In August, I started a journey through Scripture. I went into a bout of depression, even considering leaving the ministry. I wondered why it was that God, though I had dedicated my life to Him and His work, would provide that so many people in my life would let me down or betray me. Why it was that so many people pretended to be my friend only to have proven themselves to be liars and backstabbers. In my study through Scripture, I started looking for some source of happiness, comfort, or peace that would help me to rise out of my depressive state; but what I found was a new wonder for the sovereignty of God in all things. The story up to this point in 1 Samuel is not a happy part of the story. The story we will read, here, is not a happy part of the story. God was defeating His own people. Too often in too many churches, we skip over the defeating parts of Scripture, but God has given these parts of the story for a reason. Am I allowed to tell the part of the story that does not end well for the people in that story? Am I allowed to apply those truths to our own lives, today? In my pursuit of happiness, I found something much greater. In my suffering, I have experienced a greater revival than I could ever describe. I guess that is how sanctification works. God is humbling us so that He is recognized as the true provider of all things, both the day of prosperity and the day of adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:14).
In my pursuit of something for me, God lovingly met me through His word and reminded me that He is sufficient. Today, especially in an age of accusation and with the confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice and the #MeToo movement and any other battles or circumstances or wounds that may befall us, I just want to share this hope that I continue to discover newly each day.
1 Samuel 4:12-22
That same day, a Benjaminite man ran from the battle and came to Shiloh. His clothes were torn, and there was dirt on his head. When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair beside the road watching, because he was anxious about the ark of God. When the man entered the city to give a report, the entire city cried out.
Eli heard the outcry and asked, “Why this commotion?” The man quickly came and reported to Eli. At that time Eli was 98 years old, and his gaze was fixed because he couldn’t see.
The man said to Eli, “I’m the one who came from the battle. I fled from there today.”
“What happened, my son?” Eli asked.
The messenger answered, “Israel has fled from the Philistines, and also there was a great slaughter among the people. Your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are both dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off the chair by the city gate, and since he was old and heavy, his neck broke and he died. Eli had judged Israel 40 years.
Eli’s daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and about to give birth. When she heard the news about the capture of God’s ark and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband, she collapsed and gave birth because her labor pains came on her. As she was dying, the women taking care of her said, “Don’t be afraid. You’ve given birth to a son!” But she did not respond or pay attention. She named the boy Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel,” referring to the capture of the ark of God and to the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. “The glory has departed from Israel,” she said, “because the ark of God has been captured.”
The glory (v. 21, 22)
As we consider this part of the story, I want to look at one verse in particular, verse 21. There was seemingly no end to Israel’s loss. 34,000 men gave their lives in battle against the Philistines. The Philistines claimed victory. The priestly family was executed. The ark of God’s covenant was stolen. Eli’s unnamed daughter-in-law, who had no one in her family left alive, experienced such deep sorrow that she went into labor and named her son Ichabod, which meant, “The glory has departed from Israel.” Personally, I’m so glad that my mom didn’t name me after her pain and deep sorrow. Ichabod probably needed counseling as he got older, and I don’t know if he had the option to get his name changed. There was deep, lasting, present, weighty sorrow for Israel. I want to spend some time understanding what it meant that Eli’s daughter-in-law perceived that the glory departed from Israel.
First, we ask the obvious question. What is glory? Any dictionary will define glory as some sort of high renown or honor or majesty. The Hebrew word for glory ((כבד is derived from the word that literally means “to be heavy” and indicates that the one possessing glory is laden with riches, power, position, honor, recognition, splendor, majesty, and dignity. We understand what glory is because we understand what football is. Glory is recognition, but it is more than that. Glory is position. It is standing. It is splendor and beauty. Eli’s daughter-in-law, then, before all of this terrible stuff happened in and to her nation and to her husband, perceived her nation to have had some degree of glory. As we think about what glory means, I want to consider what the Scriptures would reveal. What does God word say about glory?
“On that day the Lord of Hosts will become a crown of beauty and a diadem of splendor to the remnant of His people” (Isaiah 28:5).
