Monday, May 09, 2005

God has left

Today when studying the intertwined lives of Eli the priest and Samuel, Hannah and Elkanah's young son who lived and served at the tabernacle, a shattering phrase uttered by a dying woman caught my attention. The woman was the daughter-in-law of Eli. Her husband's name was Phinehas. He and his brother Hophni were wicked, seducing the young women who served at the Tabernacle. They also took the sacrificial meat offerings, early, before worshipers had time to complete the ceremonies. They skewed the choice pieces of meat from the boiling pots. They often took the meat before the fat was burned on the altar, so they could roast it.

God later accused Eli and his sons of making themselves fat at the expense of his people. Eli is described as "very fat" (NLT). Eli's wicked sons took The Ark of the Covenant into battle with the Philistines, and the Israelites were slaughtered, losing the battle and the Ark was captured. Eli's sons were killed.

When the courier returned to Shiloh with the news of 30,000 dead along with the two priests and the capture of the Ark. The news devastated Eli, 98, who fell back and broke his neck. Phinehas' wife was pregnant and near her delivery date. She heard that her husband and father-in-law were dead and that the Ark was in Philistine hands. She went into labor.

Closing the door on the delivery room for the moment, what happened in this community of believers? How did they get from holy to abominations at the door of God's dwelling. The Tabernacle, a place where God was to meet his people and forget their sins, became a place of vagrant sin. And all seemed to be turning their backs on it. But not God. He will not be mocked.

God sent Eli a message through a prophet one day. God's foretelling of the future did not sound pleasant. Eli's family would not be priests again. The men would die early deaths. Those who lived would be miserable. For God said, "I will honor only those who honor me, and I will despise those who despise me" (1 Samuel 2:30).

Under the old law, their rebellion should have been punished by death from the community, to purge evil acts and perpetrators from their camp. Their father should have carried out the sentence himself, even casting the first stones. Because Eli refused to correct his sons God withdrew his honor from that family.

Back in the delivery room, a son, fated to a short life, is born and his mother names him Ichabod, meaning "Where is the glory?" She said before she died, "The glory has departed form Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured" (1 Samuel 4:22).

A delivery room is a strange place for a prophecy about departing. It seems the proper place for joy, new birth, rejoicing. But on that day, a lot of departures took place. Thirty thousand of Israel's young men died, Eli their priest, his two sons, a woman giving birth, all departed. But the greatest departure was the Ark of God.

Foretold in the naming of Ichabod, Where is the glory? When God withdraws his honor from a family, where is the glory?

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