Consequences of Disobedience
1 Samuel 4:1–22
1st & 2nd Samuel Lesson #025
September 15, 2015
“Father, we are always grateful for the way You provide for us, the way You sustain us, take care of us, and all the many ways in which You protect us each day. Father, we are thankful for Your Word that guides and directs us. It is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.
Father, we are thankful for the way You provide for this congregation. We continue to pray that You will supply each and every need that we have. As we go into this time period coming up related to negotiating a lease, we pray that you will enable us to present our case wisely, and that You will intercede in the thinking of the landlords in a way that is beneficial to us.
Father, we are thankful for the way in which You have worked in the lives of numerous people who are facing health problems, some significant, some having had some surgery today. We pray that You would just continue to watch over them.
Father, we are thankful that we have Your Word to study, and that You will open our eyes and enlighten the eyes of our soul that we might further understand Your Word tonight. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to 1 Samuel 4. We are going to see what happens in this chapter that is the cumulative effects, the cumulative consequences of Israel’s sin over a series of generations. It just accumulated.
Just a reminder, this is the period of the judges and Israel has sought time and time again to solve their problems by relying upon their own resources and not following the Word of God, not doing what the Scripture said to do, and not trusting in the Lord exclusively. Again and again God turned Israel over to her enemies.
God is doing this as He has described He would in Leviticus 26 in the five cycles of discipline.
What we see, by way of review, is about four points:
1. We see that Israel is in the time of the judges. It is the worst time in Israel’s history aside from the period that comes later just prior to the judgment in 586 BC.
2. Their apostasy is just unbelievable. There is no distinguishing them from the Canaanites around them.
3. They started the period of the judges in obedience to God and having victory over their enemies. They end the period of the judges under the domination of the Philistines. The conquest generation was successful, but it wasn’t long before their successors began to compromise with the evil that existed in the land by not totally destroying the Canaanites.
4. They began to live on the moral relativism and the spiritual relativism of the pagans in the nation.
Twice in Judges (Judges 17:6 and Judges 25:21) we have the statement by God, “In those days there was no king in Israel.”
In other words, they had rejected God’s authority, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Not what was right in God’s eyes, but what was right in their own eyes. They were compromising. This is the cause of their failure. It is not because they had poor technology or poor education. It is not that they had poor administration or poor organization. It is because spiritually they had rejected the standards and the absolutes of God.
God takes them through a series of increasingly worst disasters as they have been invaded by six different foreign powers.
Each time, after 20–40 years, Israel turns to God in desperation. God in His grace delivers them. He always met them where they were.
That’s great comfort for us because we disobey God again and again and again. We turn to the Lord. We confess sin. God meets us where we are. He’s always in that process of trying to take us from where we are to the destiny of spiritual maturity.
Each time Israel goes through this cycle.
When we come to the end of Judges they are under the oppression of the Philistines. The last judge, about whom nothing good is said, is the worst judge in the whole series. He is Samson. Samson is unable to overthrow the oppressing power. That is the context that we see in our study.
The same thing happens in our lives. There are two area of application I brought out for us to think about in a framework of studying this:
1. There is a national principle here – a nation or a culture that does not follow biblical principles related to the divine institutions. The divine institutions are:
- Personal responsibility, individual responsibility toward God.
- Human government
If those are not followed, then that culture will implode; and that nation will continue to have problems. There will not be freedom. There will only be tyranny.
2. The personal counterpart to that is when individuals are compromising, just as Israel compromised with the Canaanites, with their sin nature. God gave Israel an order to go in and completely annihilate man, woman, child, and beast of the Canaanites, to eradicate them.
We have the same sort of mission. We’ll never fully achieve it in the Christian life, but we have a “seek and destroy” mission on the sin nature.
It is not just a matter of confessing sin, but once we confess sin and we are walking by the Spirit, we are to put to death, as Paul says in Romans 8:13, “put to death the deeds of the flesh,” or put to death the deeds of the sin nature.
We are not to reach a Détente. We are not to have an Armistice. We are not to relax in the battle with the sin nature at all. But the problem is that when you are constantly in a battle, people get things distorted, and you have a tendency for people to slip into legalism and forget about grace.
