Have you ever had a time when God let you down? I have.
It was 4 years ago, when I was a missionary on staff with Caleb Project in Littleton. I was sure of my calling to that ministry. I was living on faith-support, trusting God to provide all my needs. I was being extremely frugal in my spending – never wasting a dime. I was serving the Lord with all my heart, helping Christian leaders all over the world. I was praying daily for God to provide my needs. I had every reason to expect God’s blessing.
But God was not providing us with enough money to even rent a place for my family to live in. We had our belongings packed in our ramshackle Toyota van and we would go around asking members in our church to let us stay in their extra bedrooms and basements for a week at a time. Whenever I would ask them to financially support us so that we could afford to rent our own place, they would tell me to leave the ministry and get a real job and that they just couldn’t spare the money – these were people with six-digit incomes! I tell you, I really felt like God had let me down. I spent a lot of time asking God, “Why have you beaten us like this?”
That’s a question that the leaders of Israel asked in the passage I want to focus on today, I Samuel 4. Let me read it to you:
And the word of Samuel was to all Israel and Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and encamped beside Eben-ezer: and the Philistines encamped in Aphek. 2 And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines; and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men. 3 And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath Jehovah smitten us to-day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of Jehovah out of Shiloh unto us, that it may come among us, and save us out of the hand of our enemies. 4 So the people sent to Shiloh; and they brought from thence the ark of the covenant of Jehovah of hosts, who sitteth above the cherubim: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. 5 And when the ark of the covenant of Jehovah came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again. 6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of Jehovah was come into the camp. 7 And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore. 8 Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty gods? these are the gods that smote the Egyptians with all manner of plagues in the wilderness. 9 Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight. 10 And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man to his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. 11 And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.
(Sketch map.) The situation was that the Philistine nation was cutting the nation of Israel in half by marching an army in through the Jezreel valley. Classic “divide and conquer” strategy.
This was a serious national threat to Israel! They had every right to fight a defensive war to protect their country. In fact, they went out to fight because Samuel the prophet had told them to in verse 1! They were well-prepared with a good army. They wanted to be right with God and they sought the Lord’s blessing by bringing out the ark like Joshua and Moses had done before in battle. They had every reason to expect that God would bless them, right?
But they lost. 34,000 men were killed! And the heathen Philistines now had a stranglehold on God’s people.
WHY? Why would God do such a thing? How could he let His people get hurt like that? How could He let His holy ark get desecrated by getting carried off as a war trophy by a bunch of evil pagans? Why?
Have you ever felt like that in your life? Are you in a position where it looks like everything is going wrong and you’re saying, “Why, God? WHY?”
Well, let me suggest three reasons why God “lets us down,” based on the results of this calamity in I Samuel.
First (Draw on whiteboard), perhaps You weren’t His to begin with!
If you go back a chapter or two, you’ll see that this calamity came upon Israel in part because of some men in Israel who did not love God and who were profaning His name.
I Samuel 2: 27 And there came a man of God unto Eli, and said unto him, Thus saith Jehovah… 29 Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering, which I have commanded in my habitation, and honorest thy sons above me, to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people? 30 Therefore Jehovah, the God of Israel, saith... 31 Behold, the days come, that I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father’s house, that there shall not be an old man in thy house…34 And this shall be the sign unto thee, that shall come upon thy two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas: in one day they shall die both of them.
I Samuel 4 tells us specifically that Hophni & Phineas, died on the same day in the battle with the Philistines. This was God’s judgment against two men who weren’t His to begin with, who were posing as priests and making a mockery of the worship of God.
So, our first RESPONSE when God “lets us down” is to ask, “Am I one of God’s people? Do I have any right to God’s blessing?” If you are not His to begin with, you have no right to expect God to bless you! To become one of God’s people, you must ask God to forgive you for living in rebellion to Him and believe that God’s son, Jesus, died on the cross to forgive you of your rebellion against God and to reconcile you to God.
