When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair beside the road, watching, because his heart trembled for the ark of God. When the man entered the city to give a report, the whole city cried out.
1 Samuel 4:12-18. (SHILOH.)
1. The highest official position may be held by one who is destitute of the qualities which it demands.
2. Much excellence is sometimes associated with grave defects.
3. Sins of omission have a ruinous effect on others - the family, the Church, the nation.
4. A good man is not spared when he is guilty of disobedience. The judgment of Heaven is impartial. The last hour of his long life has now come, and in it we see the old man -
I. WATCHING WITH ANXIETY FOR THE ARK (ver. 13). Why does his heart tremble? He has truly an affectionate regard for it. But -
1. He has been accessory to its exposure in the battle field.
2. He is doubtful about its safety.
3. He dreads the consequences of its loss. Already he experiences the evil effects of his sin.
II. RECEIVING THE TIDINGS OF DISASTER (vers. 12, 14-17). "Woe upon woe."
1. The defeat of Israel with a great slaughter.
2. The death of his two sons.
3. The capture of the ark. "With the surrender of the earthly throne of his glory the Lord appeared to have abolished his covenant of grace with Israel; for the ark, with the tables of the law and the Capporeth, was the visible pledge of the covenant of grace which Jehovah had made with Israel" (Keil).
III. SMITTEN WITH THE STROKE or DEATH (ver. 18).
1. After long and merciful delay.
2. Directly connected with his sin.
3. "Suddenly, and without remedy." Nevertheless, it was his dismay at the loss of the ark that caused his trembling heart to cease to beat; and his love for the sacred symbol lightens up the gloom of his melancholy end. - D.
For his heart trembled for the ark of God.I. THAT A GOOD MAN WILL ALWAYS FEEL CONCERNED FOR THE SAFETY, HONOUR, AND ADVANCEMENT OF RELIGION. In the success of the Gospel, are involved the pleasure and glory of God. The good man considers it as an august display of the Divine perfections, as dear to the eternal mind in its design and accomplishment, and as vouchsafed to men in great mercy and trust. As a creature, therefore, of the Most High God, he will feel concerned for the prosperity of a work upon which, from before the foundation of the world, his Creator hath bestowed His care, and the success of which He earnestly desires, and hath sent His Son to promote. As a philanthropist, therefore, he will feel interested in the safety of this ark of mercy, before which the penitent may find forgiveness, and the sorrowful and the dying be cheered with soothing consolations and animating hopes. As a patriot, he considers religion essential to the stability, happiness and prosperity of the state. He contrasts with the rude schemes of polytheism and idolatry, which ancient legislators rendered sacred in the state, the pure, the rational, the consoling theology of the Gospel: and his love for his country will lead him to promote such an extension of the knowledge of Christianity, and such an attachment to its doctrines and worship, as may preserve it from being taken away. When he considers the value of this religion to himself; that it is the guide of his youth, the comfort of his age, his joy in prosperity, his solace in adversity, gratitude to its Author will make him a faithful guardian of the treasure, with which he is entrusted. In short, when he compares the objects which religion proposes, with aught else of high estimation, and ardent pursuit, he perceives that without these a man may possess all other things and be wretched; and that with these, the humblest of the sons of men may be resigned and happy. But hath not the Author and head of the Christian covenant said that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it?" He hath. And though, for the accomplishment of the Divine purposes, it may be appointed to many trials, and often enveloped in apparent dangers, nothing shall destroy it. But while man continues as he is, proud, corrupt, it cannot be otherwise than that the religion of our Redeemer should have its adversaries, and be sometimes exposed by its friends. These considerations will beget in the bosom of the good man a constant care for its reputation and prosperity. Not noisy and hollow will his concern for the ark of God be, but sincere and deep as Eli's proved. Mark his solicitude when he inquires, "What is there done, my son?" Sublime piety! Wonderful instance of hallowed sensibility!
II. But from admiring the concern of Eli for the ark that was in Shiloh, let us be led TO CONSIDER IN WHAT WAYS WE MAY CONTRIBUTE TO THE REPUTATION AND PROSPERITY OF THE ARK OF THE BETTER COVENANT. "The Gospel of our salvation."
