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“Response: My Surrender”

Nov.19 2017 Huron Chapel - 1Sam.5-6; Heb.13:4-18


Welcome to Part 10 in our series on “Response: Our Interactions with God”, based on 1Samuel 1-7. Just to recap, where have we been so far in the series? Back on Sept.17 we began with “Follow”. Then “I’m Valued”; Hannah’s distress over her childlessness and Peninnah’s taunting pointed to “My Anguish”. After Thanksgiving Sunday we had “My Worship” after Hannah presented to the Lord the son He had granted her. Her song of praise was the focus of “I Acknowledge”. Samuel’s ministry as a boy at the tabernacle at Shiloh contrasted with the greed of Eli’s sons gave us “My Obedience”. God’s call to Samuel in chapter 3 was the focus of “I’m Listening”. The capture of the Ark by the Philistines, accompanied by the death of Eli and birth of “No-glory” Ichabod, signifying the departure of the glory from Israel, gave us “To His Glory”.
    That brings us to today’s theme, “My Surrender”. A surrendered heart is a yielded heart, a heart that’s impacted and impressionable, rather than a hard heart. Saint Augustine said: “To my God, a heart of flame; to my fellow men, a heart of love; to myself, a heart of steel.” The problem comes when we have a heart of steel towards God instead of ourself: when we respond defiantly toward God, we thumb our nose at Him, we think, “I can manage quite all right on my own, thank you very much.”
    There’s something inherent in our fallen human nature that tends to want to rely on our own strength rather than rely on God or trust in God. The hardened heart is resistant to God, unco-operative. Watchman Nee once took a cookie and nudged it with his finger, demonstrating its unyieldedness, its resistance to movement. Then he took the cookie and broke it down the middle; he placed it back on the table, both halves together, so it looked like it was all one cookie again. But when he nudged it this time, the half moved away very easily. He used that as a picture of the surrendered heart: we become sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s slightest nudges.
    But, first let’s go to our Bible text. It teaches us other idols don’t compare; defiance draws discipline; and God seeks our unswerving attraction.


1Samuel 5:1 begins, “After the Philistines had captured the ark of God...” Who were these “Philistines”? They were enemies of Israel from the time of the judges until the end of David’s reign. They were the “Sea Peoples”, probably originating from Greek islands particularly Crete. They were immigrants. They invaded the coastland of the Mediterranean Sea on the west side of Israel and conquered the fertile plain areas first, then started threatening the hill country further inland. You could think of them as imperialist perhaps; economic opportunists; taking advantage of weaker peoples.
    My own forefathers got off the boat from Scotland in 1821, started farming in Lanark County, then in 1850 moved up to Hibbert Township west of Mitchell. Before you think too negatively of the Philistines – how much differently would an indigenous Ojibway or Iroquois person have viewed these Scottish and other European infiltrators? Maybe we can relate a bit to the need of these “economic migrants” needing a place to expand into for their families?
    V2 “Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon.” The Israelites had made the mistake of treating the Ark of the Covenant as a fetish, a sort of magic totem or good-luck-charm, like a rabbit’s foot you might tuck in your pocket. But God will not yield His glory so as to be at our beck and call, as if He were some genie in a bottle! Even the priests had been showing contempt for God’s offering by spearing choice cuts before it was even ceremonially offered. So God allowed the Israelites to be defeated, and His ark – the very centrepiece of the worship of Yahweh, holding the sacred tablets of His covenant from Sinai and the mercy seat topped by the cherubim – He allowed His ark to be taken captive by unwashed uncircumcised pagans. The Philistines, probably complimenting themselves on their military prowess, installed it in the temple of their chief god, Dagon, as if it were some kind of trophy that owed tribute to their idol.
    Who is this god “Dagon”? Some say an agricultural god, but more likely it’s a fish-god: some ancient sources describe it as its top half being that of a ‘handsome woman’ and the bottom half being that of a fish. (Any Disney movies come to mind?) Yes, it could have been what today we’d call a mermaid! Supposedly Baal – the god of the Canaanites – was the son of Dagon.
    But God is not like lifeless idols, however handsomely they may be carved by human hands. Yahweh is the “Lord of hosts” – and not meaning Israel’s army, but heavenly ones. God proceeds to show He can protect His glory and that of His ark single-handedly in all this passage. V3 next morning the locals find: “there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord!” They put the statue back in place, but they didn’t seem to get the message, so, v4 - “But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained.” This cobbled-together fish-god was totally powerless compared to Yahweh.
    Towards the end of chapter 6, various Israelites repeat the error of the Philistines, in that they treat the sacred objects of Yahweh’s worship casually, without due respect. 6:19f “But God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them, and the men of Beth Shemesh asked, "Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?"” (1Sa 6:19-20) THIS HOLY GOD... Do you truly revere God as holy, awe-some / awe-full, worthy of highest honour, in your life? Or is God some kind of good luck charm to you, to be pulled out at your convenience when you’re facing some sort of problem? What idols (mermaids or otherwise) are you setting up in your life in competition with the Lord Jesus?
    The Apostle Paul warned Christ-followers in 2Cor.6 not to be yoked together with unbelievers because, v16 “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."” Christ calls us as His followers to be different, to be holy, for He is holy. 1Thess.1:9 “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God...” It requires a turn away from other idols – however attractive they may be.


