False security. The temple sermon. Jeremiah 7:1-15

I thought we’d take a break from our series in the gospel of Mark and have a bit of a change of pace.

The passage that caught my attention was Jeremiah the prophet’s Temple sermon in chapter 7:1-15. This is one of the most famous sermons in all the Bible, right up there with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And Jesus himself refers to it in Mark 11:17.

Jeremiah most likely preached this sermon around 608 BC (Jeremiah 26:1). So over 2,600 years ago. It’s an old one, but still has much to say.

Let’s begin with some –

Background

Northern Israel was taken away into exile by the Assyrians some 114 years before this sermon, and so only the Southern kingdom of Judah is left. And politically things around Judah are unstable. Assyria has now fallen and Babylon and Egypt are vying for power. And Judah is caught right smack in the middle.

And Judah has gone downhill spiritually. They’re not being faithful to the covenant with God, including the leaders, the priests and the prophets. And on top of this they are living in denial. They thought, “Look, things are bad, but God won’t judge us because the Temple is here. This is the place where God dwells; where heaven and earth are connected. And it bears the Lord’s name. Why would God let his name be dishonored? No, God will protect Judah and Jerusalem.”

And so they would continue in their sin, and also go through the motions of the temple services and think that things are just fine.

And the prophets, or shall I say false prophets, reinforced all this by saying things like, “God will do nothing, no disaster will come upon us” – Jeremiah 5:12, and “peace, peace,” everything’s fine – Jeremiah 6:14.

Now let’s look at our passage –

Jeremiah 7:1-15

1The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord.”

So this is God speaking through Jeremiah, not just Jeremiah’s opinions. God tells him to stand in a place where everyone can hear him, as the crowds gather to worship in the temple. The phrase, “all you men of Judah,” may indicate that this took place during an annual festival, when all Judah was expected to come. It would have been a huge crowd.

He starts his message with three key points and the first is repent.

3Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds

He is calling them to have a change of heart and mind that leads to a change in behavior. You’re doing one thing, which is wrong. And you stop that and begin to do something different, what is right. This is repentance.

And then Jeremiah gives his second point, which is a promise. Repent –

and I will let you dwell in this place.

This most likely means that God will let them continue to stay in the promised land. As we’ll see, exile is threatened at the end of this message  (v. 15).

Then Jeremiah gives his third point, which is a warning against deception.

4Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

Jeremiah is referring to their belief that they are safe as long as they have the temple of the Lord in their midst. And as long as they worship at the temple and go through the motions of the services, they’re fine.

Next, Jeremiah, just to make sure they get it, repeats his three key points. Again, first  repent, and here he goes into some detail.

5For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds . . .

What does this mean? He gives four examples:

if you truly execute justice one with another . . .

This has to do with treating others fairly; giving justice and doing what is right. Not taking advantage of, or using your power to get your way.

6if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow . . .

These all have to do with taking advantage of the socially weak – immigrants, orphans and widows. We see the mistreatment of immigrants playing out right before our eyes by our government in the separating of children from their parents. But of course, here Jeremiah is speaking to the people of God, not the nations or the world. The message here is to us. We must not oppress the immigrant, the orphan or the widow. We can’t participate in this.

or shed innocent blood in this place . . .

This refers to murder or even judicial murder where justice is warped in favor of the powerful and the innocent are executed.

and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm . . .

They thought they could worship Yahweh and other gods, as they had need.

So this is what it means for them to repent. They’re doing these things, yet calling themselves the people of God, thinking they are  fine.

Then there is, again a promise. Jeremiah is saying, if you amend your ways –

 7then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.

And also once again he gives a warning –

8Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail.

They think they will be safe because of the temple. As he says later, they put their trust in the temple (v. 14). Because of the temple, they will be fine. Even though they are unfaithful to God by worshiping other gods. Even though they are unjust in their relationships with others. Jeremiah is saying, this is deception.

He then begins along a new track. He makes the point that the temple has become a den of thieves. And we have another list of wrong-doing, which comes from the 10 commandments.

He asks,

9Will you steal? (the 8th commandment) murder? (the 6th commandment) commit adultery? (the 7th commandment) swear falsely? (the 9th commandment) make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known? (the 1st commandment, and this surely assumes the 2nd commandment as well.)

Will you do all these things –

10and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?

