1 SAMUEL 4
I found something in this chapter very interesting. It opens with the Israelites going to war against the Philistines. It didn’t go well. Thousands of Israelites were killed in the battle, and when they got back home, they wondered why they had met with such defeat. As a result, they decided that they would carry the Ark of the Covenant into battle with them the next time.
So (without consulting God, of course), they went to Shiloh and got the Ark. Then, they went to fight the Philistines again. But their "good luck charm" didn’t bring them victory. Instead, they lost almost eight times as many soldiers as they had before. Not only that, but the Ark was stolen by the Philistines and taken off into captivity.
For me, the interesting thing was remembering the instructions given in Joshua 6—that in conquering the Promised Land, the Israelites were to carry the Ark of the Covenant before them into battle. They did this when they surrounded and overtook the city of Jericho. So, perhaps the Israelites were remembering those battle instructions. But... I doubt it. This was the generation described just a chapter ago as one in which no one was listening to the voice of God.
The Israelites were trying to use God to get what they wanted. And that didn’t work out so well for them.
So, this made me think about how God is not a legalist. If He was, He would have looked at the Israelites carrying the Ark into battle and said, "Well, I told them that carrying the Ark would give them the victory... so, I guess they must prevail today." No, with God, it’s not what you do, but why you do it.
It’s just like when the Pharisees put Jesus on the cross and wanted to break His legs so He would hurry up and die and they could get home quick to keep the Sabbath. I mean, does it really matter if you’re "keeping the Sabbath" if you’ve just killed God? In that case, it didn’t matter what they were doing so much as why they were doing it.
Now, I’m not trying to say that what we do doesn’t matter at all. The choices we make have consequences that affect us. But when it comes to our salvation, God doesn’t care if we’re keeping track of items on a checklist. He cares about the condition of our hearts. Are we willing to listen to Him? Are we willing to take direction? Are we willing to respond when He corrects us? If we are in a teachable attitude, it really doesn’t matter what we do, for God is willing to take us where we are and work with us to bring us to where we need to be. He’s not keeping a ledger of our behavior marked with credits and debits. He’s not a legalist!