My Life Group lesson for June 19, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...
This past Monday was Flag Day in the United States.
Think about how mad we get when we see our country’s flag torn down or burned.
You may not know Rick Monday’s name but he’s a flag-saving baseball hero.
Monday played centerfield for the Cubs in L.A. on April 25, 1976, when two protestors ran into the outfield and tried to set fire to an American flag during the 4th inning. Monday ran over and grabbed the flag while the intruders were arrested. When Monday came to bat the next inning, he got a standing ovation from the Dodgers crowd and the stadium flashed the message, “Rick Monday, you made a great play.” He later said, "If you're going to burn the flag, don't do it around me. I've been to too many veterans' hospitals and seen too many broken bodies of guys who tried to protect it." Monday had served a commitment with the Marine Corps Reserve as part of his ROTC obligation after leaving Arizona State.
In what ways do we honor the United States flag? (the way we display it; the way we fold it; it can’t touch the ground; it should never be dipped to any person or thing; etc.)
What are some symbols of the Christian faith? (Bible, cross, church buildings, etc.)
How do we feel when these are disrespected?
We are right to be angry when our symbols are trampled, but we must be careful not to misplace our trust and worship any symbol or person, or anything over God. This is the lesson the Israelites had to learn and that we need to learn as we study this week's study.
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
1 Samuel 4:1–7:17
*** Samuel grew up in Shiloh in Israel’s primary sanctuary. Several sacred items were stored there, most notably the ark of the covenant that contained the Ten Commandments and a jar of manna, which served as a symbolic throne of God.
*** 1 Samuel 4 tells how Israel lost the ark to the Philistines. They carried it into battle, thinking it would guarantee victory, but were defeated, the ark taken and Eli the high priest’s sons were slain. They had been displaying superstition and not genuine faith.
*** This week we’ll see what happens to the Philistines when the ark is in their possession and God takes control.
THE HOLY GOD (1 Sam. 5:1-5)
1 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod, 2 brought it into the temple of Dagon and placed it next to his statue. 3 When the people of Ashdod got up early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen with his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and returned him to his place. 4 But when they got up early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen with his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. This time, both Dagon’s head and the palms of his hands were broken off and lying on the threshold. Only Dagon’s torso remained. 5 That is why, to this day, the priests of Dagon and everyone who enters the temple of Dagon in Ashdod do not step on Dagon’s threshold.
*** Raiders of the lost ark.
--- The Philistines treated the ark as a trophy of their victory over Israel. Bad idea.
--- In the Old Testament, the ark was God’s dwelling place on earth. The ark itself was not God, like other nations had man-made idols, but God used the ark to display His power and glory:
Exodus 25:21-22 - Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.
Numbers 7:89 - When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord spoke to him.
--- The Philistines placed the ark in the temple of their god Dagon as if it had defeated Israel’s God.
--- This puny idol stood no chance next to a jealous and mighty Lord. (Isaiah 42:8 – “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.”)
--- God made a mockery of Dagon, which was found face down before the ark, then broken into pieces.
--- The Philistines would see that all must bow before the one and only living God.
--- They should have recognized that Yahweh was so awesome that even their own so-called god bowed to Him.
--- Today we might not worship at the feet of a statue, but we’re just as susceptible to idolatry when we look to man-made things for our joy and contentment.
--- We must submit all that we are and have to the Lord to keep everything else from turning into idols of the heart.
*** Question - In what ways does God demonstrate His superiority over false gods? How would you describe to a friend the destructive effect of worshiping a false god instead of the God of the universe?
INSTRUCTIONS FOLLOWED (1 Sam. 5:6, 6:11-12)
6 The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod, terrorizing and afflicting the people of Ashdod and its territory with tumors. …
11 Then they put the ark of the Lord on the cart, along with the box containing the gold mice and the images of their tumors. 12 The cows went straight up the road to Beth-shemesh. They stayed on that one highway, lowing as they went; they never strayed to the right or to the left. The Philistine rulers were walking behind them to the territory of Beth-shemesh.
*** Vengeance belongs to the Lord. (Like Liam Neeson in “Taken,” He will find you …)
--- Once God humiliated Dagon and the Philistines for blaspheming Him and the ark, they were afflicted with a traumatic sickness.
--- There are consequences of idolatry. God does not share His glory with anyone or anything.
--- The plague might have been bubonic plague. The tumors that the verse mentions may have been buboes, the inflammation of the lymph glands associated with bubonic plague. Also, the offering that the Philistines sent when they returned the ark included golden images of mice (6:4). Infected fleas that infest rodents often spread plague, and thus the Philistines may have associated their affliction with mice.
