This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here
Everything bows, his rule remains eternal, radiant beauty, golden purity. Nothing is comparable, its power inviolable. Thousands of angels sing in awe, cheering him day and night. King of glory. Holy, holy, great and almighty, wonderful king, you are only. (Quote from the Adonia song “King of Glory”)
When God’s glory touches the earth, we started this new series of services last Sunday. Volker Assmann took us into the encounter between Moses and God at the burning bush and later on Mount Sinai and we saw in it a piece of God’s greatness and glory that the Bible describes, starting with a God who has the whole of everything in his hand holds and creates our earth and everything that is on it with a few words, before which one day all people will kneel down in adoration. The glory of God is so great and overwhelming that we humans could not endure it at all if we saw God directly, but had to die. That is why God appears to Moses in a thorn bush, therefore he puts him in a crevice and protects him and Moses is allowed to look after God. The term God’s glory expresses exactly that in Hebrew: Kabod: heavy, weighty, important, which means the honor, dignity and majesty of God. And Volker Assmann said a very important sentence last Sunday: A God who does not teach us fear is too small to be able to help and save us and not really a God who deserves our worship.
When we see this, when we understand it, then the question that the Adonia teens asked automatically arises: Who am I? Who am I in the face of this greatness of God? Feeling small, should go, were the answers, but that’s not what God wants. God is a God who wants a relationship with us, who wants to show us that it is good to entrust our lives to him, that he wants our best, that he loves us. So that people don’t run away out of fear of him, so that people don’t turn away out of fear, he reveals himself, makes himself small, meets people at eye level and finally comes to this earth in Jesus Christ. But there is also a danger that we may lose sight of God’s greatness and glory. That we only see Jesus as a friend, that we emphasize God’s love. And that’s so important, don’t get me wrong. Depending on what kind of image you have of God, it may be completely new to you that God is a God who loves you and wants to be your friend, and that is exactly what you need to hear this morning. Or you have always been threatened and scared with God’s greatness, that’s not the point. We should be in awe of God, which means taking him seriously and giving him the place in our lives that he deserves, at the center of our lives, but he is not a God to be afraid of and who punishes us, hardly that we do anything wrong. It is very exciting when Moses was on the mountain and God passed him by, that God said about himself: The Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in grace and faithfulness (Exodus 34: 6 ), so that Moses then does not go down to the people and comes with God’s greatness and hits it, but rather because of this goodness and God’s willingness to forgive, he also begins to pray for forgiveness for his people.
Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of the other side of God. Neither his love nor his glory. Because that has consequences, and about the second part, what happens when we lose sight of God’s glory, I want to think about that with us this morning.
In all honesty, when you’ve come to church this morning, when you’re watching the live stream, when we talk to God during the week and read his word, who of us has his greatness, his glory in mind? When we look into nature, when we look into our world, we think more and more that we have everything in hand and we are less and less amazed at and in awe of God and his greatness. Yes, we think, at least in our western world, we don’t need it anymore. We explore space, talk about emigrating to a strange planet. We think like the people who up the Tower of Babel wanted to build in the sky, and God has to come down from above first to see what they are doing down there. Funny described to show how twisted our thinking actually is. When was the last time we became aware of God’s greatness and glory, who is much greater than all of that?
Last Sunday we heard God appear to Moses in a thorn bush. How he freed his people Israel from captivity in Egypt with a strong hand. How he met Moses on Mount Sinai and gave him rules of life for his people so that they would be well. And we saw how quickly the Israelites turned away from God, formed a golden calf and worshiped. How Moses struggles with God to be gracious to the people and how God creates a place of encounter, the tabernacle. Inside there is an ark in the holy of holies, the ark of the covenant. A chest, in which the tablets of the law were kept, made of acacia wood, covered with gold, two cherubs, angels, stood on it with outspread wings. It was the place where the high priest made atonement for his people once a year and where God spoke to Moses. A symbol of God’s presence among his people.
The ark of the covenant moved into the promised land, led the way in crossing the Jordan and going around Jericho, and finally it was stationed in Shiloh in the tabernacle. There the service took place around the sanctuary, as God had established in the law and God spoke to the priests and gave them instructions for the whole people. Then we get to know a boy, Samuel, a prophet right after God’s heart from an early age, and it becomes clear how good and important it is to listen to God, to what he says and to take him seriously In contrast to this, the sons of the priest Eli do not and Eli lets them have their own way and they also bring the people away from God. The Philistines, a neighboring people, attack, they win the battle. About 4,000 men are killed, and then we read in 1 Samuel 4: 3-11
3 And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies. 4 So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims: 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 the LORD 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 the LORD 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 the 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 into 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.
The wife of Pinas, one of Eli’s sons, is pregnant and she gives birth to a child and names it: Ikabod. The glory of God has given way. Ikabod. But how can that be? Wasn’t God among them?The Israelites experienced a very similar situation many centuries later, when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. They didn’t think it was possible because he Almighty God lived in it. But the prophet Ezekiel describes in his book that God’s glory rises and goes out of the temple.
