The first commandment points to a personal, individual relationship with a single God.
[Mr. Mike Greider] Well, I'd like to jump right into the Bible to start today and turn back to a story in 2 Kings 5. Now, this is a familiar story to most people. But it's a wonderful chapter to think about because it's a great example of something that has been preserved for us on multiple levels. Now, of course, there is a lesson or a principle that God is explaining to us, that much is very clear. But it's also fantastic in that you get just this little window into the life of these people that lived thousands of years ago in a place that is very different with a culture that is very different. And we can see just a little bit of what their life was like.
And we know that the Bible contains principles that are timeless, meaning that regardless of who you are, or when you lived, or the culture you find yourself in, etc., etc., if God is calling you with His Holy Spirit, then no matter what, God has given us all the instructions we need in the Bible to have the opportunity to be in His family forever.
But with that being said, obviously, the context of when these chapters and verses were written, and to whom they were written for, and why they were written at that time, all of those pieces can add extra value. Or as I like to kind of think of it, they add just a little extra flavor to the relationship with God. They help us to more fully understand some of the ways that God works in the lives of us human beings.
So this story in 2 Kings 5 is a wonderful story. And we’ve got this principle that's right on the top. It's quick, and it's concise, and it's so simple you can put it in an illustrated children's Bible. And then if you wanted to dive down a little bit more, we have kind of a more layered, nuanced story where you can study the interplay between Elisha and Gehazi and Naaman. And then for the icing on the top of the cake, so to speak, you get this little window into the cultural interworkings of the people living during that time in that region. That sounds pretty great for a little side story here buried in 2 Kings. But let's pick it up in verse 1 of 2 Kings 5.
2 Kings 5:1 "Now, Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Syria was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master because by him, the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper."
Now, there is a lot to unpack just in this verse here. For example, Syria was often at war with Israel and Judah. And here we read that God had granted victory to Syria through this Naaman. And if you read up through the timeline leading up to this point, no doubt some of those victories would have been against the good guys, so to speak, or the ancient Israelites who we'd be rooting for. But here we are, with this non-Israelite leader, whom God is working with on some level, and he has this skin condition.
2 Kings 5:2-5 "And the Syrians had gone out on raids and had brought back captive, a young girl from the land of Israel. And she waited on Naaman's wife. And she said to her mistress, 'If only my master were with the prophet who was in Samaria for he would heal him of his leprosy.' And Naaman went in and told his master saying, thus and thus.” like, you know, yadda, yadda, “this is what the girl said from the land of Israel. And the king of Syria said, ‘Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.’ So he departed and took with him 10 talents of silver, 6,000 shekels of gold, and 10 changes of clothing.”
Well, don't let the 10 changes of clothing fool you here. This isn't like Old Navy discounted shirts or something like that. This combined haul that Naaman brought with him was a tremendous amount of money. Six thousand shekels of gold was the combined annual wages of 600 laborers. So we're talking about the equivalent of millions of dollars here.
2 Kings 5:6-7 "Then he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which said, 'Now be advised when this letter comes to you that I have sent Naaman, my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy.'" Verse 7, "And it happened, when the king of Israel read the letter that he tore his clothes and said, 'Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy? Therefore, please consider and see how he seeks a quarrel with me.'"
Now, this is a huge problem here. Israel and Judah and Egypt and Syria and the Assyrians and the Babylonians, all of these powers were in a constant rotating series of wars and alliances. And this Israelite king, which is Jehoram here, he had just been in war with Syria. And in the very near future, Israel would again be in war with Syria. So, we have this very tiny window of peace between these two nations. And along comes one of their greatest generals, laden with camel loads of treasure, with an incurable disease and a letter from an opposition king saying, "If you don't mind, could you fix this problem for me? Could you just heal him real quick of this huge issue we have?"
And Jehoram, he tears his clothes, and why wouldn't he, right? This has all of the appearances of a setup that would give the Syrian some excuse to restart a war and attack Israel. It feels like a no-win scenario. Well, it's hard to make this too suspenseful when everyone knows how the story ends. Naaman goes to Elisha. Elisha doesn't even leave his house. And there's a reason for that. And Naaman after he throws a little bit of a fit, he goes and he dunks in the Jordan River, and he's healed. So, this is a great story. It's a happy ending. Let's pick it up in verse 17 after Naaman tries to get Elisha to take some gifts, and Elisha refuses.