You always have this pendulum swing between over emphasizing grace and going into antinomianism where you just relax and justify sin. Or you just act like it is really not that bad because it has been paid for on the Cross.
The other extreme is making an issue out of every little thing in legalism. Neither of which are biblical.
Paul says in Romans 6:6–7 that we are to know something, “that the old man” (that is everything that we were before we were saved), “was crucified with Christ.” That means that the power of the sin nature was broken.
Paul then says, “that the body of sin might be [future tense] done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” But in comparison, using Israel as an analogy, what happened when they compromised with the Canaanites in the land is that they then became slaves to those oppressing powers. They are slaves to the Philistines.
This is what happens when we don’t fight the battle with our sin nature. We go back to being a slave of the sin nature. Paul states the principle in Romans 6:7, “For he who has died has been freed from sin.”
Then in Romans 6:11–12 Paul says, “… you also, consider or reckon or count yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body.”
It can’t get any clearer than that. There is a “seek and destroy” mission there—don’t let it reign. But every time we choose to sin, we are letting the sin nature reign in our lives. We have to reach that point where we don’t give up in the battle.
In Romans 6:16–18 he goes on to say, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey ...” In other words, if you are obeying your sin nature, then you are putting yourself in a position to be a slave to the sin nature. But if you are presenting yourself to God, then you are presenting yourself as a slave to righteousness. This is the point in Romans 6 in defining the basis for our sin nature.
In 1 Samuel 4 Israel faces a problem—just like we all face a problem. But their problem is the oppression of the Philistines who gathered against them.
This is about the same time that Samson is causing a lot of trouble in the south. He is stirring up a lot of trouble. The text of 1 Samuel 4 doesn’t say anything about why the Philistines are attacking them, but I think it is because of all the trouble that Samson has been engaged in in the south.
What we see Israel doing here is not solving the problem by dependence upon God, but by dependence on their ideas. They are going to do a right thing, but they are going to do it in a wrong way. That happens with Christians all the time. They want to do a right thing, but they don’t understand the biblical pattern for how to do it, how to walk by the Spirit. They end up, as we see with Israel here, trying to pull themselves up by their boot straps—in other words, trying to solve their problem through their own effort or their own morality.
I pointed out that this is one of the problems that we have: not trusting God fully and trying to add something to what God has provided. We look to personally trying to solve problems.
We look to the Bible plus psychology.
I remember hearing classmates of mine in seminary, former graduates of Dallas Theological Seminary. Some previous graduates of Dallas Seminary, were interviewed back in the 1970s. They would be asked questions like:
If you could change one thing in the curriculum what would it be? They would say that we need to have more classes on counseling and psychology. They really didn’t even believe the Bible because with their biblical training, they didn’t know how to help people. They had to go learn from secular psychologists how to help people.
Assuming their model of human behavior was correct (and there are over 300 different models of human behavior in psychology), which one are you going to pick? Which one is biblical?
Why not just start with the biblical text and develop your model of human behavior from the text and forget everything that came down the secular pipe? That is what happens. We look to something to go along with God.
Another approach is we wrap what we are doing in a cloak of Christianity and biblical verbiage. This also happens with Christian psychology. I had a couple of pastoral psychology professors (Paul Meier and Frank Minirth) at Dallas Seminary who went on to become quite well known in the whole area. If you read their book, along with a number of other Christian psychiatrists and psychologists down through the last two or three decades, they are loaded with biblical verses. It has this veneer of Christianity.
I know two or three who would always begin their books with a discussion on the sufficiency of Scripture. But they violate the principle as soon as you start getting into the text. You start looking up the Scriptures that they are using to support their points, and that Scripture is not supporting those points at all. It gives it the veneer. You provide these proof texts and it makes people believe this.
They (Paul Meier and Frank Minirth) believe that those biblical texts supported their position, but they actually didn’t. This is actually one of the problems that we have.
We got into the outline briefly:
- God (Yhwh) is preparing to deliver Israel with His great change, 1 Samuel 1–7.
