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Misplaced Faith

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
February 21, 2022 3:00 am

Misplaced Faith

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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February 21, 2022 3:00 am

Some people have a special object they consider their lucky charm—something they hope will bring them success. But find out what happened when Israel counted on the ark of the covenant to bring them good fortune. That’s on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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Music playing Today on Truth for Life, we'll find out what happened Is always a nonjudgmental God.

Have you ever noticed that? People say, well, I don't like to think of God as like that. You know, it says in the Bible that there is appointed unto man a day that he will face judgment. And people say, oh, I don't like to think of God like that. Well, of course you don't. How would you like to think of him? We don't take him seriously, but we feel that we can call upon him as necessary. We like to have a little religion in our lives.

We go once a Sunday, we think he's pleased with that, as if somehow or another he exists for us. Well, you say, this is all well and good—or maybe you don't—but you're saying to yourself, how in the world does this actually fit in with what we're looking at here? Well, simply for this reason, that that kind of perspective is not new. For the idea is essentially this—that somehow or another God, if he exists, can be manipulated, can be controlled by us so that we actually can call on him as necessary. And at the very core of 1 Samuel 4 is the mistaken notion, is the misplaced faith, that if we do certain things in a certain way, then God is pretty well duty-bound to show up for us.

The problem for the people is not that they have a wrong view of God but that their understanding of God has been set aside in the course of time. Back in chapter 2, remember, in Hannah's prayer, Hannah has helped us understand who God is. Verses 2 and 3, there's none holy like the Lord, for there is none beside you. There is no rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly.

Let not arrogance come from your mouth. For the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. Now, these people understood that, but what has happened to them? Well, we just follow the text as it is before us. The opening sentence, The word of Samuel came to all Israel, may actually be a fitting conclusion to chapter 3.

Whether it is the conclusion of 3 or the beginning of 4 doesn't really matter. What we know is that the Word of God, through the lips of the prophet of God, namely Samuel, is now going out into all Israel. The prophet has been installed. He speaks from God, he speaks for God, and you will notice that the word of Samuel that we have to this point was a word of judgment.

He had declared a message of judgment that would make the two years of everyone who heard it tingle. Now, it is in that context that we bid farewell to Samuel, at least until chapter 7. Now the camera lens has shifted from a focus on Samuel the individual here to this matter of the ark of God. And it is in that context that we now read that Israel went out to battle. We don't have details of the battle—a territorial struggle, presumably.

This place, Aphek, was about twenty miles cross-country from Shiloh. The Israelites were largely in the hill country, the Philistines were in the plains. And it would seem, perhaps, that the Philistines have decided to advance their territory.

We don't have details. But what we do know is that in verse 2, the lines were drawn up against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated. Now, Israel wasn't used to being defeated. If you've read in the earlier parts of the Old Testament, you know that it was often the story of triumph that God manifested his power and victory.

But in this case, it isn't so. And so, when the people came to the camp, verse 3, the elders of Israel were posing this question. Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines?

It's the right question, isn't it? They understood that God was sovereign over victory and defeat, that they had lost, and God was sovereign over the fact that they had now been decimated. It apparently never occurred to them to see any connection between their disobedience and their defeat. Because God, who is introduced to us again and again as the God of the covenant, the ark as the God of the covenant, of the armies of God, this picture of the magnificence of God, God, in making his covenant with his people, had made it very clear to them that if they obeyed him, there would be blessing, and if they disobeyed him, there would be punishment. Now, God had made this clear to his people. Now, look at the mess in Shiloh. The mess in Shiloh that is represented in the experience and expressions of Eli and his two sons. And the word of God's judgment has come upon that circumstance there in Shiloh—first by the individual who came as a certain man at the end of chapter 2, and then reinforced by the word of Samuel himself, when God has now appeared to Samuel and has said, The word that I spoke is the word that is to be fulfilled, and when Eli asks you, then make sure you tell him everything.

And Eli had been on the receiving end of that word. Now they are defeated in battle. The elders say, Why has the LORD defeated us today?

Their question was right, their solution was wrong. Notice what they then do. Let us then bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh.

So notice clearly what this is here. There is no acknowledgment of sin, there's no appeal for mercy. Instead, what they decide to do is bring the ark in the mistaken notion that having this ark with them will make all the difference—that if they have the ark, then God is duty-bound to show up and to pulverize their enemies. They're wrong. It is a mistaken notion. It is a misplaced faith.

It is the same kind of misplaced faith that you find in religious expressions, whereby people think that the externals of religion, I do this and therefore that, I do this and therefore that, without the reality of the transforming power of God in the hardened life of the individual. These folks were actually on the wrong side of God's design for them. And they knew that they were defeated. But no cry for mercy. Instead, let's just get the ark. We can't take time now to put the whole ark piece in place. Exodus 25 will be a good starting point, because there Moses gives the charge to the people to build the ark, to create it—very specific directives—and God says, in the creation of the ark, he says, And tell the people, There I will meet with you.

