← back to list

Mar 26, 2017

Where Is God's Glory? Part 1 - From Guilt to Grief

Passage: 1 Samuel 4:1-22

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: The Ark Narrative

Category: The Ark Narrative 1 Samuel 4-6

Keywords: ark of covenant, defeat, eli, glory, grief, guilt, ichabod, loss, hophni and phinehas


1 Samuel 4 through 1 Samuel 6 is one story. It is referred to as ‘the Ark Narrative.’ It is the story of the time when Israel was defeated by the Philistines and the ark of the covenant was captured. That horrible day is summarized by the cry of the wife of Phinehas. She goes into premature labor at the news of the ark’s capture, and names her son, ‘Ichabod,’ or ‘where has the glory gone?’ Jesus comes as God in the flesh to journey from Ichabod to Chabod, from no glory to glory. And the glory of God has everything to do with the Lord taking up fully all that has gone wrong in our lives. Can we somehow follow Jesus by taking up all that goes wrong around us and by mercy, forgiveness and peace-making give him glory? Is this the way to live when for all the world it looks like God got beat? We’ll read 1 Samuel 4 and ask these questions.




















1 Samuel 4:1b-22

God Vulnerable and Defenseless

“The glory has departed”


So how many of you remember this story?

Never heard it before?

Surprised that the Bible has a story like this,

and wonder what it could possibly mean?


But we said together,


So how is that true?

Let’s see . . .


As we read this ancient story

we can understand a little of it.

Battles like this we understand.

They’re still fighting

over the same land today,

thousands of years later.

‘Israel went out to fight

against the Philistines,’

is how our story begins.

Maybe you can identify

because life feels like that for you:

 fight for my rights,

  fight for what’s due me,

   fight for what’s just and true . . .

So if you’re patient enough this morning,

and can quiet your soul to listen

and take God’s word to heart,

perhaps you’ll gain a heart of wisdom

for the battle you think you’re in.

Are you willing to ask

whether you’re fighting the wrong fight?

That there’s something deeper going on

in your heart

for all the pain, fear and hurt you carry?


We read a little more and nod our heads:

‘. . . as the battle spread,

Israel was defeated . . .’

Losing battles we understand, too.

It happens to us all.

Israel goes into battle against the Philistines.

They meet at Aphek, an ancient crossroads.

The Coastal highway runs through Aphek.

Whoever controls this area

controls the commerce,

controls the flow of information,

controls the freedom of the people.

If Israel is to thrive in the promised land,

they need to keep control of that city.

It would be good and just for Israel

to win this fight.

So the battle is joined . . .


The Philistines win.

Israel concludes

that God has let them down.

Vs. 3, “Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines?”

Who is responsible?

Who is to blame?

Who’s at fault?

God . . . has disappointed Israel.

We understand them saying this.

We’ve voiced the same sentiments.

You prayed that prayer,

and you remember that you’ve been praying that prayer for years now.

It’s not that it’s a selfish wish.

This is a good thing

you are bringing to the foot of the cross.

If you asked a friend to help

and she had it within her power to do so you know she would.

But God hasn’t, at least not yet.

And you know before today is over

you will kneel by your bed

and pray that prayer again.

A promised unfulfilled.

A hope buried.

And no rending of the veil

to help you understand why

you must carry that burden still.

We’re tempted to blame God, too.


Israel has fought the battle,

and suffered defeat,

and asked God why?

A proper answer to the people’s question would consider the guilt of their sin.

Israel has been warned,

just look back a few chapters.

Judgment had been prophesied.

Their sin exposed.

Israel should not have been so surprised

at their defeat.

Knowing this, Israel’s question should have led them to repentance.

I know that some guilt is undeserved,

and part of what’s broken inside each of us is that we can often feel guilty

for the wrong things,

or look to blame

where there is no blame to be found..


How important then for us

to come to God in confession,

so that the Lord may forgive us our sin

to relieve us of our guilt

and from us from shame and blame.

We read Israel’s question,

and expect them to gather in confession.

Can we consider this faith act for ourselves?

When you’re hurting over things gone wrong

so that your soul cries, ‘Why?’

Ask your question not to blame

but to submit to the Lord’s sovereign care.

Why Lord, not meaning, how could you,

but why Lord, what are you teaching me,

how are you purifying me,

making me holy?


But Israel rushed past her guilt,

there is no confession.

Instead we read;

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.”


They’re focused on winning the battle.

They’re not humbling themselves

before the Lord,

they’re using God for their own agenda.

So the ark is brought down in procession.

They shout their cheers.

The Philistines are afraid,

“God has come into the camp,” they judge.


