Whether it’s the Israelites or the Philistines, today we see clearly that the LORD is not subject to whoever happens to have possession of the Ark of the Covenant, despite (or because of) the fact that his presence is focused there. When the battle is going badly, the self -serving priests Hophni and Phinehas bring out the Ark like the priests with the Holy Hand-Grenade of Antioch in Monty Pythons The Holy Grail.
God is not a magic talisman to be brought out to work a miracle to demand and then put back behind his curtain when no longer needed. So Israel is defeated, the Ark lost and the leading priests dead.
Understandably the Philistines celebrate – but not for long. The LORD has not switched sides, and Israel’s defeat is his work, not Dagon’s. Before long the wise asking the Philistines realise that the disasters now plaguing then are the work of the LORD, and send his Ark back where it belongs, with an offering of God to apologise…
All too often we still expect the LORD to perform to order. It may be a prayer that we expect him to answer in the way we choose at the time we wish. It may be that we expect his blessing on an enterprise which is our idea and not his. It may be that we attend worship and even unconsciously rate it on the basis of how much we lived it or of how much it helped us that day, not of how Good was honoured or otherwise.
I’m reminded of the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as Lucy asks Mr Tumnus whether Aslan is safe. Of course not, answers the faun. Aslan is not a tamed lion to be owned as a pet. He is wild, and he is good, but he is not safe.
The LORD is not tamed, or safe, or our property to act as we dictate. But he is good, and when we worship, serve, love and pray to him as he is, along like Hannah to identify our cost desires with his plans, then we will find suffering better than safety.