I Samuel 4: Have You Put Your God in a Box?
Now so far in our study, we notice the focus on the Tabernacle and its important role in the life of the people of Israel. Even their enemies were aware of the power of their God. The Tabernacle has been mentioned several times so far in our story and in today’s study, it is central to the lesson.
Now to understand the significance of the Tabernacle, we must go all the way back to Genesis to see what God’s intentions and plans for mankind were and still are. It is interesting in the creation account, God gives stars, and those massive, mysterious bodies of light which cannot be numbered only receive a brief mention in just five words: “He created the stars also.” Yet the tabernacle, the tent with its outer court, Holy Place and Holy of Holies receives over 50 chapters of minute details, each filled with symbolical meeting. Why? Because the Tabernacle is a picture of Restoration and Transformation. It speaks of Gods plan of Redemption.
Adam and then Eve were created by God to walk with Him and talk with Him in a personal relationship. God wanted to dwell among His people. They were to depend on their Creator for everything. His divine power had given them everything they needed for life and godliness through their knowledge of Him. From the Creation account we realize we are God’s chief creation. We were created for a personal relationship with Him, for His pleasure, and for His Glory. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. “ (Westminster Catechism) Now let me be clear, God did not create us because He needed us. He created us because He wanted us. We are God’s treasure and He takes pleasure in us, for where one’s treasure is where you heart will be also. Never doubt how much God loves His children. But when sin entered the world through disobedience, God had a plan already for redemption and restoration.
Man was placed in a paradise, called the Garden of Eden. Man was to rule and reign with God. We were commanded to fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the bird of the air and over every living creature that moves on its ground. (Genesis 1: 28) But instead they disobeyed God’s law. They experienced guilt, shame and fear. Instead of walking with God, the hid from God. But even then, God had a plan which would restore man to his rightful position. What God wanted for Adam and Eve, He wants for you and me. What God did for Adam and Eve, He wants to do for you and me. He wants to redeem us from our sin and sins.
But to experience this transformation, we must be born again. The first time we were born, we were born with sinful natures inherited from Adam the first man.
The Tabernacle was a sanctuary built for God according to His throne room in heaven. This would be the place God would choose to dwell with His people. The Tabernacle would be the focus point of Israel’s national life from the time God brought them out of bondage in Egypt, until the entering of the Promised Land, where it would be housed in Shiloh. Israel would not have a temple until King Solomon built the magnificent first temple in Jerusalem. The Tabernacle had many features, but the three main compartments were: the outer court where the bronze altar and bronze laver were, the Holy Place the first enclosed compartment where the table of show bread, the golden altar of incense and the gold lamp of God, (the Menorah) were; then behind the veil was the Ark of the Covenant. Only the priests entered the Holy Place and only the High Priest entered behind the veil into the Holy of Holies in his priestly garments to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat once per year on the Day of Atonement.
Atonement carries the idea of a Just, Holy and Righteous God’s nature being satisfied. God’s law required death as a penalty for sin. When God saw the blood signifying the death of an innocent sacrifice, He was satisfied the demands of the law were carried out. Sacrificing an animal on an altar did not take away Sin. Man was still sinful. The sacrifice pictured what was necessary for sin to be forgiven- death and the shedding of innocent blood. The blood provided atonement, a covering, for sin. This was placed on the Mercy Seat. Thus through obedience these people were placing their faith in the future sacrifice of the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ who takes away the sin of the world. They were saved by grace through faith by looking forward to God‘s future grace in the future act of the Lord Jesus’s crucifixion. We are saved in the same way by looking back. Everyone is saved by Grace through faith in the shed blood of Christ.
Here is the key for you and me in the 21st century: Just as Adam was a pattern of the One who was to come, and just as the sacrificial lambs offered by the Jews in that tabernacle foreshadowed an even greater Sacrifice to come, so the Tabernacle itself was a picture of something even more amazing. If you are a Christian, a believer saved by grace through faith, your body is now the temple of God. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (I Cor. 6:19) You and I as believers are His tabernacle. When Jesus came, John wrote the Word became flesh and dwelt ( tabernacled) among us.
