Sunday, September 29, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "Who Can Stand in the Presence of the LORD, This Holy God?"

“Who Can Stand the Presence of the LORD, this Holy God?”
A Heart for the Heart of God: The Message of 1 Samuel
September 27, 2013 :: 1 Samuel 5:1-7:17

Our series is called “A Heart for the Heart of God,” and while Samuel himself seems to be developing a heart for the heart of God, nearly everyone else around this young prophet (save his mother Hannah) does not seem to have a heart for the heart of God.

Hophni, Phinehas, Eli, and the whole nation of Israel have repeatedly broken the covenant God had made them, and we saw last week that God had finally lowered the boom and brought judgment.

A little baby was born and was named Ichabod because the glory of God had left Israel.

Eli’s family had been judged. Hophni and Phinehas had died in battle with 30,000  foot soldiers.  Eli, on hearing the news, died as well. And Phinehas’s wife died in giving birth to Ichabod.

One of the worst days ever in Israel’s history.

But the worst of the worst was that the ark of the covenant had been captured by the Philistines.

The Israelites needed to learn that God will not be used.

The LORD is not “God in a box” ready to serve as a good luck charm or a magic weapon against their enemies.

In fact, God was willing for the ark of the covenant to be captured to teach them that lesson.

So, the ark of the covenant had been taken out of Israel’s possession and into the territory of the enemies of Israel, the Philistines.

And we get what Paul Harvey would call “The Rest of the Story.”

What happened next?

What happened to the ark when it went into the enemy territory? And what does it mean to us today?

The title for today’s message may take the cake as the longest title for one of my sermons so far.

I lifted it right out of chapter 6, verse 20. It’s a good question right out of the mouths of the men of Beth Shemesh who ask, “Who Can Stand in the Presence of the LORD, This Holy God?”

What do you think the answer is?

This is one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament.

Not because I understand it all but because it’s so funny.  The LORD makes His point in such a humorous way.

It’s a strange time for humor. The glory has left Israel. The ark is in captivity. V.1

“After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon's temple and set it beside Dagon.” Stop there

Now, the Philistines think they have won...why?

Because their god is greater. Whoever has the bigger god will have the best army will have the advantage in battle and will win, right?

And they won, right? So, what god is the best?

Dagon, right? Dagon, the god of the Philistines.

And they have a temple for him, and they put the ark of covenant into Dagon’s temple. Why?

Because they figure that it’s an idol, too.  They figure that it can be part of their spiritual arsenal.

They think, like Israel did, that’s it’s basically “god in a box!”

They won it fair and square and now it will sit in the temple of Dagon enriching his reputation in their chief city of Ashdod.

That’s how they interpret this!

Now, just because the LORD allowed them to capture the ark doesn’t mean that He is going to allow them to think that Dagon is greater than YHWH.

Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?

Not Dagon. V.3

“When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place.”

Ha! Don’t you just love it?

Before breakfast the priests of Dagon find him paying homage to the LORD. Fallen on his stony face before the ark of the LORD.

Now, it doesn’t say how that happened. And remember, the ark is not magic, but God is supernatural.

And don’t miss the irony of that sentence. “They took Dagon and put him back in his place.”

Note to self: If you have to pick up and put your god back in its place, you don’t have much of a god!

Now this might have been a coincidence... V.4

“But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon's temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.”

Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?

No Dagon. Not some false deity.

There is no coincidence here. No accident. It looks like an execution, in fact.

One author said that Dagon simply got “the godness knocked out of him” that day.

Here’s the message: The LORD is God and God alone!

And He means it when He says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

All other “gods” are rendered powerless.

Just ask Dagon.

V.6 “The LORD's hand was heavy upon the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation upon them and afflicted them with tumors.”

Dagon has no hands. But the LORD’s hand is heavy. What’s going to happen next is totally amazing. The LORD is going to get the ark of the covenant back into Israelite territory...all by Himself.

First, he brings devastation on the people of Ashdod. Some kind of a sickness, perhaps the bubonic plague or something like it. Tumors. V.7

“When the men of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, ‘The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy upon us and upon Dagon our god.’ So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and asked them, ‘What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?’ They answered, ‘Have the ark of the god of Israel moved to Gath.’ So they moved the ark of the God of Israel.”

Why move it to Gath, I don’t know. Maybe they thought the LORD would be less powerful over there. V.9

“But after they had moved it, the LORD's hand was against that city, throwing it into a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, both young and old, with an outbreak of tumors. So they sent the ark of God to Ekron.”

Do you see how funny this is?

It’s not funny for the Philistines. They are suffering left and right for their wickedness.

