As you look at the Israelites, a lot of their problems stemmed from the fact that while they often maintained the outward appearance of godliness, their hearts truly didn’t belong to God.
In this passage, they went to battle against the Philistines and were badly defeated. Discouraged, they asked themselves, “Why did this happen? Why did God let us be defeated?”
The answer was found in the fact that in their hearts, they were not wholeheartedly following after God. They were just doing their own thing. As the book of Judges said, everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes, not what was right in the eyes of God.
This is clearly seen in their decision to bring the ark with them in their battle against the Philistines. They were saying, “See God. We’re bringing you with us. So you’ll give us the victory, right?” But while they seemed to be following a form of godliness by “inviting God along,” they weren’t truly following him in their hearts. They pretty much treated the ark as a good luck charm, and on top of that, violated God’s command that only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place (where the ark was) once a year, and that to offer atonement for the people. But in an attempt to get God to bring them victory, the high priest’s two sons went into the Most Holy Place, took the ark out, and brought it out to the battle against the Philistines.
The result: The Philistines not only defeated Israel, but took the ark as well. When the pregnant wife of Phinehas the priest, Eli’s son, heard that her father-in-law and Phinehas were both dead, and that the ark was captured, she went into labor. She died giving birth, and as she did, she named her son “Ichabod” which means “no glory,” saying, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” (verse 22)
But the truth is that God hadn’t abandoned Israel. Israel had abandoned God. They had an outward appearance of godliness, but their hearts did not truly belong to him.
The apostle Paul wrote of such people to Timothy, saying,
1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. (II Timothy 3:1-5)
That’s a description of the Israelites of that time, and you see it all throughout the book of Judges. Unfortunately, the same can be said of some Christians today. People who look so godly on Sunday, but live ungodly lives the rest of the week. And as a result, they suffer lives of defeat and are blind to the reason why.
How about you? Does your heart truly belong to God? Or do you just live for yourself, doing what is right in your own eyes? You may fool others. You may even fool yourself. But you’re not fooling God. And God will not be manipulated, as the Israelites tried to do by bringing the ark.
Do you merely have the form of godliness? Or do you have a heart that’s truly his?