Hear and Heed: Part 2
“Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. 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." (1 Samuel 4:1–2).
The first thing we learn in verse one is that an ongoing battle was raging between Israel and the neighboring Philistines. Actually, this battle had been going on for many years, since the time of Samson. But during this verse, it had escalated into a full-blown confrontation wherein the text says that the Israelites camped at Ebenezer while the Philistines camped at Aphek. The significance of the camp locations is that they were facing each other, divided by the river with thousands of soldiers on each side ready to fight with the slightest provocation. We are not told who was the leader of the Israelites at that time, we are only informed in verse two that the enemy attacked Israel and in the first encounter, Israel lost a staggering 4,000 men. That is a lot of death among the people of God but the truly disheartening thing we learn comes in verse three, where we are told that the elders of Israel blamed God for their defeat. Instead of humbling themselves before God and repenting of their sin as a nation, they acted with pride and arrogance. This is a sure sign of a people who are not hearing or heeding God's Word.
They continued even further in their sin by making a foolish decision to bring the ark of God into the center of the conflict. You see, when you do not listen to God, you are prone to make many foolish decisions that you will later regret. That is what the Israelites experienced. They said, "Let us bring the ark of the Lord's covenant from Shiloh, so that He may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies." (1 Samuel 4:3). They were in effect actually attempting to command God to do something for them instead of humbly seeking His face.
When Joshua's army was defeated by the people of Ai after the resounding victory at Jericho, do you know what Joshua did right away? He humbled himself, tore his clothes and fell facedown before the ark of the Lord until evening. It was then that God spoke to him regarding the sin in the camp. We too are able to go to God, leaving behind the things that are not according to His will, and humble ourselves to seek His will. But here in these verses, we find that the decision was made to bring the ark of God into the midst of their ill-conceived battle rather than humbly going to God. It was a foolish decision and they rushed into it. That is often a sure recipe for disaster. Major decisions must be properly weighed and prayed over. When we humbly seek His will, rather than arrogantly trying to bend Him to ours, God leads us in the direction we need to take.
Even the two sons of Eli were brought into the middle of the battle without knowing what to do. Previous to this incident, whenever the ark of God was in the midst of the battle, the praise and worship team was always in the front lines with it, but this time, there is no mention of such worshipers. There is no mention of the prayer warriors as back-ups. There is no mention of the trumpeters who would declare their praises to God. The Israelites did not recognize the value and power of prayer and worship in spiritual battle. No wonder they had to face the fatal consequences of their disobedience.
Thinking that God would follow their man-made plans, Israel shouted with a great shout. They mustered all their strength and had full confidence to attack the enemy, but they were mistaken. They thought that God was with them. In reality, God had abandoned them for their arrogance. We find that even their enemies were afraid of such loud shouts thinking they were doomed in the hands of God. Little did they know that God was about to use the Philistines to teach His people a very valuable lesson of obedience. The Philistines were able to regain their confidence and fight with courage. Because of Israel’s disobedience, God was siding with their enemies. Hence, God allowed Israel to be defeated, the ark to be captured, and the sons of Eli killed.
It boiled down to this simple truth: Israel did not hear or heed God's Word. Israel did not seek His face. Israel did not humble themselves before the Lord. They did not know what His will was for them. They acted on their own and they experienced a dreadful and humiliating defeat.
Brothers and sisters, if we do not hear and heed God’s Word daily, when we face the enemy, we too will surely be defeated. Beware of pride, greed, rebellion, and other sins that we commit when we do not hear and heed God’s word. Satan and his demonic army have used these weapons for ages with skill and deadly intent to defeat God’s people. Yet, all these weapons can only be effective against Christians who fail to don the full armor of God (Ephesians 6). Once we begin to hear God speaking to our hearts, those weapons of the enemy can be defeated easily because God has given us spiritual armor to sustain us in the battle.
When confronted with defeat, humble yourself before God! “Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life." (Proverbs 22:4). When you humble yourself before God, He will lift you up. Do not allow pride to dominate you, because He must be obeyed, and we must follow Him. Fear Not! Trust in the Lord, love the Lord, humble yourself before the Lord your God, and He will give you honor. Hear, read, mark, and inwardly digest His Holy Word and heed the direction He has for your lives.