The decline was seemingly unstoppable. Prompted by the basic human instincts of pride and independence and influenced by the dodgy lifestyles of the nations that surrounded them, the people of God kept forgetting about the One who rescued them from Egyptian slavery, fed and sustained them in the desert and gave them victory after victory against their enemies. There was the odd acknowledgement. In the story of Ruth we read of God providing food for His people, indicating that at least there were some in leadership in that day who remembered Him and asked for help. This was the tragedy of it all. God was always there, very willing and very, very able to help His ‘kingdom of priests’ in every circumstance. All they had to do was ask. After all, as we are reminded, it was life He was offering. Choose life, He had told them, so that you and your children may live. Incredibly, on the most part, they chose death and a life of independence and idolatry. To illustrate the point, let’s see what happened to them when they came against the Philistines, their most persistent foes in those days.
“The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield.” (1 Samuel 4:2)
How can that be? cried the elders of Israel. Then they asked the right question, but came to the wrong conclusion. “Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us?” they asked. This was the right question as it acknowledged as to who pulled the strings in matters of war. The right thing to ask next would have been, “Perhaps we didn’t ask Him to help us.” And, probably, the reason they didn’t was the shame of how far they had gone from their God, the Ruler of the Universe. So, instead, they did what they imagined was the next best thing. They performed an act that illustrated how they had been corrupted by living among foreign people with foreign gods. They provided concrete proof of the need for a “holy” people to remain separated from corrupting influences and perhaps, also, we can get an inkling as to why God repeatedly urged the Israelites to obliterate the corrupt Canaanite tribes in the land.
So what did they do, already?! Let’s read from 1 Samuel 4:3:
“Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”
Influenced by the pagan beliefs of the Canaanites, they believed that God’s power lay in the Ark of the Covenant, rather than in God Himself. They placed their faith in a created object, just as the pagans did, with their Astarte poles and Baal statues. The whole plan backfired and their idolatry, ironically, was their undoing. The news that the Israelites had brought their “god” to battle inspired the Philistines to fight even harder. The Israelites lost 30,000 men in battle and the Ark of the Covenant was captured. ‘The glory has departed from Israel’ was the cry.
A telling epitaph of this story was what happened to the Philistines as a result of their actions. The Ark became a curse for them. First, it caused the physical destruction of their god, Dagon (the idol lost its head and hands), then the Philistines were overrun with plagues until the Ark was later gladly returned to the Israelites.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book Outcast Nation)