The ark of the covenant was the centre of the Israelites’ life and their walk from Egypt to the Promised Land. Likewise, the cross has become the centre of the church. The question I want to ask today, to ask ourselves: What happened to the cross in my life?
This was the battle when they lost the ark of the covenant to the Philistines. The Philistines are the people God used from the time of the Judges to judge, punish, and teach the Israelites for turning away from God. (1 Samuel 4:1-2) In the bible, we see the people of God try to follow the ways of the Gentiles or idol worshippers, when that happens, God turns His people into the hands of the Gentiles and they get destroyed by the Gentiles. (Judges 13:1) But Israel’s solution was 1 Samuel 4:3-4. Their first question was “Why has the Lord defeated us?” They perceived the situation as God’s obligation to help them. In the wilderness, when the ark of the covenant was with them, they gained victory, so they thought to bring the ark of the covenant to them to win this battle. Rather than repenting, they used the ark of the covenant as an emergency measure for their loss.
Why did Israelites treat God like a Gentile idol?
It is due to Israel’s syncretic faith. Syncretism is a mixture of different beliefs, practices, and philosophies, mixing it up like the knowledge of good and evil. The Israelites thought there is nothing wrong with bringing the ark of the covenant. Yet no one thought to pray to God and return to the Lord. Israel’s faith did not dwindle away overnight. The seed of unbelief began from Egypt. They came out of Egypt but Egypt was still in their hearts. That was expressed through their grumbling and complaints, that it was much better in Egypt. Once in Canaan, God said to destroy all their idols but they didn’t for convenience and for humane reasons. Canaanite influence grew and grew and they assimilated into that kind of life to a point where they not only worshiped Baal and Asherah, but also burnt incense to the bronze serpent made by Moses. (2 King 18:4) Their focus was on the physical visible things, the rituals, that they forgot and didn’t care where God actually was.
Such things happen today as well when people fall away from spirituality. They fall away from the actual spiritual relationship with God, and only hold on to the system, institution and tradition. They are not concerned about God, where He is, what He wants, more for their own position, status and gain. They sought God just like others sought idols for their needs. (Deuteronomy 7:16) We learnt in the History of Redemption, that Satan uses these seeds (Egypt, Canaan, both descendants of Ham) during that time to annihilate the lineage through which Messiah will come. Satan uses their culture and influence to destroy God’s people. Example: Pharaoh wiping out all the boys, Amalekites trying to kill all the Jews, Haman trying to kill all Jews during Esther’s time, Herod trying to kill all the boys in Jesus’ time, etc.
Canaan in Mesopotamian language means carrier of heavy loads. When the Israelites prevailed against the Canaanites, they didn’t wipe them out of Israel, but instead, they started to use them as slaves and servants. The Canaanites were known for trading, good with finance, stocks, business, industry. They were good marketing people. Canaan was a modern developed people and country. When life became more comfortable, the Israelites said let us make for ourselves gods who will help us and make our life more pleasurable and convenient. There came Baal, Asherah, idols for different purposes. These gods were very convenient, very practical, all for us humans. They had different gods for different purposes – god for farming, rain, fertility, riches, health. Very convenient because you don’t have to bring an animal all the way to the temple and sacrifice it in a complicated manner.
This is why God commanded Israel to destroy their idols. (Deuteronomy 7:2-5) But the Israelites intermarried with Gentiles, did commerce with them, followed the idols. As a result, all of Israel started to be filled with idols.
Today let us think about what idol God told me to get rid of in my life that I still had not, because that might hurt me, or hurt my children and their children after them. Jeroboam went up to northern Israel and set up his kingdom and started to worry that his citizens will want to worship in Jerusalem in the south. To prevent them from travelling south to Jerusalem to worship God 3 times a year, he set up a temple in the north in Samaria and brought in golden calves into the temple and told the people to worship that instead. One in Bethel and one in Dan. (1 Kings 12:25-31) This was also Canaanite religious influence. Throughout the generation of kings, they worshipped idols. The 7th king Ahab married Jezebel the daughter of King of Sidonians, a Canaanite. Jezebel killed the prophets of God and established Baal as the official god of Israel. Canaanites are now ruling over Israel, and Canaanite gods are now ruling over Israel. That is how the seed of Satan through idolatry and adultery causes the people of God to perish both physically and spiritually. This is how scary syncretism is, mixing up different religions.
That is why God spoke through Jeremiah that He wants a relationship, He wants His people back to Him. That is why there will be no more ark of the covenant but still God will be there with us. (Jeremiah 3:11-16)
What about the cross and our faith?
People think putting up the cross will keep them from an accident. Are you wearing a cross or a talisman? We carry the bible, we put up a name Christian, but that is nothing unless we live the Bible. Bringing the ark of the covenant was useless, they lose it, it is useless if God is not there. Memorising and preaching the Bible is useless if I don’t live the Bible, there is no power to it. Calling ourselves Christians and going to church, where is the power if I don’t live with God? What’s the use of asking for prayers and praying to God only when we have trouble when we don’t have a relationship with God?
I pray sincerely that you and I may experience the power of the cross. It is not about the title “Christian” or the title “Pastor, Elder, Eldress, etc” it is not about wearing a cross or a robe. Authority comes from the Word and not the robe. The cross is not about wearing it or carrying it. The cross is about living it, about recognising who Jesus is, the owner and master of the universe, forgiving your enemy and praying for him. That is the life of the cross.
I pray that we would never treat the cross or the name of God the way the Israelites did in today’s passage. May we instead honour God truly, by showing the power of His presence in our life, by having a relationship with Him daily.