- The first couple of chapters focus on Samuel, 1 Samuel 1:1–2:10. Samuel is born in 1 Samuel 1. The praise of Samuel’s birth is in the beginning of 1 Samuel 2.
- Yhwh orchestrates the collapse of the old order, which is the priesthood based upon the descent of the house of Ithamar rather than Eleazar. This ends in the line of Eli.
- Yhwh gives a prophetic announcement in 1 Samuel 2:11–36 that He is going to destroy the house of Eli. The sign that that destruction is coming is the death on the same day of Eli’s two sons. We are going to see that sign come to pass in the Battle of Aphek.
In 1 Samuel 3:1–21:
- There is the calling of the first prophet of the new order, 1 Samuel 3:1–4:1a.
- Samuel, who has been trained by Eli in 1 Samuel 3:1–10.
- Yhwh commissions Samuel to the mission, 1 Samuel 3:11–18.
Here is the point that we are looking at in 1 Samuel 4:
- Yhwh causes Israel to be defeated. He allows the Ark to be captured to demonstrate sovereignty over the enemies of Israel and their gods. It is ultimately spiritual warfare, but it is fought at a physical level.
- The purpose is to demonstrate that God is superior to Israel’s enemies and their gods. He is going to cleanse Israel of the corruption of the priesthood and teach Israel to trust in Him alone, 1 Samuel 4:1–22.
God is multitasking. Just in this one battle, by defeating Israel, all these things are being accomplished in 1 Samuel 4. This is exactly what we’ve seen. This whole issue of what is going to happen at Aphek shows how Israel is really dependent upon something associated with God rather than Yhwh Himself.
1 Samuel 4:1, “And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines, and encamped beside Ebenezer; and the Philistines encamped in Aphek.”
Judgment had already been announced—maybe 10–20 years before, when the unnamed man of God in 1 Samuel 2 announces the judgment to Eli. And then it is confirmed through revelation to Samuel in 1 Samuel 3.
All this time Eli knows that this is coming. It has been confirmed through these two witnesses. God is bringing judgment on him and on his sons. He’s been waiting.
Now Eli is 98 years old, and he’s going to sit back and be consumed with worry—because he’s been consumed with guilt for his failure over the past 15–20 years.
Israel on the other hand is totally divorced from God and is not following God as we’ll read in other passages. They are still worshiping the false gods of the Canaanites. They are not trusting in the sufficiency of God’s grace and God’s power. They are going to be unable to defeat the enemy. We see that Samuel’s ministry is mentioned.
This is a chart showing how these events overlap at the end of the period of the Judges.
We have the last three judges, Jephthah, Samson, and Samuel. We see that the Battle of Aphek takes place around 1104 BC. There are some different dates given by different scholars. The dates may change a little bit, but the chart remains the same.
What we see is that Samson is still very much active at this time. Samuel is young—probably somewhere around 20 years old by now. Saul is not yet born. This Battle of Aphek takes place. It is before the death of Jephthah. He is still alive. This crucial Battle of Aphek takes place in 1104 BC.
Twenty years later there will be another battle at Mizpah, which reverses the results of this battle. Israel is terribly defeated in this battle, but they will have victory in Mizpah.
Here is a map showing you the geography of the area. Jerusalem is located in the south. It is only about 20 miles from Jerusalem up to Shiloh. It is not that far. It is about 40 miles from Jerusalem over to Joppa. Tel Aviv is in this area now. Joppa is in the center of Tel Aviv, which has grown to be a huge modern city around Joppa. Aphek is located off here to the east of Joppa.
The Philistine armies establish their base at Aphek because it is on this river, the Yarkon River. This is where their base camp is located. Aphek was a significant city at the time. This is the northern extent of their territory.
Down to the southeast you have the five cities of the Philistines: Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, Ekron, and Gaza, a little more to the south (unseen on slide map). This is the northern extent of their incursion into the territory of Israel.
What is happening here is the fulfillment of God’s promise that if Israel is disobedient, God is going to bring discipline upon them in Leviticus 26:17–19. There God said, “I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when no one pursues you. And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze.”