1. In the first place we should not disguise our belief in the religion of our Lord. Too easily does pride, a dread of the ridicule of the profane, or a coincidence with the current of the world's opinions, deter the disciples of the Redeemer from avowing their attachment to Him. Would we advance the interests of our Saviour's kingdom? Let us be seen in the ranks of His friends, and, as an inspired Apostle exhorts, "Go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach."
2. We may promote both the honour and prosperity of our religion by upholding its institutions and observing devoutly its sacred rites.
3. You may contribute to the safety and honour of the ark of God, by instructing your offspring in its origin, its value, and its uses, and training them up to respect and defend it.
4. We may contribute to the success of Christianity by thwarting the course of its adversaries, and counteracting the poisons prepared against it. There are books, the vehicles of impious sophistry, of debased wit, and of blasphemous philosophy. From the contagion which these diffuse the good man will endeavour to preserve his household and to suppress their reputation and influence.
5. By his personal exertions for the advancement of those arrangements which are necessary to give stability and respectability to the institutions of religion in any place, every Christian may promote the honour and influence of Christianity among men.
I. ELI'S DEFICIENCY COMES SADLY OUT IN ALL THE RELATIONS WHICH HE HAS TO SUSTAIN AS A RULER — IN THE STATE, IN THE CHURCH, AND IN THE FAMILY.
1. Eli was head of the State. He was a judge in Israel. As a judge, in his capacity of civil governor, Eli saw the affairs of the Jewish commonwealth brought to the lowest ebb of fortune. It is true that little or nothing is recorded of his administration; but in the last act of it, the war waged with the Philistines, and in the way in which that war is conducted, we see indications of imbecility not to be mistaken. (1 Samuel 4.) There is an evident want of due consideration and concert. The sudden expedient, the desperate after thought, of summoning the ark to help in retrieving the disaster, only brings out more sadly the absence of all sound and godly counsel in the whole affair at the first; and the conduct of Eli is throughout, that of a habitual waverer. One thing is clear — as a ruler he left the State on the very brink of ruin.
2. As high priest, set over the affairs of the House of God, he lets his weakness still more shamefully get the better of him. The scandalous outrages and excesses committed by his two sons when they were associated with him in the priesthood! never could have taken place had "things been done decently and in order." This laxity Eli must have tolerated; at, least he wanted firmness to repress it (1 Samuel 2:12-17). We are forced to conclude that in his capacity of priest, as well as in that of judge, he was the victim of indecision and imbecility.
3. But it is as a parent that he chiefly shows his weakness; and it is in that character that he is especially reproved and judged. Ah! he forgets that he is invested with parental authority — authority, in his case, backed and seconded by all the powers of law and all the terrors of religion. Nay, it is not so much that he forgets this as that he has not nerve to act upon the recollection of it. It is not really parental love, according to any right view of that pure affection, but self-love at bottom that Eli indulges, and self-love in one of its least respectable forms. It is himself that Eli is unwilling to mortify, not his sons. It is to himself that he is tender, not to them. And when it is considered that his selfish feebleness and fondness show themselves in his neglect of parental discipline even in matters in which the Divine honour is immediately concerned, it is not too much to say that he is preferring his children to his God. Even God's highest honour must give place to the indulgence of his fond and feeble dotage. And the issue is that "the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged forever." It is an issue, as to all the parties concerned, sufficiently disastrous. Of the utter ruin of Eli's household we need not speak. The priesthood passes away from his family; the government is upon other shoulders; his seed are a beggared race And all this in connection with one of the meekest and holiest of the saints of Gods. It is a terrible lesson. And, in keeping with it, is the lesson taught by the melancholy notice of his own decease. The messenger of evil delivered his tidings; and his hearer could stand the accumulation of horrors — Israel fled before the Philistines — a great slaughter among the people — ay, and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, dead also. But when the crowning calamity burst upon him — "the ark of God is taken" — Eli could bear up no longer. Such was the end of so protracted a life; thus miserably died this man of God.
II. Many PRACTICAL REMARKS suggest themselves in connection with the painful history which we have been considering — remarks applicable to parents and members of families, to individual Christians, to the ungodly, and to all.
1. It is a most emphatic warning that the fate of Eli gives to parents; and not to parents only, but to all who have influence or authority of any sort in families.
2. Let individual Christians ponder the lesson of Eli's character. Much. very much, there is in it to be admired and imitated. But his defects — or, let us say at once, his sins — are recorded for our especial warning.
