2nd September 2011

God In A Box

Samuel before Saul series (1 Samuel 4)

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 the Lord’s enemies.”
1 Samuel 4:3 (NIV UK)

Do you try to put God in a box?

In 1 Samuel 4 the Israelites saw the Ark of the Covenant as a box that contained the glory of God. They were full of superstition. The Ark was supposed to remind them of the all-pervasive glorious presence of God but it was not the literal presence. Yet some probably thought God lived in that box. The Philistines believed that the god or gods that destroyed Egypt with plagues dwelled inside. It would be dangerous to release him. On the other hand, if a god were in the box, maybe he could be contained and brought out whenever the need arose.

The Israelites decided to take the Ark into the thick of battle, thinking that its presence would assure them of victory. But the Philistines rallied following a stirring address that is reminiscent of some of Winston Churchill’s wartime speeches: “Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!” (4:9). The Israelites sustained terrible losses, and the Ark itself was carried away by the Philistines. They had not been protected. “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured”, they bewailed (4:22). It is like the cavalry giving up because the flag has been taken.

The god in the box was not behaving according to the plan. The Israelites had a preset notion of what they thought God should do. Maybe sometimes we do too. God should bless us, or answer prayers according to our formula. Have you ever prayed and given God the solution you want instead of waiting to see what his answer might be? Our God is too big to be squeezed into a box of our making.

The Ark would be restored to Israel only to be lost later. The glory would depart again, taken into captivity by another invading army. What the Israelites failed to realize was that God is not confined. He is not limited to a tabernacle or to a temple or to any supposedly holy place. He is not tamed by us to perform our beck and call. It is Jesus who would be revealed as the glory of God. He is “the radiance of God’s glory” (Hebrews 1:3). He liberates us from the boxes of own delusions and from the prison of our false thinking.

Whatever your image of God is, God is bigger….and better.

Father, sometimes we try to put you in a box. Help us not to limit you in our thinking to what our notions of you are. Help our thinking to be liberated by Jesus, who is the radiance of your glory.

Study by James Henderson

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