This is the promise of God. This is the first cycle of discipline that is described here and going into the second cycle of discipline.
The point here is that God is going to cause this conquest by foreign powers.
Just as a nation loses freedom by compromising with evil and with paganism, so an individual loses freedom by compromising with the sin nature.
Let’s look at a couple of things about the Philistines.
The Philistines were a group known by scholars as the “sea peoples.” The sea peoples are described in Egyptian texts as a group of people that migrated from Crete. Amos 9:7 says that they originated in Caphtor. They came from other islands in the Aegean.
They are Hamitic according to the table of nations in Genesis. They have probably intermarried with certain Greek groups. They are a merger of Japhetic and Hamitic people.
Some early migrations occurred as early as the 21st century BC, which was the time of Abraham and Isaac. They had contact with some of these initial settlements. But by the 12th century BC, by the 1100s BC, their invasions had been much more aggressive.
They attempted to invade Egypt, but Ramses II turned their invasion away. They headed east and established five fortress cities on the coastal plain of Canaan: Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath (which is the city of Goliath), and Gaza.
All of those are cities that still exist today. We talk about the Gaza Strip. Gaza is within the Gaza Strip. Ashdod is within the territory of modern Israel. The Hamas often shoot missiles and rockets into Ashdod and Ashkelon and other areas.
The Philistines were a powerful military force. They had advanced technology. We learn from reading in 1 Samuel that they had iron weapons and blacksmiths, whereas the Israelites only had bronze weapons. If you take an iron sword against a bronze sword, guess who is going to win?
Later on, what we are going to see is that when the Philistines conquered Israel, as a result of this battle, they exercised one of the earliest forms of arms control.
They took all of the blacksmiths out of Israel. The Jews could not have access to the more advanced technology. The principle we will see is that when a conquering power or a government prevents citizens from having access to the same weapons the government has, then you can become a victim of tyranny.
This is why we have a Second Amendment to the Constitution.
So the Philistines were these sea people who established these fortress cities, and from there they were seeking to move out and conquer Canaan.
During the period of the judges, the second person to function as a judge was Shamgar, who is probably not an Israelite at all. God used him to defeat the Philistines that were making an incursion into the southern portion of Israel’s territory in Judges 3:31.
Samson is the last judge. He just caused a lot of trouble with the Philistines, but he failed to deliver Israel. In fact, the Philistines aren’t finally and totally defeated until David does so towards the end of his life. That is recorded in 2 Samuel 23.
Two places are mentioned here in terms of location. Here we have Ebenezer and Aphek. We are not really sure where Ebenezer was located. There is some debate over whether there is one location called Ebenezer or two locations named Ebenezer.
We know from archeological discoveries about Aphek. Aphek was located 13 miles northeast of Joppa. It is still within the metropolitan spread of Tel Aviv. I keep trying to get a location on it every time I go through Israel. When you go up the highway you are not close enough to it. You see signs off to where it is located. The name or the variation of it is still used. Aphek is located there, and you have this site called Ebenezer.
Let me tell you something about Ebenezer. This is a Hebrew word that is a compound of two other words. Eben means a rock or a stone. Ezer means help or assistant.
If you remember back in Genesis 2 when God creates Eve, He says that she is going to be an Ezer to Adam, a helper. The only person other than the woman in the Bible that is defined as a helper is God.
You have mentions of Ebenezer in two places: Here in 1 Samuel 4 and again in 1 Samuel 5:1.
Later on this is mentioned with reference to a battle in 1 Samuel 7:12. That location is disputed as being something different because it seems like it is located closer to Mizpah down in this particular area. Jerusalem is down to the south. Here is Bethel. This is the highway. Ai is located north, just off the highway to the right. Bethel is located off the highway to the left. Shiloh is north, and further north is Shem or Shechem. This orients you. Aphek is over in the coastal plain, and Ebenezer.
Ebenezer is often mentioned in a hymn that we sing: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. This is hymn 2 in your hymnal. In this hymn you find in the 2nd verse, “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” People sing that and don’t have a clue what they are saying.
