Don't Let the Glory Depart from You
Updated: Jul 14, 2020
The most prized artifact in the history of Ancient Israel was a chest known as the Ark of the Covenant. Also called the Ark of God, or the Ark of Testimony, it would -- save for the cross that Jesus was crucified upon -- be the most valued artifact in the world if it were ever found and its authenticity confirmed. The Ark is of such great intrigue that one of the most beloved movie franchises and movie characters of all time, Indiana Jones, rose to prominence through the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was about the quest to find and harness the power of the Ark of the Covenant.
From Exodus 37 we understand that the Ark of the Covenant was built during the days of Moses, following his receiving the second set of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sanai. And it was built in coincidence with the tent-like tabernacle, the alters of incense and sacrifice, and the establishment of the priesthood.
The Ark was a box made of acacia wood overlaid, inside and out, with pure gold. It had gold rings on each corner, which poles would go through so that the priest who carried the Ark could pick it up without making contact with the actual box.
In the Ark were the two stone tablets on which God wrote the commandments at Mt. Sanai, as well as Aaron’s rod with which God had used to perform wonders in Egypt, and a bowl of the mana bread that God had provided Israel from heaven during the wilderness years.
The top of the Ark was called the mercy seat. This is the place where forgiveness for sins took place, as priests sprinkled the blood of the sacrificial offering onto the mercy seat to cover the sins of the people.
On top of the mercy seat were two angel figurines facing each other. They were also overlaid with gold and their presence represented the fact that all testimony needs at least two witness to corroborate.
But most importantly, in-between the two angels, the Glory of God, the visible embodiment of God, would come down and reside upon the mercy seat.
Because of the resting of the Glory of God upon the Ark, the Ark of the Covenant was regarded as the very presence of God.
What’s more, God guaranteed his continued presence to Moses, saying in Exodus 33:14, “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.”
And so, wherever the Israelites journeyed during their forty years in the wilderness, the tabernacle and the Ark would move with them. The tabernacle would be placed in the center of the camp and the Ark would be placed behind a veil in the back of the tabernacle in an area called the holy of holies. And in this way, the Glory of God resided and continued with Israel.
The value of this Glory for Israel was prosperity, mercy, communal peace, victory in battle, conquest of the land of Canaan, and an elevated position among the kingdoms of the earth.
And even in today’s time, when we talk about having the Glory of God, while we’re not speaking of the presence of the Ark of the Covenant, we are speaking of joy, peace, victory, grace, mercy, miracles, and provisions—the wonderful existence of being a child of God.
In biblical history we see that after the Israelites entered the promised land, under the leadership of Joshua, the tabernacle was set up in a place called Shiloh, which became the permanent dwelling place of the Ark of the Covenant.
And so it was that every year, on the day of atonement, all of Israel would gather at Shiloh, where the Priest would make atonement for all the sins of all the people by sprinkling blood on the mercy seat of the Ark.
Following days of Joshua came the time period of the Judges. And this was a complicated part of the history of the Israelites because they went through periods of obedience and disobedience to God, despite God being present with them.
Their obedience allowed them to conquer more of the land of Canaan and flourish as a mighty kingdom. But their disobedience caused God to discipline them by allowing them to be defeated and conquered by their enemies. Thus, during the time of the Judges, there were periods of victory and prosperity, and there were periods of defeat and desperation. But the Glory of God was found in the fact that God always raised up a hero (Deborah, Samson, Gideon, etc.) to lead Israel back to God and vanquish Israel’s enemies.
The latter part of the era of Judges extended into the time period of our text in 1 Samuel. At this time there was a priest named Eli who served in the tabernacle at Shiloh. The young child Samuel had been placed in Eli’s care from infancy because Samuel’s mother, Hannah, had promised God in chapter 1 that she would dedicate her first son to be a lifelong servant of God if God would allow her to have children. So, Eli raised Samuel in the tabernacle and taught him how to serve the Lord in terms of the carrying out of the sacrifices.