Did you catch that?

While Israel, God’s people, question God,

the Philistines, unbelievers,

acknowledge the saving power of the LORD:
who will deliver us from this God?

This is the God of the Exodus, say the Philistines.

Israel questions God,

the Philistines confess God’s saving power.

What’s wrong with that picture?


It’s no wonder then that

when the battle is joined

the downfall is worse.

It’s a staggering loss for Israel.

30,000 killed.

Of the ten worst battles in American history none had this many casualties.

The sons of Eli –

Hophni and Phinehas, are also killed.

They were the ones who

brought the ark down from Shiloh.

Their father, old Eli,

the sole judge and priest left in the land,

sits at the gate waiting for news.

The messenger doesn’t spare Eli.

He tells Eli the bad news.

Israel fled.

Heavy losses.

Your sons are dead.


But Eli can accept this.

He knows God is strong enough

to handle bad news.

But the messenger then says,

‘. . . the ark of God has been captured.’

Eli can’t take that.

The news hits him so hard he falls backwards off his chair and breaks his neck.

Eli too passes away.

It’s not the sorrow over his sons

that kills him,

but this news that the ark is captured.

The glory is gone.

It’s the same for that whole family.

Phinehas’ wife, now a widow, is shocked into labor at the news of the defeat.

What hits her most is the same thing

that struck down Eli.

Even the news of a son doesn’t revive her.

“The glory has departed from Israel,”

she cries.

“Ichabod,” she names her son as she dies. Where is God’s glory now?

It’s gone.

The ark is captured.

No glory left.


The ark of God captured. . .

That’s the main point of this story.

All in all, in this chapter,

the ark is mentioned 12 times

and 5 times we’re told

the ark has been captured.

The messenger, Eli, Phinehas’ widowed wife,

grieve to the point of death at the news.

We’re meant to be shocked

to the point of despair.

It’s not just a tragedy.

For even tragedy, we understand.

We could tell our own stories about loss,

of life gone wrong,

of unjust suffering.

What is worse than a tragedy like this?

It’s the human judgment or assumption

that in such tragedies,

God gets beat.

“The glory has departed from Israel,

for the ark of God has been captured.”


This is the day that the LORD GOD lost,

defeated by the Philistine god.

That’s why the grief is so great.

The Israelites brought

the presence of God’s promise with them into battle and the ark was captured.

Not only did Israel lose; God lost.

The story takes us

from what we understand,

when we experience that God lets us down,

when our guilt surfaces and we must choose whether to confess our sin,

to the unthinkable, grief

when God gets defeated.


How are we to respond to the news

that at times God gets beat?

Can I say it that way?

How about like this:

Aren’t those saved by Jesus Christ

‘new creations’?

Then how come that temptation

so easily got the better of you last night?

How come the baptismal promises of God haven’t been fulfilled yet in your family?

And you remember with shame

that it was not a grand thing

God asked of you.

Just the simple truth,

a compassionate response,

a faithfulness in prayer,

help to a neighbor,

but you didn’t do it.

The least little thing went wrong

and your trust evaporated

into anger and frustration.

Is this really the new me,

the redeemed me?

How many defeats did God suffer this week at the hands of lesser gods in your life?


Now all of a sudden this ancient story doesn’t sound so long ago and far away. Does it?

This is a story about us.

About our faith in God.

Our faith in Jesus who suffered

under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;

who descended into hell.

What does faith look like

in the LORD who suffered defeat?


Oh, we know it’s not the end of the story.

But it is a part of the story – a big part.


We understand that this story

is our story too:

it allows us to voice

some of our deepest struggles

safely before God.


How does this story of failure

speak God’s grace to us?

Hear this hope that you and I may go out into our roles,

relationships and responsibilities

with the grace and mercy of God.


1st, understand what this text reveals to us about God.

See how completely God SUFFERS for us. God even experiences

our failures and defeats.

Jesus is humiliated by us and for us.


In this story, Israel acts like Philistines.

The people have neglected their relationship, practice and faith in the LORD.

They have ignored God’s warnings.

And yet when Israel loses that first battle, instead of taking stock of their faith,

instead of humbly coming to God

in confession to plea for God’s mercy, instead of paying attention

to what God requires of them,

they focus on their own intentions.

So when the question

‘why?’ surfaces in my soul,

what if I would exercise confession

before I rushed to judgment or action?

Can I in faith decide that guilt

is not something to be dismissed or denied,

but that guilt is one reason

Jesus is our Savior and Lord:

both to forgive us completely,

and also to help us see clearly

what guilt we must own and confess

and what guilt is not ours to own,

and instead entrust a reconciling work

to our Savior?