Something very similar is happening here. The leaders of the people do not ask God for his plan, but make their own plans without God. They have a good idea: they want to bring the drawer to the warehouse. We read of their motivation in verse 3: We want to send to Shiloh and bring the ark into the camp! Then the Lord will be among us and help us against our enemies. 1 Samuel 4: 3
Unfortunately, our translations do not quite accurately reflect what is actually written here. Because it literally says: We want to bring the drawer to the warehouse. Then she will be among us and help us against our enemies. It’s a minor matter, and yet so crucial. You, not God.
When the ark comes into the camp, everyone cheers because it is there, not God. It’s not about God at all, it’s about the ark. The Ark of the Covenant has become a lucky charm. It is about a form that should help them and not about God himself.Ikabod – no glory, kabod also means weight. And Ikabod, God’s word no longer has any weight among the Israelites. That the ark of the covenant will be dragged away, that God’s glory will give way. It has long since disappeared from the hearts of the people, but this is now also visible externally.It begins with Eli’s sons losing their respect for God as priests. That they lose sight of his glory. At some point it was all about her and no longer about pleasing God. At some point God became a shell, their service became an empty form, the relationship with him was lost. Or maybe they never got it right, simply because they had grown up in familiar surroundings and had seen everything from an early age, but the glory of God was never really before them. They just thought they are Israelites and God will protect them, fight for them, whether they listened to him or not.
Whether they did what he liked or not, that would have no consequence. And didn’t have it for a long time, precisely because God is so gracious and patient with us.Dear ones, do you know how God refers to us in the New Testament? As his priests. And what is happening here does not happen to people who do not know God, but to those who lived with him. This story is a warning for us not to lose sight of God’s glory, but to remind us again and again that we are listening to God and taking him seriously.Perhaps we are like these sons, we have already soaked it all up with our mother’s milk, but we never really became aware of taking God in His glory seriously. Maybe our services and prayers have become a matter of form? How fast does it go, I know it myself. Do we think that God is with us in everyday life and protects us, and we just live in front of us but no longer in relationship to God for a long time? Do we think we are baptized and that is why we belong to him now, no matter how we live? Do we use God as a prayer machine and put him in a corner when we don’t need him?The people sing and dance as the ark comes into the camp: Praise the ark, which is made so wonderful, which prepares us for victory, allows us to triumph over enemies. With all the noise, the Philistines think that God is among the Israelites, but when they defeat them they realize that this is not the case. We can even fool others with our piety, they come here and think, oh how pious, and then they look at our lives and see that it is not at all.All of these can happen when we lose sight of God’s glory. And it is God’s grace that he still works in our lives because we forget him so often.
We read in the New Testament that God’s Spirit withdraws in our lives. It is not about making mistakes, that we also sin when we live with God. In all of this, God is happy to forgive us and, as Romans 8: 1 says, there is no condemnation for those associated with Jesus Christ. We are learners in our life with God who God changes little by little. The point here is that God plays less and less a role in our lives and we are pushing him more and more to the edge of our lives.
When we lose sight of God’s glory
then faith becomes form,
then we start to think bigger of ourselves than we are,
then we stop taking God seriously
then we look for help in the wrong places
then we miss God’s blessings
and no longer give God the honor that only he deserves.
Now something very exciting happens when the Ark of the Covenant comes to the Philistines:
1 Samuel 5: 1-4:
1 And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod. 2 When the Philistines took the ark of God, they 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 earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again. 4 And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.
1 Samuel 5: 7-9
7 And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god. 8 They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither . 9 And it was so , that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts.
The idol statue of the Philistines prostrates before the living God. God does not depend on people to show His glory. God shows himself today, for example, in dreams. And also in nature, as Paul writes in Romans 1, one can recognize God and ask about him. The Philistines panic and push the ark back and forth because people get sick. And I find that very exciting. Many people say that Corona is something like a judgment from God. I don’t know if that is the case, but when a tower collapsed in Jesus’ time and people died in the process, others came to Jesus and asked him about it, you can read about it in Luke 13. And it is clear from Jesus’ answer that if an accident happens, it doesn’t have to be that the people who hit it did something particularly bad and deserved it. But everyone else should use this as an opportunity to question their own life, where they are right now – especially towards God. And I also see the Corona crisis as such an opportunity that we recognize that we do not have everything in our hands, there is a God we can confide in when we ask ourselves what happens when we die, then says the Bible to us that there is eternal life, in the presence of God or not, and that you ask yourself how things are with God and me?
The Philistines finally push the ark back to the Israelites instead of recognizing and worshiping God as God and exposing their own God as an idol. That was the chance the Philistine to turn to God. And don’t we prefer to do exactly the same thing? Pushing God away as soon as possible, wanting to get rid of him instead of turning to him? We learn in Romans that God lets people. It is their freedom how they deal with God. It has dramatic consequences for the Philistines that they have not turned to God. We’ll see that in a moment. Not that God is now punishing them for it, but He lets them go as they want and they run into their doom. I invite you, turn to God in this crisis, invite him into your life and ask him to help you. And if you say that I actually have little idea what this God is all about, then go on a search. Come and ask your questions, but don’t just put God off.