Today’s reading: I Samuel 4-8.
Religion looks at the externals, what we can see and touch, rituals and practices that are outside us and separate from us, and treats God as an object that can be manipulated. True faith enters into a relationship with God that brings his spirit into our lives, changing us, and making us subject to his will. True faith may use rituals to deepen and express devotion. Mere religion has no internal life but consists only of the external activity. As the Israelites battle the Philistines, the true color of their religion shows.
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. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? 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.” I Samuel 4:2-3
The Israelites thought the ark of the covenant, not God, would save them. In their false presumption they believed that God was an object which could be used to accomplish their desires. In their blindness they did not see that they had no relationship with God, and therefore no power from God. The ark had power; the deadly experience of the Philistines with the ark proved it. But the power of the ark went out according to God’s will, not that of the Israelite’s. When the ark was captured, Eli’s daughter-in-law cried out as she died in childbirth, “the glory of the LORD has departed.” It had departed, but not with the ark. God’s glory had left the people when they abandoned his covenant with them.
Twenty years passed. The ark had been returned to the Israelites quickly by the Philistines because it cursed them, but twenty years passed before Samuel was able to bring revival to the nation. In contrast to the external show of religion which had no power, Samuel brought inner change and true devotion.
- The people put away their idols and served the LORD.
- They fasted and confessed their sins.
- They performed an outward ritual of pouring out precious water as an offering, but it reflected the inner devotion of pouring out their hearts to God.
This time when the Philistines attacked (and true worship can stimulate the enemy to afflict us) God defended the Israelites and delivered them.
Think about your own religious practices. Are you letting God come into your mind, will, and emotions to change you, or do you keep him at a distance? Do you treat him as LORD, or do you try to use him like an object? Do you relate to him as a father, or is he only someone you dial up when you need help? Let your faith be of the inward, spiritual kind rather than the external ritual alone, and see how God delivers you.
Image by arsheffield on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0