So they go through the temple services with no repentance, no remorse, no change from what he calls their “abominations.” And they think that simply going through the temple services will bring them salvation – “We are delivered.” You can see the hypocrisy  and false worship here. Their hearts and their worship do not line up.

11Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.

A den of robbers is a place where criminals hide out to avoid being caught, and then go forth to do more crimes. And this is what the temple has become. They sin in all kinds of ways and then come to the temple and say, ‘we’re safe!’ And then they go out and continue to sin.

Jeremiah ends his message by warning them that this can’t continue. God’s judgment will come! And God is more than willing to destroy the temple as a part of this, even though it bears his name.

And he tells them, this wouldn’t be the first time.

12Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.

This is referring to what happened to the tabernacle that was established in Shiloh – only a few miles north of Jerusalem in the days of Eli and Samuel. God judged Eli and his house and a part of this was that the tabernacle there was destroyed by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4; Psalm 78:59-61).

13And now, because you have done all these things, declares the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, 14therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh.

15And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.

In v. 15 God tells them that they will go into exile in Babylon, just as the Northern kingdom was taken away to Assyria before.

Notice the change of tone here. It sounds like judgment is inevitable. Perhaps this is to shock them; to wake them up from their deception. (Jeremiah says in chapter 26 that this sermon was given to lead them to repent and judgment was not certain – 26:4-6; 13.)

And then moving beyond our passage we have –

The rest of the story

Just after his sermon everyone surrounded him and said “You shall die!” (v. 8.) They said, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city . . .” (v. 11.) But some began to speak up for him, and he barely escaped with his life – Jeremiah 26.

And then a little over 20 years later, came the fulfillment, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the exile of the people – Jeremiah 52:13-14.

Well, what about you?

There are a number of things in this sermon that should challenge us. Do you have the kind of relationship with God that Jeremiah talks about? A right relationship with the Lord, so that there are no false gods – things like nationalism, wealth or power? So that you put your trust in these and look to them for protection? Or is God your God and you fully trust in him for all things?

 Do you have the kind of relationship with others that Jeremiah talks about? Not just that you don’t wrong them – by murder, theft, adultery, or lying. But that positively you treat them right. You show concern for the weak and powerless, using your power to lift them up.

What are your false securities? 

  • You may say, “I go to church, I must be fine.” The Judeans went to temple services. They thought they were fine. They weren’t. They were judged.
  • You may say, “I believe in God.” James tells us “demons believe” (1:19) but it does them no good, because “faith without works is dead” (1:17). Such is defective faith and can’t save.
  • You may say, “I’ve been baptized.” 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 tells that the Israelites were baptized in the Red Sea. “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for the were overthrown in the wilderness” The did not receive the promises.
  • You may say, “I’ve had an encounter with God.” 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 tells us that the ancient Israelites had many experiences with God, but they were judged and did not enter into the blessings of God.
  • You may say, “I have Christian parents, I’ll be fine.” Ezekiel 18:10-13 teaches us that the child of a righteous parent who chooses to live in sin “shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.” For the soul that sins, dies, whether it is the parent or the child.
  • You may say, “I used to walk with God, he won’t judge me.” Ezekiel 18:24 says, “But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.”

Don’t trust in any of these deceptive words. Nothing can take the place of a right relationship with God; a relationship of faith and obedience.

Finally, sin will destroy you! If we turn and repent it will not. Our God is gracious and full of mercy and we find grace through our Lord, Jesus. But if you continue in known, willful sin – it will kill you.

  • James 1:15-16, talking about temptation says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
  • Galatians 6:7-8 – “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

Just as Jeremiah said, so the New Testament teaches and so I put before you – “do not be deceived!” The message today is – sin will kill you.

Jesus hangs out with some sinners. Mark 2:13-17. Five stories of conflict

The literary structure of Mark 2:13-17

We’re in the Gospel of Mark today, looking at the call of Levi and the subsequent meal in his home. This is the second in a sequence of five stories of conflict. Last time the conflict was over Jesus’ claim to forgive someone’s sins. Today it’s his practice of sharing fellowship with sinners.

Let’s jump right in –

Mark 2:13-17

v. 13- “He (Jesus) went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them.”

As we have seen, Jesus was a celebrity, especially because of his ability to heal. Crowds followed him everywhere. He was always getting mobbed. And so here he takes advantage of this to continue to teach them about the coming of the kingdom of God (1:15).

v. 14 – “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth. . .”