3. Let the ungodly tremble. Let them look on, and see how God deals with sin in His own people. Does He spare sin in them? Does He spare them in their sins? Behold the severity of God in His treatment of the good and gracious Eli, and tremble at the thought of what may be His treatment of you! "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinners appear?"
4. And, finally, let all lay to heart the irrevocable decree and determination of God that sin shall not pass unpunished; let them look and see the end of the ungodly, while they stand in awe at the chastisement of the just.
(R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
II. HAVE WE, THEN, AUGHT THAT ANSWERS TO THE ARK? Have we, then, a treasure that should be more precious to us than was even the ark of the testimony to the faithful Israelites? We have. The ark was the shadow; to us belongs the substance. Yea, we have, therefore, in the precious Gospel of Christ all that the ark signified; and that no more in dimness and in gloom, but in noonday splendour. What know we of God as "in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, and not imputing their trespasses unto them?" What know we of Christ, "Emmanuel, God with us," "the Lamb that taketh away the sin of the world?" What know we of the wondrous way of access to God thus thrown wide through the veil, that is to say, His flesh? And, therefore, it is this precious Gospel that is the ark of the Church of Christ; it is this precious Gospel in the midst of us that is the living sign and symbol of God's abiding presence with His faithful; and the shechinah, which has beamed in the tabernacle, and sparkled in the temple, has no glory, in comparison with the pure simple Gospel. If, then, the shadow, the type, the harbinger, was so precious to Israel of old, how much more precious to us should be the substance, the antitype, the glorious reality. This, therefore, is the ark of the Christian Church; and how dear it was to the holiest and the best of every age. Let one speak for many. "What things were gain to me," said the glowing Paul, "those I counted loss for Christ; yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord."
III. HAVE WE, THEN, EVER REASON TO "TREMBLE FOR THE ARK OF GOD," as trembled the heart of the faithful Israelite, when it went forth to the battlefield, where the uncircumscribed fought with Israel? We have. If the ark could be withdrawn from any spot, and return no more, may not the Gospel be withdrawn from us, and return no more? It has been withdrawn from many a scene, where once it reigned, in purity and in power. Look at Ephesus, and Laodicea, and Thyatira, and Sardis: where is the bright lamp, which once filled them with beauty and gladness? And what is there in our own favoured land that should hinder the withdrawment of the lamp of life from our shores? There is much reason why we should often "tremble for the ark of God." The dearer anything is to us the more we should tremble, lest we should lose it; the dearer the Gospel the more we have to be taken away from us. Will any man say — "If once I have the Gospel in my heart who shall take it from me?"
IV. BUT ARE THERE, THEN, SPECIAL REASONS WHY WE SHOULD "TREMBLE FOR THE ARK OF GOD" AMONG US AT THE PRESENT JUNCTURE IN OUR NATIONAL HISTORY? We can conceive that there are. It was at a special season that the venerable priest trembled for the ark: it was when it had been carried into the field of battle; it was when he knew that it was in imminent danger. Christian brethren, it is not the might or the mustering of all the foes of the Gospel of Christ; it is not the strength, or the combination of all that have ill will to his Zion; it is not that "Gebal, Ammon, Amalek, and Assur also, have holden the children of Lot," to war against His truth: but if we could but say, as the holy Hezekiah said, "They be more that are with us than with them; for with them is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles," then should we indeed stay ourselves in these precious words, "The Lord being our light and our san ration, whom should we fear? the Lord being the strength of our life, of whom should we be afraid?" God being for us, who could be against us? But our apprehension arises from within, rather than from without — from ourselves rather than from our adversaries. In the days of old, when our reformed faith came forth in its precious freshness and beauty — when the Gospel was as dear to the people as deliverance to the prisoner: in those days, whatever combination of might was against the Gospel of Christ, the faithful had little or nothing to fear. It is not from without, then, that we apprehend danger; it is far more from within that we apprehend it. We apprehend it because there has come over us a fearful want of a holy confession of the Gospel, and a holy protest against the perversion of the Gospel, which so actuated our martyred forefathers that it seemed to them but one feeling — to love the Gospel more than life, and to hate the error, which marred, and mutilated, and destroyed the Gospel, more than death. Nor is it only this: the laxity and the latitudinarianism which have come over us are worse than this, for there is no stopping on the inclined plane of error. First, men become secure, then indifferent to the truth, then open to error; they are then gradually drawn to choose it, and to love it, and are at last led blindfold by it, at its will. Is there not cause, then, that we should "tremble for the ark of God?" May not God take the vineyard away from us, and give it to other husbandmen, who shall give Him the fruit in due season? But more than this: Is there not a cause, because of the too light esteem, and the too feeble faith, and the too cold zeal, which even those who know somewhat of its preciousness, and have somewhat of its blessings in their own souls, manifest towards the ark of God? Where is the self-denial? where is the freedom and largeness of sacrifice, for the service of God? But if we go from men of low degree to men of high degree what meets us there? We speak not of one administration, or of another administration; we speak not of rulers and dignitaries, as such; we give them the deepest respect, but we speak of the general tone of moral legislature, and of moral government, in our once protestant England; and none can gainsay us in stating that all have been unfavourable to the national maintenance of the simple Gospel. Shall not God visit for these things, and will not His soul be avenged on a nation like this? Suffer the word of personal and practical application. Is this ark of the covenant, this glorious Gospel of the blessed God, dearer to us than any thing in the whole world besides? Has God opened the eyes of our understanding, to discern its worth?