2 Kings 5:17 It says, "So Naaman said, 'Then if not,’” That means if you don't want these gifts. “‘Please let your servant be given two mules loads of earth.” Two mules loads of earth. “For your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods but to the Lord. Yet in this thing, may the Lord pardon your servant. When my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship there and he leans on my hand and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, and when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord please pardon your servant in this thing.'"
Now, why did Naaman want dirt? There is no indication that he's an avid gardener or anything like that. He's not trying to top off his raised beds. In fact, earlier in the chapter, he says that the land and the rivers in Syria, they're way better than the garbage they had in Israel. So it wasn't that this specific dirt was better than any specific dirt that they had. And it wasn't exclusively just that Naaman wanted the dirt for sacrifices, although that certainly played a role. So what was this request about? What was going through his mind?
Well, this story is in the Bible, not just for this individual lesson about God healing or some narrow principle, but also to give us a broader perspective and understanding about a way of thinking that was so ingrained and so counterproductive to God's way of life that it became a thorn in the side of the Israelites from the very beginning, all the way to the very end. And Naaman, just like pretty much everyone else in the ancient Middle East was polytheistic. He believed in many different gods. Some gods were stronger than others. Some were specialists. Some were generalists. Some were important. Some were more minor, like minor household gods. But one of the prevailing aspects of this belief system was that gods were mostly regional gods, like they had their own territories and boundaries. And Naaman, he didn't summon Elisha to come to him, he went to Elisha in Elisha's territory.
Because naturally, if the God of the Israelites could heal him, he would have to go to that region and have one of his prophets kind of summon that power so that he could be healed. And then once he was healed, he didn't think that it was his regional god that did it, which was Baal, but, of course, it was Israel's regional God. And the mules' loads of dirt would be his connection back to that regional deity. In other words, he was taking a little bit of that region back home to his own house, so that the Israelite God would have a little peace in his area as well.
Now, this thinking is not unique. You see this thread woven throughout the Old Testament, but also in contemporary secular stories throughout other historical records that have been preserved. And I want to turn back to 1 Kings 20, just for a minute. 1 Kings 20, this is just a quick example and I use the Israelites and the Syrians again. And this time they were in battle and they had already fought one round and it went to the Israelites. And the Syrians here were brainstorming about how to turn the tide back into their favor. And I want to pick it up in 1 Kings 20:23.
1 Kings 20:23 It says, "Then the servants of the king of Syria said to him, 'Their gods or the gods of the hills. Therefore, they were stronger than we, but if we fight them in the plane, well, surely then we'll be stronger than them.'"
This is to say that like their God had like a plus 10 attack power in the plains here. And if they could just maneuver the army into the spot that favor their regional God, well, then it's a slam dunk. Dropping down to verse 28.
1 Kings 20:28 "Then a man of God came and spoke to the king of Israel and says, 'Thus says the Lord because the Syrians have said the Lord is god of the hills, but he is not the god of the valleys, therefore, I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.'"
God, again, comes to set the record straight. He is not a regional deity. His power and His strength are not constrained to one area. He has power over every inch, of every space of the whole universe. And God was going to deliver this victory specifically to emphasize that point. There are no other gods like God because there are no other gods, period.
Now, I don't know if they really got that message back in the day. But God continued to hammer home this point to them. And it became the cornerstone of the relationship that He wanted to have with the Israelites. And by extension, the cornerstone of the law He gave to them. And by further extension, the cornerstone of the 10 commandments themselves. And that is what I'd like to focus on for this message.
Today, I would like to cover the first commandment. When this commandment was given on Mount Sinai, God had a lot of preconceived notions to change and to tear down. Not only did He have to teach the Israelites that He was more powerful than any other God, but that there were no other gods. And that first part, that God was more powerful, surely the Israelites got that from time to time. But the second part, I'm not so sure about that. And even if they did fully grasp it, what would that mean? What would that relationship look like?
And, of course, to bring it full circle today, what about us? How does this commandment, and really the first two commandments together, how do they fit in our relationship? Because, really, they seem like a slam dunk these first two, just like they're the preamble to the ones we really need to focus on. Like, we can just skip right past them because we're way past polytheism, we're way past building physical idols, the bow down and worship, too. So how does this commandment impact our lives today? Because I don't think God would waste one of His commandments on a problem that wasn't systematic and systemic throughout all time.