But here are they are trying to move the ark from city to city. V.10

“As the ark of God was entering Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, ‘They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.’ So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, ‘Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.’ For death had filled the city with panic; God's hand was very heavy upon it. Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.”

Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?

Not the Philistines.

Chapter 6, verse 1.

" When the ark of the LORD had been in Philistine territory seven [awful] months, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, ‘What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.’

They answered [as if they knew!], ‘If you return the ark of the god of Israel, do not send it away empty, but by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.’

The Philistines asked, ‘What guilt offering should we send to him?’ They replied, ‘Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers.

Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and pay honor to Israel's god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land.

Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When he treated them harshly, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?

‘Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up. Take the ark of the LORD and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the LORD has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us and that it happened to us by chance.’”

Now, I think that this is supposed to be funny, as well.

These “oh so powerful” Philistines have been laid low by the God whom they think they’ve captured.

Of course, we know that God does not live in the box!  And that you cannot capture Him.

He is free and self-sufficient and supreme!

But they are so panicky that they just want to do whatever it takes to get out of their trouble.

And their witch-doctors, their priests think that God would be honored by some golden rats and golden tumors!  I just don’t even know what to think of that.

I don’t even want to think about what that looked like.

That’s how idolaters think, I guess.

They set up a test, as well. They hitch the cart carrying the ark of the covenant to some mama cows who have never been yoked and never separated from their babies.

And they reason that if those cows leave their mooing babies and pull that cart all by themselves back to Israelite territory, then it must have been the LORD all along, and not chance.

Now, God is not obligated to do things their way. But He is obviously desirous of getting that box back into Israelite hands and getting credit for it. So, He passes their test! V.10

“So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. They placed the ark of the LORD on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh.”

God is not accepting their ugly offering, but He is making it clear that He is brining the ark home all by Himself. V.13

“Now the people of Beth Shemesh were harvesting their wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they rejoiced at the sight.”

“Look what we have here!”

“The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and there it stopped beside a large rock. The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD. The Levites took down the ark of the LORD, together with the chest containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. On that day the people of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the LORD. The five rulers of the Philistines saw all this and then returned that same day to Ekron. These are the gold tumors the Philistines sent as a guilt offering to the LORD–one each for Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron. And the number of the gold rats was according to the number of Philistine towns belonging to the five rulers–the fortified towns with their country villages. The large rock, on which they set the ark of the LORD, is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh.”

“But God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them, and the men of Beth Shemesh asked, ‘Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?”

Not disrespectful Israelites!

Not Dagon.
Not the Philistines.
And not even Israelites who do not believe and do not behave.

The ark of the covenant should not be out there in the field!

And it was bulls, not cows that should have been sacrificed.

The ark of the covenant should be hidden away in the holy of holies, not peeked into by casual and curious Israelites!

The men of Beth Shemesh are so right to ask, “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?”

The LORD is holy!

The New English Bible says in v.20, “Who is safe before the LORD?”

The men of Beth Shemesh sure didn’t feel safe. V.20

“Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?’ [Get it out of here!] Then they sent messengers to the people of Kiriath Jearim, saying, ‘The Philistines have returned the ark of the LORD. Come down and take it up to your place.’ So the men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the LORD. They took it to Abinadab's house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the LORD.”

Now, I’m not sure why these particular guys got picked, but it was probably because they were going to do it right. Perhaps there was a remnant of godly Levites in Kiriath Jearim who would with Eleazer’s leadership take care of the ark the way it should be.

For whatever reason, for the time being Israel was no longer going to be casual about the ark of the covenant. In fact, it is going to safely sit there until 2 Samuel chapter 6.

God is holy and should not be messed with.

Here’s application point #1 of 3 this morning:


The LORD is holy, so worship Him alone.

Does anybody here have a statue of Dagon in their house or garage or back yard?

No, I didn’t think so.

So, that means that we don’t have a problem with idols, now do we?

We don’t substitute in other things to take God’s place do we?

No, of course not. Not money, or popularity, or sex, or entertainment, or sports, or fame, or possessions, or people’s approval, or the government, or anything else that people could set up in a private little temple?

Well, actually, we often do, don’t we.

And more than that, we want the Lord to share space with those idols, those God-replacements.

But LORD will not share space with Dagon.

We’ve seen what happens to Dagon.

Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?


Nobody can casually stand in His presence.

He is holy!

Revere Him alone.

What Dagons need to be toppled in your heart and life?

I know what mine are.  Do you know what yours are?

The LORD will be first. He will not allow any rivals to stand.

Revere Him alone.