But Eli also had two biological sons, Hophni and Phineas, who 1 Samuel 2:12 says were corrupt and did not know the Lord. Eli’s sons served under him as priests, but they profaned the sacrifices. At first, they would extract chunks of meat for themselves to munch on from the boiling carcass that was being sacrificed to God. And then they got so bad that they would take the meat by force from the people coming to give it as sacrifice to the Lord, thus robbing the people of their sacrificial gifts to God and filling their own bellies with that which was holy. What’s more they would take the young women who gathered at the entrance of the tabernacle and fornicate with them (Phineas was married, by the way). All of this they did in Shiloh, in the tabernacle, in close proximity to the Ark of the Covenant.
Eli’s response to all of this was miniscule. He is recorded as asking his sons why they did such evil things and telling them they were causing the people to sin and that they were sinning directly against God. But his sons did not listen to him and Eli never did anything to stop their behavior. In fact, it can be presumed that Eli benefited from their actions by getting fat off the choice meat that his sons had taken from the people who came to make sacrifices.
Verses 27-36 detail the conversation an old prophet had with Eli, in which the prophet told Eli that God was angry with his son’s behavior’s and Eli’s failure to discipline them, and that God was going to punish them and all of Israel because of it. The prophet said that all of Eli’s descendants would die in the flower of their youth and would have to beg for priestly positions just to have a place to live and food to eat. And moreover, despite the presence of God’s Glory, an enemy would reside in God’s dwelling place as punishment for Hophni and Phineas’ perverting the tabernacle.
After this, God came to the boy Samuel for the first time. And in this initial prophetic experience, God reaffirmed to Samuel that he would indeed punish Eli and his sons in a very public manner.
Upon hearing God’s prophecy from Samuel, Eli knew without a doubt that trouble lay ahead.
In chapter four we see that on one eventful day, the Israelite army went out to battle against their most hated enemy, the Philistines. The Israelites anticipated an easy win, considering God’s presence with them and the promise of God from way back in Deuteronomy 28 that their enemies would flee before them if Israel was obedient to God.
However, Israel suffered a humiliating defeat and lost four thousand men in battle. The elders of Israel were confused as to why God had allowed them to be defeated, and so they came up with a fool proof plan to guarantee victory. They sent to have the Ark of the Covenant brought from Shiloh onto the battlefield.
Now before going any further, we can clearly see that their understanding of, and use of, the Glory of God is wrong. The Ark was in the Israelite city of Shiloh as proof of God’s presence with Israel. They did not need to bring the Ark out of its dwelling place in order to have God’s presence, and they definitely did not need to carry it into a hostile situation. Doing so was nothing more than using the Ark as a good omen. They weren’t seeking to be closer to the Glory of God. They were seeking to use the artifact as a good luck charm in battle.
So, they brought the Ark of the Covenant down from Shiloh to the battlefield. And it was escorted by Hophni and Phineas.
When the Ark arrived, the shouts of joy in the Israelite camp were so loud that the Philistines could hear them. The correctly surmised that the Ark was there, saying in verse 7, “God has come into the camp…Woe to us! For such a thing has never happened before.”
They too perceived that the close proximity of the Ark meant certain victory for the Israelites: “Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness” (V. 8).
Yet they determined that they would not be conquered by the Israelites without a fight.
So, they fought. And the strangest thing happened. The Philistines defeated Israel. Again. And this time the slaughter was much greater than before with 30,000 Israelite soldiers falling to the sword. The Philistines then captured the Ark as treasure of their great victory and carried it back home, leaving behind the corpses of Hophni and Phineas who had been guarding it.
Later that day a Benjamite who had fled the battle came to Shiloh with his clothes torn and dirt on his head as a sign of mourning. Eli, who by this time was 98 years old and nearly blind, was sitting by the road waiting to get news from the battle, because he was worried about what might happen to the Ark of the Covenant (and there again is the example of Eli’s ineffectiveness—he was worried about the Ark being taken down to the battle, but he did not stop his sons from taking it).
So, the Benjamite man came to Eli and told him what had happened on the battlefield: “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has been a great slaughter among the people. Also, your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead; and the Ark of God has been captured” (1 Samuel 4:17).
Now Eli did not react to the news that Israel had been defeated. And he didn’t react to the news that his sons had been killed. But when heard that the Ark had been taken, verse 18 says he fell backward off his seat and broke his neck and died right there by the city gate.
Now, Phineas had left behind a wife who was nine months pregnant. She too heard the news that the Ark had been captured and that her husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law were dead. And upon hearing all the calamity, she went into labor.