The outer court represents your body. The Holy Place – your soul. The Holy of Holies- is your heart. “Christ may dwell in your heart through faith. “ (Ephesians 3:17) How can this be? God cannot abide in the presence of sin. Is not the heart desperately wicked and deceitful above all things? Yes your old heart, the heart of a sinful nature you inherited and were born with cannot be God’s dwelling place. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36. 26 We were born again. Now that body is to be presented as a living sacrifice. You soul, your mind, will and emotions must be transformed and renewed by the Word of God, not conformed by the world culture. And your heart is where your new life lives and the Holy Spirit abides. “The spirit of man is the lamp of God searching all the inward parts. You are a new creature, old things are passing away and all things are being made new. This is the abundant life Jesus said He came to give us. Do you realize the “abundant life”; this new life is the life of Christ indwelling you.
Therefore we believe we were created to reflect God’s glory, to bear His image and rule and reign with Him and be fruitful and multiply.
Sin required a payment plan and God developed the payment plan before the foundation of the earth. “He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross.” Blotted it out. Paul was comparing to a certificate of indebtedness which showed what you owed to your creditors. Jesus paid it all. Paid in full. WE have to reckon our old nature dead, and this involves taking up your cross daily. We know we have three enemies- the world, the flesh and the devil. And more than likely, if you are like me, the enemy you fight the most, is your old nature. He wants to be back in charge.
In today’s story, Israel suffers defeat. Sometimes, God’s Victory can only be accomplished through defeat. Meet the Philistines, the ancestors of today’s Palestinians. The Philistines were distressed when Israel conquered the Promised Land. They kept attempting to drive them out of the land, just as their ancestors continue to do to this day.
In the first section of today’s study, Israel suffers a defeat at the hands of the Philistines and 4, 000 Israeli soldiers are killed in battle. Israel is shocked. How can this be? We are God’s chosen people. He gave us this land. How can these heathens, these idol-worshipping Philistines defeat us? Why, indeed, did they suffer defeat? Why do we sometimes suffer defeat? God allowed them to be defeated because they were disobedient. Deuteronomy 28 is where God speaks to Israel of blessings on obedience and curses on disobedience. “The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee seven other ways. “ (Deut. 28: 7) God then spells out in detail, the curses which shall come upon them if they do not obey God’s commandments, which includes all types of misery, defeat, disease and disaster.
The battle is the Lord’s. When we try to accomplish God’s will with our own power and might, we will be defeated. It is not by our own power or might, but by the Spirit. Do you hear the pride in their voices- as they question how can these pagans defeat us – God’s chosen people? How are we to fight our battles? Ephesians 6 tells us how to prepare to fight: we are instructed: to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand the wiles of the devil. As you read about the armor, notice what you are to do when you have put on the whole armor: “… praying always with all prayer and supplication for all the saints.” Prayer. Prayer is where the believer in whole armor of God fights the battle.
They then decide to take the Ark of the Covenant into battle. Eli’s two sons evidently enter the Holy of Holies and take the Ark into battle. They are in effect, “using God” to accomplish their own purposes, their own will. Now as we shake our heads in disgust, I wonder if we are being honest with ourselves. Have you ever tried to use God to get what you want? We are to seek the will of God. For in doing the will of God we glorify God. How can anything done by the hands of these two sons, described by the Lord as “vile” be blessed? It cannot. When we have unconfessed sin in our lives, when we are living in sin, practicing sin, we cannot expect God to help us achieve our selfish purposes. The unnamed man of God who came to Eli in I Samuel 2 told Eli: God will not honor those who do not honor Him.
So when the ark arrives, there is great enthusiasm on the part of Israel’s army and great concern on the part of the Palestinians. But to the surprise of the Philistines and the dismay of Israel, the Philistines have a mighty victory and not only are Hophni and Phineas killed, but also 30,000 Israeli soldiers die in battle and the Ark of the Covenant is captured by the enemy. Never before in their history had the Ark of the Covenant fallen into the hands of the enemy.
The ark of God was the throne of God. Now the throne was in enemy territory. God is only on the throne when Israel is obedient to God and to His covenant.
Your new heart is the throne of God. Your body is the temple, the tabernacle of the Holy Spirit. If we neglect to obey God. If we seek our own selfish purposes. If we have unconfessed sin in our lives, if we try to “use” God to accomplish our own selfish purposes, we must realize we have allowed our old deceitful hearts to control our decisions and actions.