In fact, one of the controversial things that have happened in recent years is that with the rise of contemporary Christian music, there has been the attempt to update a lot of the language of various hymns. Some times you can do that. We’re not unknown for changing words to fit better theology, but we really try to make sure that it still fits and makes good poetry. When you evaluate a hymn you are looking at two things:
1. You are looking at the music on the one hand.
2. You are looking at the words on the other hand.
The words, if you break them out from the music, should be good quality poetry. A lot of contemporary choruses are not good poetry. They are rather superficial.
As a number of people have noted, part of that is that we live in such a superficial world with such superficial theology coming from superficial pulpits that nobody has enough depth to write hymns that have the robust theology that we find in many of the hymns in our hymnals.
As I point out when I talk about hymns, it is not always about old vs. new. There are a lot of old hymns that are not that good as well. There are a lot of revivalist hymns that came out in the 19th century that aren’t that good. But we try here to sing good quality music that’s married well with the words.
What happens in good hymns is that you find out that these hymn writers were immersed in Scripture. In fact some of them, like Frances Havergal, had memorized most of the Bible. It was out of this rich deep theology and understanding of Scripture that they would write the poetry that became our hymns.
This is true for Robert Robinson, who penned the words for Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.
Ebenezer is a rock of help. After the second battle at Mizpah, Israel erected this monument. It is a stone monument called the Stone of Help as a reminder that this was where God helped them and gave them victory over their enemies. That is applied within that hymn as a way of an individual establishing a memorial or a reminder about how God came to their assistance in a time of need.
When we sing that, we ought to sing that with knowledge and appreciation for what Robinson is saying there. Robinson’s life was like many Christians. It started off with a great deal of enthusiasm, but somewhere in his years he got away from the Lord and then came back.
That is indicated by the words in the hymn, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” As God brought him back and gave him victory over the issues in his life, he is raising his Ebenezer, a memorial to what God has done in his life. That is where it comes from. It comes from understanding these two places.
I believe that this location is probably the same. It could be down here by Mizpah, but in either case, Israel had established these memorials to remind them of God sustaining them in difficult times and in times of need.
What we see is that there is going to be a battle here. This map is from an older Macmillan Atlas. I always liked it because it had good military maps. Here you have your Philistines that came out from Joppa. Others came from the area north of Jerusalem. They joined forces against the Israelites. The Israelites are indicated by this dark black arrow. The broken line represents the Philistines.
They defeated the Israelites at Aphek. They chased them back towards Shiloh. It is believed that after the events of 1 Samuel 4 that they destroyed the tabernacle at Shiloh. They destroyed the city there at Shiloh.
Here is a 3D diagram to give you a little better perspective on the terrain. This is the Dead Sea and the Jordan River coming down from the northeast (upper right in the slide). You see how Jericho is down in the valley. Gilgal is down in the valley. Then you go up on this huge ridge line that runs the length of the country from north to south.
That is really the backbone of Israel. It is the area of Shomron and Judea, or Samaria and Judea, where Abraham entered in from the north and walked the length of the land down to Beersheba. Here we have a picture of Shiloh. Israel’s troops in red are going out at Ebenezer and meeting the Philistines in the battle.
The first skirmish is mentioned in 1 Samuel 4:2, “Then the Philistines put themselves in battle array against Israel. And when they joined battle, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men of the army in the field.” Now we have 4,000 dead.
Israel is going to come back and evaluate the situation. But a lot of times when we experience failure or difficulty in life, we ask the wrong questions. They are asking the wrong question. They understand that the Lord has defeated them, but the way they are addressing the problem is by thinking that taking the Ark is the problem.
They didn’t go through the right motions or have the right ritual. They are approaching God as if He is some sort of talisman or good luck charm. They do identify the fact that this is a spiritual problem.
1 Samuel 4:3 “And when the people had come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, ‘Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines?’ ”
The answer should be because we have sinned, because we have gone into idolatry, because we have violated the Law of Moses. We need to turn back to the Lord. We need to confess our sin. We need to seek in humility the Lord’s strength in the battle.
But that is not what they do. They are ignoring the sin problem that is at the root of their defeat. They decide to just have the trappings of Christianity. It is just like using a lot of Bible verses out of context. We are just going to go grab the Ark and that is going to give us good luck.
