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glowing red cross April 10 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): 1Samuel 4:1b–7:17

The Power of God's Presence

Some people believe they sense God's presence when they view a cross or another religious symbol in a church. Because of this some even wear necklaces or other ornaments with Christian emblems, believing that God is with them when they wear it and will keep bad things from happening to them. What if those things were taken from their church or from their possessions? Would God cease to be there; would he no longer be present among them? Are symbols of God's presence good luck charms? Who is the LORD anyway? Is he a good luck charm or more powerful than any other god? What does God require of us for him to be present in our lives?

At this time in Israel's history its people are oppressed by the Philistines, a maritime coastal nation, residing in towns by the Mediterranean Sea. Israel should have driven them out of the land as God instructed, but they failed to do that, and now they are in subjection to them (see more… for a chronology of the Judges). There is no king in Israel; everyone does what is right in their own eyes. There is chaos and corruption, even in the priesthood.

Eli the high priest of the tabernacle is very old and will soon be replaced by Samuel because Eli does not restrain his sons from offering contemptible sacrifices to God (see yesterday's Bible study). The word of the LORD is spoken by Samuel to all Israel (1Samuel 4:1), but apparently the people are still not listening and are doing what is right in their own eyes.

After a military defeat by the Philistines, the Israelites do not seek the LORD or consult with his prophet, Samuel. They decide to take the Ark of the Covenant (a symbol of God's presence) and the attending priests (Hophni and Phinehas, the sinful sons of Eli) with them into battle. But their “lucky charm” does not work; Israel loses 30,000 soldiers, the Ark of the Covenant is captured by their enemies, and Eli's two sons are killed, just as God told Samuel and Eli (1Samuel 2:24; 3:11-14). Just because we wear a Christian emblem does not mean God will be with us to bless our way and win our battles. Something more is required for his presence to bless us—a genuine relationship with the LORD and obedience (more...).

The Philistines bring the Ark of the Covenant into the temple of their god, Dagon. They believe Dagon helped them defeat Israel's god, so they put the captured ark into his temple.

When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained [symbolizing his powerlessness before the God of Israel]. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon's temple at Ashdod step on the threshold. (1Samuel 5:3-5, NIV)

Then, once again God shows the Philistines the power of his presence—he causes the people of their cities to have tumors, which are apparently caused by an infestation of rats. Finally, in a panic, realizing God's hand of judgment is heavy upon them, they return the Ark of the Covenant. They place the ark on a cart, along with a guilt offering of golden tumors and rats in a chest. Then they hook up the cart to a couple of cows who have just calved. If the cows do not return to their young but continue onto the border town of Beth Shemesh in Israel, then it was God's presence which was against them.

Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh. (1Samuel 6:12, NIV)

The people of Beth Shemesh rejoice at the sight of the ark of God.

The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD. The Levites took down the ark of the LORD, together with the chest containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. On that day the people of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the LORD. (1Samuel 6:14b- 15, NIV)

However, the people of Beth Shemesh are curious, and God strikes down seventy of the men who look inside the ark. The people mourn and ask, “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?” (1 Samuel 6:20, NIV). God requires holiness in his presence, for he is holy. Fortunately, we can enter the presence of God through his Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:19-22). His sacrifice makes us holy in his sight.

The people of Beth Shemesh fear God's presence and send the ark to the people of Kiriath Jearim. Then they put a guard on it until they can figure out what to do with it. What would we do if the LORD did not seem to be with us? Would we just put him on a shelf, so to speak?

After twenty years the people of Israel missed the ark; it was a symbol of God's presence. Now they mourn, and under Samuel's prompting they repent. They rid themselves of their idols, fast, and seek the LORD's favor. When they gather at Mizpah, however, the Philistines see an opportunity to attack them. In fear, they ask their priest, Samuel, to pray for them.

Since Christ's death on the cross, we no longer need a priest to intercede for us. Jesus is our high priest and intercedes for us before God (1Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:23,27). We just need to humbly confess our sins to him to receive forgiveness (1John 1:9).

In answer to Samuel's prayer God sends loud thundering, causing the Philistines to panic and flee, with Israel slaughtering them until they are out of their territory. The sending of thunder is an attack against Dagon, the god of thunder (The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the Old Testament, edited by Walvoord and Zuck, © 1985, p. 438). God's presence is once again with the Israelites, even though the ark is not with them.

Lessons to Live By

•  Just because we wear a Christian emblem does not mean God will be with us to bless our way and win our battles. Something more is required for his presence to bless us—a genuine relationship with the LORD and obedience.

•  God's powerful presence is against those who are wicked.

•  God requires holiness in his presence, for he is holy. Fortunately, we can enter the presence of God through his Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:19-22). He makes us holy in God's sight.

•  If we would return to the LORD and have his presence go with us once again, we, too, must get rid of our idols, i.e., anything that is more important than he is.

•  Jesus is our high priest and intercedes for us before God. We need to humbly confess our sins to him to receive forgiveness (1John 1:9, more...).

•  God answers the prayers of those with humble and contrite hearts, who call upon him for their deliverance.

Focus Verse

Zechariah 4:6b (NIV) “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.”

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A Look Ahead: Israel feels weak and they want leadership; they want a king to lead them in battles like every other nation. However, they fail to consider the consequences. It is wise to Count the Cost before making important decisions. Find out more in our Next Lesson.

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