[Notice the parallels with 1:16-20, the calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John: Jesus took the initiative, he was “passing by”; it took place beside the sea; Jesus saw; there is a reference to occupation; the call “follow me”; and an immediate response of leaving their occupation]

It’s interesting that in the first gospel the name of the person in this story is “Matthew,” not Levi. And there’s also a James the son of Alphaeus, who is one of the twelve. Most likely Levi and Matthew are the same person. And perhaps Levi/Matthew and the apostle James, the son of Alphaeus were brothers. It’s hard to know how it all fits together with the information we have.

In any case, Levi was a tax collector (technically a toll collector). Specifically he would have been employed by someone to collect customs fees and road tolls. He most likely had a booth along the road through Capernaum, which was a significant trade route (the Via Maris from Damascus to Caesarea). The money would go to his boss, who would give the proper portion to Herod Antipas, who ruled in Galilee.

Tax collectors were despised and treated as outcasts, for several reasons. I’ll mention just two. First, they were seen as collaborators with Rome, Israel’s oppressive overlord, since they worked for Herod, Rome’s installed puppet leader. And also they were often dishonest and charged too much, to increase their own income. They are associated in the New Testament with prostitutes (Matthew 21:32), extortionists, the unjust, adulterers (Luke 18:11) and Gentiles (Matthew 18:17). None of these kept the Law of Moses and all of them were classified as “sinners.”

So Jesus sees Levi sitting at his toll booth, doing his work.

v. 14 – “. . . and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.”

When he says, follow me, Jesus is asking Levi to leave his current life behind so that he can travel with Jesus, learn from him and minister with him, just as he has already done with Peter, Andrew, James and John.

It’s possible that Levi had previous interactions with Jesus. Peter did before his call from Jesus, even though Mark doesn’t tell us about them. So it’s possible. Either way, Levi makes a radical break. He leaves his career behind. We will see in a moment that he had a house. But one can also wonder, was he married? Did he have kids? Was he supporting his parents? Whatever his exact circumstances, he had to sacrifice to follow Jesus in this way.

v. 15 – “And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”

[Jesus is a bit like David here collecting outcasts to himself – 1 Samuel 22:2].

The references “he” and “his” in the first phrase are vague. But it’s best to say that Jesus is eating in Levi’s house (Luke 5:29). Usually you would sit to eat. It was only for a special meal or banquet (Luke 5:29) that you would you recline, that is, lay on cushions or a couch and eat off of a short table.

“Sinners,” as we saw,  is a broad term that covers Gentiles and also Jews who don’t keep the Law of Moses in significant ways. Maybe they aren’t even trying. It’s a lifestyle of sin.

What’s going on here is that Levi, now a committed worker for Jesus, has invited his friends and coworkers, fellow tax collectors and sinners, to meet with Jesus, and to hear his message of the kingdom.

Many tax collectors and sinners were interested in Jesus and many “followed him,” our verse tells us, perhaps in the crowds that followed Jesus around, or perhaps as repentant disciples. (As Jesus said to the Jewish leaders in Matthew 21:31, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”)

And Jesus freely joins in with them in this feast.

v. 16 – “And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’”

The scribes of the Pharisees, or experts in the Law, want to see what’s going on. A meal like this would’ve been public knowledge in a small town like Capernaum. And they aren’t happy with what they see. They ask Jesus’ disciples, “What in the world is he doing?”

That’s because the Pharisees took a separation approach to sinners. The righteous must be separate from those that are morally or ritually unclean. And the walls of separation must be maintained. And they especially applied this to who you ate meals with.

To be with sinners (especially to eat with them) is to send the wrong message; one of condoning their disobedience to God. And in ancient cultures to eat a meal with someone did convey open fellowship with each other.

And then there is the concern that if you are with them you will be contaminated by them, through ritual impurity for sure, but also by means of bad moral influence.

Perhaps they even said, “if sinners want to repent, they know what to do according to the Law of Moses. Let them get their lives in order first. Then we’ll fellowship.”

So Jesus’ actions were disconcerting and threatening to their way of looking at things. He isn’t playing by their rules.

v. 17 – “And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

Jesus uses a common proverb to make his point: What good is a doctor who never goes around a sick person? Of course doctors have to be with them. How else can they help them? In the same way Jesus has come to call sinners to repentance and kingdom entrance; he calls them to be made whole. This is precisely why Jesus came. God sent him to do this.