So began God’s teaching a pagan people - the Philistines - about His glory and honour. They had dared to fight against His people and usurp their inheritance; so He was about to teach them to respect who He was. While the ark remained in the land of the Philistines, there’s a recurrent phrase referring to His “heavy hand” disciplining them. V6 “The LORD’s hand was heavy upon the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation upon them and afflicted them with tumors.” KJV has “haemorrhoids” - painful enough! But coupled with the mention of rats, commentators suspect this plaque may have been the bubonic plague, in which the parasites find their hosts in rats, as in the Black Death that killed millions in Europe in the 1300s. Whatever the specific disease was, it brought a definite reaction. V7 “When the men of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, "The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy upon us and upon Dagon our god."” Vv11-12 “"Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people." For death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy upon it.Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.” 6:5 “Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and pay honor to Israel’s god.Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land.” 6:9 refers to “his hand that struck us...”
    What was the whole point of this “heavy hand” punishing them? This pagan people’s own soothsayers and diviners interpret the meaning in 6:5f, “...pay honor to Israel’s god...Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When he treated them harshly, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?” God is jealous for His glory. He is not being selfish or a megalomaniac: God is the one being in the universe (and beyond the universe) for whom it is entirely appropriate that He be glory-seeking, for He is its source, and it is His great pleasure to share His glory with His creatures. It gives us pleasure to adore His glory – that’s how He made us.
    So the point here is, we need to honour God, rather than be hardening our heart like Pharaoh or (later) Goliath defying God. Will we be cooperative with God? Or resist His Lordship? Paul reminds believers in 1Cor.6:20 “...you were bought at a price.Therefore honor God with your body.” Because we have been redeemed and our sins forgiven through Jesus’ sacrifice, we owe God honour. We also owe Him honour because we exist only because He created us. The winged creatures surrounding God’s throne in Rev.4:11 sing continually, “"You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being."” Your being here today, your taking your very next breath, are reasons to honour God. Have any of your actions this past week possibly risked bringing DIShonour to Him instead? Has your heart’s affection for the Lord cooled at all over the years to the point of becoming calloused or hard, maybe just indifferent where there used to be devotedness and eagerness? Has church become routine, a drag? Probably the remedy is more internal than external.


Interestingly, the pagan spiritual leaders set things up for the return of the ark in a way that proves (in their minds) beyond a doubt that the plague and destruction of produce brought by the rats is indeed divine punishment, rather than just a chance happening. (6:9) Following their religious customs which used sympathetic magic routines – kind of like voodoo dolls – they make likenesses in gold of the tumours and rats, one for each of the 5 main Philistine cities. They set these and the Ark of the Covenant on a cart pulled by dairy cows that are not used to pulling carts and prone to wander into the first grassy field in view. They pen up the cows’ calves which would prompt these bovine mothers to come running to their young ones’ bawls at the first opportunity (remember the saying, ‘Never come between a mother bear and her cubs’ – cattle can be protective, too!).
    But once the cows are hooked up to the cart, what happens? Do they divert to the first available fresh pasture? Do they make a dash for the their bleating little ones? 6:12 “Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left.” They went straight, not turning to right or left – unswerving. (I’ve herded cattle up the road from our home farm to their summer pasturage and they certainly didn’t “keep on the road”!) They went “lowing all the way” – a cow’s lowing reflects desire, concern to get ahead as fast as possible to whatever’s attracting them.
    Jesus bids us in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness...” Are you seeking God’s rule in your life as earnestly as those cows were seeking their destination, yearning towards it, can’t-get-there-fast-enough? Would you be shown up by a humble cow?! They were completely SURRENDERED to their task, ignoring their calves even, ignoring the beckoning grassland either side of the path. To use the PromiseKeepers language, are you “ALL IN” for God’s Kingdom? If not, what’s getting you off track?
    Consider all the things God used to prove His glory and sovereignty to the pagan Philistines. His heavy hand applied pressure through rats destroying the country, disease inflicting painful tumours. V12 “Those who did not die were afflicted with tumours” – it was one or the other, you were either dead OR diseased! And God showed the rulers He was solidly in control by leading the cows straight back to Israel regardless of other natural enticements. God would not be put in a box by the Israelites’ tokenism or the Philistines’ placing His ark in their own god’s temple. God successfully protected His glory and brought back the ark to Israel without any human intervention whatsoever.
    With power like that – what might God be waiting to accomplish in YOUR life?