All right? So it will be the symbol of my presence. When Moses then goes out and leads the people and sets forward the ark, he sets forward the ark, not looking to the ark but looking to the one to whom the ark points.

So, for example, in Numbers chapter 10, the ark moves forward, and Moses says, Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered. If there's going to be victory, well, because you have arisen, O LORD, not because we're carrying this box. We know that it is the symbol of your presence. We know that it is a place that you will meet.

But without you, the box doesn't matter. And that's what they had got wrong. You see, faith in the living God was replaced, if you like, with superstition—no longer prepared to bow down before God's righteous judgment, no longer prepared to acknowledge that we're in the mess we're in because we're in the mess we're in.

No! We know we're in a mess. We know we've been defeated.

But hey, we've got this. Now, you can apply this in so many ways. It's what one of my friends refers to as rabbit-foot theology. You know, the idea of carrying a rabbit-foot around—I don't know what it's supposed to do for you. It's a really bizarre notion, but it is fairly prevalent. Everyone that has ever had a rabbit-foot is feeling somewhat guilty right now and deciding that you're probably going to give it away to somebody.

I wouldn't do that. I looked it up during the week. It was a big diversion. I eventually gave up on it.

But it's quite fascinating. It wasn't just, if you're gonna do this right, you just don't have a rabbit-foot. You have to have the correct rabbit-foot. It has to be the left hind-foot. But it isn't just a left hind-foot. It has to be the left hind-foot of a rabbit that was killed. But not just a rabbit that was killed—a rabbit that was killed in a cemetery. So, once you've got the proper thing, then you've got the proper rabbit-foot, and so off you go. It's bizarre, isn't it?

But that's essentially what these people are doing. They say, The box, the box, we've got the box. We're all set. They weren't all set, as we're about to see. Because, you see, they had replaced reverence for God with respect for the ark. Of course, it was possible to both respect the ark and reverence God. But if you dump the reverence for God and all you've got left is respect for the ark, then frankly, you've got nothing.

But the incongruity of this had never seemed to bother them—perhaps never really registered for them. They should have at least had some idea of what was going on when the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, are described being there with the ark of the covenant of God. So, it's more than possible that when the word went back to Shiloh, we want the ark, Eli who's there said to his worthless sons, he said, Why don't you take the ark and go down there?

So you imagine a more pathetic picture in all your life than these two worthless sons who are destined to die on the same day come down carrying the poles of the ark. And the people should have been going, Well, I don't know about this. But instead, what were they doing? Well, they went nuts. Verse 5, As soon as the ark of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded.

We're going to be fine now. The reaction of the Philistines is then, in verse 6 and following, they respond with consternation and with fear. What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean? They don't refer to them as the Israelites. It's possible that the Hebrews was a sort of derogatory reference in this case, these Hebrew people. And when they learned that the ark had come to the camp, then they were afraid. Why were they afraid? Well, their history of the people of God wasn't very good.

They've got things tangled up here, as you would see. They're referencing the Exodus. And they knew that in the Exodus, God showed up in a dramatic way. But of course, the Exodus preceded the construction of the ark.

So, nothing like this has actually happened. But what they're doing is this. They are taking the ark for God, as it were.

But why would we be surprised? Because the Israelites were virtually doing the same thing. The Philistines could be forgiven, because they had all kinds of gods, all kinds of ideas. The Israelites could not be forgiven, because they had the God of Abram, Isaac, and of Jacob, who had manifested himself in so many ways.

But now they were relying on the presence of this chest. Interestingly, and I think surprisingly, the Philistines don't beat a retreat, despite what they say. They take courage, and they bolster their forces, and they go against the Hebrews, and you have the sorry conclusion in verse 10 and verse 11. So the Philistines fought, and Israel was once again defeated. Well, clearly, the ark wasn't the answer, right? Going to get the ark and trusting in its presence was a bad plan. Not only did it not work, but it was the occasion of a dreadful slaughter.

And the text is clear. Israel was defeated. The army melted away, every man to his own home. There was a very great slaughter. The ark was captured. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died. If you're reading this on your own, you'd be sitting there, and you're saying to yourself, I wonder why they would mention, then, the two sons of Eli died.

After all, if there are all these thousands of people that died, why mention just the two? Well, because it was the sign of God's judgment, wasn't it? They did not know God because they didn't want to know God. They spurned the place where God manifested his mercy and his grace.

