1 Samuel 4:1-11
It happened at that time that the Philistines mustered to fight Israel and Israel went out to meet them in battle, encamping near Ebenezer while the Philistines were encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up their battle line against Israel, the battle was hotly engaged, and Israel was defeated by the Philistines and about four thousand of their army were killed on the field. The troops returned to the camp and the elders of Israel said, ‘Why has the Lord allowed us to be defeated today by the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of our God from Shiloh so that it may come among us and rescue us from the power of our enemies.’’ So the troops sent to Shiloh and brought away the ark of the Lord of Hosts, he who is seated on the cherubs; the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, came with the ark. When the ark of the Lord arrived in the camp, all Israel gave a great shout so that the earth resounded. When the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, ‘What can this great shouting in the Hebrew camp mean?’ And they realised that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp. At this the Philistines were afraid; and they said, ‘God has come to the camp.’ ‘Alas!’ they cried ‘This has never happened before. Alas! Who will save us from the power of this mighty God? It was he who struck down Egypt with every kind of plague! But take courage and be men, Philistines, or you will become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been slaves to you. Be men and fight.’ So the Philistines joined battle and Israel was defeated, each man fleeing to his tent. The slaughter was great indeed, and there fell of the Israelites thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured too, and the two sons of Eli died, Hophni and Phinehas.
A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: ‘If you want to’ he said ‘you can cure me.’ Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘Of course I want to!’ he said. ‘Be cured!’ And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured. Jesus immediately sent him away and sternly ordered him, ‘Mind you say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery.’ The man went away, but then started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived. Even so, people from all around would come to him.
“Why has the Lord allowed us to be defeated today by the Philistines?”
My soon-to-be-13-year-old just entered Secondary 1, having completed the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).
It was an anxious time for his cohort. Parents were understandably nervous; and the WhatsApp chat groups were filled with requests for solutions to questions from all sorts of mock exam papers.
There were also the prayer services and vigils that accompanied the examinations.
To be candid, these services and prayers troubled me.
During the examination period, I heard parents telling me that I should say a certain prayer or attend a certain novena because they “work”.
In today’s first reading, we read about how the elders of Israel decided to bring out the Ark of the Covenant to rescue them from their enemies. When the Ark arrived among the ranks of the soldiers, the Israelites gave a great shout and drew the attention of the Philistines. Aware of the ‘power’ of the Ark, this ironically motivated them, resulting in the loss of some 30,000 men, and consequently the battle.
How was it possible that the Ark had ‘failed’ the Israelites when it had been so ‘successful’ in the Battle of Jericho?
When we look into scripture, we realise that there is a huge difference; in the Battle of Jericho, it was the Lord who had shown the Israelites what to do, while the elders themselves took the decision to use the Ark as a weapon because it was something that they thought would ‘work’.
Brothers and sisters, the ultimate target of any prayer should not be ourselves. Instead, our eyes should always be cast on God. We should never use these prayers to honour and praise our God.
(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)
Prayer: Father God, we pray that we will always keep our eyes on You. Teach us Lord, to never use You for our own purposes.
Thanksgiving: Thank You for showing us what is right. We are grateful for Your protection and Your love.