Well, let's first start by reading the actual commandments found in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5. You can go to either spot. They're both exactly the same. I'm going to go to Exodus 20 and read verses 1-3. But before we get there, I did want to mention that I'm going to be taking some shortcuts during this message. The sermon is not about the nuances of the Godhead here. So, we do understand that God is a family that is comprised of God the Father, and the Word who became flesh as Jesus Christ who has died and was resurrected. And those two beings make up the God family. In this message, I'm going to be taking the shortcut by referring to the term God as a generic reference to the God family. I just want to be clear about that from the beginning.
Exodus 20:1-3 Says, "And God spoke all these words, saying, 'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.'" Verse 3, "You shall have no other gods before me."
It's always interesting to me how different Christian religions divide the list of commandments ever so slightly. There are some nuances in how different denominations number them. And as we understand it, verse 3, "You shall have no other gods before me," that is the first commandment. That's how we count it.
But some take part of the preamble or decide to combine and split them in different ways. Roman Catholicism, Lutherans, etc., they combine what we would consider the first two commandments and count them as one. If you ever go into the Catholic Church for a trivia night, and they asked you to name the 10 commandments, just say them all, don't number them because you'll lose on a technicality there.
And interesting, the Talmud, the Jewish Talmud has verse 3 as the second commandment. But we're going to focus on verse 3 exclusively that you shall have no other gods before me. In Matthew 6:19-24, you don't have to turn back there, Jesus Christ, He expands on this commandment. And we heard a sermon by Dr. Braid a couple of weeks ago and he elaborated on what this meant. And Jesus Christ, He holds up to conflicting sources and He helps us to understand that we can't have two masters.
Your heart will be where your treasure is, so to speak. And we can't be fully loyal to God and other distractions. And as a result, we understand the spiritual principle of this commandment deals with anything that separates us from God. We're breaking the spiritual intent behind this commandment, if something else, anything else becomes a higher priority than God. That is certainly a good and a wise extrapolation of this commandment.
But for us today, I'm going to focus on what this commandment says literally. And I'm going to break it down into two parts. The first part is that there is a God and there is exactly one God to worship. And secondly, that we individually, the you in this commandment, that you and I personally need to have God as the center of our lives. So let's jump right in and start with the first part of this commandment. And that is that there is only one God. There is only one God.
Now, if we turn away from the nation of Israel, just for a minute or two, and we had to think about maybe the most famous polytheistic nation of all time, that would probably have to be Egypt. That's what I think. And if you had to name one other Egyptian Pharaoh, other than Ramesses or Ramesses II, or whatever, what other names would come to mind? So I know we have some smart folks in the crowd. Some might be able to just list all of them, I don't know.
But when I came up with a list when I was trying to think, I can think of exactly one other Pharaoh, and that was King Tut. And King Tut is by far the most famous Pharaoh to Americans because there's been a whole host of exhibits that have been rotating around, there's artifacts on display, TV specials, and whatnot. And part of that was because it was an archaeological bonanza when they found his tomb. It had over 5,000 artifacts that they discovered.
And part of the reason why that tomb was in such great shape is that King Tut was kind of a no-name king, really. And he began to be a Pharaoh at age 9. And he ruled for 10 years before he died in an unknown cause. They don't really know. And he died suddenly. And since it was sudden, they kind of threw him in an existing crypt. They didn't have time to build a massive one. And he had no heirs and the throne passed around to different people. And each of them wanted to kind of make their own name on the kingdom for themselves.
And so finally, at the end of this 18th dynasty, the new Pharaoh named Horemheb, which you can just let that go right out of your mind, he took over and he actually carved his name over King Tut on some of the monuments. And what is unique about King Tut, though, from the perspective of this message is that he undid, so to speak, a policy that his father made. A change that was so controversial that it was quickly reversed, and then it was very diligently erased by the rest of Egypt by successive Pharaohs.
King Tut's dad, Akhenaten, he abandoned Egypt's famous polytheistic religion, that is the belief in a billion different gods, and he changed it to a form of monotheism. He instituted a worship centered around a god called Aten. And there are some scholarly debate about how far this belief system went. But a consensus is that he was the first monotheistic Pharaoh, and he believed not just in this Aten as the most powerful, but that Aten was the only God.
