ICHABOD OR EBENEZER
by Pastor Dan White
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Why? Why Lord? Why did You allow this to happen to me? You’ve asked that question. So have I. It cries out for an answer, but the Lord remains silent. Nothing changes. The cancer comes back. A decent job can’t be found. The wife leaves for another man. Is God asleep? Is He deaf to my cry? Why? Why Lord? Why did You allow this to happen to me?
We go merrily along whistling and singing, “Zip-Ah-Dee-Doo-Dah; Zip-Ah-Dee-Ay. My oh my what a wonderful day. Mr. Blue Bird on my shoulder. It's the truth. It's actual. Everything is satisfactual. Zip-Ah-Dee-Doo-Dah; Zip-Ah-Dee-Ay. Wonderful feeling, wonderful day.”
Then out of nowhere, WHAM! Things aren't going so good. Nothing is going my way. We all have times like that. Times like that may be happening to you now. Ichabod. That’s what it is - Ichabod!
Over three thousand years ago, Israel went to battle against the Philistines and LOST! Four thousand of God’s chosen people died in the battle. The surviving soldiers asked that question too. WHY? "Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines?” (1 Samuel 4:3 NIV). Why Lord, why? The battle didn’t go as we planned. We are your people. You are supposed to give us victory and not defeat. Look at the corpses of all of your soldiers lying on the battlefield.
The situation continued going downhill fast. Israel’s leaders brought the Ark of the Covenant with them to the next day’s battle. That would surely cause the Lord to give them victory over an enemy who worshipped Dagon instead of the LORD God. At the next day’s battle, thirty thousand of Israel’s best soldiers gave their lives for God and country. They lost again leaving the army of God in complete and total disarray. The men fled back to their homes and left the country defenseless.
A messenger brought word to God’s man, Eli, the priest. Not only did the messenger tell of gloom and doom, but he also gave the sad report to Eli that his two sons, Hopni and Phineas died. Eli was told that the treasured Ark of the Covenant was captured by the pagan Philistines as well. The news shocked the old man severely. He fell off his chair and broke his neck. Eli, the religious leader of Israel, died.
But, there was one glimmer of hope. Phineas’ wife carried the hope of new life inside her with Eli’s grandson. But when the dramatic news of defeat and the news about the death of her husband came to her, she went into pre-mature labor. Straining to give birth, she grew weaker and weaker. Life was leaving her as she pushed to give new life. The mid-wife saw death etched upon her face and asked, “What do you want to name this child?” In her dying breath as the baby finally emerged from her womb, she weakly whispered, “Ichabod.”
Her family took over the raising of Ichabod. Every time he was out playing and called for supper, his name echoed across the neighborhood and really, across Israel. “Ichabod, Ichabod, it’s time for supper. Come home.”
And, every Israelite who heard the call for Ichabod heard the sadness echoed in a dying mother’s name for her son. Ichabod - “the glory of the Lord has departed Israel.”
Has the glory of the Lord departed from you, your house, or your church? Has it been defeat after defeat? Nothing is going right. You love the Lord but wonder if He really loves you and has abandoned you. Ichabod is your name. Ichabod is written over the door post of your home. Ichabod is written over the entrance of your church. The glory of the Lord has departed.
Like the Israelite army, the battle didn’t go the way you had planned. You worship God, go to church, tried to raise your kids right, give your offerings to the church, and try and live the Christian life. But, your life plans, your plans for your children, your job, your future, and maybe even your church are ruined. Like Israel, you flee in disarray. Alone, you seek pain relief from the destruction and meaningless existence around you. The Blue Bird on your shoulder has flown away.
Well dear friend, keep reading. Don’t give up!
God brought down his wrath upon the Philistines who stole the Ark of the Covenant. In every city where the Ark was taken, Philistines were stricken with horrible sores and died from them. God smote the enemy of Israel without one soldier from the Israelite army fighting in battle! Finally, they took the Ark back to Israel in humility and with offerings to the Lord God.
Now you know, when we have those times of defeat and feel that our prayers never rise above the ceiling, we want results from God right NOW! But sometimes, many times, God says, “WAIT.” There are some things God wants to clean up in our lives. His goal for us is to become more and more like Christ. “My dear children, for whom I (Paul) am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19 NIV).
Paul suffered for the Galatians like a woman in childbirth waiting, longing, and praying for the formation of Christ in them. Their suffering was his suffering. Their victories were his victories. That’s the bond of Christian love and brotherhood.
It is in the defeats and the trials of testing that we grow in the Lord. That’s when we hang on in faith because there is nothing left to hang on to. Like a baby severed from his mother’s umbilical cord, he is on his own to breathe and be nourished outside his mother’s body. He is detached from the safety of the womb.
In the same way, we too must detach from the womb of the world and attach to Christ. That means that if the economy crashes, we don’t crash. If our health crashes, we don’t crash. If suddenly we find ourselves alone as a widow or widower, we have the companionship of Christ and his church. Yes, there is grief, pain, death, sickness, and defeat. We feel deeply the grief and the loss. Tears flow like a waterfall.
However, in the sadness and sorrow, God is working in us to make us more like Christ - more humble, more grateful for His blessings, more dependent upon the Father, more love for others, and more aware that indeed we are detached from this world. It is not our home. We are wandering pilgrims here with our heavenly destination in view where we will live forever and ever without pain, sorrow, death, and tears -safe in the arms of Jesus, our Savior, Redeemer, and Friend!
That’s why we must keep on reading the story in I Samuel after the birth of Icahabod. When we read further, we find another Holy Man, Samuel, taking Eli’s place. A new day dawns upon Israel. Twenty years passed after Eli’s death. God is never on our time table but works according to His time which can be excruciatingly long for us who want instant answers from the Lord.
Samuel preached and told the children of Israel to return to the Lord. Put away the sensual worship of Baal and Ashtoreth, the false gods, and idol worship. Samuel told them to bring an offering, a sacrifice to the Lord, and he told them that he would pray. The people repented. There was a great revival of holiness and faith in the land. People returned to the places of the worship of the One true God - the Lord of hosts.
The next time the Israelites went into battle, God led them to victory! God sent a great thunder which confused the Philistines and disoriented them. The enemy ran in defeat. Israel was saved by the power God displayed over nature and circumstances.
After the victory, the faithful priest and prophet, Samuel, went before the Lord for the people in great thanksgiving and humility. Instead of crying, “Icahabod,” Samuel raised his Ebenezer.
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far has the LORD helped us." So the Philistines were subdued and did not invade Israelite territory again. Throughout Samuel's lifetime, the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:12-13 NIV).
“Ebenezer - Thus far, the Lord helped us.” He is our Rock, our Hiding Place, our Deliverer, and goes before us in battle. His banner over us is love.
The Ichabod times make us get on our knees, read the Bible for answers, pray, worship in the church, and seek the answer to “Why? Why Lord has this happened to me?” The Lord may have to do some house-cleaning, some purifying, and it’s never pleasant to be tried in the furnace. But after the trial of fire, pure gold comes forth, the character of Christ shines forth in your face, and you too can raise your Ebenezer in tribute and honor to the Lord.
Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I'm come;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.
O to grace how great a debtor
daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here's my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.
- Robert Robinson (1735-1790)
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