Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lucky Charms

Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, "Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD's covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies." So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. When the ark of the LORD's covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, "What's all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?" When they learned that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. "A god has come into the camp," they said. "We're in trouble! Nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the desert. Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!" So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured, and Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died. (1 Samuel 4:1-11, NIV)
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If you read through Judges (and you really should) you know it is a very messy story. The Israelites repeat a cycle of disobedience, captivity, and crying out for help. The continually make choices that are terrible and are constantly oppressed and attacked by the very people they were supposed to drive out of the Promised Land. It is a pretty grim story, to say the least.

Near the end of the time of the judges, God put Eli in the dual position as High Priest and judge over Israel. The enemy-du-jour was the Philistines and the early chapters of Samuel find Israel fighting, and losing, badly once again. At this point, somebody came up with the “great idea” of getting the Ark of the Covenant and hauling it into the battle encampment. Eli’s two sons carried out this request and the spirits of the Israelite soldiers were encouraged. A great story, if it had the expected end.

Initially, the Philistine army was greatly troubled by the cheer they heard across the battlefield. They knew something was up and, being the superstitious lot they were, they started writing their own epitaphs. This “lucky charm” of Israel would surely be their undoing. So, if they were going to go out, they were going out with a bang! They rallied and fought hard.

Apparently, God wasn’t too pleased with the “lucky charm” approach and he allowed the Philistines a victory. The text says 30,000 Israeli foot soldiers were killed and … this is the best part … the Philistines captured the Ark and took it home with them.

I say that is the best part, because I believe the lesson for us lies right there. Israel, the nation God has created and established, figured they could manipulate God in a roundabout way by bringing the Ark to the battle. Almost like Aladdin and his magic lamp, they thought they could just rub the golden box and their God would appear to give them the victory. And I laugh at the story, not only because of their naïve approach, but because I have the exact same tendencies.

If only I get in my 30 minutes of Bible reading each day; if I go on visitation every Tuesday night without fail; if I go to church every time the doors are open, even when I’m feeling sick; you get the picture … you’ve lived it as well. We somehow think all too often that if we do “A” God is obligated to do “B” for us. There is an entire movement in Christian circles that advocates this mindset. In fact, there are many of them. And while I claim to be “above that”, I all too often find myself slipping back down that slope. Somehow, I’ve come to the mistaken conclusion that God owes me something. Just like the Israelites, I couldn’t be more wrong.

God has promised to be present with us, to provide for us, and to love us with an everlasting love. Jesus said He would never leave or forsake us, would be a friend closer than a brother, and would come back for us. The Spirit was given as a Comforter and promise of all the above and to constantly reassure us we have a permanent home waiting. That is basically the extent of the promises and none of them look anything like a lucky charm.
Trust is rarely easy, but I believe the results are worth the “risk” as I perceive it. God grant us a greater ability to trust in Him and reign in our reliance on lucky charms.
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  1. What is your favorite lucky charm and how does it affect your Christian walk?
  2. Do you laugh at the story of the Israelites and then live as if your lucky charms worked any better?
  3. Do you have trouble trusting in God when His promises aren’t always as predictable as you want them to be? Can you trust him enough to put away your “lucky charm mindset” and rest in Him completely?

NIV - Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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