And this concept was so strange and so foreign and so unwelcomed by the people that it was quickly and vigorously reversed and then wiped out. And they wiped it out so that the worship of their many gods could then resume like normal. And this belief system would stay in place for the rest of the Pharaohs and it would consume that entire region. And if we fast forward thousands of years and we find the Apostle Paul when he's in Athens, he's facing some of the same problems. This worship of many different gods. Let's pick up a thread in Acts 17. We'll read some selected verses from 16 through 31.
Acts 17:16, It says, "Now while Paul waited for them in Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols."
Now, Athens was full of worship to various deities, so much so that there was a saying that in Athens, there are more Gods than humans. And one commentary stated that during this time, there was at least 12 temples to major gods just within the city. And there were just hordes and hordes of other statues to lesser deities throughout the whole city. Let's drop down to verse 22.
Acts 17:22-23 "And then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus, and said, 'Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious, for I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship. I even found an altar with this inscription, To the unknown God. Therefore, the one whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you.'"
Now notice how Paul is using their existing belief system as the entry point into his message, but then he quickly pivots to explain that this God is the only God.
Acts 17:24-28 "God who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, nor is He worshiped with men's hands as though He needed anything since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell all on all the face of the earth and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings so that they should seek the Lord in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, although He is not far from each one of us for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, for we are also His offspring."
Acts 17:29-31 "Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not think that the divine nature is like gold, or silver, or stone, or something shaped by art and man's devising. Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked but now commands all men everywhere to repent because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead."
Now, as Paul dealt more and more with Gentiles from this background, he had to adapt in how he crafted his message. After all, they did not have the context of the first commandment, like the Jewish neighbors did. Even a few verses, or a few chapters earlier, in Chapter 14, Paul heals a crippled man and the people think that Paul and Barnabas are gods. And they say that God has come down in the likeness of man. And in verse 18, it says that they could barely stop them from sacrificing to them.
Now, today, we might not have as many that hold polytheistic views. There are certainly some religions that still do, but they're now in the minority. But maybe we still don't have the correct number of gods that are worshipped. As culturally, many have jumped from one ditch to the other ditch. Maybe you already saw this, but Gallup released the results of a comprehensive religious poll at the end of last year. And there's lots of various data points in that survey, but the one that jumped out to me is that they found 17% of Americans now do not believe in any God at all, 17%.
That's almost 2 out of every 10 people no longer believe in any God at all. And if you include the number of people that are agnostic or deist or some kind of general spiritual viewpoint, that number is much, much higher. It seems like the human experience went from one side to the other without the understanding that the first commandment advocates. But there is still more than just a general belief that is needed. Even if you believe that there is one God, you still need to go one step further. You still need to have a personal relationship with God.
And that's our second emphasis for today. God needs to be our God. God needs to be our God. Just a generalized belief is not enough for this commandment. One of the church articles I read when preparing for this message, it put a slightly different perspective on this commandment driving home the focus of the first word of this commandment, the you, as in you shall have no other gods. And then the article, they press the point that you is intentional and is directive, as in you and I should be making it our God. Now I want to turn back to 2 Chronicles 14, just for a minute. 2 Chronicles 14. There's a way to understand the difference here as it played out with a king of Judah. 2 Chronicles 14, we'll pick it up in verse 1.
2 Chronicles 14:1-3 Says, "So Abijah rested with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David, then Asa, his son, reigned in his place. And in his days, the land was quiet for 10 years." I want you to notice this next verse though. It says, "Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God, for He removed the altars of the foreign gods in the high places, and he broke down the sacred pillars, and he cut down the wooden images."
Now, when I've read over this section before, I've focused more on the good and evil parts. Like, you can kind of skim down through the list of kings of Israel and Judah and you can see like, was this one good, or this one bad? And here Asa is good. But it's the second half of the sentence that is unique to Asa. And it points to what his relationship was like with God. Now he did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord, which is great. Several other kings did that. But he did it in the eyes of the Lord his God.
Now there was something different in the way that Asa viewed God. Their relationship was different. For even the other kings that are mentioned that they said that they were good, it always said that they did it for the good of the God. And in one case, they said that they did good, but not with a loyal heart. For Asa, this was not just a regional God, this was just not the God of their forefathers, it was his personal God. Let's pick it up again in verse 4.