THE OUTER COURT- OUR BODIES
Our bodies are represented by the outer court of the tabernacle. We are to present them as a living sacrifice as our act of worship. When you entered the outer court there was only one way, through the gate which faces the east. Jesus will come from the East. The Gate represents Jesus who said He was the gate, He is the WAY. There is no other way to come to Father but by Him. Once you entered through the Gate, you would encounter the bronze altar. The altar was the place of sacrifice. The altar represents the cross on which our substitute died, the One called the Lamb of God. Abraham told Isaac on the mount, God Himself would provide a sacrifice. And God provided that day in place of Isaac, a ram whose horns were caught in the thorns of the thicket. The Brazen Altar had four horns on each corner for by which the innocent sacrifice was tied down. Christ is the Horn of our Salvation who was secured on the cross so that we could be secured in the Lamb’s Book of Life. A horn had three uses in Scripture: to secure the substitute sacrifice; a trumpet used in war; and a horn of oil was used to anoint David. There is a perfect picture of Christ: the horn of our salvation. He secured Himself as our sacrifice; anointed us with His Holy Spirit and leads us into battle and victory.
Also in the outer court was the bronze laver of water for cleansing one’s hands after dealing with the sacrifice. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place: He that has clean hands and a pure heart.” (Ps. 24) Cleansing from sin as we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)
THE HOLY PLACE – OUR SOUL
As we entered the tabernacle by the Gate, which represented the Way, we now enter the enclosed Holy Place where we encounter our Lord Jesus Christ as THE TRUTH.
Only as a member of God’s Royal Priesthood can we enter the Holy Place. Remember the Tabernacle was built after a heavenly pattern, where each part of this structure was patterned after what was in heaven. The Lampstand, the Lamp of God, also called the Menorah, was crafted from a solid piece of gold. John encounters this lamp when he is caught up into heaven in Revelation 4. The Lampstand has one middle shaft with three branches to the right, and three to the left. According to Isaiah 11: The Middle branch is the Spirit of the Lord; the other six are: the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. The Word of God is a lamp unto our feet and a light upon our path. This light must be kept burning continually in our lives. The Holy Spirit is the fuel which allows us to see, understand spiritual truths. He will never leave us. He dwells in the Holy of Holies in our lives in our new heart. One of the greatest needs of this present world we live in is to allow others to see this light, this excellent treasure we have in these earthly vessels. The cups were filled with pure olive oil. We are the heavenly lampstands to show Jesus to this dark world. Christ was the Olive Tree who was pressed as we read of the great pressure in the Garden of Gethsemane, a garden of an olive press. He makes this fuel available to us to fuel our lamps continually. If we do not burn with bright flames, it is not the fault of God who has provided us with everything we need; it is our neglect of our priestly duties. We are to tend to the filling of the lamps with the oil every morning and evening, or else we cannot accomplish our priestly duties. We are the light of the world. We are to let our lights so shine that men may see our good works and praise our Father in Heaven. (Matthew 5)
Now with the lights burning brightly look around in the Holy Place and observe what we find there: a table with the show bread, the bread of presence. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. (Psalm 23)
Here is a unique fact: this is the first time in all of Scripture the word, table, is mentioned. We are taught to always carefully observe the first mention of a word. The word table here is not just the wood structure with four legs. It means a meal or spread. Some will often say as they observe a fine meal set out before them: ‘you set a fine table, mam or sir.’
The table was a place of fellowship and communion. Being asked to sit as someone’s table and join them in a meal was both an honor and privilege. It was also an unmistakable sign of acceptance. The Pharisees were infuriated when they saw Jesus eating with publicans, prostitutes and a variety of sinners. When you are invited to eat at someone’s home it is for the purpose of fellowship and or celebration.
The table in the Holy Place had a gold rim. The rim was to make sure nothing fell off. If this bread represents the manna, then it is a picture of Jesus, the True Bread of Life. Notice the progression: we have received the Spirit of God which enables us to understand the Truth of God’s Word. We are anointed with oil. Our cups are filled with oil which speaks of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Truth. He teaches us and opens the eyes of our heart that we might see the hope to which we are called. With the lights burning brightly we see the Table of Show Bread. The place of fellowship with the One who is not only the Way, but the Truth. He is the Word of God, the Light of the World, the True Bread who had come down from heaven, just like the manna in the wilderness. He told Pilate, for this reason I was born and for this reason I came into the world, to testify to the Truth, and all who side with the truth listen to me. (John 18)
He is the Way, the Gate by which we enter. He is the Truth, the Word of God who is the Light of the World.
The death of Eli is the end of an era which began with the death of Joshua. It was an era epitomized with the life of Eli. Unable to restrain his wicked sons, slowly becoming spiritually blind as well as physically blind, Eli’s life is a symbol of a flawed age in the history of Israel. It was an era when there was no King in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. A nation who put their God in a box who could be summoned to do what the wanted Him to do when they wanted Him to do it.