I have seen many things ending up in futility in my few days on earth. I have seen men putting in so much into achieving a purpose only to find out at the end that they had laboured in vain. Oh God! Honestly, it can be really painful finding out, usually too late that you ran your race in vain. And should you think it is fun discovering too late how foolish you had been, may this story, as imagined told by an Israeli Soldier, convince you of the need to pray never to be involved in any futile (spiritual) exercise. Please note that some lines of this story are sarcastically presented.
I am an Israeli from the tribe of Benjamin. I have always wanted to serve in the army and so I was very happy the day my dream found fulfillment. I happily went through the difficult training sessions with the mind to be the best for my nation. I endured hardship as a true soldier should, knowing so well that the army wasn’t meant for softies. The good soldier that I am, you wouldn’t catch me making deals at the marketplace or being engaged in any activity capable of getting me entangled. I was also adequately trained to obey orders. (2 Tim. 2:3-4)
After years of tedious training, I eventually had the opportunity of being a part of the troop that engaged the Philistines, who happen to be the most notorious of the enemies of Israel, in a battle for honour. It was indeed an opportunity to prove that you don’t dare my land and live to tell the story. With this in my heart, we marched to the battlefront with victory already ascertained. With the battle line already drawn, the battle must be fought!
The pendulum of victory initially swung more to our side, but somehow, four thousand soldiers from my camp had become dead heroes within a short period. As we tried to cope with the terrible situation, it was obvious that we weren’t all going to live unless we retreated. It was, therefore, comforting to hear my commander calling for a retreat. Phew!
Getting back to our camp with everyone disappointed and many wounded, our superior officers went back to the drawing board – they wanted to know what went wrong and to put things right. Heads were put together and there and then, our Chaplain, a fine gentleman and a respected officer, yet also a ‘Man of God’ (MOG), attributed our loss to the absence of God in our midst. In fact, he was so sure that it was God who dealt with us – so emphatic that if God had been on our side, we wouldn’t have lost the battle.
Well, minutes after considering his opinion, the murmurings and side talks that rented the air settled. Eventually, the entire elders’ forum concluded that the battle was lost indeed because God was not present. They, therefore, agreed that the Chaplain should lead the way to finding and bringing God back to our camp. You want to ask where to look for God and how to bring Him back into the camp? The story gets more interesting!
As a young soldier in the army and probably in faith, I may not be as well informed as my superiors in handling such issues. They knew where they left God and to Shiloh they went back for Him! Getting to the temple at Shiloh, they briefed Eli and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who were overseers of the Ark of God, all about the situation. They told Eli, the High Priest, of how Israel lost the battle to the Philistines and of the death of the three thousand soldiers. They spoke so professionally and religiously about the matter on ground that none of the elders thought they should spend some time to seek God’s face. Methinks, if they concluded He was behind our defeat, shouldn’t we approach Him? He might just be in a better position to tell us what went wrong and how to correct the wrong. This is, however, a case of the elders knowing what to do even when God is quiet – they had become too familiar with handling spiritual matters without necessarily involving the Spirit behind the spiritual. Save us Lord!
I waited for them to humbly ask God for what went wrong, but they didn’t. (I Sam. 4:3). They bypassed God and without hearing from Him, they followed up with their own plans. As some soldiers marched forward to ‘pick up God’, they found Him coiled up in an Ark; but with the kind permission of its custodians, Hophni and Phinehas, the Ark of God was bundled up. You guessed right – Eli’s two sons followed the ‘heavenly presence’ as it journeyed to the military base.
As wild as your imaginations may run, you’ll never be able to fathom the rousing welcome the procession received as they entered the camp. The entire camp roared – it actually exploded! As the downcast soldiers spotted the Ark of God, the noise became more deafening. But that was not it! As they saw the two great servants of God, Hophni and Phinehas, stepping down from their Chauffeur-driven limousine, the noise became so much that the ground vibrated. The congregation yelled, believing themselves so blessed ‘hosting’ the Ark of God and God’s great servants. What a rare privilege!
With the celebration becoming so loud and wild, the elders who suggested the idea of fetching the Ark of God felt so proud of themselves. As the heartbroken soldiers found healing in the ‘presence of God’, the elders walked head above shoulders – they told themselves how great it was to be instrumental to bringing back the ‘missing God of Israel’. The elders felt accomplished being able to get God’s Generals to be at the camp, considering that these were busy ministers. What an honour having them grace your occasion with their presence!
Somewhere in my heart, I just couldn’t help wondering how the elders were able to ‘lure’ these great servants of God and got them to leave behind the temple and the fat offerings therein. Something told me they must have promised these two ministers a juicier offering to get them off their feet. Something greater must have been offered to make them leave behind Shiloh where the great pot of offering is resident. I know that these ministers don’t go ministering where the offering is not tempting. The highest bidder always have them!