Now, when Jesus says, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” he acknowledges that there is a difference between a person who seeks to follow God and when they fail, finds forgiveness and moves forward – and a person who isn’t even trying to follow God; sinners who live a lifestyle of sin. And Jesus speaks of those who are righteous (Mark 6:20; Matthew 10:41; 13:17; 13:43; 25:37; Luke 1:6; 2:25; 23:50).

But we also have to acknowledge that with the coming of Jesus even these relatively more righteous ones are called to repentance in light of the fuller revelation of God’s will that he brings. (Just as those with faith in God are called to have faith in Jesus and his bringing forth the promise of the kingdom.) (This saying is similar to Luke 15:7, given in a very similar context, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who need no repentance.”) (The Pharisees saw themselves as righteous – Luke 18:9, but Jesus often pointed out the ways that at least some of them failed in this regard.)

Instead of a separation approach, Jesus took a redemptive approach to sinnersYou have to be with them to give them the message of new life. Yes, this can seem scandalous because people might think that you’re condoning sin, or even sinning yourself. But the point is to be able to share the message of the kingdom and repentance and forgiveness and new life. So it’s worth the risk.

Instead of sin contaminating him, Jesus saw his love and truth as able to transform them; to make them well. Righteousness is contagious, not sin. Yes, you risk ritual impurity, and you do have to be careful of moral influence if it’s an area of weakness for you. But other than this, it’s worth the risk.

It’s no wonder that so many people responded to Jesus. They were used to rejection and scorn. And this didn’t lead to their transformation. But now Jesus comes to them, and he comes with grace – “I know you’re sinners, even notorious ones, but God is offering you the kingdom too. Repent and you can enter in and have new life.”

Let’s end with –

Some questions

 How do you treat sinners? Are you more like the Pharisees or more like Jesus? Here’s a test: There was a Christian man who went to biker bars so that he could be with those who needed Jesus. God put them on his heart. He sought to befriend those he could, to show them the love of Jesus. But when others in church found out about it they were shocked! John goes to bars every Friday night! We’ve never heard of such a thing. What’s he thinking? That’s not a place for good Christians to hang out. He should be thinking about his witness!

Do you agree with John or those in his church? Whose concern for witness is more genuine – John’s actual witness to people or the church’s concern for mere reputation?

Jesus calls us to be with sinners, not stay away from them. Unless, of course you have a weakness, that particular people or circumstances might tempt you to give in to. Short of this we are called to be with them, not just to hang out with each other, the “well” ones; those that we are comfortable with in the church building. We are to be with them so that we can share with them about Jesus, his love and his grace.

And this is not just about outside the church. Sinners should be welcome in our church. Do people have to clean up their lives before they come to church? No! Church is the place they need to be, to be able to get clean and be transformed by Jesus.

Do you introduce your friends to Jesus? Levi’s an excellent example. He immediately invited everyone he knew to a banquet so that they could meet Jesus and hear his message. In what ways might you connect your friends and co-workers to Jesus?

Are you struggling with sin? Are you stuck in a lifestyle of sin? If this describes you, Jesus comes to you today and he comes with love and grace. He comes to offer you new life; a new start; forgiveness. He comes to you as the good physician to make you well.

What must you do? Receive his grace. Be like Levi, repent of your sins and give yourself fully, radically and sacrificially to follow Jesus. This is the path to wholeness. I encourage you, respond to Jesus today.

The beginning of the end for Saul’s kingship. 1 Samuel 13:2-18

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 13:2-18

We’re back into the book of 1 Samuel today, covering most of chapter 13; what is the beginning of the end for Saul’s kingship, at least under the blessing of God.

Just to help you remember where we’re at in the story. Israel requested a king and God chose Saul. And this choice was affirmed in numerous ways in chapters 9-12. He is privately anointed king by Samuel, in a story filled with acts of divine providence that brought them together. And this is confirmed to Saul by three miraculous signs.

Next, Saul was to attack the Philistine garrison near his home, after these miraculous signs, but he didn’t. He hesitated. He was afraid. This was how God’s choice of him was to have been made known, in a military victory. Nevertheless, he is publicly chosen by lots in chapter 10 and he wins a military victory in chapter 11 over the Ammonites. And then finally in chapter 12, Samuel retires from being the Judge of Israel and Saul is established as king.

Our story today connects back to the unfinished business of 1 Samuel 10:8. Basically whenever Saul decided to attack the Philistines, Samuel told him, “go down before me to Gilgal. And behold, I am coming to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do.”