How do the Israelites respond when the ark is returned to them? With joy and SACRIFICE. 1Sam.6:13ff “Now the people of Beth Shemesh were harvesting their wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they rejoiced at the sight.The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and there it stopped beside a large rock. The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD...On that day the people of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the LORD.”
    Discipleship involves SURRENDER; and surrender often manifests itself in SACRIFICE. The world’s idols would just love to get a piece of us. They sink their hooks into us – at first it’s pleasurable, but eventually there’s a price to pay. Satan’s goal (and that of his demons) is to steal, kill, and destroy us by degrees – in contrast to Jesus’ goal to give us life abundant (John 10:10). The New Testament writers also warn us about idols that can waylay us in the Christian pilgrimage. How does the Apostle John close his first letter to the church? What’s his concluding emphasis, the statement he wants to leave echoing in our ears? 1Jn 5:21 “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”
    Our Scripture reading earlier in the service from Hebrews 13 picks up some of these themes. What are two big idols in today’s world? What are some of the biggest “draws” or temptations in modern life? SEX and MONEY.
    Heb 13:4 “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Sex is a huge idol in our culture, which is awash in immoral signals. There’s an important upcoming documentary November 28, “Over 18", which hopefully will prompt parents to start talking about it with their teens. The statistics describe its prevalence: 90% of boys and 60% of girls have seen porn by the age of 18; and all but 6% of those have been exposed by the age of 14.Philip Zimbardo, emeritus professor of psychology at Stanford University, says: "Porn embeds you in what I call present hedonistic time zone.You seek pleasure and novelty and live for the moment." He adds that, while not chemically addictive, porn has the same effect on behaviour as a drug addiction does: some people stop doing much else in favor of pursuing it. (source: time.com)
    The author of Hebrews points out another huge idol in our society in 13:5, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."” What’s the basis of our security? Is it God, or mammon? The sacred – or ‘stuff’? The advertisers cater to our lack of contentment, our continual hankering for more “stuff” that we imagine will make us feel complete and fulfilled. But it’s only Jesus that gives us life abundant (Jn 10:10).
    One other idol prevalent in society is AUTONOMY – living for our SELF, governing our SELF, nobody else telling us what to do, being independent. It’s significant that in two separate sections of this short passage, the author of Hebrews urges Christians to develop the discipline of obedience and submission to proper authority. V7 “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Again, ten verses later in v17, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Mark those words: Obey - Submit – those are not popular words in today’s “do your own thing” culture! But God calls us together in Christ’s Body, the Church, to help us learn “one-anothering”, as a group to counter culture’s rampant individualism and autonomy-worship.
    As a church, you call a pastor and appoint elders to provide faithful spiritual leadership. You need to obey them and submit to them insofar as they admonish you to pursue Biblical truth and lifestyle. If they preach that you should go get ten wives – don’t pay any attention to them! If they preach you must give 100% of your lottery winnings to the church – you won’t find that in Scripture... But if week by week they unpack God’s commands and promises from the Bible in understandable fashion for you to adopt into your life – listen to them. If they prayerfully decide as a leadership team it’s time to try 2 services – that’s not counter to the Bible; in fact it’s in tune with New Testament teaching on hospitality, making space for the stranger (Rom 12:13; 1Peter 4:9). So you need to pull together and give it your very best shot. Respect their judgment. They’re not perfect; they will make mistakes from time to time – they need your prayers (v18 “Pray for us”). But they’re doing their best to, as 13:18 puts it, “Live honorably in every way.” And your pulling together and moving in unison as a group will be a witness to others watching in the community. Meanwhile, God is developing humility, servanthood, and character in you as a person as you practise submission to legitimate, Christ-centred, Bible-believing authority.
    SURRENDER involves SACRIFICE – not just doing as we please, but offering our lives to God in a way that pleases Him. Heb.13:15f “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise— the fruit of lips that confess his name.And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Sharing with others gets at that idol of ‘love of money’ again. So here are mentioned sacrifices of praise (we surrender our lips), of doing good (we surrender our energy / our hands / our time), and of our resources (we surrender our money and ‘stuff’).


Surrendering requires us to sort through our true priorities. God may be calling us to lay down some of the idols that have been burdening us. We’ve been hauling around the wrong loads, and need to submit to Him instead.
    I hear reports this season of people out hunting deer. A group of friends who went deer hunting separated into pairs for the day. That night, one hunter returned alone, staggering under an eight-point buck. The other hunters asked, "Where's Harry?" The man told him, "Harry fainted a couple miles up the trail." The others couldn't believe it. "You mean you left him lying there alone and carried the deer back?" The man answered, "It was a tough call, but I figured no one is going to steal Harry." (!)
    What is the Lord asking you to surrender today? Are you carrying home some wrong priority – like that buck – your work, your search for success or reputation or riches – and leaving your family back behind on the trail? Are you leaving the Lord behind? Surrender those wrong goals and habits today, and begin submitting to God’s will which alone can help you become truly alive. Let’s pray.