Eli -- a Godly Man Trembling for the Ark of God
1 Samuel 4:13
And when he came, see, Eli sat on a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God…


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.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out.

WEB: When he came, behold, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road watching; for his heart trembled for the ark of God. When the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out.

The Tidings Bringer
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