Let’s look at what happens –

1 Samuel 13:2-18

Our verses today begin with Saul selecting his standing army.

2Saul chose three thousand men of Israel. Two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin. The rest of the people he sent home, every man to his tent.

Jonathan’s victory. 

3Jonathan defeated the garrison of the Philistines that was at Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear.” 4And all Israel heard it said that Saul had defeated the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel had become a stench to the Philistines.

It’s interesting that it’s Jonathan, Saul’s son, who fulfills the words of 1 Samuel 10 about Saul doing what his hand finds to do with the Philistine garrison. Although perhaps Saul ordered it. In any case, he certainly gets credit for the victory here.

Jonathan’s act commits Israel to all out war with their Philistine overlords. They are in open revolt. They are a “stench” to the more powerful Philistines.

And the people were called out to join Saul at Gilgal.

Saul goes a ways East to Gilgal, according to the instructions of 1 Samuel 10:8, and to muster the full Israelite army.

And likewise the Philistines gather together their army.

5And the Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, three thousand chariots (NIV) and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude. They came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven.

This was a truly massive army, perhaps much more than Israel was expecting. They also had better equipment. They had chariots (the tanks of that day). And as we learn later, among Israel, only Saul and Jonathan had swords. The rest presumably used farm implements for their fighting.

6When the men of Israel saw that they were in trouble (for the people were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns, 7and some Hebrews crossed the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

If the Philistine response is impressive, the Israelite response is not impressive. They knew they were in trouble, if you just go by the numbers, so they hid and fled as far away as they could. Saul still had some people with him but they were shaking in their boots.

This brings us to Saul’s sin.

8He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. 9So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering.

So Saul has finally, through Jonathan, attacked the Philistines and so he knows that Samuel’s instructions from 1 Samuel 10:8 are now in effect. He waited, but not the whole time; not all of the seventh day, as we’ll see.

The offerings are important because they are a means of calling for God’s blessing and help in the battle to come.

10As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him. 11Samuel said, “What have you done?”

So Samuel comes at the last minute, apparently just after the burnt offering, and before Saul finished the peace offerings. Samuel immediately sees that Saul has not done what God commanded. He was to have waited the full seven days, Samuel was to sacrifice and Saul was to wait for Samuel’s instructions for the battle.

This brings us to Saul’s excuse.

And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, 12I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.”

He actually has three excuses. 1) The army was deserting, so he feels he needs to act quickly. 2) He shifts the blame to Samuel. It’s your fault! You didn’t come soon enough! (The “you” in this phrase in v. 11 is emphatic). 3) And, although there is no indication that this was true, he was afraid that the Philistines would come all the way to Gilgal to attack. So again, he’s in a hurry.

So he felt compelled to go ahead and offer the burnt offerings. He’s saying to Samuel, “Hey, I had no choice!”

Notice how each of these excuses has to do with what he saw (v. 11). He’s focused on the circumstances around him. And he chose to act based on his negative circumstances versus what God has specifically commanded him to do. We have already seen that fear is a core weakness for Saul, and this is surely a part of why he did what he did.

God’s judgment.

13And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

Samuel reveals that this was a test. If he had demonstrated faith in God, to obey what God said, his kingdom would have endured forever over Israel. But now his descendants will not succeed him; he will have no dynasty.

Why such a serious judgment? He disobeyed a specific command of God that he was well aware of. And he is the king and much is expected of him as the leader of God’s people. And he was given everything he needed, a specific promise in 9:16 that “Saul shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines.” He was also given a new heart by the Spirit of God working in him. And he acted appropriately before in another crisis by relying on God, showing that he can do it.

But this test reveals something deeper, that something is off in him now. 1) His thinking is off. He thinks that giving a sacrifice is more important than obeying God, when it’s obedience that brings God’s blessing, not a mere ritual or sacrifice (1 Samuel 12:13-15; 25). We will see this again in chapter 15 when Saul once again outright willfully disobeys God.

2) His heart is also off. Obeying God is now to him something to do when it suits him. When it doesn’t create complications for him. But if circumstances demand, then he disobeys. He thinks he knows better than God what to do in a crisis. But God is looking for “a man after his own heart” – v. 14. God is looking for someone who loves him and wants to obey him; who wants to please him; who desires what he desires. And even takes risks to do this. That’s why God has chosen someone else who has this kind of heart, whom we learn later is David. (That this has to do with a different kind of heart – 1 Samuel 14:7, 1 Samuel 15:28, which is in parallel to this; 2 Samuel 7:21; 1 Kings 11:4; 15:3 Jeremiah 3;15; Acts 13:22)

Notice also here how the punishment fits the crime. In v. 13 Saul didn’t keep the “command” or it can be translated “appointment” that God gave him. So in v. 14, using the same word, God has “appointed” or “commanded” someone else to be prince over his people.

