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…
And was there nothing else, for which the old man's heart might have trembled? Had he no friends of his own, no relations gone to the war? Yet, indeed, Eli had other causes for trembling. It was his own nation, the nation over which he presided as high priest and judge, which was now engaged in conflict with deadly enemies. Yet "his heart trembled for the ark of God," as though there had been nothing else to excite his solicitude. We know not whether Eli were consulted on this perilous scheme of the removal of the ark. Probably not; but, if he were, he could have made but a fruitless opposition. Hophni and Phinehas were, perhaps, not indisposed to the plan; the camp may have been more agreeable than the tabernacle, to men of their dissolute habits. At all events they accompanied the ark. And now was Eli left desolate and alone. Bitter must have been his reflections, and dark his forebodings. Though his sons must die, they might first be brought to repentance for their sins. "Oh, for a new opportunity of repairing his own fault, and entreating them to prepare for the threatened visitation." But they are separated from him; there are in a scene, moreover, of danger. Oh! how his heart must have throbbed for his children! That he fondly loved them, we may be certain. He cannot tarry in his house; he is too restless, too anxious for that. Feeble as he is, he will yet totter forth to the road along which the messenger must pass, and there will he sit watching hour after hour for tidings. But we must connect our text with the subsequent parts of the history if we would justly appreciate the devotedness of Eli to the ark of the Lord. He sat not by the wayside in vain. Now we may believe that there were various feelings at work in Eli's breast, producing this intense anxiety as to the ark of the Lord. As a patriot, for example, he was deeply interested in the fate of the ark; forasmuch as if God suffered this to fall into the hands of the Philistines, it would necessarily indicate His being displeased with His own people, so as almost to have determined on withdrawing from them His protection. As a parent, also, it concerned him greatly to know what had become of the ark; for since the ark was in the special care of his sons it could hardly be in danger, and they continue safe. So that it might have been that his heart, trembling for the ark of God, indicated only that variety of emotion which one so circumstanced might have been expected to feel. But the account of Eli's death, which we have just been considering, proves that his anxiety as to the ark wan altogether a separate anxiety; not the combination of solicitudes from this source and that, but purely his solicitude, as a faithful servant of God, at that being endangered, over which God had ordained him to watch. His trembling for the ark did but show how jealous Eli was for the glory of God, how intent on promoting that glory, how fearful of any thing which might impair it. Here, then, it becomes us, if we would draw a practical lesson from what is narrated of Eli, to enter a little more at length into the consideration of what it is to take the glory of God for our end. You often read in Scripture of giving glory to God, or of promoting God's glory, as though the glory of the Almighty were that which might be increased or diminished according to contributions received from His creatures. Here, then, we shall be able to define, with sufficient precision, what it is to do anything, as St. Paul requires us to do everything, to the glory of God. "Seeing," says Bishop Beveridge, "that 'the glory of God' is nothing else but the manifestation of Himself and His perfections in the world, hence it necessarily follows that he who doth anything for that end and purpose, that God and His perfections may be better manifested in the world, may be truly said to do it 'for the glory of God.' When a man doth anything whereby the goodness, the wisdom, the power, the mercy, or any of the properties of the most high God is made more manifest and evident in the eyes of men than otherwise it would be, so that they may see and admire Him, such an one glorifies God." Is there anything unreasonable in such a precept? Does it exact more than we can be expected to render? Nay, surely as the creatures of God, it may justly be required of us that we act for God; His we are, and Him, therefore, we are bound to serve. But if you cannot accuse the precept of unreasonableness, what way have you made towards weaving it into your practice? Tell us, ye merchants, ye lawyers, ye tradesmen, in what degree do ye propose to yourselves the "glory of God," as the end of your respective transactions? Ye may take as your end the so living and acting as thereby to evidence that the God whom you serve is a glorious God, glorious in His holiness, glorious in His hatred of evil, glorious in His love for "whatsoever things are honest and of good report;" and this is "doing all things to the glory of God." There is no greater practical evil than the endeavour to put religion out of your daily occupations. Tremble the heart may for other things; but its deep, its thrilling apprehension must be for the ark of the living God. Is not that ark even now in peril? Is there no battle going forward between Israel and the Philistine? When has the battle ceased? And many a watcher sits, like Eli, "by the wayside." There is the greatest eagerness for tidings from the camp. But what tremble they for? Oh! the mere politician will tremble at news of foreign preparation for war, or domestic insurrection; and the mere merchant will tremble at declining prices and falling stocks; and parents will tremble for the safety of children, and children for the safety of parents. But what is the chief anxiety, the uttermost solicitude? Is it for God and His cause, as with Eli it was life to know the ark safe, and death to know it in the hands of the foe? Alas! notwithstanding that there is so much profession, we can find few companions for Eli in his faithful watching by the wayside. Now, in the last place, there will probably still be a feeling amongst many of us, as though it, were something beyond the ordinary reach — this making the Divine glory the chief end of out actions. And we freely confess that if it were required of us in every particular action of our lives, that we should be thinking of and aiming at the glory of God, our thoughts would be so continually taken up with the end that we should not have time for the means of ejecting it; we might fail in doing our duty. through excessive intentness on the object for which it should be done But this objection to the scriptural command, that we should "do all things to the glory of God," is akin to the objections to other general commands, such as that we "pray without ceasing." It would be impossible to obey such a command, but by the neglect of other duties, if the prayer "without ceasing" be literally understood, so that there should never be cessation from specific acts of devotion. But he may justly be said to "pray without ceasing," whose habitual frame or temper of mind is devotional, though he is not always engaged in distinct acts of prayer. He may be said to "do all for the glory of God," who makes it the main scope and business of life to promote the Divine honour; though he may not, in each individual proceeding, take account of this end, or place it prominently in view. Our great fear for numbers, who make a good profession of religion is, that after all they may be living for themselves. They have their own end; their actions centre in themselves; they make themselves their object; they aim at themselves in all they do, their own reputation, their own honour, their own interest. They "tremble," but it is for their own safety, and not for that of "the ark of the Lord." It is not, then, an idle and a fine-drawn distinction — that between living to ourselves and living to God. It is what we must all determine, after which we must all strive, if we would make good our Christian profession, to attain more and more the making of God's glory the chief end of our actions. We shall not be losers. we must be gainers — gainers here and hereafter — by living to forget ourselves, to sink ourselves so that God may be magnified in and through us. Would, then, that with Eli, we might "sit by the wayside watching, our hearts trembling for the ark of the Lord." It were a noble thing that the dying Christian, worn down with age and infirmity — and what is he but a wayside watcher, expecting a message from the invisible world? — it were a noble thing, a mighty pledge of his eternal glory, that his last solicitude should be for the ark of the Lord.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.