A New Start

IT WAS A DAY of disaster and disgrace.It must have seemed as though everything was lost, and life was no longer worth living.

It was around 1100 BC. The Israelites had been struggling for a long time. They were leaderless and surrounded by foes, in particular their arch enemies the Philistines were a continual threat on their western border. Their spiritual life was at a low ebb: the High Priest was a weak old man called Eli who served God in the Tabernacle in Shiloh. He was dominated by his two sons Hophni and Phinehas, who were corrupt and vicious.

Defeat and Catastrophe

One day the army of Israel joined battle with the Philistine army. The account is in the Bible in 1 Samuel 4. Israel were defeated and fled back to their camp, where they had a desperate idea: they would rally themselves for another battle, and this time take the Ark of the Covenant with them.

The Ark was the sacred chest which God had instructed Israel to make. It was the focus of their spiritual life, and it was called the Ark of the Covenant (‘covenant’ means ‘agreement’) because it was a symbol of the covenant that they had made with God to be His people. It was kept in the Holiest Place in the Tabernacle and the Israelites had strict and precise instructions to treat it with the utmost reverence. It was where the presence of God was.

The army came to Shiloh and requisitioned the Ark. We’re not told what the reaction of Hophni and Phinehas was to this, but they accompanied it into battle.

As should have been expected, God did not take kindly to His Ark being used as a lucky talisman. The Israelite army was destroyed and the Ark was captured by the Philistines.

Eli was waiting for news at the gate of Shiloh, trembling with worry. The news came that the army had been defeated, his sons were dead and the Ark was captured. At the mention of the Ark he fell backward, broke his neck and died.

Phinehas’ wife was heavily pregnant. When she heard the news she went into labour, and died in childbirth. She did not even look at her baby, but with her last breath she named him Ichabod—‘There is no glory’.

It was a terrible day for Israel. They had been routed by their enemies, their priest was dead and the Ark of the Covenant had been thrown away. It must have seemed as though everything was lost.

But God, as always, was at work to recover the situation. People can fail, but He will not. At the Tabernacle in Shiloh the young boy Samuel was in training to lead the nation in a spiritual revival; God Himself was going to use direct supernatural means to ensure the return of the Ark; and down south in Bethlehem an obscure family of farmers was going to produce a shepherd boy who would become King David.

Who would have thought on that dreadful day when all hope seemed lost that within 100 years the nation would be basking in the glory of a prosperous kingdom under the wise and godly rulership of its greatest king?

Fear and Doubt

Fast forward a thousand years or so to Jerusalem, around 30 AD. A scared huddle of disciples is gathered in a house behind closed doors for fear that those who arrested and killed their master will return for them.

This time the predicament was not of their making. They had been devoted disciples of Jesus. But the events of the last few days had taken them completely by surprise—a week previously the crowd had been welcoming them into the city like heroes (Matthew 21:1–11), then everything went wrong and suddenly the crowd was shouting for Jesus’ death (Mark 15:11–14). Now he was gone and their world had fallen apart.

Then came breathless rumours that he had been seen alive. And as they sat in doubt, he appeared before them (John 20:19). And at last they understood that this had been no catastrophic accident— they had just become part of the greatest event in the history of the world. The Son of God had sacrificed his life to save his people from their sins, and his Father had raised him to life to lead them to victory over death itself. The dispirited group of disciples was energised to go out and set the world alight preaching the Gospel of God’s Kingdom.

A New Start

One of the most encouraging verses in the entire Bible is Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

What does this mean for you and me? If we love God and become disciples of Jesus Christ, we have the confidence that there is no mess we can ever find ourselves in that is too dark and difficult for God to sort out. The front cover shows life springing back after destruction—God can do this with our lives. More than this, we can look beyond the present with all its problems to the new beginning of eternal, glorious life in His Kingdom. Read on to find out more.