As her death approached, the women who stood by her said to her, “Don’t be afraid, for you have given birth to a son.” But she did not respond or pay attention. She named the boy Ichabod and said, “The glory has departed from Israel.”
1 Samuel 4:20,21 EHV
This sad story comes from among other sad stories at a sad time in the history of God’s Old Testament people.
A mother died in childbirth. On the same day, the child’s father died. On that same day, its grandfather died.
Yet, the dying words of the mother lamented not the loss of these people, or even of her own life. Something worse had happened. She knew something so dreadful that she wanted to burn the news of the tragedy into the memory of everyone who would come to know her orphan son.
She did it with one word: Ichabod.
The Hebrew word means: “Glory has departed.” Every time someone would call the boy’s name, the lamentation would be repeated: “The glory has departed from Israel.”
The story begins with an Old Testament priest whose sons were priests under him. The younger priests were scoundrels. Abusing their positions, they took the choice offerings for themselves and slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The Tent of Meeting is also known as the tabernacle, which served as the house of God before the temple was built.
Eli knew of this. He warned them. Yet, when they did not listen, he did nothing more to stop them.
The Lord God also knew. He asked Eli, “Why do you honor your sons more than me?”
The day of reckoning came when the Philistines attacked and overran Israel’s army. Confused and panicked, the leaders of Israel came up with a desperate solution: “Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, so that it may come into our midst and save us from the hand of our enemies.”
The ark of the covenant was that special box overlaid with gold that symbolized the covenant, the sacred promise by the holy God that he would accept Israel as his special people. This consecrated object was kept in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle, and afterwards, in the temple. Only one person, the high priest, was permitted to enter this holy place on only one day of the year—the great Day of Atonement.
It symbolized the atonement that the Son of God would one day make upon a cross for the sins of the whole world.
Now, sadly, Israel was going to try to use this consecrated item as a magical weapon.
After the two sons of Eli brought the ark of the covenant into the camp of Israel’s army amidst great celebration, they carried it into battle, confident of victory.
The victory, however, went to the enemy. 30,000 Israeli soldiers died in that fight. Lying among them were the two sons of Eli.
The Philistines took the ark of the covenant as a prize of war and placed it into the temple of their idol, Dagon.
When Eli heard that news, he fell from where he was sitting and broke his neck.
When his pregnant daughter-in-law heard the news, she went into labor—and Ichabod was born.
The Lord God later returned the ark of the covenant to Israel by a series of amazing events. But that box never was the glory of Israel.
The Lord God was. Always was. The greatest showing forth of his glory took place when he made the great atonement for sin.
Saint John wrote, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The sad story of Ichabod is outshone by the happy story of Jesus.
His glory never departs.
Prayer:Heavenly Father, as we look into the pages of Scripture we see again and again how we humans misunderstand your ways as we seek our own solutions to fear and pain. Keep pointing us to Jesus. Show us the glory of our true Light and Salvation. Amen.
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Stillwater, Minnesota.
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