(H. Stowell, M. A.)
I. THE SERVANTS OF GOD SOMETIMES TREMBLE FOR THE ARK OF GOD. If we ask how this comes to pass I answer: —
1. From the great love they have for it. Value a thing highly, and you will sit, as it were, by the wayside watching it; you will be anxious about it, or be tempted to be so; you will be afraid of losing it. What makes the tender mother fear for the infant that is out of her sight, or that seems in danger? Simply this — she loves her infant. And the people of God love the gospel, really, deeply; better than they love any one earthly thing. There sits Eli outside the gate of Shiloh, watching and trembling, and for what? for the life of his sons or the success of the army? Both these are in jeopardy, and he knows they are in jeopardy, but he is not trembling for them; he is afraid for the ark of God. Does this seem to any of you extravagant or unnatural? It would not, if you were really the people of God. "Lord, make Thy gospel dearer to me than all the world."
2. But there is another reason why the people of God sometimes tremble for the ark — they know something of its value to the people that possess it. He thought of the mercies that holy thing had brought with it for more than four hundred years to his nation. It was the safeguard of Israel, it was the charter of her privileges, it was the token and pledge of the Lord's special favour towards her; and therefore, when it was in danger, he trembled. And ask the Christian why he is so anxious for the gospel to be here or there. He does not always say, "Because I love the gospel, and wish it to be everywhere;" but rather, "There are many whom I love in that place, and they all need the gospel." The man has a feeling heart. "It is the greatest treasure our poor bankrupt world has left, the only treasure. It is our lifeboat, our last plank, in our dismal wreck. I know its value, and therefore I tremble for it."
3. A consciousness of guilt also will make the servants of God thus fearful. We have just been looking at the Christian as a man of a benevolent heart; we must regard him now as a man of a tender conscience. Some of you never fear for the Gospel. You never dream of its being taken away from you, or of any spiritual privilege being withdrawn. And we can tell at once who you are. You are men who do not know yourselves. You do not feel how unworthy you are of your spiritual mercies. But the real Christian is a man who carries about with him a heart that God has wounded. He feels every day he lives that he is a guilty sinner. "If the ark goes from us, it has been driven away from us by my unprofitable and unholy life." O that we could at this hour hear such language as this from every man in our church! We blame others, and they may be worthy of blame, but it would become us better to blame ourselves.
II. THE SERVANTS OF GOD HAVE SOMETIMES REASON TO FEAR FOR THE ARK OF GOD. Not only do they fear for it, as we have just seen; their fear, as we have now to see, may be well founded and right. Some of you may ask how this can be. "The great God," you may say, "will take care of His own glory in our world. Why should we be anxious for it?" I answer, God will indeed take care of His glory here, and of His ark and church also. He is able to do so, and He is pledged and determined to do so. He will ever have a people to praise Him on the earth. But we must remember that though the Gospel will never be removed from the world, yet it may be removed from this or that part of the world. It is not entailed on any congregation, or parish, or kingdom. And this also must be considered — the Gospel has often been removed from one place to another. The ark not only may be lost to a people, it had been lost.