SECOND, Perhaps God has other people to whom He wants to reveal Himself!
I Samuel CHAPTER 5:1 Now the Philistines had taken the ark of God, and they brought it from Eben-ezer unto Ashdod. 2 And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon. 3 And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of Jehovah… ; the hand of God was very heavy there. 12 And the men that died not were smitten with the tumors; and the cry of the city went up to heaven…
Can you imagine the impact that this had on the nation of the Philistines? Here they had put the ark of the covenant next to their idol of the fish-God, Dagon, as if to say, “Our God has beat Jehovah!” They wake up the next day to find that Jehovah has beat Dagon! God was revealing Himself in new ways to the Philistines! Chapter 5 also describes a plague of mice that ruined the Philistine crops and an epidemic disease, which some people think was the Bubonic plague, that killed many Philistines. And it says that these Philistines started crying out to heaven – to Jehovah-God! They even offered a sacrifice to God, acknowledging their sin against Him! This is hugely significant! God was at work through this calamity to make His glory known among the surrounding nations!
So, our RESPONSE, as we consider why God has let us down should be, not only to examine ourselves to see if we are really His people, but also to open our eyes to new directions God might be moving to make Himself known in the world! For instance, when the earthquakes hit Turkey recently, it was a terrible calamity, but behind the scenes, God was at work opening the hearts of a very self-sufficient Muslim nation which was hitherto closed to the Gospel. Now there are all sorts of Christian missionaries in the country offering aid to the people of Turkey, and the Turks are more open than ever to hear the Gospel! Keep your eyes peeled for how God may be using disappointments
Finally, perhaps God is calling you to get right with him!
The problem with the Israelites was that they were still double-minded. They wanted to serve God and also hang onto their other idols.
I Samuel 7:3 And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto Jehovah with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you, and direct your hearts unto Jehovah, and serve him only; and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. 4 Then the children of Israel did put away the Baalim and the Ashtaroth, and served Jehovah only. 5 And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray for you unto Jehovah. 6 And they gathered together to Mizpah, and drew water, and poured it out before Jehovah, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against Jehovah.
Well, the Philistines heard that the Israelites were gathered for a religious holiday and said, “Hey, let’s go finish ‘em off!” But God’s people had come in line with His kingdom purposes; His people had confessed their sin and put away the things that distracted them from single-hearted devotion to Him. And now God came through for them! He “thundered with a great thunder” against the Philistines and routed them!
Not only was God judging men that did not belong to Him. Not only was God making His glory known outside Israel’s comfort zone. God was calling His people to get right with Him and serve Him alone -- without distraction. Is this what God is calling you to do?
It was for me. When I was living like a tramp in Denver amidst a church full of rich people and feeling indignant that God was not blessing me, God was calling me to line up with His kingdom purposes. Like #2, He was calling me in a new direction outside my comfort zone – He was calling me to go to seminary, something I had never wanted to do before. God also brought me to the point where I had to confess the sin of my bad attitudes toward the people around me in Littleton. Only when I began lining up with God’s kingdom purposes did I begin to experience God’s blessing again. My experience here at the seminary has been a tremendous blessing to me and to my family.
From this story in I Samuel, we can learn how to respond when God seems to let us down – when everything seems to be going wrong. We must align ourselves with His kingdom purposes. First, examine yourself to see if you really are one of His people, then open your eyes for new things God may be doing to make Himself known to the world, and finally, confess your sin to Him and put away the distractions so you can serve Him with your whole heart!
Dear God, please forgive us of all the distractions we have allowed into our lives. Please forgive us for paying attention to other things besides You. We have sinned, and we want get back in line with You. It is by Your grace and the blood of Jesus that we come before You as Your people. Please give us Your grace to see the new directions You are moving in the coming year so that we can join with you in Your kingdom purposes. “It’s not about us, as if You should do things our way. You alone are God, and we surrender to Your ways.” Lord, we dedicate our lives to you for the year 2000. Amen.