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  • Writer's pictureSue Rhineheimer

Learning from Israel's Past: The Responsibility We Hold in Our Own Salvation

Our country was once considered a “Christian nation.” Our nation’s founding documents were riddled with scripture and Biblical principles. Biblical instruction used to be a regular part of education. Our currency tells us that we trust in God. People used to pray as families. Why then, is our country the way it is now? In this article, we’re going to look at the history of Israel to see how the Bible describes where we went wrong. In doing so, we'll be able to discern our personal responsibility in our own salvation.

Weathered American flag with stormy clouds


Dark days were common in Israel during the times of the judges. After Israel conquered the Promised Land with Joshua, and before King Saul was anointed as the first king, their generational cycle went something like this:


Sin, captivity, repentance, freedom. Sin, captivity, repentance, freedom. Sin…


You get the idea.


At that time, a man named Eli was the judge and high priest of Israel. As such, Eli would have been the most central figure for all 12 tribes of Israel. He had come from a priestly family, and his sons would eventually inherit his priestly duties to carry on. Eli’s lineage was full of honor toward God, miraculous victories from God, and the laws of God, which brought prosperity and security to the entire nation.


But Eli was not a strong leader. Evil and sin surrounded that family. He had failed to train and discipline his sons in the ways of God. God even told Eli that he honored his sons, more than Him. As a matter of fact, God eventually stopped talking directly to him altogether. Eli’s sons, Phinehas and Hophni, had no respect for the position they had inherited. They seemed to hold their priestly responsibilities as mundane and meaningless. They had no respect for the people they were supposed to serve at the altar of sacrifice. They had no fear of God. They took their positions for granted. 


When the Israelites brought their sacrifices to the tabernacle, Phinehas and his brother would take choice pieces of the sacrifice for themselves. They also took from portions that were unlawful for them to eat. When the people complained, Phinehas and Hophni responded by threatening them. These young priests operated as if there would be no consequences for their behavior.


They thought nothing of those they abused. Not only were the laws of sacrifice broken, but also the laws of purity when they slept with the women at the tabernacle’s gate. Phinehas himself, had a pregnant wife at home and was openly unfaithful to her. These sons of Eli, failed to realize that God would eventually hold them accountable. Soon enough, God spoke two prophecies against Eli and his sons, to punish their actions (1 Samuel 2:27-36, 3:11-14). 


Unfortunately, their punishment would impact the whole nation.


 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” - Hebrews 10:31


To judge the evil of Israel’s leadership, God brought the Philistines to battle against the Israelites. In the first battle, Israel lost 4,000 men. To try and help their cause, the elders of Israel proposed that the Ark of the Covenant be taken before the people, to lead the battle. Phinehas and his brother agreed, possibly thinking of the long-ago victory over Jericho. In The Battle of Jericho, the priests led with the Ark while the soldiers and people followed behind. Phinehas and his brother may have imagined themselves bravely leading with the Ark unto victory. So, they agreed. Why, with them leading the battle, “their” victory would be heralded for ages!


But it was not to be for Phinehas and his brother. They were killed, just as God prophesied. The Ark was captured by the Philistines. The Ark should have been kept in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle, where God met with the high priest to forgive the sins of the nation. The “Mercy Seat” on top of the Ark was covered by two golden cherubim, with outspread wings, surrounding the very Presence of God – His Shekinah Glory. There, the merciful blessings of forgiveness were extended, and curses for the sins of the nation, were withdrawn. But now the Ark of the Covenant was gone – captured by their enemies, the Philistines. It was gut wrenching news!


Gone were the blessings to set Israel high above all the nations on Earth, and to defeat their enemies.


Gone were the blessings of abundant prosperity, for both the fruit of the womb, and the fruit of Israel’s land.


Gone were the blessings on Israel’s barns, and everything they put their hand to.


Instead, now would come the curses that God promised for this kind of unfaithfulness and disobedience: Disease; drought; loss of life, property, and of family; little or no harvest; defeat in war, and the fear of captivity in faraway lands.


These curses, and more, would soon come to pass. Israel was supposed to be the apple of God’s eye…


When the news came back to Eli about the capture of the Ark, he fell over backwards from shock of the loss, broke his neck in the fall, and died – just like God prophesied. The wife of his son, Phinehas, went into labor and bore a son. She didn’t grieve over the death of her husband or her father-in-law, but as she labored, she lamented over and over, “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured.”


Before dying, she named her son Ichabod meaning. “The Glory has departed.”


The lament was horrifyingly clear. “The glory of God,” signified by the Ark of the Covenant, was now in the hands of the enemy. By naming her child Ichabod. his mother forever reminds us that, when the Glory of God leaves a nation, that nation is cursed.

Man with face in hand in pain


For who is the King of Glory? The LORD, strong and mighty in battle, the LORD Almighty” - Psalm 24:8-10


How did this happen? What caused this kind of catastrophe that would affect a nation’s prosperity and security? If we answer these questions truthfully, we can learn from Israel's past. We can understand the responsibility of our own salvation.

Let’s look back to Phinehas and his brother who grew up in a priestly home. Their father was the high priest – a ministry and community leader – yet they ignored the influence of their father, and the laws of the priesthood. Phinehas, with his brother, abused the sacrifices of the people, and treated the women like temple prostitutes. These two men took the Ark into battle, perhaps thinking it contained God’s blessing of victory. Phinehas himself, probably had no idea that these actions would take his life, destroy his family, leave his child an orphan, and ultimately cause the Presence of God to be separated from the nation. We seldom consider the rippling effects of our decisions to pursue selfish ambitions.


Today we see men and women in leadership positions who have lost their respect for God, and the laws that govern our nation. Like Phinehas, they envision themselves above those they serve, and act as if the laws founded by God, do not apply to them. Like Phinehas, they use their positions to benefit themselves, instead of the people. Some imagine the choices they make for the populace will benefit our nation, but many of those choices have brought rapid decline and division into the land.

Even in the church, we hear of church leaders who have abandoned the doctrines of God laid out in the Bible. They cater to the current mindset of the day instead. Some have wandered so far, that they claim to believe the Bible endorses lifestyles and decisions that are completely the opposite of God’s commands.

Guy Fawkes mask with anarchy symbol on forehead


We cannot expect for God to honor us if we continually scoff and reject His authority. We cannot expect God to protect us when we refuse to obey his commands and submit to His Word. We cannot live a life that abuses those around us, while benefiting ourselves. Sometimes it only takes the influence of a few to destroy a nation. The integrity of our leaders, whether in the home, the church, or the government, is paramount to the safety and prosperity of our land.  Those who have neglected to honor God and His commands, should take to heart the promise God gives if they will but turn from their wicked ways.


If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14


What do we learn from Israel's past? What responsibility do we hold in our own salvation? Our homes, churches, and nation urgently need men and women of God who will lead in such a way, as to never cause the King of Glory to abandon us. We must develop such a fervor for the LORD, that it will demonstrate itself in our daily lives as we serve God. This sincere fervor will cause us to grow spiritually each day, as we immerse ourselves into His word and prayer. We will then eagerly and diligently teach God’s commands and abundant love to our children and others.

May we take seriously the lesson of the generation that came before Ichabod. Outward appearances without a heart for God is only lip service. This behavior is easily seen by others, and it certainly does not escape God’s notice. Phinehas and his brother foolishly caused the ark to be lost. They brazenly went through the pretense of tending God’s altar, all the while abusing His people. It wasn’t enough for Phinehas and Hophni. Why would it suffice for us today?

Man praying on knees in church

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