III. THE SERVANTS OF GOD HAVE REASON TO TREMBLE FOR THE ARK OF GOD WHEN IT IS EITHER PROFANED OR TRUSTED IN. In this case it was both.
1. The people profaned the ark. Who bade them send to Shiloh for it, and take it from its holy secrecy there into the tumult of a camp? The Lord had commanded Moses that it should be kept in "the secret place of his tabernacle;" but now to answer their earthly purposes, the command of God is to be set aside, the sacredness of the holy of holies to be violated, a battlefield to become the dwelling place of the ark of God. If, therefore, a time should ever come in England when our people or rulers shall care less for the Gospel than they care for their own glory or power; let such a time come, and then there will indeed be cause to tremble for the ark of God. It is under-valued, it is profaned, and God will not bear this — it is in danger of being lost.
2. The Israelites also made too much of the ark; they trusted in it, and this at the very time that they under-valued and profaned it — a strange inconsistency, but yet a common one. God was dishonoured by having His ark put in His place, and therefore He dishonoured it and the men who so exalted it. There lie the people of the Lord in slaughtered thousands, and there goes the ark itself, that sacred thing which none but' a Levite must ever touch — it is carried by heathen hands amid heathen shouts to a heathen temple; it is lost to the Israel of God. The inference we are to draw is plain — while we do not undervalue our spiritual privileges, we must never trust to them to protect us; nay, we must not expect them to protect even themselves. It is a great mistake to say, "The church and the Gospel will defend themselves." There is the ark in Dagon's temple, and if we conclude, because we have a spiritual church and a preached Gospel that that church must stand and that Gospel still be preached, God may teach us a terrible lesson. He will deliver once more "His strength into captivity and His glory into the enemy's hand." It is the church itself, that is generally the Church's worst foe. If she falls, it will be her own worldly-mindedness and spiritual idolatry, her confidence in herself and her forgetfulness of God, that will bring her low. She will fall her own destroyer.
(C. Bradley, M. A.)1. We conceive that one reason why the heart of Eli trembled for the ark of the Lord at that moment, placed amid the din of battle and the onset of conflicting powers, arose from his vivid recollection of the sins of himself and his house. Sin makes cowards of the most courageous. Especially do our sins make us fear the worst, when some object of our affection is placed in jeopardy. On the present occasion Eli recollected his own indifference to the cause with which the ark was associated — his not restraining his sons when they made themselves vile.
2. Eli's heart trembled for the ark because of the vast deliverances it had, under God, achieved for his country. It blessed by its presence the house of Obed-edom — it overturned the walls of Jericho — it dashed from its strong pedestal the statue of Dagon — it opened a pathway through the Jordan's bosom, and smote by its presence the most powerful armies of the aliens. Has the Protestant, Church done less for us?
3. Eli trembled for the safety of the ark from his conviction, that it alone was the real cause of the prosperity and glory of his country. It was the standing memorial of the presence of Jehovah.
4. We may conceive that the associations with which the ark was connected in the mind of the aged priest made his heart most anxious about its safety.
5. The next reason we shall specify why Eli's heart trembled for the ark of the Lord was the intense affection which he felt towards it.(1) The inveteracy of the hatred entertained by the Church of Rome toward our Protestant ark is one great cause of fear.(2) Another cause for this trepidation — and one of the most painful — is found in the treachery of them, from whom identity of cause and past favours led us to anticipate very different conduct.(3) The last cause of trembling I shall specify is the want of the Spirit, and the habit of fervent and united prayer.
(J. Cumming, D. D.)
Homilist.I. SOME REASONS WHY THE CAUSE OF RELIGION SHOULD BE VERY DEAR TO US, in other words, why we should care for the ark of God.
1. Because the cause of religion ensures the chief elements in the welfare of men. Eli was a patriot. He felt the loss of the ark would mean sorrow and shame to the family, the loss of glory to the village, the rushing, like sudden night, of ruin on the nation.
2. Because the cause of religion is identified with the glory of God. As a creature in the work of the Creator, a loyal subject in the designs of his Sovereign, a filial child in the purposes of his father, a good man is interested in the religion God has given to man.
