[box] “… and Israel was badly beaten – about 4,000 soldiers left dead on the field. When the troops returned to camp, Israel’s elders said, “Why has God given us such a beating today by the Philistines? Let’s go to Shiloh and get the Chest of God’s Covenant. It will accompany us and save us from the grip of our enemies.” (1 Samuel 4:3) [/box]

After a particularly bad battle, the Israelites went home defeated and confused – why did God let them lose? Someone had the great idea, then, to make sure God would be on their side. They fetched the Chest of God’s Covenant (the “ark” for you traditional scripture-readers) and brought it with them to their war camp. When the chapel team arrived with the visible image of God’s presence in tow, the troops erupted in excitement. If God is for us, who can be against us, right?

The Philistines heard the ruckus and freaked out. They had heard about this God, the one that sent plagues upon Pharaoh and all of Egypt, the one that marched his people out of slavery. Someone probably gave a rousing speech in the locker room warning the soldiers to fight for their lives.

And they did. The Philistines obliterated the Israelites. The first battle left 4,000 dead on the field. The one where the God Box sat under a nearby tent saw 30,000 bodies at the end of the battle.

Why would God let his people be defeated? Don’t we read stories of victory in the Bible, especially when God is involved?

If we look later in these books, leaders like King David would often invoke the name of God into battle.¬†Read on the books about the Kings and see David time and again asking, “God, if I go to battle, will you be with me?” and getting a response from God – yes. God’s presence will go before. This is the confidence preached in churches everywhere (because it’s true).

The Israelites never asked God. They never sought his wisdom, they never considered his will.

In 1 Samuel 4, the Israelites assume that they make God give them what they want. I suppose this is the difference between a living God and a box made of wood. You can march around with something that represents God’s presence, but that doesn’t guarantee God is in it.

How often do we mistake one for the other? We decide to go to battle and assume that if we bring the right scripture along or the dress up our intentions with the right theological words and ideas, then surely God will be for us.

We don’t get to drag God around like a puppy. We chase Him. We look to what He is doing in the world and we jump in. We’re God’s followers, not God’s leaders.

Discerning God’s will can be tricky stuff and passages like this add a layer of complexity. Yet they offer us safeguards from deciding that because we can put a Jesus Label on it, surely it is good and right. No, those passages that declare God will give us our desires and needs are prefaced with phrases like “seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” God guarantees he will not send us anywhere without His presence.¬†Which is different from convincing God to come along to the next place you want to go.

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