The aftermath.

15And Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal.

Notice how in all this Saul in unrepentant. He doesn’t take responsibility. And so Samuel simply leaves without giving him any instructions.

The rest of the people went up after Saul to meet the army; they went up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people who were present with him, about six hundred men.

 He went to muster troops but came back with fewer than he had before.

16And Saul and Jonathan his son and the people who were present with them stayed in Geba of Benjamin, but the Philistines encamped in Michmash.

What are they supposed to do? They don’t know.  

17And raiders came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies. One company turned toward Ophrah, to the land of Shual; 18another company turned toward Beth-horon; and another company turned toward the border that looks down on the Valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.

If before, after Jonathan’s victory, Israel had the momentum, now the Philistines have it. They send out people to surround Saul, to cut off any reinforcements and to gather supplies for their huge army.

What do we learn from this?

Sin has consequences. When we willfully, knowingly disobey God there will be consequences for us, just as there were for Saul.

Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The soul who sins shall die.” And even when we find forgiveness from God, there is still damage done in our lives. For Saul this meant no dynasty. Sin has consequences.

Our excuses also don’t hold water. In a time of trial, circumstances will be hard, but when God gives us clear instructions, we need to follow them. We can’t say, like Saul, “I had to disobey.” “I had no choice!” To put it in a different set of circumstances we can’t say to God, “I had to lie.” “I had to steal.” “I had to commit adultery.” That doesn’t cut it.

We can rationalize all we want. But God gives us what we need to follow him, even when it’s hard. And when we choose not to obey God that’s on us. And we need to take responsibility for our wrong choice and own our sin.

Finally, our hearts need to be after God’s own heart, to love and obey him, not just when it’s easy.

If you don’t obey God out of love; out of a passion and desire to serve God, you’re an empty shell that will one day be exposed in a time of trial, just as Saul was. Maybe some of us need to find our passion and desire for God, once again. It’s not about being religious, Saul offered a sacrifice. It’s about a heart that yearns to do what God wants. It’s about our heart wanting what God’s heart wants.

The other shoe drops. Judgment on Eli and his house. 1 Samuel 4:11-22

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 4:11-22

We are continuing on with several stories about the ark of God in 1 Samuel that prepare us for the emergence of Samuel as the prophetic leader of Israel.

As you will remember from earlier in 1 Samuel, God has foretold judgment on the high priest Eli and his two sons – Hophni and Phinehas. They treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt, taking the best portions for themselves. And also his two sons treated the women workers at the tabernacle as prostitutes. 1 Samuel 2:12 says of these two, “They were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.”

And so an unnamed prophet came and told Eli that his house would no longer be the high priestly line – 2:27-33. And that the sign that this will surely happen is that his two sons would die on the same day – 2:34. And then the Lord told Samuel as a boy, “11Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” – 3:11-14

The title of the sermon is “The other shoe drops.” You know the phrase “waiting for the other shoe to drop” right? It means waiting for something bad to happen. Something bad has happened and something else bad will happen. If these pronouncements of judgment are the first shoe that drops, then waiting for the fulfillment of these words of judgment is the other shoe. And it drops decisively in our text today.

Our story picks up with the fallout of the battle between Israel and the Philistines that we looked at last week, where Israel was severely defeated, even though they brought the ark of the covenant to help them.

Judgment on Eli and his house

4:11And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

Not only did the use of the ark not bring victory, it was captured by the Philistines. It was under enemy control.

And just as the Lord had said, Hophni and Phinehas died on the same day as a sign to all that Eli and his house were being set aside as the high priestly line in Israel.

12A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head.

So this man ran for some twenty miles from Aphek/Ebenezer to Shiloh, quite a feat. And he comes with torn clothes and dirt on his head as an indicator of mourning for the many who have died.

13When he arrived, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God.

Eli was devoted to God in his own way. We see this in his teaching Samuel about the Lord and here in his concern for the ark. Despite his sin, he still had this.

And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out.