II. SOME CONSIDERATIONS THAT SHOULD FILL US WITH ANXIETY ABOUT THE CAUSE OF RELIGION IN OUR MIDST, in other words, which shall make our hearts tremble for the ark of God. We may urgently inquire about religion in England, as Eli did about the ark, "What is there done, my son?" The reply will tell of:
1. Antagonism. Intellectual, moral.
2. Neglect. Recent census of church-goers reveals appalling indifferentism.
III. SOME OF THE WAYS IN WHICH WE MAY PROMOTE THE CAUSE OF RELIGION, in other words, do our part to ensure the safety and progress of the ark of God.
1. Never conceal your belief in religion. Opposition is blatant and noisy, shall not allegiance be distinct and pronounced.
2. Uphold the institutions and observe the rites of religion.
3. Diffuse its knowledge and extend its influence by example, prayer, gifts, work. Old Eli, blind and feeble, sat by the wayside waiting for news of the ark, who of us will be content to be found in such a posture of feebleness and ignorance about the progress of religion?
(Homilist.)I. THE MIXED AND MOTLEY CHARACTER, THE VERY MISCELLANEOUS COMPOSITION OF THE ARMY IN WHOSE HANDS THE ARK OF GOD SEEMS TO BE PLACED, MAY WELL CAUSE THE HEART OF AN ELI TO TREMBLE.
1. In the first place, there are those whose mere bodily presence is all that can be reckoned on — the lukewarm and indifferent — the treacherous and false — the men who have joined the standard on compulsion, or in the crowd, or to serve a purpose — disguised spies and traitors in the enemy's interests, or soldiers of fortune, fighting every one for himself. "Unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare My statutes, or that thou shouldest take My covenant in thy mouth?...Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power." They shall be all volunteers — no pressed men among them. "Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart." It is no strife this for mere hireling mercenaries; or for reluctant recruits, enlisted in a fit of temporary excitement. Oh, how does our heart tremble for the ark of the Lord, when we see so many lightly taking upon them the Christian name, and making the Christian profession with little of anything like an adequate and serious sense of what so solemn a pledge implies. Is it any wonder, then, that the cause of God languishes.
2. But, secondly, there are those in the camp who are not thus insincere and false — who are, nevertheless, disabled and enfeebled by some rankling inward wound, some corroding grief, some sad sense of insecurity, or of a doubtful right to be themselves there, and to have the ark among them. On the occasion before us, the Israelites had just been smitten in a previous battle with the Philistines; and it was as defeated men that they were about to take the field again. The ark, indeed, is with us; but in what spirit has it been sent for, and in what spirit received? If it be right to take it down with us into the second battle, it must have been wrong to go without it to the first. By thus seeking to have God in the midst of us now, we confess that He was not in the midst of us before, and that it was in our own strength that we fought. Have we repented of our sin? If not, with all the security which the ark of God is fitted and designed to give — ay, and that multiplied a hundredfold — can we dare to hope for a better issue in the enterprise which we are about to undertake tomorrow? Is there anything analogous to this state of feeling among us? — Let us inquire with reference not only to our standing, us individual believers, but to the congregation with which we are associated, the community to which we belong, and the Church of Christ generally. Let, us consult first and principally our own personal experience. We have failed, perhaps, hitherto once, or it may be more than once, in maintaining the Lord's cause, and resisting the enemies of our peace. Are our consciences thus laden with the sense of recent, backsliding? Have we to confess that we are in the position of beaten men in Christ's warfare, or of men who have given way? And are we engaging in any holy service — coming, let us say, to the Lord's table — in something of the same spirit in which the Israelites sent for the Lord's ark. The unanswered question, "Wherefore did the Lord smite us before the Philistines?" stands ominously out as a barrier against our complete enlargement, confidence, and security. But why, let us ask again, why is it still an unanswered question? Even now the Lord is ready to answer it. Even now He will search and try us. Thus repenting and doing our first works, returning anew to God, and embracing anew His promises of full and free reconciliation, by all means let us send for the ark; by all means let us come to the sacrament; it will do us good now. No matter for our past defeat — we shall be more than conquerors now. For who can shut his eyes to the fact, that even since the Lord began to deal with us, and with the Church, as in these last years He has been dealing, there has been too much of human boasting and human confidence — too much noise and shouting?
