Yesterday we introduced the idea of a covenant relationship. We talked about the fact that in a covenant relationship, we are deeply involved in every area of our lives. This must be the continual, permanent state of the relationship. In other words, we can’t walk away from our covenant partner when we want, and expect that he/she will be there for us when we feel like coming back, or when we’re in trouble.
The history of Israel in the Bible can be pretty much summed up this way. God draws the people to Him and makes a covenant with them. Everything goes well, the people are blessed. As things go well, the people become complacent about their covenant, and drift away from God. When they have succeeded in separating themselves from Him, something really bad happens (usually another people come along, kill and enslave them). They look for God to help them, but He does not. After a time, they realize what they’ve done, and turn back to God. He accepts them, enters into a new covenant, and the cycle starts over.
1 Samuel 4 has a good example of this. Here’s the story: Israel had fallen away, worshipping false gods and generally ignoring God’s commandments. God sent a prophet to get them back on track – they didn’t listen. Instead, on their own, they fought against the Philistines and lost. Then, they went to get the ark of the covenant (which is where God used to be for them) and brought it along. Again, they lost big time – 30,000 of their men died and the Philistines took the ark – the symbol of their relationship with God.
1 Thus the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to meet the Philistines in battle and camped beside Ebenezer while the Philistines camped in Aphek. 2 The Philistines drew up in battle array to meet Israel. When the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield. 3 When the people came into the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us take to ourselves from Shiloh the ark of the covenant of the Lord, that it may come among us and deliver us from the power of our enemies.” 4 So the people sent to Shiloh, and from there they carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts who sits above the cherubim; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
5 As the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth resounded.6 When the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, “What does the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” Then they understood that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp. 7 The Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. 8 Woe to us! Who shall deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. 9 Take courage and be men, O Philistines, or you will become slaves to the Hebrews, as they have been slaves to you; therefore, be men and fight.”
10 So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent; and the slaughter was very great, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died. NIV
What went wrong? They thought the symbol; was enough – like some magic charm they could pull out when needed. What they really needed was the relationship. They needed God to be there with them. Again, pray today about that relationship between you, your people, and God.