They said, 1 Samuel 4:3b, “Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us form the hand of our enemies.”
The problem is that God had already indicated to them that their freedom, their prosperity, their national security was all dependent upon their obedience to the Law. Since they had rejected the Law and were in disobedience, God was going to put them under the oppression of their enemies.
As a result of their moral and spiritual relativism they had absorbed the religious and moral values of the pagan culture around them. In simplified New Testament terms, they were conformed to the world. They were trying to be religious in terms of how the world defined religion and not conforming to the Law of Moses.
What did they do? What they did was they sent a group to go to Shiloh, 1 Samuel 4:4. “So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts.”
That is the full title, “the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts who dwells between the cherubim.” “And the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.”
Do you see a problem here? You have these two apostate sons of Eli who are bringing the Ark into battle. That ought to set off a few bells. What has happened here is the elders of Israel have partially recognized the problem: that is that God has defeated them—that God is against them. But they haven’t correctly analyzed the underlying problem. They come up with pseudo solutions.
This often happens with Christians in their own spiritual life. It is amazing. When I teach certain topics that are related to suffering, adversity, difficulty, problem-solving, attendance goes up a little bit. People are more attentive to those things because it hits them where they are—especially if they are going through difficult times.
Then as soon as things smooth out, they quit coming to Bible class. I’ve seen this for over 30 years of ministry. It is that people come not to learn and to grow and mature as believers, but when things go bad, then they start showing up in Bible class. Then they get out their Bible and they start reading it. Then they say, “okay, I need to start praying.” They are basically trying to use God.
They are not humbling themselves under God. They are just going through these motions. I haven’t done this—now if I start reading my Bible—if I start praying—if I start going to Bible class, then maybe God will bless me. Then as soon as things change they think that somehow this has worked.
That is the same mentality that you have in so many of these large health-and-wealth gospel prosperity, name it and claim it, whatever you want to call it theology churches: that if we just use the right terminology, and if we just hold our mouth right, and we claim and say all the right magic words talking about God, the Bible, and Jesus … that somehow God is going to bless us!
That is the problem that we have here. They want to do the right thing, which is to defeat the enemy. But they don’t want to do it God’s way. They want to do it based on their own way. They want to do a right thing the wrong way.
When we look at 1 Samuel 4:4, I want to point out a couple of things because there is a hint of sarcasm here. What I like about 1 Samuel 4–5 is it gets much more sarcastic. We see that God has a pretty earthy sense of humor. He really pokes fun at the Philistines.
We live in an era today that is just dominated by so much political correctness. Jesus isn’t politically correct. Some of the things that are going on with what I read about the millennial generation are that they want a god that is tolerant. They don’t want to deal with sin.
The problem is that God is intolerant of sin. He loves the sinner, but He is intolerant of sin.
We see this in places like Sodom and Gomorrah. We see it in events like this. We see it in a number of other places where God brings judgment on Israel. We see how Jesus is completely intolerant of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. But that is because God has defined how we should live our life. We should live in harmony with Him.
As we look at 1 Samuel 4:4, the first thing we see is that there is an emphasis on the Ark of the Covenant. This Ark is called the Ark of the Covenant because associated with the Ark (and some people think it was originally placed inside the Ark, and others that it was placed before the Ark), is we have the tablets of the ten commandments. The covenant of God was kept with the Ark of the Covenant.
He is called the Lord of hosts. The Hebrew word for “hosts” is the word Sabaoth. You see that in some hymns, like Luther’s, A Mighty Fortress is Our God. Tonight is hymn night. He is called Lord Sabaoth.
It is not Sabbath. That is not some antiquated way of writing Sabbath. When I was a kid I thought that.
It is a Hebrew word for the “army.” Sabaoth refers to the hosts and is an antiquated English word that refers to an army, a military group. It should be translated, “The Lord of the armies.”
Whenever you see that, it brings into focus the fact that it is not the armies of Israel. It is the armies of the elect angels, the armies of the holy angels.
