I spent a good thirty minutes trying to find a title that was less fatalistic than ‘the three harbingers of doom’ but no other title would suffice. I assure you the title of this post is not meant to elicit a fearful response, but by the same token it is not exaggerated by any means. Throughout history we have seen these three harbingers of doom, destruction, catastrophe and devastation, and it would be foolish for us as wise children of God to dismiss them or pretend they don’t exist just so we won’t have to deal with the issue. If you sweep enough dust under a rug, eventually it becomes a hillock, and sooner or later you either remove the dust from under the rug, or do away with the rug altogether and plant an azalea bush in the middle of your living room. Although logically and reasonably it would be to our benefit to talk about the pink elephant in the room, many a preacher and pastor still refuse to do it because to admit that for years now we have seen these selfsame harbingers within our own nation, is to admit that tragedy and calamity are not far behind. And who wants to hear that nowadays?
As the Spanish philosopher George Santayana once said, ‘those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ I would go a step further and say that the only people who cannot learn from history are the stubborn, the foolhardy, and those unfortunate souls who feel as though they already know everything and as such have nothing left to learn.
History is a great teacher in what to do as a nation, as well as what not to do as a nation, and so today we will journey through history, more specifically the history of the nation of Israel and see the warning signs that calamity was near, and the magnitude of the calamity once it arrived.
Israel was a nation accustomed to winning battles, or armed conflicts. They went to war with the expectation of being victorious, of conquering their enemy whether their enemy outnumbered them or not. They had become so accustomed to winning battles, they had become so accustomed to having the Lord by their side and obtaining victory, that when the Philistines put themselves in battle array against Israel, it was neither frightening, surprising, nor a reason for concern.
To the armies of Israel, it was just another battle in a long line of battles that they would surely win because the Lord was on their side, and if the Lord was on their side how could they lose?
1 Samuel 4:1-2, “And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines, and encamped beside Ebenezer; and the philistines encamped in Aphek. Then the Philistines put themselves in battle array against Israel. And when they joined battle, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men of the army in the field.”
Being defeated on the field of battle was a new experience for the armies of Israel, and by the Philistines no less who’d had their clocks cleaned by the Israelites more times than they could number. Four thousand men lay in the dust, dead or dying, and as the people came back into the camp they began to question why it was that the Lord had defeated them before the Philistines.
1 Samuel 4:3, “And when the people had come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, ‘Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies.”
They did as they had purposed, they sent for the ark, the ark arrived, and when the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth shook.
Perhaps they weren’t paying attention in Sunday school class, perhaps they had forgotten the lessons their parents had taught them, but Israel was getting excited over a symbol, when the substance thereof, had long departed. Yes, they shouted, they worked themselves up into a lather, the earth shook, and the Philistines were afraid, but this did not change the outcome of what was about to transpire.
The Philistines knew their enemies well, they knew that the same God that had struck the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness, was the selfsame God that was presently in the camp of the Israelites. What they didn’t know however, what they couldn’t possibly know because the even the elders and the priests hadn’t yet figured it out, is that what they had brought into the camp was nothing more than a fancy box, because the glory of God had departed.
Even though they were afraid, the Philistines knew they had no choice but to go into battle, and after a pep talk of sorts they did just that.
1 Samuel 4:9-11, “Be strong and conduct yourselves like men, you Philistines, that you do not become servants of the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Conduct yourselves like men and fight!’ So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent. There was a very great slaughter, and there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. Also the ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas died.”
By any definition what had just occurred was an unmitigated disaster. It was a catastrophe of epic proportions, made all the more vivid by Israel’s exuberance at seeing the ark of God come into the camp, then losing thirty thousand foot soldiers, on top of the four thousand they’d already lost, the sons of Eli, and the ark itself to the Philistines.
So what brought about this astounding defeat of Israel’s army? What brought this catastrophe upon a people that God Himself called His own? Could they have prevented this from happening? Were there warning signs that what they believed would be an easy victory wouldn’t turn out as such?
Yes, this defeat could have been prevented, yes the warning signs were evident, and if the watchmen had not been distracted by other things, if the watchmen had not stopped watching, perhaps this catastrophe could have been averted.
No, God was not busy with something else; no, God was not on hiatus; no, God hadn’t confused His schedule and forgotten that Israel was about to go to war with the Philistine army, God had departed, because those who were to be His people were acting like anything but, and those who were supposed to uphold the virtues of righteousness and holiness were as defiled as the godless Philistines they thought God would deliver into their hands.
For those with eyes to see the warning signs of impending doom were clear. These signs are just as evident, and clear today, if not more so than they were in the days of old, and once again, only those choose to ignore them can pretend that all is well, and that there is no reason for concern.
So what were these three signs, these three harbingers of doom that were so evident?
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.