Anyway, while the party went on, nobody discerned that instead of God seen to be accompanying His Ark, He had actually long deserted the Ark, permitting mere men to accompany it. Hence the Bible says, “Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, accompanied the Chest of the Covenant of God.” I Sam. 4:4 THE MESSAGE.
With our spirits now lifted, we were led to confront the Philistines again. We marched out with the assurance that they had brought God to be on our side, but unfortunately, it took another defeat, a more serious and damaging one from the same Philistines, before the entire camp realized we had only celebrated the Ark of God and not God Himself. We realized after we lost another thirty thousand soldiers that we merely danced to welcome men of God empty of the true God. Again, our elders had led us into another disaster! Who will save us?
Should we, however, thank God for the boldness of the Philistines to forge ahead with the battle in spite of the intimidating shout of anticipated victory we gave? (I Sam. 4: 6-9) If the Philistines had chickened out, Israel would have thought the presence of the Ark and of these great servants of God brought them deliverance, but God had mercy upon us. If not mercy, although coming after the death of many, how would we have known that our ‘respected servants of God’ were empty of His presence?
Who handles God’s Ark of Music in your fellowship? Who bears God’s Ark of Teaching and Preaching the Word? Who handles God’s Ark of Drama in your group? We shout to receive them whenever they come upon our pulpits or altars to minister deliverance from the hands of the Philistines, but when they leave, they leave us more wounded. When they are announced and called upon for their ministrations, the enemy shivers at the noise of our handclapping, whistling and the entire ‘beautiful nuisance’ we put up; but only to find out later that they had left us more bruised than we were.
Woe unto you Church when your leaders are mere men like Hophni and Phinehas! Woe unto the Church that hails the presence of those who bear the Ark of God in ministry, yet not knowing that God is missing! It is sad, but woe is unto the Church whose Choir offer so-called inspiring noise in the name of Praise or Worship songs. Woe unto you congregants when your leaders are mere men, only capable of leading you to give empty shouts of victory!
It is very sad that the soldiers lost their lives at the error of the elders who had grown not to look up to God, but unto their religious structures. These dead heroes went back to the battleground, because they were trained not to question orders from superior officers. They lost their lives, because they relied so much on the solutions proffered by the elders. They trusted the decision of their elders to go back to war, believing they had prayerfully considered the matter before God. They were rest assured of victory, especially seeing the glorious setup, but they died as fools; they died trusting that the elders had judged the situation aright.
Nobody told them the elders merely conjured something to get Israel back to the battleground. Nobody told them the elders did not see God accompanying His Ark. They died in service, because they relied upon elders who had formed an alliance with Hophni and Phinehas – elders who believe that though God be missing, the presence of His well-known ministers is sufficient to bring about the deliverance of Israel.
Oh Lord, kindly send us correct elders! The land needs elders with deep insight! Oh Lord, the body of Christ is in dire need of elders with the Spirit of discernment! We need elders that will see beyond the noise we make at our meetings – elders that will see the emptiness in the things we celebrate. Lord, where are such elders as Joshua who was so sure that by the shout of the people, the wall of Jericho would give way.
(Joshua 6:20) “So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.”
Now the elders/priests lead us to shout without us having to hear the distinct sound of the trumpet. We wonder if even there is still at least a priest with a trumpet to blow. Wonders if one ever blows a trumpet with a throat made bloated by fats of the offering. We’ve shouted with our men developing hernia, yet the wall has refused to fall down flat. We’ve not been able to enter into the city, not to talk of taking the city, all because the wall has not crumbled.
When they saw they lacked the anointing to truly give us reasons to give a lasting sound of victory, they hired all manner of ministers/clowns to make us laugh and yell and scream and whistle and at the end, go back home more wounded. We were not healed; we only temporarily forgot our sorrows as the clowns ministered to us. Lord, there should still be an elder standing in the Church that will immediately know that this seemingly ‘Man of God’ bearing God’s Ark in Ministry upon the altar has come without God accompanying him.
We are tired of engaging in mere noise. Before they told us to shout, we lost four thousand soldiers, but after shouting, we have lost another thirty thousand soldiers. If we continue in this fatal business of mere noise, shall there be any more of your soldiers standing, Lord?
(I Sam. 4:12-13) I am from the tribe of Benjamin and I live to share this story today, because God’s grace rescued me. I could have lost my spiritual existence as many of my colleagues, but God’s mercy stood against death on my behalf. Today, I go about looking to tell all existing Eli of the need to arise and prevent the further loss of God’s soldiers dying in service and sadly IN THE CHURCH. I call on the elders to stop being indifferent to Ark bearers like Hophni and Phinehas accompanying God’s Ark all about. I call on the elders to stop bringing before us men without life – ministers that would only make us shout and yet unable to deliver us from the pangs of the Philistines. Adura mi ni pe, Agba rere o ni tan l’orile o. Amin! (My prayer is that good elders won’t cease to exist in Jesus’ name. Amen.)
- Burning Bush Boy