It is one of these places where we see the intersection of the material physical world with the invisible immaterial world—that this battle of Aphek is part of the angelic conflict. It is related to God defending His righteousness and His justice.
He is described as the One who dwells between the cherubim. The “im” ending, which is preserved in the New King James and the King James, is a plural in Hebrew. Some modern translations just translate it cherubs and seraphs, another term. Seraphim is another classification of angels.
There are a number of things that we can say about the cherubs. I think I have a picture here of the Ark that demonstrates this. This is the mercy seat. This is the lid that covered the Ark. The term “ark” just refers to a box. It was inside of that box that the Law was kept.
The mercy seat is where the high priest on Yom Kippur (which is coming up in a week and is the Day of Atonement), the Day of Atonement, would enter into the Holy of Holies and put blood on the mercy seat.
The direction of the gaze of the two cherubim was to focus upon the fact that the blood covered the sins, or dealt with the sins of the broken Law that is inside of the box.
In the Bible we have three different groups of angels that are identified:
- Cherubs and seraphs – cherubs are mentioned in a number of places:
Genesis 3, when God placed cherubs to guard the tree of life so that man could not go back into the Garden of Eden. This army of cherubs guarded the Garden. It wasn’t just one or two. It was a number of them. If it was one, it would have been a singular. If it was two, it would have been a dual ending in the Hebrew. It is at least three, probably a large cohort of cherubs guarded the Garden.
- Two cherubs were depicted in gold covering the mercy seat. That is described in Exodus 25:18–22; Exodus 37:7–9.
- On the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, the outer chamber from the inner chamber, there were cherubs woven into the curtains, as well as depicted upon the side panels and the ceiling panels in the tabernacle and later in the temple.
- The throne of God was guarded by seraphim that are somewhat similar but described a little differently. They would be a different type or genus of angels described in Isaiah 6:2–6.
- Ezekiel begins in the first part of Ezekiel 1 describing four living creatures. That term is used in Revelation 4–5.
These four living creatures appear to be similar to the cherubim are then called cherubim in Ezekiel 10:1–20.
You have this special class of angels then, probably just two, the cherubim and the seraphim, that are associated with guarding the holiness and the righteousness of God. They are seen as guarding and overshadowing His throne.
This is another depiction of the ark of the covenant.
Exodus 25:22, God says that “there I will meet with you (talking to Moses), and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony. I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.”
This becomes a significant description of God: that He is the One who dwells between the cherubs. This phrase is used several times in the Scripture to describe the Ark and to describe God.
The Ark itself was a box that was made of hard acacia wood. The reason acacia wood is used is that it is a very hard dense wood. It is not likely to rot or to deteriorate over time. Then gold covered it.
The dimensions of the Ark, a box, was about 4.5 ft long and about 2.25 ft wide and about 2.25 ft high as described in Exodus 25:10.
It is a symbol of the presence and the glory of God in Numbers 14:23.
It was associated with three things where Israel had violated the command of God—the Law, the Commandments of God, that were broken. This picture was taken of the model that they have in the tabernacle in the wilderness in Israel. They have placed the Law, Aaron’s rod that budded, and a bowl where manna would have been kept, inside the box.
There is dispute about this because of the prepositions that are used in the Scripture. They are not consistent. I think that originally they were inside the Ark, and then they were placed outside along with the Ark.
Probably the manna and Aaron’s rod disappeared at this time when the Ark gets captured by the Philistines and Shiloh was overrun.
The three things depicted the three incidences where the Israelites disobeyed God.
The mercy seat shows His forgiveness for man’s disobedience.
The gold and wood are used to represent as a symbol the deity and the humanity of Christ. The gold represents His deity. The humanity is represented by the wood, which is impermeable and pictures His sinlessness.
The mercy seat itself represents the propitiation of God’s righteousness and justice by the sacrifice.
The emphasis here with the Ark is to remind us of the holiness and the righteousness of God, which has been violated by Israel. In fact, it is terribly violated by the two sons of Eli. There is a tremendous amount of irony here that these two apostate, debased priests are carrying or bringing the Ark of the Covenant from the tabernacle into battle. This begins the tragedy of what will take place.
