Bible Order: 2 Kings 8–9
Chronological Order: Psalms 43-45, Psalms 49, Psalms 84-85, Psalms 87
New Testament Only: Luke 16:1–17
Not By Might Shall A Man Prevail
Yesterday we read that Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, was barren. She went to the Lord in prayer vowing to dedicate any son given her to Him. The text leads me to believe that she was consistent in her pursuit of God. She came consistently in faith and humility, and God granted her request. Samuel was born, and, as soon as he was weaned, he was taken to the tabernacle and given to the priest Eli.
Hannah was in right relationship with God as her prayer, at the beginning of today’s reading, illustrates. In that prayer is the line taken as the title of today’s post; “not by might shall a man prevail”. Hannah, in right relationship, requested a son to dedicate to the glory of God. Having granted that prayer, He blessed her further giving her three more sons and two daughters. Be sure to understand that Hannah was not granted her prayer request because she made a deal with the Lord. She was granted her request because she was in right relationship with God and it served His purpose to do so. She did not manipulate God into granting her request. She prevailed in her desire to have children not in her own might but by God’s.
Now consider Eli’s sons and the rest of Israel. Eli’s sons were priests. They were priests by right of their birth not their piety. They used their “birth right” to steal from the people and, more tragically, from God. They would come into a home and say something like “I am God’s priest so give me what I want or I’ll take it from you.” They used the authority of God to indulge their self-centeredness and abuse others. How long do you think God would allow something like that to continue?
Remember this is just another example of the “lostness” of Israel. Almost all of the people are doing what seems right in their own eyes as we read in Judges. As a nation they have wandered an extreme distance from God. In essence they have lost God. 1 Samuel 4 tells us that Israel went out to war against the Philistines. It does not tell us that they sought God’s leadership in this pursuit. When they experienced defeat, they vaguely remember that the Arch of the Covenant was part of ancient Israelite many victories so they decided to use this tool to defeat their enemy and obtain the victory they desired.
They viewed the Arch as the potential source of their salvation instead of God Himself. “Let us bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies” (1 Samuel 4:3). Again, did they turn to God in contrition, faithfulness, and humility to seek His guidance and blessing? It was God who directed the battles and worked through His people to provide ancient Israel its victories. The current crop of Israelites seems to have only vague memories of God. When God doesn’t bless one scheme they concoct another assuming that God will do their bidding if they just use the right tool.
The Israelites could not defeat the Philistines in their own power and they couldn’t manipulate God into doing their bidding either; “not by might shall a man prevail”. It was right relationship that mattered, and they had no understanding of this. Defeat was inevitable as was the death of Eli’s sons. At this point they have lost everything. Even the Arch of the Covenant, which was a symbol of God’s presence in Israel, and which contained a copy of the law, departed Israel. Please note that God did not leave Israel. Israel left God. The sudden loss, or departure, of the Arch was just a final symbolic occurrence that echoed what had already occurred in reality. The Israelites had lost sight of God.
My friends, when we allow our self-centered, secular impulses to rule, and we pursue our own desires, we go further and further from God, just as Israel did so long ago. The outcome for our lives can be no different than theirs. How often do you pursue what seems right in your own eyes only to turn to God in an attempt to manipulate Him into granting your desire when things finally go wrong? When you finally turn and cry out does He seem far from you? God did not leave you my fellow prodigal son. You left Him.
I have experienced this very phenomenon in my own walk as a Christian. I have been on the mountaintop. I have had a right relationship with God and experienced incredible joy and peace only to allow the cares of the world and the desires for other things intrude and distract me; leading me down off the mountain. Inevitably I discovered I was living as if I were a slave to sin even though I had been set free. God felt very far from me but He hadn’t left me. I had wandered away from Him. His Holy Spirit within me cried out every step of the way but I was too focused on myself to hear.
Like the prodigal son, I had to turn around and run back to my Father. He had been watching all along and embraced me upon my return. I’m back where I belong now. My Father is still raising me to be the man He intended. I still get disciplined, but I welcome it now. Every day I look to Him, for I have no intention of ever losing sight of Him again.
How about you brothers? Have you lost sight of God? Or are you like Eli? Have you let your children lose sight of God?
1 Samuel 3:12-13 ESV
“On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.”
It is not enough for us to simply keep our eyes on Jesus Christ. As the spiritual leaders of our families we have a responsibility to call and guide our children and spouse to do the same. Eli’s sons were grown men but the verse above shows that he still had an obligation to at least attempt to “restrain them”. Even if your children are out of the house you can call them back to right relationship with God. You can set a good example by how you lead your own life. You can pray for them. You can invite them to go to church with you. What you can’t do is give up. Do your part and place your trust in God.
We cannot control the actions of other people. We can control our own actions. As I re-read my list of things you can do in calling grown children back to the Lord, I’m struck by a memory of a deficient view I once held of prayer. I have been known to say “All we can do is pray”, as if that were a weak little shoulder shrug of a final flickering hope. I’m grateful to Pastor Jim Cross who during a sermon stated that prayer was not a last resort or feeble hope; it was the best thing we could do. It is only when we understand our poverty of strength and turn to God in prayer and place all in His capable hands that we have incredible power. Prayer is a first, second, third, and last resort. We are to pray without ceasing. It is not by might that any of us will prevail. It is only when, like Hannah, we come consistently, faithfully, and in humility before the one true God, and pursue His will in prayer, that all things become possible.
Brothers, as the hymn says:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and the things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
Have a blessed day!
Your brother and servant in Christ,
Dying to self, living to serve!
(Originally posted 3/2/10)