2 Chronicles 14:4-7 "And he commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers and to observe the law and the commandment. He also removed the high places and the incense altars from all the cities of Judah and the kingdom was quiet under him. And he built fortified cities in Judah for the land had rest. He had no war in those years because the Lord had given him rest.” Verse 7, "Therefore," he said to Judah, "let us build these cities and make walls around them and towers, gates, and bars while the land is yet before us because we have sought the Lord our God. We have sought Him, and He has given us rest on every side. So they built and prospered.”
Now, this is great. Like Asa here, he's rocking and rolling here. Let's drop down to verse 11. Here we come across a battle and he's greatly outnumbered in this battle.
2 Chronicles 14:11 "And Asa cried out to the Lord his God, and said, 'Lord, it is nothing for you to help, whether with many or with those who have no power. Help us O Lord our God for we rest on you and in Your name, we go against this multitude O Lord. You are our God. Do not let man prevail against you.'"
Now, Asa, he's getting it here. And God is rewarding him. Things are looking great. There's a revival of sorts. He has peace for several generations or for several decades, rather. But then something happens. Something with Asa changed, or at least in his relationship with God. And instead of that loyal heart towards God, he goes and he makes a man-made treaty with Syria, and he strip part of the gold and the silver out of the temple and he sent it to Syria. I want to drop down now to 2 Chronicles16:7.
2 Chronicles 16:7-9 "And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said to him, 'Because you have relied on the king of Syria and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore, the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim not a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen?'" That was the battle that God supernaturally helped them win earlier. "Yet, because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand, for the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. And this you have done foolishly. Therefore, from now on, you shall have wars."
You know from this point on in the story, both here in Chronicles and in the parallel account in Kings, Asa never again refers to God as his God. At this point forward, it's always God is the God. It's back to being the impersonal and the distant. And finally, verse 12.
2 Chronicles 16:12, "And in the 39th year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet, and his malady was severe, yet in his disease, he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians."
So at this point, it was no longer his God at all. It was just the God, a God, and one that he didn't trust even with his illness. It was a drastic change of events. And I've often wondered if maybe that was why King David was so beloved with God. King David was not a perfect man. By no means, he wasn't a perfect father, he wasn't a perfect husband, not the perfect leader, not the perfect king. And in many points of his life, it was kind of a train wreck, really. But he never had any doubts as to whether God was his God or not.
He never broke that loyalty within their relationship. He knew that whatever happens, the Lord God was his God. And I suspect that you likely had a period in your life where you have really had to investigate this question as well. And determine for yourself if this church you attend, or this religion that you adhere to, or this God that you worship was an abstract thing, or if it was truly yours, if you claimed ownership of it and decided to integrate it into your life as a higher priority.
Mr. Bagent mentioned one of his, I also was going to mention the transition from Worldwide Church of God, I was just a teen back then. And at that time, both of my parents got disfellowshipped. And we had a local member swing by and pick me up every week and take me to services. And I was a young teen. And this was the first time I had to make the determination if it was my church or my family's church. If it was my God, my religion, or not. That time comes for everyone. Sometimes it comes several times as you consider your relationship with God and what priority He has within your life.
Now, as we think about this first commandment, we have to ask ourselves, what does it mean for us? Why does this matter to us? And I want to investigate one other example back in Genesis 12. You can turn back there. This is maybe the first example of someone that got it, at least when it came to an understanding of a deeper relationship with God. And we can kind of just speculate as to what extent Abraham understood the ins and outs of monotheism. But in this story, we do see how that relationship with God mattered in the most complete sense. In the end of Genesis 11, we're introduced to Abram as the son of Torah, and they lived in the land of Canaan. And I want to pick up the thread in Chapter 12:1.
Genesis 12:1-2 It says, "Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Get out of your country, from your family, and from your father's house to a land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.'"