For them, there was no recourse, only the prospect of judgment. And the writer is reminding us that what was actually happening here was the very fulfillment of the Word of God—both an expression of his judgment and at the same time an expression of his grace. His grace in this respect—that in removing these two characters, he was clearing the decks, he was preparing the way for his people, under this whole new framework, whereby the word of Samuel, as it would come again and again, would guide the people forward.

In order that that word might be heard in all of its clarity, it was necessary that these fellows would be removed. In essence, what we have is an expression of misplaced faith. Misplaced faith. The Israelites thought they could trust in the presence of the ark while paying no attention to God's demands.

That's actually not so far removed from today. You may be doing the very same thing. You're not trusting in an ark.

You may be trusting in something else. And you say to yourself, But I can do this. It doesn't matter if I do this. I'm trusting in the… I'm trusting in the… I can do this. This doesn't matter.

It does matter. Because the fundamental flaw lay in the fact that they thought they could trust in the ark while just disobeying God. Essentially, they'd begun to view him as a cheerleader, that God could be called out to urge them on to victory as necessary. And instead, he was fulfilling his promise of judgment. You know what this actually means when you fast forward?

It means this—that when a person says that I am a follower of Jesus, that I believe in Jesus, that my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness, the plan and purpose of God for that life is, as Jesus said, if such an individual loves me, he or she will keep my commandments—not as a means of acceptance but as an evidence of the fact that I am accepted. And that is where the mistake falls. That's where the notions of magic come in. That's why when you get, for example, a form of sacramentalism that says, But you had this, you took the wafer, you got the wafer, you're good with a wafer, you're fine with a wafer.

But what about Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday? Or I went, you know. Therefore, I'm fine.

No! Because remember Hannah's prayer. This is the God of knowledge. He is the one who weighs the actions of the heart.

And he weighed the actions of Phineas and Hophni and pronounced judgment on them. And that is the solemnity of it. Basically, their trust in the art meant nothing, so long as they paid no regard for God's call to obedience. It's actually quite chilling.

It's a lot closer than, we think, at first reading. Matthew Henry, in the seventeenth century, closed out his sermon in this way. He said to his people, Let none then think to shelter themselves from the wrath of God under the cloak of a visible profession. I was baptized. I did this.

I did that. Let none think to shelter themselves from the wrath of God under the cloak of a visible profession. For there will be those cast into outer darkness who have eaten and drunk in Christ's presence. You remember what Jesus said?

I am going to eat with you now, and one of you is a devil? See, it's perfectly understandable to me why people want to conceive of God in their own terms. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life as he explains why trusting anything other than God himself is a fatal mistake.

Please keep listening. Alistair will be back to close in prayer in just a minute. When our faith is misplaced, our understanding of God is skewed. That's one of the reasons why we choose books to recommend to you that are rooted in scripture, that are biblically anchored.

Today's selection is right in line with that objective. It's a book titled Name Above All Names. This is a book that explores the many roles Jesus fulfills, such as the great high priest or the true prophet, the conquering king. The authors of this book, Sinclair Ferguson and Alistair Begg, explain how Jesus intercedes for us so that we are no longer alienated from God. When you read the book Name Above All Names, you'll learn what the Bible tells us about the Son of God's character and qualities.

Request Name Above All Names when you give a donation, tap the book image in the mobile app, or visit us online at slash donate. Now here's Alistair to close with prayer. O God, we acknowledge how easy it is for us to trust in everything and trust in anything, rather than trusting in you, and how prone we are to divorce our outward professions from our private call to obedience. We thank you that the chilling reminder of the opening part of this chapter is not to threaten and to undo us but is to direct us to the only one and to the only place where our faith can be founded and where our lives can be made new. Thank you that in the Lord Jesus Christ there is the reminder that we can't save ourselves, either by trying or by being religious.

We can't, and we don't need to, because you've sent Jesus to die in our place. Some of us even this morning have been tempted to trust in the fact that we actually show up at church, or that we're a lot better than we used to be, but that we've never actually bowed down and acknowledged that we are by nature rebellious and disobedient and lost. So, Lord, shine the light of your Word into the recesses of our lives in order that individually and as a church family you'll save us from hocus-pocus, from magic, from superstition, from relying on that which is so easily and quickly divorced from all that you are in and of yourself. Help us to this end, we pray.

Fulfill your purposes in us and through us, we ask. We don't want to fade. We don't want to be blown away. We don't want to be like the chaff, Lord. We want to be those in whose lives the seed of your Word has found a resting place and is bringing forth fruit, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and some a hundredfold. Hear our prayers for Jesus' sake. Amen. Be sure to join us tomorrow when we'll learn how Eli responded when he heard the results of the battle in which his sons had been involved. It's part one of a message titled That's Not Normal. You won't want to miss it. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-02 12:46:44 / 2023-06-02 13:10:55 / 24

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