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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ichabod: When the Glory Departs from Worship

Perhaps you have been present during a worship service where all the trappings of worship was there: the music, message, people, etc., but there was no sense of the Spirit of God. I’m speaking more than just “feelings,” but a total lack of spiritual awareness. Chapters 2-4 of I Samuel relate the tragic story of the High Priest Eli and his sons at the beginning of the prophet Samuel’s life and ministry, and is good description of leadership in which the Spirit of God has left. The word, “Ichabod,” meaning “no glory, or “the glory has departed,” actually comes from this account.

In order to set the stage for the prophet’s ministry, the author of the book of Samuel tells of his birth, but also gives us insight into the life of the High Priest at the time. Samuel’s birth is the result of his mother’s prayer and faith, as she promised to dedicate the child totally to the Lord, if only He would grant her the ability to bear children. Eli, the High Priest, noticing her moving her lips, but rebukes her, thinking that she is drunk. After she explains herself, Eli blesses her, asking that God would grant her request. She does become pregnant, gives birth to Samuel, and after weaning the child, brings him to Eli to leave with him in fulfilment of her vow.

Contrasting with the excitement of the birth of Samuel is the tragedy of the house of Eli. As High Priest, he was permitted to eat from the sacrifices of the people, but had allowed his self- indulgence to control his life. An unnamed man of God confronts Eli for this practice:

Now a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Did I not clearly reveal myself to your ancestor’s family when they were in Egypt under Pharaoh? I chose your ancestor out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in my presence. I also gave your ancestor’s family all the food offerings presented by the Israelites. Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’ “Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever.’ But now the LORD declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained (1 Samuel 2:27-30 NIV, italics added for emphasis).

God had chosen Aaron’s family to serve as High Priests, but with that great privilege came great responsibility. The “perks” from Eli’s position became more important than following God’s commands. Notice that Eli’s lack of self control of his eating became an even greater sin in the lives of his sons, which Eli did nothing to restrict. To condemn them meant that he would have had to condemn himself.

The lack of self control in the father’s appetite became a gateway for his sons’ self gratification in eating and sexual sin. Scripture records that Hophni and Phineas, Eli’s sons, (1) did not recognize the Lord’s authority (1 Samuel 2:12), (2) used their position to get their own way, – even to the point of directly violating God’s law of burning the fat to the Lord, treating the Lord’s offering with contempt (1 Samuel 2:15-16), and even used their position to take advantage sexually of the women serving at the entrance of the tent of meeting (1 Samuel 2:22). When these last allegations were brought to Eli’s attention, he reprimanded them, but they would not listen to their father. Eli’s disregard for God’s laws bore fruit in his sons disregarding authority as well. The chapter ends with God’s condemnation and rejection of Eli’s family continuing as God’s priests and the promise that God would raise up a dynasty of one who would follow Him faithfully.

Chapter 3 relates the story of God speaking to the young boy Samuel, and that the “Word of the Lord was rare” in those days (1 Samuel 3:1). One of the reasons it was rare was because the one in leadership was disobedient to what God had called him to do, and God does not reveal himself to those who will not follow what He has already commanded. God’s word to the young Samuel was a confirmation of the condemnation of Eli’s actions. Samuel continued to grow in the Lord and the sons of Eli continued their disregard for God and His law.

The capture of the Ark is the central focus of Chapter 4. Hophni and Phineas take the Ark of God in the battle, again trying to “use” God for their own purposes. They had no reverence or regard for God and had confused the symbol of God’s presence (the Ark) for the presence of God, thinking they could manipulate the battle with their “magical box of God.” But God will not be manipulated and allows the Ark to be captured and both Hopni and Phineas are killed. When Eli hears of it, he falls over, breaking his own neck (1 Samuel 4:4-18). The wife of Phineas was pregnant and upon the tragic events of the death of her husband, brother in law, and father in law she goes into labor, naming the child, “Ichabod, saying, ‘The glory has departed from Israel’” (1 Samuel 4:21). The capture of the Ark of God was one of the most tragic events in Israel’s history.

A similar event occurs in the book of Ezekiel as the glory of God leaves the Temple because of the Israel’s sin and the sin of Israel’s spiritual leaders (Ezekiel 10:4, 10:18, and 11:23). A detailed study would be welcome, but to summarize the prophet’s vision of the glory of God departs in stages due to the false worship practices of God’s people.

Summary and Conclusion
Can the glory of God depart from our worship, from a ministry in which we are involved? Yes, as leaders of worship we can yield to the same temptations that lead to an abuse of privilege and disregard of worship. What are the warning signs? For what things must we be on guard? The glory of God departs:
– when leadership disregards God’s authority, His Word, and His commands.
– when leadership uses its position to fulfill its own selfish desires, regardless of who it may affect.
– when leadership attempts to manipulate rather than lead.
– when leadership abandons God’s directives in worship to follow their own designs.
May God grant us the sensitivity to His Spirit to see the warning signs and avoid tragedy in our ministries.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks, Danielle. I pray that God would bless you and your desire to worship Him in spirit and truth!

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  2. This word is so timely. May the Lord bless you as He turns the heart of His people back to Himself.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Praying that God would move among His people.

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