in place of God include a crucifix, a picture of Jesus, or a family Bible positioned conspicuously in the home but seldom read, the hope of spiritual success by regular church attendance, or even the daily reading of the Bible. These things, as good as they may be, are no substitute for a vital personal relationship with God.



1. The Word of the Lord is fulfilled, in part, but there is more divine judgment to come on this day of infamy. Eli is stationed by the road in his seat trembling in heart as he eagerly waits for news of the battle. The Ark of God is gone from Shiloh, as are his two sons, and Eli is not at all comfortable v 13. A certain Benjamite escapes death and flees back to Shiloh from the battle scene with his clothes torn and dust on his head. It is a sign of mourning and defeat, which Eli is not able to see because his vision is all but gone. The rest of the city begins to cry out as word of their defeat quickly circulates v 13.


2. Eli can hear even if he cannot see, and what he hears frightens him. His ears, as it were, are about to tingle (see 3:11). Eli asks what the commotion means, and the man who has escaped hastens to his side where he briefly sums up his report v 14. There is only ďbad newsĒ -- the Philistines have defeated Israel, Eliís sons have been killed, and the Ark of God has been taken v 15-17. The news is more than Eliís 98-year-old body can handle. He collapses, falling from his seat in such a way that he breaks his neck. Eli is dead, along with his sons, and all on the same day. His forty years of service as judge over Israel has ended v 18. A sad day resulting from a sad legacy.


3. The dying is not yet over for the house of Eli. The wife of Eliís son, Phinehas, is pregnant, and the news of Israelís tragic defeat, the loss of the Ark, and the deaths of Eli and her husband bring on her labor. As she is in labor, things do not go well. While those helping try to comfort her, she refuses their help. When she learns that her child is a boy, she names him Ichabod, a name meaning no glory, because the Ark of God has been taken and her husband and father-in-law have died. She realizes that the greatest disaster is the loss of the Ark. The repetition in v. 22 of the statement in v. 21 focuses our attention on this important fact: the sign of Godís presence with Israel was gone and Godís blessing was obviously gone with it! The translation "depart", in most of its uses in the OT means to go into exile. That is the idea here with exile as a constant threat for the nationís domesticating Godódo not forget.


NB: And what was the crime that God was judging by the removal of himself? It was the crime of domesticating God, of presuming to employ him as a kind of charm or talisman, as a power at your beck and call. We speak today of people who put God in a box but these people in Eliís day really imagined that God was in a box and that they could carry him wherever they pleased and get the good of his presence simply by carrying it to the point of need.


PT: This problem would surface time and time again in Israelís history. The prophets would protest against this domestication of God which took the form of various ritualismís and, at last, a very religious people would be judged severely and the surviving remnant sent into exile precisely because they had substituted a living, personal, faith in God, a faith that produces an obedient life, for a confidence that their possession and practice of the external structure of an Israelite faith would obligate God toward them. And so it was much earlier in Samuel and Eliís day. The priesthood was corrupt. The impression is that the people were happy to have it that way. But, still, they were sure that they could use God to get them out of the jam they found themselves in and then go on back to their way of life Ė no matter that it was a very different life than God had summoned them to live. He was, no matter, at their beck and call.


So What?

1. Someone has said that if you feel far from God, you need to remember that He is not the one who moved. God has promised that if His people will draw near to Him He will draw near to them.

2. You cannot use religious devotion as a means of obligating God to work in your favor. God sees right through this, understanding the manipulation involved.

3. Using religious relics or paraphernalia are attempts to motivate God to cooperate with you and your endeavors. We believe their use makes God more disposed toward us. God is offended by such attempts. What is in your best interests always lies with God not you.