Does God Do Things That Make His People Cry?

In the previous passage, God worked things together in such a way that His own word was fulfilled. Hophni and Phinehas accompanied the Ark of the Covenant into battle and they were killed in action.

Glory is an interesting concept. People fight in the name of glory and they die in the name of glory. People dream of glory and fame in many different forms from early in their childhood to well into adulthood (if not the end of life). The first thing I remember, as a child, wanting to be when I grew up was a professional rollerblader because of I saw the movie, Brink. Rollerblading seemed to be a glorious thing. Even early in my ministry career, part of me got into ministry because I saw it as some glorious thing. The youth ministry, celebrity, entertainment culture of the time formed my view of the ministry, and I saw it as something of glory. I have discovered that real, meaningful ministry is not glorious for the servant because God gets all the credit.

What exactly is glory? Why is glory even a concept that we have as people? Why do we seek it?

1 Samuel 4:12-22

Now a man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes torn and dust on his head. When he came, behold, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road eagerly watching, because his heart was trembling for the ark of God. So the man came to tell it in the city, and all the city cried out.

When Eli heard the noise of the outcry, he said, “What does the noise of this commotion mean?” Then the man came hurriedly and told Eli.

Now Eli was ninety-eight years old, and his eyes were set so that he could not see.

The man said to Eli, “I am the one who came from the battle line. Indeed, I escaped from the battle line today.” And he said, “How did things go, my son?”

Then the one who brought the news replied, “Israel has fled before the Philistines and there has also been a great slaughter among the people, and your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been taken.”

When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell off the seat backward beside the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for he was old and heavy. Thus he judged Israel forty years.

Now his daughter-in-law, Phinehas’s wife, was pregnant and about to give birth; and when she heard the news that the ark of God was taken and that her father-in-law and her husband had died, she kneeled down and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. And about the time of her death the women who stood by her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have given birth to a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention.

And she called the boy Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel,” because the ark of God was taken and because of her father-in-law and her husband. She said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God was taken.”

God’s word fulfilled (12-18)

In verses 12-18, we are reminded of what we read in the previous part of the story. Hophni and Phinehas died in battle. The Israelites lost thirty-thousand foot soldiers, and the Ark of God was taken by the Philistines.

In the previous part of the story, we saw that the Philistines were left in the land by God so that they would be a thorn in the side of Israel and so that their gods would be a stumbling block to Israel (Judges 2:1-5). We saw that God is recognized as the one who has authority over both victory and defeat in battle (v. 3).

Now a man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes torn and dust on his head. When he came, behold, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road eagerly watching, because his heart was trembling for the ark of God. So the man came to tell it in the city, and all the city cried out.

When Eli heard the noise of the outcry, he said, “What does the noise of this commotion mean?” Then the man came hurriedly and told Eli.

Now Eli was ninety-eight years old, and his eyes were set so that he could not see.

The man said to Eli, “I am the one who came from the battle line. Indeed, I escaped from the battle line today.” And he said, “How did things go, my son?”

Then the one who brought the news replied, “Israel has fled before the Philistines and there has also been a great slaughter among the people, and your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been taken.”

Eli and his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were living in sin before God. They were all embezzling from the sacrifices made by the people of Israel (2:29). They did this because they were reprobate (2:12, 25). As a result of their great sin they would die (2:34) and atonement would not be made for them forever (3:14). This was all happening according to God’s will so that God might establish a faithful priest (2:34). It is through the work of this faithful priest that God will establish Christ’s throne within His creation (rest of 1 and 2 Samuel).

In the previous passage we saw that God defeating Israel was actually Him claiming His own victory for His own purpose. When this messenger comes to report the great losses of Israel, he is reporting the work that God has done according to His own word delivered two chapters earlier. Yet, all the city is wailing and crying out so loudly that Eli can hear.

I want to debunk another myth in our society about the work of God. It is not the case that, if we follow Jesus, everything will only be good all the time. It is not the case that God’s people are always happy. It is not the case that God’s people are always happy with what God is doing. Here, we see God’s chosen nation, the pictorial prophecy of God’s spiritual people, wailing with great sorrow and fear because of what God had done. I recognize something about the Christian life. There are times when God causes His people to weep bitterly. This happens because God’s plan is different from ours. It always works out for the good of God’s people- in this case the establishing of Christ’s throne within His creation, God fulfilling His own covenant with Abraham, and atonement being made for those who are not reprobate.

Have you ever told a toddler that he can’t have a piece of cake because it’s time for bed? It’s for his own good, yet it causes the most heart-wrenching sort of wailing. In this life, we are all like toddlers as God works things together for our good (1 Corinthians 13:11-12).