As the Lord said to Samuel, God would “do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.” (3:11). And they must have all been stunned to hear the report. They are crying out not just in general, but because many of their own fathers, brothers, husbands and sons were now dead. And their lives may well be in danger, as we will see.

14When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, “What is this uproar?” Then the man hurried and came and told Eli. 15Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see.

So Eli can hear – he hears the city cry out, but he can’t see, which is why he didn’t see the messenger or how he was dressed. He is still wondering what’s going on. So the messenger comes and tells him the report in person.

16And the man said to Eli, “I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.” And he said, “How did it go, my son?” 17He who brought the news answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”

The man tells Eli in ascending order of importance about Israel’s defeat, the death of his two sons and then that the Philistines now have the ark of God.

Eli doesn’t seem that concerned about his sons, for the story continues . . .

18As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.

His sons are dead and now he dies after hearing the fate of the ark. In a way his own sin is a part of this, for he fell off his chair and broke his neck not only because he was old, but also because he was heavy –perhaps related to his eating the best portions of the Lord’s offerings.

This is the only place that mentions Eli as a judge; he ruled for 40 years. The Hebrew word for “seat” here (and also in v. 13) also means “throne.” So Eli is symbolically dethroned and his reign comes to an end.

19Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. 20And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention.

The bad news induced her labor. She was so overcome by what happened that she didn’t even care that she had given birth to a son.

21And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

Before she dies, in the naming of her son she gives insight into the situation that is going on in Israel. Ichabod is taken by her to mean “the glory has departed.” This a reference to God, who is the glory of Israel (1 Samuel 15:29). 1) God was not with the Israelite soldiers, even though they brought the ark; 2) the leaders of Israel are now dead – Eli and his sons, including her own husband; 3) but above all else, repeated twice here (5x in whole story) the ark of God is now gone. God has truly abandoned them. What was apparent, even when the ark was present, is made perfectly clear with the capture of the ark. God had already left them because of their sin and unfaithfulness.

In the phrase “the glory has departed,” the word “departed” can also be translated, “has gone into exile.” God has gone into exile in a foreign land. God is absent. Why? Israel’s sin drove God away.

If the pattern later was Israel left the land and went into exile, here God leaves the land in exile. And they become slaves in their own land (1 Samuel 4:9; Psalm 78:62-64). (But also see Ezekiel 10:18 where the glory leaves and the people go into exile.)

Psalm 78:59-61 says of this event, God “utterly rejected Israel. He forsook his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt with people, and delivered his power to captivity.”

And then we have something that is not recorded in this passage, but almost certainly happened at this time –

The destruction of the tabernacle at Shiloh

In Jeremiah 7:12, several centuries later, the Lord says, “Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.” In other words, God is saying to the people of Jerusalem, “you think I won’t judge you because you have the temple in your midst? I’ve don it before! Just as I destroyed the tabernacle in Shiloh, so I will destroy the temple in Jerusalem. (Also 26:6, 9)

And this fits with what we find in 1 Samuel. Shiloh is never again mentioned as a worship center in Israel; the ark is not taken back there when it is recovered from the Philistines later; and Samuel goes back to his home in Ramah as his center of operations. (Bergen. Even Eli’s descendants are later found in the city of Nob.) 

Given this, along with the capture of the ark, this was surely the lowest point for Israel since their time of slavery in Egypt.

What do we learn from all this?

1. Our sin drives God away from our lives, just as we see in this story. In Isaiah 59:2 the Lord says, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” Our sin creates a barrier or a wall between us and God. And so we have to deal with our sin through confession, repentance and receiving forgiveness from God, so that we can have a relationship with God. This is what Israel failed to do, but this is what the story teaches us. Don’t be like them! Act and make decisive changes so that you can be reconciled with God and experience renewed relationship and help.

2. God keeps his word. Now we like it when God keeps his word to bless us and help us. But God just a surely keeps his word when it comes to judgment and the many warnings that he gives us about walking in sin and unfaithfulness.

In Eli’s case God spoke it through two prophets – and as Scripture says, let everything be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). And it surely came to pass. And just as surely God will keep his word of judgment if we walk in sin. We may think we are fine because nothing bad has happened yet, so it seems like God doesn’t care or that God won’t act, but the other shoe will drop – whether it is today, tomorrow or on the final day. We will reap what we sow. There are consequences for our unfaithfulness to God. Our sin will find us out. And so this should encourage us all the more to deal with our sin and come back into a right relationship with God.