Israel suffers for her sin.

But look, God suffers, too.

Not only does the Lord

call us to repentance,

sometimes punishing us

with the consequences of our trespasses, God also suffers for us,

taking on himself the consequences of our sin.

“By his wounds you were healed,”

says 1 Peter 2:24b.


God defeats sin and death by enduring it.

Remember, in this story of Israel’s defeat, Phinehas’ widowed wife cries out

in labor and in death,

“The glory has departed from Israel.”

She names her son, ‘I-chabod’ –

‘where is the glory?’

implying it’s gone - ‘no glory.’

Page ahead in history.

Jesus is born.

Isaiah prophesied about him –

‘he had no beauty or majesty that we should be attracted to him.’

Jesus was born sort of like Ichabod.

Didn’t look like there was much glory –

They laid him in a manger because

there was no room for him in the inn.

So where is God’s glory?

Jesus goes to his death,

he carries his cross and says,

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be . . . glorified.” (John 12:23)

Jesus comes as God in the flesh

to journey from Ichabod to Chabod,

from no glory to glory.

And the glory of God has everything to do with God taking up fully

all that has gone wrong in our lives.

Jesus shows the glory of God

by being a failure in the world’s eyes –

‘he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness [No glory!]. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.’ (Phil 2)

God defeats sin and death by enduring it.

God breaks the power of failure by failing.


Jesus said one more thing

the night he was betrayed,

when he was captured just like the ark

was captured all those generations before.

When his relationships failed.

When he was mocked and humiliated.

When he was beaten.

When he even experienced

being forsaken by the Father.

Jesus prayed for us

in his prayer he prayed,

“The glory you have given me

I have given them” (John 17:22).


So . . . here’s the second hope,

the further grace,

the power as we face our failures.

Here’s the equipping of the Spirit

by a good Word:

We participate in the power

and glory of God by enduring defeat.

Jesus defeated all that has gone wrong

by enduring it;

Jesus calls us to the same, enduring

all that has gone wrong around us,

so that his grace and the power

of his mercy may overcome.

We’re given the courage to embrace loss and practice holy grieving.

This history lesson speaks

our Heavenly Father’s truth to us:

Yes God was captured.


There will be times in our life when we are

in the presence of the Lord

who suffered defeat

and knows what it is like to be beaten.

Not every time,

for in great mystery

we are present with the God

who was dead and is alive,

the God of both the cross

and the empty tomb.

But even loss is not outside

the presence of God,

for Jesus was crucified.

He became obedient to death

even death on a cross


One of the first hymns of the church, recorded for us in 2 Timothy 2:12, sings,

“If we died with him, we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

We are encouraged in 1 Timothy 6

and 2 Timothy 2 to ‘endure’:

“Man of God, pursue . . . endurance . . .”

“Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”

Will we receive this Word of grace?


What a word to you and me

who know defeat,

 experience loss,

  and carry a history of failure.

Christ defeated the power of hell

by enduring it.


Christ calls us to endure with him.

Can we understand how much

of a blessing we bring

by faithfulness rather than success?

By loving even in situations we don’t like.

How the church may be a blessing

by becoming a safe place for failure

to be named and loss embraced?

How we will experience God more deeply

by our enduring hardship

than by our achievements?

Maybe your family life isn’t going

as you hoped.

And everything within you screams at you

to cut and run.

But you keep at it, keep praying,

keep hoping, keep loving, keep sacrificing. And you wonder whether you’re being a fool. No, you’re being a little like Christ.


For we now know how many defeats

God has suffered in our lives!

Yet we know that he who began

a good work in you will carry it on

to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.


Will I endure real failure

in the name of Jesus who made himself

nothing and was crucified?

Will I refuse to hide from what has broken nor give failure the glory,

but give glory to Jesus,

who promised to make all things new?

Will I live not by my own might,

nor my own power,

but by the Spirit of the Living God?


The journey from I-chabod

(where’s the glory? the glory is gone,

no glory here)

to chabod, glory

God present to save and redeem,

he is here and he is risen

is the journey of faith

we are each and all on.

When the glory is gone,

this is not a departure

from the faith journey but a part of it,

as necessary as the wilderness

before the promised land,

the cross before the empty tomb,

and sacrifice in the name of Christ’s love.

1 Samuel 4 is a foretelling

of how God really and finally

will wipe away sin – by enduring it!

And so you and I,

we who promise to follow Jesus,

we who are in the middle of enduring

(and it’s not your fault,

and it’s not getting better),

to also endure

is to be in a small way like Jesus.

It is to bring grace

into a graceless situation,

to the glory of God.