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‘The Glory is Departed’

Category Articles
Date May 2, 2008

It was at the end of the period when judges ruled in Israel. This was a time of repeated departures from God – when ‘every man did that which was right in his own eyes’, without any thought of what the Most High saw to be right. The Philistines invaded the land and the first day of battle was a disaster for the Israelites; 4000 men were killed. It was decided to bring the ark of the covenant to the battlefield from its place in the tabernacle. But it was an act of mere superstition; what good could it do to bring the symbol of the presence of God when their sins were separating them from the actual presence of God? Indeed the ark itself was soon captured and ‘there was a very great slaughter’ of 30000 Israelites. Among the slain were the two sons of Eli the high priest, Hophni and Phinehas.

When Eli heard the news, especially about the ark, he fell backwards off his seat and died. Meanwhile Phinehas’ wife was about to give birth. She died after a son was born, but not before she had called the child Ichabod. The name meant ‘no glory’, and she said, ‘The glory is departed from Israel’ (1 Sam. 4:21). This good woman was particularly disturbed by the capture of the ark of God. The most holy place in the tabernacle was the proper place for the ark; on it were the cherubim of glory – forming, as it were, a throne for the Lord, since his presence was symbolised by the cloud ‘above the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims’ (1 Sam. 4:4). So David was to express to God his love for the temple as ‘the place where thine honour [or, glory] dwelleth’ (Psa. 26:8). Now when the ark was captured by the heathen Philistines, so Phinehas’ wife argued, God’s glory departed with it. She was, surely, conscious of the ungodliness that pervaded the country, and particularly of the flagrant wickedness of her husband at the temple. Where, she might have asked, was the evidence of God’s presence in Israel? Where was the evidence of his work in the land?

Yet God had not altogether forsaken the land. Here was one woman who, at a time when one might expect to find her completely taken up with her new-born son, was concerned about the departure of God’s glory from Israel. This itself was an indication that, while the symbol of God’s presence in Israel had been removed from the country, something of his actual presence and some evidence of his powerful work still remained. Indeed the very fact that God had already spoken to young Samuel was an indication that God had not forsaken Israel; rather it was a pointer to future days of blessing. Before long the ark was returned and, before many years had passed, Samuel raised the stone he called Ebenezer [stone of help], to commemorate a convincing defeat of the Philistines, when he was able to say, ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us’ (1 Sam. 7:12).

God’s people today may look on places where there used to be obvious signs of God’s glory; they may remember times when the Holy Spirit was manifestly poured out in the salvation of many sinners. Even within living memory there may have been many who showed clear signs of true godliness – in their holy lives, their prayerfulness and their concern for the prosperity and purity of Christ’s cause. Now God’s people feel that the glory has departed; many of the saints whom they knew in their younger years have gone home to glory; few, if any, are taking their places; and those who survive do not appear to show the same degree of godliness as previous generations. The professing Church shows much evidence of declension – in particular, a near-universal rejection of the sole authority of the Word of God. And all the multitude of errors in doctrine, worship and practice flow from a refusal to submit to the authority of the Most High speaking in his Word. At the same time, the secularisation of countries such as Britain – once recognisably Christian, at least from an outward point of view – is increasing fast.

All this is clear evidence that God is no longer working to the extent that he once did, whether in the way of saving sinners and building them up in their most holy faith or, more generally, in the way of restraining sin. Thus we must accept that in our time the glory is obviously departing. But we have no right to say, as yet, that the glory of God has departed. Indeed God’s glory will never leave the earth, for there will always be at least ‘a remnant according to the election of grace’ (Rom. 11:5) in some parts of the world. We ought therefore to praise God that there will always be some godly souls: a people who ‘shall fear thee as long as the sun and the moon endure, throughout all generations’ (Psa. 72:5).

But we cannot promise ourselves that in any particular country, or even in any given community, there will always be those who fear God. In his letter to the Church in Ephesus, the Lord warned them of the danger that, if they did not repent, he would remove the candlestick out of its place – in other words, his church would no longer exist in Ephesus. No doubt this has taken place in many cities and villages besides Ephesus; no doubt it has happened within living memory in many communities, so that no one is left who will worship God from the heart and, if any kind of Christian worship remains, it is utterly formal. Then it may be said as in Isaiah’s time: ‘This people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me’ (Isa. 29:13). Then, obviously, God’s glory has completely departed from that community.

However much we feel that the glory has departed, we are not to give up hope. That would be quite wrong. In Jeremiah’s time, the signs were ominous. True religion was on a downward slide; the people were rushing into false ways of worship. Indeed he was sent to King Zedekiah with the fearful message: ‘Thus saith the Lord: Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire’ (Jer. 34:2). Yet Jeremiah could plead with God in these confident terms: ‘Ah Lord God! Behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee” (Jer. 32:17). God is still the same today; his power has not changed. Accordingly nothing is too hard for him; we have no right to be discouraged.

Rather, God’s people are to pray – earnestly and consistently; they are to ‘give him no rest’ (Isa. 62:7) in seeking the prosperity of Christ’s cause in this world. Yet, manifestly, they give him much rest; they come far short in their earnestness; their desires are weak; they give up very easily. But one clear sign of God’s glory returning would be the outpouring of God’s Spirit on his people in giving them grace to pray, and to pray perseveringly.

How far may we go in expressing our desires in prayer for the return of God’s glory? There should be no limit to such desires, for ‘the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’ (Isa. 11:9). And when this knowledge spreads everywhere and outward knowledge becomes spiritual knowledge ” when outward knowledge of God and of the salvation he has provided in Christ Jesus leads to saving faith ” then God’s glory will have overspread all parts of the world. God’s children would be thankful for smaller blessings ” if they saw God working by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of some gospel-hardened sinners or bringing into his kingdom some who were totally ignorant of scriptural things, if they saw some of his children make manifest progress in the way of holiness, or if they saw a significant degree of restraint on flagrant sin. Such blessings would signal a degree of the return of God’s glory. And no doubt they would encourage God’s people to pray more earnestly and consistently for further blessings. But we should not rest satisfied with anything less than the complete fulfilment of the widest promises of God’s Word, such as that in Isaiah 11:9. Our prayers should be influenced by the inspired example: ‘Let the whole earth be filled with his glory’ (Psa. 72:19).

Notes

Rev Kenneth D Macleod is pastor of a Free Presbyterian Church on the Isle of Harris, Scotland. He edits The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the April 2008 issue of which this Editorial is taken, with kind permission.

www.fpchurch.org.uk

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