Is Eli the classic example of “leading from behind?”
In Chapter 4, Israel goes to battle against the Philistines without anyone first inquiring of the Lord through Eli, who has lost all credibility with the people. As a result, the Philistines kill 4,000 sons of Israel in a horrible rout. Only then do the elders of Israel remember God, wondering aloud, “Why has the Lord defeated us today?” (1 Samuel 4:3, NASB).
Then the elders make matters worse by deciding to send the ark of the God of Israel into a second battle against the Philistines. After all, it worked for Joshua at Jericho! This time, Eli and his sons go along, not bothering to question whether this is a violation of the Law of Moses.
Now comes the judgment promised by God in the previous blog – Israel is massacred in battle with a loss of 30,000 soldiers; both of Eli’s sons Hoshni and Phineas are killed on the same day; and the ark of the God of Israel is stolen by the Philistines. Eli, too, dies violently upon learning the fate of his sons and the ark of God. Phinehas’s wife says, as she then dies in childbirth, “The glory of God has departed from Israel, because the ark of God was taken” (4:22).
In Chapter 5, God afflicts Philistines with detestable tumors and plagues of mice wherever they try to store the ark of God. Then in Chapter 6, they decide to send the ark back to where it belongs in Israel. Ironically, they send a guilt offering along with the ark out of sheer awe for the Law of Moses; in stark contrast, to the sons of Israel, who should know better, completely disrespect God when seventy men in party gaiety vainly grab a look inside the ark to see the holiest of holy Ten Commandments tablets – this costs each of them his life as God slays them instantly.
In Chapter 7, twenty years have passed; the ark has stayed in the house of Abinadab in the city of Kiriath-jearim instead of being returned to Shiloh; and Israel laments that God has once again stopped speaking to them. Just then Samuel, who has now matured into manhood, speaks out for the first time to all Israel:
“If you return to the Lord with all your heart, remove the foreign gods…from among you and direct your hearts to the Lord and serve him alone; and he will deliver you…Gather all Israel to Mizpah and I will pray to the Lord for you” (7:3,5).
Israel then responds to Samuel in national repentance and the Lord restores Israel’s territory throughout all the days of Samuel.
“So there was peace…” (7:14)
As we will see even more strongly in the next blog, Samuel leads from the head, turning to God, not from behind, detached and forgetting his roots. This is perfect counsel for America today. It is time to repent not only as a family but as a nation!
Here is a tantalizing question for next week: if America had a cherished document of law so precious as to keep it in a safe place and untouchable, what would that document be?