The Israelites assumed that they were God’s people and so their actions did not matter. They believed that gods could be manipulated by practicing cultic rituals. In essence this is magic. Magic manipulates supernatural forces to bend them to the will of the individual. The people of Israel believed that God could be manipulated. They believed that they could manipulate God by carrying him into battle in the form of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark ceased to be a symbol of God’s desire to dwell with his people, but it became a magic talisman to the Israelites.
Some people still treat God this way. Rather than the pursuit of God and the discerning of His will, people will often use ‘faith’ and prayer as a tool to get what they want. If their desired result does not come about it is seen as a failure of their faith to ‘believe for it’ or it is a failure of God. Of course, these last two assumptions are ludicrous but still such views exist. Sometimes nations will try and manipulate God or assume God is on their side in a conflict when there is no real moral high-ground in the conflict. This kind of attitude is the same as the attitude of the Israelites that caused theem to resort to using their Magic Ark.
1 Samuel 4:1-11
Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. 2 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. 3When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”
4So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
5 When the ark of the LORD’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. 6Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”
When they learned that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid. “A god has[a] come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before. 8 We’re doomed! 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 wilderness. 9Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!”
10 So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
- What shocking incident creates tension in this story?
- What solution to the conflict do the Israelites choose?
- Why do you think Samuel is not mentioned in this passage?
- How do people look to talismans and charms to manipulate God?
- How could you live a life that pleases God without trying to control him?