For the past couple of months we have been looking at the book of 1 Samuel. And even though the book is named after Samuel, so far, much of the story has focused on other characters. First, the story revolved around Hannah (Samuel’s mother) as she prayed and pleaded with God to give her a son – which God did! And in response, Hannah dedicated her little boy Samuel to live in the service of God for the rest of his life.
Then the story focused in on the priest Eli and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas – as they lived in blatant disregard for God and his commands – prompting God to warn them of impending judgement. Sadly, they chose not to heed God’s warning, and God carried out that judgement shortly thereafter when Hophni and Phinehas were killed in a battle with the Philistines.
At this point, the story shifts it’s focus onto the Ark of the Covenant, as, in the same battle, the Israelite army foolishly tried to manipulate God by bringing the Ark of the Covenant with them onto the battlefield. But God would not be manipulated and as a result, the Israelites were soundly defeated and the Ark was captured by the Philistines.
The next few chapters of the book follow the Ark into Philistine territory and we see God displaying his might and his sovereignty over the Philistine god, Dagon, and even over nature as the Philistines struggle to contain and control the God of the Israelites. In the end, they want nothing to do with the Ark of of the Lord, and they send it back to the Israelites on cart pulled by a couple of cows.
And so by now, we’ve seen a very strong theme emerging from this book and I think 1 Samuel chapter 2 verse 30 says it best. In that verse God says:
“I will honor those who honor me, and I will despise those who think lightly of me.” 1 Samuel 2:30b
This has been a clear theme through this book so far. We see God honouring Hannah as she humbles herself before God in prayer – and as she keeps a difficult promise and sends her young son Samuel to live at the Tabernacle to serve God. God honours that and blesses both Hannah and Samuel.
But God certainly does not honor the pride and arrogance of Eli’s sons – as they dishonour Him and steal from the temple sacrifices. God executes judgment on Eli and all his family because of their sin. God despises those who think lightly of Him.
And God does not honor the Israelite army as they treat him like a vending machine – living for years in disobedience to Him with no desire to please and honor God, but yet expecting God to save them from their enemies just because they bring out the Ark of the Covenant. God certainly doesn’t honor that and the Israelites are soundly defeated.
And God doesn’t honor the Philistines either – as He strikes the them with tumours and plagues. They were treating God as if he was just another idol – just another god conquered by their god Dagon! But they quickly learned that wasn’t the case! In fact, they seemed to learn a little quicker than the Israelites that God honours those who honor Him, but He despises those who think lightly of Him.
And that’s the same lesson that we’re going to see in today’s passage too. The Israelites seem to be a little slow to learn the lesson, but they do seem to get it in the end! So perhaps there’s hope for us too!
As I mentioned, the Philistines had captured the Ark of the Lord in battle, but because of the plagues that God sent upon them, they returned the Ark to the Israelites by sending it along with some gifts on a cart pulled by a couple of cows. The cows took it straight to the nearby Israelite town of Beth-shemesh. We read last week in 1 Samuel 6:13…