As we wrap-up, I want to point something out by going to another passage in Scripture. I want you to turn to Joshua 7. What we learn from this lesson:
- The reason Israel is defeated is not because they lack the military skill. It is not because they lack the technology. It is not because they lack leadership. It is not because they lack education or any social factor. It is because they are disobedient to God. We are going to look at Joshua 7 at another similar example to that. It is because they are spiritually disobedient that leads to spiritual failure.
- Spiritual disobedience is not going to be honored by God. He is going to take the nation through a horrible, horrible judgment. It is going to rock that generation. For the next 20 years Israel is going to be under the tyranny of the Philistines and in grief over the fact that it appears that God has left them.
If you go to Joshua, Joshua 6 describes the battle, the great battle, the victory, Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, and they win the battle. They are told that they are to kill every man, woman, and child, all the beasts. They are not to take any of the valuables, any of the gold and silver. That is supposed to be put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. That is God’s money.
What happens in the beginning of Joshua 7 is one Israelite, a man by the name of Achan, takes these things that have been set aside for the Lord. They are called a curse, but the word there is a word that refers to being set aside. It is a ban. It is the Hebrew word cherem.
Herem. What do you think of when you think of the word harem? You think of a group of women who are in some Arab sheik’s harem. That is right. They have been set aside and set apart for his usage. That’s what that word refers to. That is that root meaning.
Achan has stolen from God. He has taken treasure from Jericho. He has buried it under his tent.
The next day the Israelites are going to go out. They are full of themselves because they have had great victory. They think God is going to give them victory. Three thousand go to Ai, which is not a very large place. They think they are going to have victory. What happens is they get ambushed. Thirty six men are killed in the battle, Joshua 7:5. They suffer this horrible defeat. They are chased off.
Joshua goes into serious grief over this, Joshua 7:6. He tears his clothes. He falls to the earth before God. He says, “Lord, why have you brought this people over the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites?” Joshua 7:7.
He is essentially blaming God. Why have You done this? Why are we defeated? God basically says to him, the problem is—there is sin in the camp, and that has got to be dealt with. There has to be confession and removal of the sin.
That is the picture here. Before Israel can then go forth into battle, they have to align themselves with God. Do God’s work God’s way, and confess their sin.
They go through this process where God shows that it is the family of Achan. Achan confesses his sin in Joshua 7:20. He says, “Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I have done.”
One of the things in confession, in 1 John 1:9 it says, “If we confess our sins.” It doesn’t say if we confess our sinfulness. It says, “If we confess our sins.” It means identify, admit what the sins are. It doesn’t mean go through a grocery list and just say things like lying, deception, etc. That is impersonal.
It is an admission of guilt: I did this. I did that. It is not just reading a grocery list of sins. What does that mean? Confession is “I did x .” “I was arrogant.” “I was a liar.” “I was deceptive.” “I gossiped.” “I committed adultery.” “I committed murder.” Whatever it might be. “I was an idolater.” It is a personal statement to God of what we have done.
Achan goes through this process. He confesses his sins, but there has to be consequences. He is going to be taken out in the sin unto death, executed for his disobedience. What we see in this is that God does not honor spiritual disobedience and eventually brings to bear an accounting in the life of Israel.
The same kind of thing happens today. We see people who think they can use God for their purposes without doing things the right way. They just think that as long as they are using Bible verses, waving their Bible around, using the name of God, that somehow God is going to bless them. We see this happen a lot.
It is pop Christianity. Pop evangelical Christianity is often divorced from the text. They are just using a lot of things that they think are biblical, but they are really not looking at what the Scripture says.
Next time when we come back, we’ll start off in 1 Samuel 4:7, and we’ll get into what is going on here in the battle itself, and leading up to the episodes of 1 Samuel 5.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things this evening. We pray that You would help us to understand that we have to live our lives the right way—Your way—and that we need to be living in complete dependence upon You.
Father, that is the only way in which we are going to experience the kind of success and the kind of prosperity and happiness that You describe in the Scripture. Not necessarily physical material prosperity, but soul prosperity, and a soul happiness that goes beyond anything that we can imagine. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”