(The ancient Greek translation of this verse includes the words, “And (the hand of the Lord) came against them and spread to them in the ships, and mice swarmed over the middle of the land itself.” This implies that the infected mice arrived in Ashdod on cargo ships and then carried the disease throughout Philistia. This has a parallel in the European Black Death of the 14th century. It began in 1347, when galleys containing infected men and rats landed in Sicily and then in Genoa, Pisa, and Venice. Philistine Ashdod, like those cities, was on the coast.)
--- Whenever one Philistine city would send the ark off to another one of their cities, almost immediately the new possessor of the ark would experience the disease (5:7-12).
*** Send it back!
--- Realizing that nothing good was coming from holding onto the ark of the covenant, the Philistines decided to send it back.
--- Their own pagan priests decided how to do so, without asking an Israelite priest or prophet such as Samuel.
--- They sent the ark back with five gold mice and five gold tumors (gee, thanks?), because they knew that somehow they had to honor the Lord God Almighty so their afflictions would stop. (The number five represented the five cities of the Philistines: Ashdod, Gath, Gaza, Ekron, and Ashkelon.)
--- They hitched the cart carrying the ark to two cows. If the cows went toward Israel (Beth-shemesh) then they knew it was the Lord who did this and all the troubles weren’t by chance.
--- The cows headed for Israel, proving to the Philistines that it was no coincidence.
--- In a primitive way, the Philistines were asking God to forgive them.
--- The apostle Paul would tell the Athenians (Acts 17:29-31) that God “overlooked the times of ignorance” when pagans worshiped gods of wood and stone and when they lived by myths and omens. Now, though, there must be repentance and following Jesus Christ as Savior.
*** Question - What was the message God was sending to the Philistines through this incident?
(They may have been allowed to beat the Israel army, but the Israelite God was sill superior to their god. Even their god bowed before the God of Israel!)
WORSHIP OFFERED (1 Sam. 6:13-16)
13 The people of Beth-shemesh were harvesting wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they were overjoyed to see it. 14 The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh and stopped there near a large rock. The people of the city chopped up the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. 15 The Levites removed the ark of the Lord, along with the box containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. That day the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the Lord. 16 When the five Philistine rulers observed this, they returned to Ekron that same day.
*** Hark! There is the ark!
--- Beth-shemesh was a town in southwestern Judah on the edge of Philistine territory, so the people knew all about their brutal and pagan neighbors.
--- For them, seeing the ark coming was experiencing God’s salvation.
--- God had shown Himself to be more powerful than the Philistines and their gods.
--- In contrast to the Philistines, the Israelites jumped for joy at getting the ark, treating it with reverence and worshipping God with gratitude and praise.
--- The way the people of God worshiped served as a testimony to the Philistines who saw it.
--- In the same way, the church’s worship is a witness to the community of how much we value God.
*** Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
--- As an epilogue, the people of Israel turned back to the Lord.
--- In Samuel chapter 7, Samuel implores the Israelites to put aside their idols and serve the idols only.
--- With a renewed worship, they were able to rout the Philistines in battle, keeping them away throughout the rest of Samuel’s life.
REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS
In today’s lesson we focused on (1) The misplaced worship of the Israelites; (2) The misdirected worship of the Philistines; (3) The refocused worship of the Israelites.
We live in weird, troubled times, and as a country you could make a case that we have lost our way when it comes to worshipping the one true God.
We’re no better than the ancient Israelites when it comes to letting Christ be dishonored and our Christian symbols desecrated.
Jesus said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
Adrian Rogers wrote that what most of us are hungering and thirsting after happiness instead.
We are seeking to satisfy the hole in our heart with things of this world instead of He who died to save the world.
Rogers writes that he believes happiness is something you stumble over on your way to seeking righteousness.
When you are serving, worshipping, and praising the Lord, happiness is a by-product.
The deepest need of your heart will only be met in Jesus.
*** Only God is truly holy, and only He has the power to save. Neither the ark of the covenant nor anything, any action, or anyone other than Christ has the power to save us.
*** Think of one thing you think you could not live without. What is the object of our affections, our efforts, and our attention? Where does the majority of our time go? On what do we spend the greatest amount of our resources? Pray about that one thing this week to determine if you have let it become an idol in your life.
*** There is only one true God who is worthy of worship and praise. Our worship is to be focused on God and not our own tastes and preferences. It is not about us.