When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell off the seat backward beside the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for he was old and heavy. Thus he judged Israel forty years.

We are coming out of the time of the judges. Here we see that Eli was also serving as the judge of Israel. God had fulfilled His word. Eli’s household was now dead.

All of Scripture is a single unit. It tells the story of God’s redemptive work through redemptive history. No part of the Scriptures can be isolated from any other part. We have such a tendency to isolate one verse or another. We see so many verses quoted on pictures and on social media that are isolated from the whole of Scripture. When we read this part of the story, we can’t read it without understanding that everything from Genesis 1:1 has led up to this moment. This moment will lead into everything that follows all the way to Revelation 22:21. In order to understand any single verse or passage, we have to understand how it connects to the whole of Scripture. This is the way we read any novel, any how-to book, and any academic book. Why would we ever treat Scripture with less attention? We don’t just turn on a movie and watch one scene and we certainly don’t pick out random scenes and watch them insequentially while trying to knit together the message of the movie. Why would we do that with God’s Bible?

Through our study, so far, we have taken the time to explain what God is doing through the Old Testament and especially through 1 and 2 Samuel. Christ’s throne is being established within His creation.

A skewed view of glory (19-22)

In the previous passage, we saw that God was working all things together to accomplish His own will for His own glory. I’m not sure we think about what glory is or why it belongs to God alone. This passage gives us a depth of insight.

Now his daughter-in-law, Phinehas’s wife, was pregnant and about to give birth; and when she heard the news that the ark of God was taken and that her father-in-law and her husband had died, she kneeled down and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. And about the time of her death the women who stood by her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have given birth to a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention.

And she called the boy Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel,” because the ark of God was taken and because of her father-in-law and her husband. She said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God was taken.”

Phenihas’ widow perceived that the glory had departed from Israel because there was a great slaughter and because the ark of God was taken. What is glory? Any dictionary will define glory as some sort of high renown or honor or majesty. The Hebrew word for glory (כבוד) 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. 

Gladiator is one of my favorite movies. At the beginning of the movie, Maximus Decimus Meridius is asked why they are there fighting the Roman war. His answer is, “For the glory of the empire.” In reply, Marcus Aurelius asked, “What is Rome, Maximus?” 

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’s 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.

Why did Phinehas’s wife believe that ‘the glory’ had departed from Israel? It wasn’t because God wasn’t working. There is never a time when God is not working in the world and in the midst of His people. He is always accomplishing His will. A passage from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth will help us, here.

“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).

We consider as glory something that fades and a veil is over our hearts. Phinehas’ wife saw a fading glory. At the moment someone turns to Jesus, this veil is removed. With unveiled faces, we are looking at the glory of the Lord rather than at some fading glory. We are being transformed into the image of the Lord. God is conforming us to the image of His son, from one type of glory (fading self-glory) to a new type of glory (God’s glory). The question is, are we still trying to present our own glory, which quickly fades, or are we being brought to dwell in the glory of God alone?

How do we perceive glory? Why do we desire and seek after glory for ourselves? We saw this tendency as early as Adam and Eve and Paul explained it so well in 2 Corinthians. We are the only creatures on God’s earth to do this. We keep inventing new ways to do it. It is part of our self-righteous nature because we have been created in God’s image. Through the whole narrative of the Old Testament, God is bringing His people from their own fading glory into His glory and conforming them to the image of His Son. That’s the whole point of the story and God has been working all things together in order to accomplish this throughout human history.

How is this false idea of glory reflected in most churches? We see the glory of the church as the size and sparkle of her ministries, buildings, and stuff. Usually we perceive organizational churches that are doing more, more often as being more glorious. The truth of the Gospel is that God is bringing His true children from fading glory into His eternal glory. The truth of the Christian life is that it is simple, and churches probably ought to simplify so that the Gospel is not hidden behind programming. More basically than that, we realize that God is often taking the things of His people away so that they will not worship this fading glory as the Israelites did.

So, we struggle financially and God has chosen not to provide certain things that we think we need. This is simply evidence that God is bringing us into His unfading glory. It is part of our sanctification. There will be seasons of plenty. There will be seasons where, as individuals and as a church body, we weep because God is taking some things away from us and defeating us. Both of these seasons have their purpose worked out by God for our good.

“The Lord makes poor and rich;

He brings low, He also exalts.

He raises the poor from the dust,

He lifts the needy from the ash heap

To make them sit with nobles,

And inherit a seat of honor;

For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,

And He set the world on them” (2:7-8).

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One comment

  • Thank you, pastor, for this timely message.
    To God be the glory, great things He has done…
    In His love and service,
    Albert

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