Monday, 20 January 2014

Chapter 4: God matters

Reading the old testament, one might be led to believe that the ancient Israelites got so many things wrong about God. In a sense that's true. But they got a number of things right as well.

Let's start from what they got wrong. These people thought they can manipulate God. "And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it[a] may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” " (1 Samuel 4:3 ESV) According to their line of thoughts, if they could bring God to the front line, in the face of danger, they could summon his favourable interference. They believe that God will take action if they put God's honour and glory at stake. They treated the ark as a sort of amulet. They saw religious practices as puppet strings that could move the hand of God as they saw fit. How mistaken.

The scripture recorded the impact "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." (1 Samuel 4:10-11 ESV). However, as we see later in the narrative, though God's ark was captured, God let not his glory be desecrated. " 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." (1 Samuel 5:11 ESV) In whatever city the ark was placed in, be it Ashdod, Gath or Ekron, calamities befell upon the Philistines. From the shattering of Dagon statue, to the numerous death, epidemic tumour and the plague of rats, the Philistines realises that though they might win against the Israelites, selling the men as slaves (1 Samuel 4:9), their victory  over the Israelites could serve as no testament against their might over Israelites' God.

In the era of relative abundance, less and lesser Christians, especially in developed nations, perceive God as a source of material blessing. As our needs shift from the physiological to the psychological-spiritual spectrum, modern Christians long for solace and comfort for the soul from the divine. In our spiritual encounter, we strife to be genuine and true in our feelings and motivations to develop a real and holistic relationship with God. Following the permeation of post modernistic and critical theorist ideas such as reflexivity from the liberal arts, the degree of honesty in Christian writings is on a steady increase.

However, there are things that the ancient Israelites got right that is also missing in today society. That is that God matters. Many terrible things came to Eli the priest that day. "He who brought the news answered and said, “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.” " (1 Samuel 4:17 ESV) Among the three articles in the news: the great defeat and slaughter in the front line, the prophetic fulfilment of his sons untimely death and the captured ark. It is the final one that hit Eli the hardest. " 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. He had judged Israel forty years." (1 Samuel 4:18 ESV)

A very similar narrative is also presented through Eli's daughter in law experience where she named her own newborn " ... child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed[b] from Israel! ... for the ark of God has been captured.” " (1 Samuel 4:22 ESV). The Israelites, though their worship lacked sincerity since they loved not their God, though they are egoistic and materialistic self-lovers who indulged themselves upon injustice without a shred of care and mercy over the underprivileged, though they dared to think that their outward superficial religious practices could appease and bend the Lord's will to their whim, they knew fully well that if, if their God, the creator of heaven and earth and their contents, were to depart from them, all hope is lost.

When the ark of the covenant, symbolizing the presence of God, was captured, the whole Israelites, just like Eli and his daughter in law, fell into despair. Their sole and ultimate protection and protector had gone. There was nothing on the land, from Dan to Beersheba, that had the power to halt the advances of Philistines or any other threats against Israel. The days of the tribes of Jacob were counted. Soon, they would be slaughtered; survivors would be chained into captivity; the land, desolate; and Israel, no more.

Such regards of God has lost its place in today's world. When the direct influence of God over the matter of life and death seems unapparent, we tend to lose focus on the idea of eternal life and eternal damnation. Unlike the ancient Israelites, we tend to perceive God as a very nifty spiritual accessories for our soul and not a foundational core column. If anything, First of Samuel, chapter four, reminds me that God matters.

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