Her labor was so arduous that she died afterward. But as she lay dying, the women who were with her told her in verse 20, “Do not fear, for you have borne a son.”
They expected her to be excited because her family name and status would continue on through her son. But she didn’t reply to them or even regard what they had said. Instead she gave the boy a name that would forever mark the turbulence of the times.
She named him Ichabod, which means “no glory.”
Now, she mourned her husband. And she mourned her brother-in-law. And she mourned her father-in-law. But their deaths weren’t her main concern. Verse 22 reads that before she took her last breath, she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured.”
Phineas’ wife understood that if God had allowed the Ark of the Covenant to be taken away, then He had removed His Glory from Israel. And bad days lay ahead if the Glory had departed.
With the Glory being gone, the thriving and flourishing had come to an end. Victories in battle would no longer be a guarantee. Peace and prosperity would be fleeting. And hardships would become commonplace.
What Israel had not considered up to that point, and what we need to be mindful of today, is that the Glory of God is not to be taken lightly. Sure, the rain falls on the just and the unjust, but the Glory only falls on the just, on the anointed ones. On those who have been called into relationship with God.
Everybody knows what struggle is, but the unjust don’t get to partake in the miraculous provisions of God. The unjust don’t have the peace that surpasses all understanding. The unjust can’t experience joy unspeakable and unconditional. The unjust don’t have a God that will take what seems bad and turn it into good—take what is meant to destroy and cause it to elevate. These types of abnormal benefits are the Glory of God and they are reserved for those who follow Him.
But all too common for today’s Christian, there are areas of our lives wherein the Glory has departed. Couples who have been married for 30 years with grown children and grandchildren are divorcing. Once close-knit families are now filled with strife and animosity. People who were once dignified are now debased and desperate. Community members have confused patriotism with politics and have become increasingly vile in violent toward one another. Churches are shuttering their doors, members are staying home on Sunday mornings, preachers are leaving the ministry.
Because the Glory has departed.
What is causing the Glory to depart from the body of Christ. Why are we finding ourselves sinking ever deeper into spiritual squalor?
The answer: We have come to treat the Glory of God like a common thing and we act like the abnormal, supernatural pouring down of God’s blessings is owed to us.
You can see it in our actions. We have the freedom to gather and worship openly in grand buildings with modern comforts (unlike many of our brethren around the world), but instead of seeking ways that we can be a blessing to others, we endeavor to make our cathedrals as palatial as possible, even if it means accruing massive debt.
Some of us have been called to preach the word of God, but instead we want fame and fortune, so we use the pulpit to proclaim that which will make us popular in the world.
Some of us have been given positions of leadership, but we are so consumed with power and authority that we have neglected the true pillars of godly leadership: sacrifice, service, and accountability.
Many of us have the blessings of quality transportation that gets us where we need to be, but we swap it out for a car that we can’t afford just so that we can pull up in style. Meanwhile our charitable giving is nonexistent.
Many of us have loving spouses who have helped created loving homes for us, but instead of trying to please the one that God gave us, we are focused on being seen as attractive by people we don’t even know.
As a nation, God has allowed us to dwell in this fertile land and He has held back the fullness of His wrath concerning the way in which it was acquired and built. Yet instead of recognizing that grace and mercy and being good stewards of the land, we have let the conscience and morality of the nation go to hell behind the words conservative and liberal.
See, we are not too different from Eli and his sons. We too profane the house of worship through acts of greed and domination. We too abandon the commands of God for worldly gain. We too lead others astray through our own selfish ambition. And if we are not actively doing these things, we are sitting back and saying nothing while others do them, just like Eli.
But even we, who are called by his name, can lose the Glory. In speaking of the Corinthians’ greed and selfishness during communion worship, the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:30-31: “For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.”
And what he means here is that we must correct our behavior and seek to be holy in our actions, because if we don’t, the abnormal blessings that we bask in will turn into abnormal hardships.
So, brothers and sisters, lay hold to the Glory of God. Appreciate the good things of God and live in a way that pleases him. Worship him the way he desires to be worshipped. Serve those in need as he has commanded us to. Proclaim Christ to the loss and rejoice over those who have been found. Put yourselves last and put the will of God first and foremost.
Elsewise, we will find ourselves like Phineas’ wife, looking at the devastation all around us and realizing that the Glory has departed.