By James Cornwell

A Reading from 1 Samuel 4:1b-11

1b In those days the Philistines mustered for war against Israel, and Israel went out to battle against them; they encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. 2 The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle was joined, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about 4,000 men on the field of battle. 3 When the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord put us to rout today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, so that he may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” 4 So the people sent to Shiloh, and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

5 When the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. 6 When the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid; for they said, “Gods have come into the camp.” They also said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. 8 Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. 9 Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, in order not to become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”

10 So the Philistines fought; Israel was defeated, and they fled, everyone to his home. There was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel 30,000 foot-soldiers. 11 The ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

Meditation

In today’s Old Testament lesson, the wrath of God comes upon Israel. It was prophesied in earlier chapters because of the faithlessness of the high priest’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who kept profaning the Lord’s offerings and sleeping with the young women who served at the Tent of Meeting.

Today they and the Israelite army find themselves surrounded by the Philistines, who have already slain about 4,000 Israelites. So, naturally, Israel calls upon the Lord to defend them. They seek the ark of the covenant from those worthless apostate priests, Hophni and Phinehas, in order to bring it into their midst and thereby call the wrath of the Lord down on the Philistines. Now, having faith in the holiness of the things of God, they raise a loud battle cry.

And then they are defeated, utterly. The Philistines charge the Israelites, and they are routed. 30,000 soldiers are killed, the ark of the covenant is stolen, and their leaders Hophni and Phinehas are slain. God’s wrath is kindled that day, but not upon the ones they expected.

Uncomfortable as it may be, today’s reading is a warning to all who serve God in his Church. Are we like Samuel, or like Hophni and Phinehas? Have we dealt with the sacraments of God with fear and trembling? Have we served Christ in every person over whom we have charge? Have we devoted ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers?

Or have we grown fat on the toil of previous generations even as our congregations grow thin? Have we sought the praises of the wealthy and powerful by casting aspersions on teachings that cut against the spirit of the age? Have we used our positions of influence in order to gratify the lusts of our flesh?

The Church is encircled by enemies. But when our flock turns to us to provide the ark of the covenant and victory, on whom will the wrath of God fall?

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their six children.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Pittsburgh
The Diocese of Chichester (Church of England)