Now, I wanted to read a comment from a commentary. It's the New King James cultural Study Bible and I thought they had something insightful about this verse. It says, "God's covenant with Abram targets the most essential elements of identity and the value system of the ancient Near East. Land was connected to one's survival, their livelihood, and their political identity. Family linked the past, present, and future, offering one of the most basic senses of identity, even more so than yourself. Inheritance fixed one's plan in the family and ensured that generations past would be remembered in the present and in the future. And when Abraham gave up his place in his father's household, he forfeited his security. He was putting his survival, his identity, his future, and his security in the hands of the Lord. And one of the reasons God may ask Abram to leave those behind is because it is in these three connections that people of the day worshipped their deity. They tended to worship their national gods which were in the country, the clan god, which was their family god, or their ancestral gods. So as Yahweh severed the ties Abram would have had with other deities, He then filled the resulting void as the only God Abram would need."
Genesis 12:3-4 It says, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. And in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed. So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran."
Now, our security and our identity are wrapped up in other things now, but the equivalent would be like taking away our citizenship, removing us from our families, our cultural identity, taking away our bank accounts, and plopping us down in a foreign place. And not only be willing to do so but just give it up wholeheartedly and commit fully to it knowing that the all-powerful God was offering a relationship that had never before been conceived by humans.
This isn't like a Greek god that treats humans as playthings. This isn't a foreign deity that you have to perform mysterious rituals to try to appease and hope that it works. But rather, this is the creator of the universe that wants to have a personal relationship as a father does to his sons and daughters. Abraham didn't just put no other gods before Yahweh, he removed everything, and put God right back in the center. And here's the thing. If you and I believe in God like the first commandment describes, if you and I believe that there is one God and that there is no other gods or deities other than this God, and that God cares about, knows about, is involved with us, well, then you and I have to do the exact same thing.
Well, of course, this is the first commandment. This is the commandment that starts the relationship that God wants to have with His created beings. And when you start from this foundation, only then can you layer the rest of the commandments on top of them all from the perspective of this first commandment. The first commandment is not the only commandment, of course, it's just the commandment that all the other ones build on top of.
On conclusion, I wanted to turn back to one other Scripture in 1 Samuel 4. This chapter, we have a series of battles between the Israelites and the Philistines. And earlier in this chapter, there's already been one battle and the Philistines were victorious. So in verse 3, the Israelites, they take stock, they go back to their planning sessions, they try to figure out what went wrong so that they can do better on the next battle.
1 Samual 4:4-5 "So the people went to Shiloh that they may bring from there the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of hosts, who dwells between the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, these two, were there with the Ark of the Covenant of God. And when the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth shook."
So they got it all in place now. They've got their special artifact that gives them a bonus. They've got their two priests that can harness the power. They are fighting in their region's deity space. They have everything they need. The Philistine's regional deity was overmatched, overpowered. This was going to be a slam dunk.
1 Samual 4:6-8 "And now when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, 'What does the sound of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?' Then they understood that the Ark of the Lord had come into the camp. So the Philistines were afraid for they said, 'God has come down into the camp.' And they said, ‘Woe to us, for such a thing has never happened before. Woe to us, who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness.'"
Now woe is right, this is going to be a blowout. They've got their artifacts, they've got their priests, they've done all their rituals, their God's been woken up, everything they need. Dropping down to verse 10.
1 Samual 4:10-11 "So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent. And there was very great slaughter, and there fell of Israel 30,000 foot soldiers. Also, the Ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli dead."
They tried to harness the power without having the relationship. They thought they could just get all the pieces that they needed, put them in place, and then they could force the hand of their deity and make it happen for themselves. In other words, they wanted to act like all the other nations around them acted. Well, God doesn't work that way. He never has, He never will.
It's the relationship and the loyalty that God is after. And that's the one thing that these Israelites tried so hard to sidestep around. God worked through the prophets, through His leaders, through His commandments, through His statutes, to try and teach them how to have a different relationship. How to think about God in a different way than all the nations around them. And every now and then, some of them got it. Other times, God had to send them back to square one, all the way back to commandment number one, "You shall have no other gods before me." There aren't any other gods before or behind me. There aren't regional gods, or sun gods, or city gods, or family gods. Your God isn't distant. Your God, the Creator of the universe is nearer to us and wants a relationship with us. There can be no other things before Him as He is everything.
And when we think about the first commandment, let us call to mind that it's so much more than deciding if Baal or Yahweh is more powerful. It's realizing who God is, and more importantly, acting on it, working on that relationship. Have other gods before Me? No, not a chance. Our God is the only God and He is my God and your God. Together collectively, and certainly individually, let us strengthen those ties with the Creator of the universe and worship Him as the one true God.