“And the glory of the Lord will appear, and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5).
“I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols. The past events have indeed happened. Now I declare new events; I announce them to you before they occur” (Isaiah 42:8-9).
“The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
“Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little. The dominion belongs to Him forever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:10-11).
“The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ — seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” (Romans 8:16-17).
We have barely turned a page. We have only seen a small fraction, here, of the biblical view concerning glory. It’s like when someone begins to tell a story and you can already tell how the story is going to end. Go ahead, read through all of the Scriptures and highlight every verse that speaks to glory and here is what we find. Glory is always something that belongs to God or is descriptive of God. Glory is never attributed to people or nations. It is something that is distinctly of God and God has said plainly that He does not give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8). When we read of how glory relates to people, we read of how people glorify God or of how God causes his glory in Christ Jesus to dwell with His people. The glory is always God’s. We have no ownership when it comes to glory.
Glory is God’s alone.
Has departed (v. 21, 22)
Yet, Eli’s daughter-in-law grieves, experiencing deep sorrow because she perceives the glory to have departed from Israel. In verse 22, she clarifies, “because the ark of God has been captured.” So, when Israel lost possession of this physical object, it was her opinion that Israel also lost possession of the glory. Glory, then, was, to her, something to be possessed. Israel’s glory, she thought, was captured with the ark of God’s covenant.
I don’t need to spell this out explicitly because it is obvious, but I will anyway. Glory was never something that was attached to the ark of God’s covenant. Glory was never something that could be possessed. Glory belonged to God alone. God alone is laden with riches, power, position, honor, recognition, splendor, majesty, and dignity. Yet, Eli’s daughter-in-law perceived that Israel possessed riches or power or splendor. In reality, Israel was nothing and had nothing to offer. Israel experienced victory because God provided the day of prosperity. Israel experienced defeat because God provided the day of adversity. Glory wasn’t stolen from Israel because Israel never possessed glory to begin with. The Philistines couldn’t take glory because glory was not theirs to possess. In the next chapter, God causes the figurine they refer to as a god to fall face down and even to be decapitated before His ark.
God had fulfilled His promise to Eli (1 Samuel 2, 3). Only one member of his household remained, Ichabod, who was an infant. It was a dark moment for Israel. God’s glory had departed from the nation, but not because the ark had been taken; because God was, in His sovereignty, judging the nation for its corruption. God is God with or without the ark, with or without a church building, with or without a national people, and with or without people who follow Him willingly. God is God. God has all glory and is glorified as He works all things together. God defeats His people, humbling them and ruining whatever glory it is that they perceive themselves to have so that His glory will be made known. This means much for us. Consider Paul’s application as he considers God’s glory.
“Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stones, came with glory, so that the Israelites were not able to look directly at Moses’ face because of the glory from his face — a fading glory — how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness overflows with even more glory. In fact, what had been glorious is not glorious now by comparison because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was fading away was glorious, what endures will be even more glorious.
Therefore, having such a hope, we use great boldness. We are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites could not stare at the end of what was fading away, but their minds were closed. For to this day, at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains; it is not lifted, because it is set aside only in Christ. Even to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:7-18).
On this earth, God is continuously taking our attention off of ourselves and placing it on Him. He is ruining our self-righteousness and causing many to realize true righteousness, which is His alone. God is revealing His own glory in spite of our propensity to try glorifying ourselves. In our search for our own glory, God wrecks us and reveals His. He is removing His people from this fading glory and bringing them by grace into His eternal glory.
When we think about our pursuit of happiness, joy, contentment, comfort, status, position, recognition, justice, or anything else, Scripture has this to say, and we have convinced ourselves to ignore it and apply the gospel in ways that are unhealthy. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus said it plainly. Seek first God’s kingdom and what we need will be provided for us. We don’t have to worry about tomorrow. To make happiness or comfort our chief pursuit is idolatry. We are often disappointed when we set out to find happiness or comfort and fail to find it. We have created a culture in which we are unable to do difficult things or actually love people the way that Christ has loved us.