3. Once more, in the third place, let us take yet another, and that the most favourable view of the parties in whose hands the ark has come to be placed. Let us suppose them to be neither hypocrites and mere formalists on the one hand, nor backsliders and men of doubtful position on the other. Let them be men of truest conscience and tenderest walk before God in Christ. Still, compassed about as they are with manifold infirmities, and liable to err and stumble at every step they take — how shall they carry the precious burden safe along the rough road. For it is a delicate and tender, as well as a costly deposit that is committed to their charge, easily susceptible of injury — apt to be soiled and tarnished if the dust of earth reach it, or the very wind of heaven be suffered to visit it too roughly. The essential holiness of God — do we rightly apprehend what it is? And have we any adequate impression of that, holiness as imparted and communicated to whatever is His? Ah! if indeed you are a believer in Jesus, consider how much of what is God's you carry about with you wherever you go! — your body and your spirit, which are His, — your character and reputation, which are His, — your talents, which are His, — your very life, which is now altogether His! Let me put myself now for an instant in the position of an onlooker or watcher, like the aged Eli; and what might be my thoughts, as I gaze, not on the faithless or the faltering part of the Lord's army, but on His true and earnest adherents? Do I see any living for themselves alone — caring for their own souls — apparently finding food and refreshment in ordinances, and striving to have a close walk with God — while there is yet no sign of their taking any special interest in any department of the Lord's work. My heart trembles for the ark of God. Do I see any who are keepers of the vineyards of others, and are not keeping their own. Where, then, shall this trembling heart find rest? The composition of the army to whom the ark of God is committed, may but too well account for the trembling of an Eli's heart.Let us ask if no company or army of men may be got together, to whom Eli could see the ark of God committed without his heart trembling — at least so very anxiously.
1. In the first place, let them all be men who come, not as fancying that the Lord hath need of them, bug as feeling that they have need of Him. This is our primary and capital qualification. We are to have no self-righteous, self-confident cavaliers, who would either hire themselves to Christ for a reward, or espouse His cause with an air of condescending patronage, as if they were doing Him a favour. Secondly, let all who flock to the Lord's standard at first, or continue to rally round it, make sure and thorough work of the settlement of their covenant with the Lord himself. Finally, let all in this army recognise and feel their responsibility — the peculiar sacredness of the trust committed to them, and its extreme liability to receive damage in their hands. Then, though their infirmities may be many, and they may often feel themselves to be in straits, let, them be assured that it is not on their account that Eli's heart will tremble for the ark of God.
II. Besides the composition of the army into whose hands the ark may have come, THE OCCASIONS AND CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH SEEM TO BRING IT FORWARD IN BATTLE, AND TO PERIL IT ON THE ISSUE OF BATTLE, MAY CAUSE NOT A LITTLE TREMBLING OF HEART FOR ITS SAFETY. We might here speak of such occasions as that on which the Israelites sustained a miserable defeat at the hands of the Amalekites and Canaanites, when they would have taken the ark with them in their unwarranted enterprise, had not Moses sternly refused to let it go out of the camp (Numbers 14:40-45). There is not always at hand a Moses to keep the ark from being involved in the hazards of a presumptuous enterprise. It is the prayer of every true servant and soldier of the Lord, that the din of war and controversy may speedily come to an end, and the Church may dwell safely in a quiet habitation. The world, indeed, is apt to judge otherwise of those who maintain the Lord's cause, especially in troublous times, stigmatising them as troublesome and pestilent sowers of sedition, or as lovers of strife, seeking to turn the world upside down. "O thou sword of the Lord, how long will it be ere thou be quiet? Put up thyself into thy scabbard; rest and be still. How can it be quiet, seeing the Lord hath given it a charge against Askelon, and against the seashore? There hath he appointed it" (Jeremiah 47:6, 7). Quiet! Rest! how can it be? Satan is not bound; the world still lieth in wickedness; heresies, divisions, strifes, abound; Babylon is not yet fallen. And seeing how things most sacred are now at issue on the field of strife, and how much risk there is, in such stirring times, of the kindling of that wrath of man which worketh not the righteous of God, as well as the scheming of that wisdom of man which is foolishness with God — how shall not Eli's heart tremble for the ark of God! Is there, then, no source of consolation in the prospect of such trials and commotions as these? Had anyone sought to comfort, the blind old man, as he sat upon a seat by the wayside watching, and to allay the agitation of his soul — he might have been reminded that what his heart trembled for was the ark of God; that God himself, therefore, might not be expected to care for it; and that for him to be so anxious concerning it, was almost like distrusting God.
(R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
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