Chapter 7, verse 2. “It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim, and all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the LORD. And Samuel [Hey! There he is again!] said to the whole house of Israel, ‘If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.’”

It’s good to have Samuel back on the scene! He’s been gone since the first verse of chapter 4.

Twenty years have passed. He’s a much older man now. And, under his ministry, Israel has finally started to come to their senses.

And they want to repent.

The Hebrew word for “return” here is “shuv.”  Samuel is giving them a little “shuv” in the right direction. V.3

‘If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then (1) rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and (2) commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.’”

Notice that it’s not enough to just feel bad about your sinful idolatry.

True repentance does something. It includes action.

You rid yourself of your foreign gods. That Dagon has to go.

And you turn around, you repent. You commit yourself to the LORD and serve Him (or worship Him) only, that is, alone.

Israel needed to do this in a big way.

And so does anyone who has not yet trusted Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

But all Christians need to do this on a regular basis, as well.

We need to return to Him again and again and again.

Martin Luther famously said that the Christian life is a race of repentance.

Where we regularly turn away from allegiance to the Dagons of this world and turn into the arms of our Savior.  V.4

“So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only.”

This is the first positive thing that Israel did spiritually since the time of the Judges!

God used Samuel’s spiritual leadership to lift them up out of the quagmire they had gotten into and to back onto the straight and narrow path of following the LORD.

Return to Him again.

How does that apply to you this morning?  In what ways have you lost your first love? Or allowed something to take His place?

Or have you been treating God casually and forgetting that He is a holy God?

Just because the Lord is amazingly gracious and richly merciful does not give us license to act however we please.

God is holy, holy, holy, and we would be wise to remember it all of the time.

And return to Him again.

And, the good news is that when we do that, we experience His blessing! V.5

“Then Samuel said, ‘Assemble all Israel at Mizpah and I will intercede with the LORD for you.’ When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, ‘We have sinned against the LORD.’ And Samuel was leader of Israel at Mizpah.”

Here is a ceremony of national repentance. They are returning to the LORD. However... V.7

“When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. And when the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. They said to Samuel, ‘Do not stop crying out to the LORD our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.’ Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it up as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. He cried out to the LORD on Israel's behalf, and the LORD answered him.”

“While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the LORD helped us.’

So the Philistines were subdued and did not invade Israelite territory again. Throughout Samuel's lifetime, the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines. The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored to her, and Israel delivered the neighboring territory from the power of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.

Samuel continued as judge over Israel all the days of his life. From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also judged Israel. And he built an altar there to the LORD.”

Here’s our third and last point of application:


When Israel committed themselves fully to the LORD, they experienced His blessing.

He thundered on their behalf, and they won.

Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?

Not the entire army of the Philistines!

And Samuel, very smartly, set up a stone of remembrance. He named the stone “Ebenezer” “Stone of Help” to remind the Israelites every time they saw that stone how much God had helped them.

“Thus far has the LORD helped us.”

1 Samuel 7:12 was the theme verse of our church’s 50th and 120th birthday celebrations. For the 50th it was in Swedish, 1942.

“Hitintills Har Herren Hulpit Oss.”

That’s all I know in Swedish, but it’s a good thing to know.

It’s a good thing to remember.

It’s a good thing to remind ourselves of just how much God has helped us.

That’s why we give testimonies.
That’s why we have a celebration Sunday as a church each year. The next one will be November 3rd.

That’s why we eat and drink the Lord’s Supper every month.

To remember. To remember how much God has helped us.

Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

I invite you to receive Him today.

He died on the Cross to save His people from their sins.

A Holy Savior as a sacrifice for our unholy sins so that we can...catch this!

STAND in the presence of a Holy God!

Not above Him, not His equal, but standing in awe of Him in His presence.

Not banished. But accepted and home.

Because of what Jesus did for us on the Cross.

On that Cross as Jesus died the wrath of God was satisfied.
For every sin on Him was laid // Here in the death of Christ I live.

In Christ alone!

Not in Dagon.

But in Christ alone.

And for those of us who are trusting in Christ alone, we have so much to be thankful for and so much to remember.

We should be setting up Ebenezers every where we go.

What Ebenezer should you raise today for how God has helped you this week?

What can you do to rehearse it in your mind and celebrate it and thank God for it and remember it in the future?

Is there a worship song that has “Ebenezer” in it?

Anita, let’s change our closing hymn to #2, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” and let’s sing for verse 2 this version, which is not actually the first version of the song but one that many used to sing:

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.


A Heart for the Heart of God

01. Hannah's Prayers
02. Those Who Honor Me I Will Honor
03. Speak, LORD, for Your Servant Is Listening