As I walk down the corridors of our culture, I see the tendency we have to be entertainers of self. I recognize that we have cared so much about social justice that we have forgotten what it means to actually be just. I perceive that we are a people who have been trained to follow our own feelings rather than what is sure.
If I follow my feelings, I am unable to follow Christ. Hophni and Phinehas followed their own feelings. We have a tendency to do this as well because we are unrighteous. Our feelings trap us in sin, and we need to be rescued. We ask, “What church does God want me to serve? What employment opportunity does God want me to pursue? Who does God want me to spend the rest of my life with? What school does God want me to go to? Where does God want me to live? We ask many variations of this question and we look for signs of hope that God will give us a feeling about what we ought to do. In some cases, we’re searching for a feeling about what someone else ought to do so we can lovingly guide him or her. What if I claimed that this was an entirely sinful and counter-scriptural way to try to follow Jesus? Jeremiah 17:5-10 says this:
This is what the Lord says:
The man who trusts in mankind,
who makes human flesh his strength
and turns his heart from the Lord is cursed.
He will be like a juniper in the Arabah;
he cannot see when good comes
but dwells in the parched places in the wilderness,
in a salt land where no one lives.
The man who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence indeed is the Lord, is blessed.
He will be like a tree planted by water:
it sends its roots out toward a stream,
it doesn’t fear when heat comes,
and its foliage remains green.
It will not worry in a year of drought
or cease producing fruit.
The heart is more deceitful than anything else,
and incurable — who can understand it?
I, Yahweh, examine the mind,
I test the heart
to give to each according to his way,
according to what his actions deserve.
If I make human flesh my strength, if I make decisions based on how I feel or advise others based on what I feel, I have turned my heart from the Lord. My feelings, the inclinations of my heart, are deceitful. If my confidence is in the Lord, I will be like a tree that does not cease producing fruit. It is God who examines the mind and tests the heart. I should never say, “I feel like God is going to do this or that,” or “I feel like God is going to lead us to this place or that.” By doing this, we have made our sin seem really spiritual, haven’t we? Furthermore, if my basic pursuit is my happiness, then I, like the Israelites, have assumed that I possess some degree of glory. God did not create us to follow our hearts. It will never be the case that God will want us to follow our hearts.
How does God lead us? What does it mean for me to have a confidence that is in the Lord? How can we know that we are in the will of God? I will refer once again to Matthew 6. Seek first the kingdom of God. He is providing everything. In these first four chapters of 1 Samuel, we read and see clearly that God is the one with authority over life, death, heaven, hell, victory, and defeat. God speaks His word and God works all things together to accomplish precisely what He has set forth to accomplish. God raised up Samuel. God defeated Israel before the Philistines. God provided that Eli’s family would be put to death. A proper understanding of God’s sovereignty leads us to understand that in every event, God is working in such a way as to place us exactly where He has determined we will be at the times that He has appointed. It is God who guards us from being in a place that He has not determined at a time that He has not appointed. A proper understanding of God’s sovereignty would indicate that it is impossible for us to be or to have been in a place (geographically or emotionally or philosophically) or circumstance that is outside of His will. I think Jesus meant it holistically when He said that we would be absolutely provided for.
“I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will” (Isaiah 46:10).
“The past events have indeed happened. Now I declare new events; I announce them to you before they occur” (Isaiah 42:9).
“He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9).
God is the one who determines the end from the beginning. God is the one who declares new events. God is the one who saves us. God is the one who calls us with a holy calling. No matter how we feel, we can trust that God is truly working all things together. We don’t have to stress about being where He wants us to be. Be part of a good church. Seek first the kingdom of God. We don’t have to be so concerned with our own happiness. God is in control. He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. I can rest in that truth. I don’t have to question my salvation because I’m not feeling very spiritual. I don’t have to question my role in God’s kingdom. God is good. He is working out something greater than me. He is the one to be glorified. If God possesses all glory, the only place where I can experience any true, lasting satisfaction is in His glory.
I seek first God’s kingdom.
Glory is God’s alone.
I seek first God’s kingdom.