Abuser Protection

ark of the covenant coloring page

The ark of the covenant of the Lord

When the people came into the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us take to ourselves from Shiloh the ark of the covenant of the Lord, that it may come among us and deliver us from the power of our enemies.” So the people sent to Shiloh, and from there they carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts who sits above the cherubim; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. (1 Samuel 4:3-4)

What’s wrong with this picture? A lot!  Everything from blaming God for their defeat in battle to presuming the ark would deliver them…and a lot of other things besides…

Let’s talk about those other things…let’s dig down to the fundamental issues…the unspoken lies and assumptions they incorrectly assumed to be true.

Let’s start with the Ark, itself. They correctly called it the ark of the covenant of the Lord.  The key word is covenant.  The Ark was the token of the covenant between Israel and God.  To relate this to our modern western culture, the Ark was the wedding band given to them by God when they took their sacred vows.

Inside the ark were the stone tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments…the terms of the covenant…the covenant vows. The vows were engraved in stone to symbolize their permanence.  They were placed inside the Ark of the Covenant as a constant reminder that these were the terms of the covenant…both the vows taken by Israel and the conditions placed on their covenant with God.  Fulfill these vows and you fulfill your covenant obligation…violate these vows and you break the covenant.

On top of the Ark was the Mercy Seat overshadowed by the wings of the golden cherubim. When the high priest made the annual sacrifice for his sins and the sins of the people, he sprinkled sacrificial blood on the Mercy Seat.  It was here that God’s mercy was sought for any unintentional violations of the covenant vows.  And it was above the Mercy Seat that God’s holy visible presence was seen in a cloud above the tabernacle and from which the brightness of God’s glory shone, filling the tabernacle.

The Ark was the token of the covenant through which God dwelt among His people. Only through covenant could holy God live among sinful people without their being consumed.

When the Israelites brought the Ark into their battle camp, they were seeking the protection of God’s covenant.  They were calling on God to honor His covenant vows by providing protection and victory in battle.

There was nothing wrong with relying on God’s covenant protection in battle. Many times God specifically told them to do exactly that…and many times God granted Israel miraculous victories.  Just a few chapters further, a young shepherd boy named David battled a giant named Goliath, while making it clear he was relying on God’s covenant protection to win the battle.

This time, though, the battle was lost and the ark of the covenant of the Lord was taken captive by the Philistines. So, why did God not protect them and give them victory?

Because of abuse!

The sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were abusers. They arrogantly and unrepentantly violated the covenant terms…the sacred vows…the commandments.  They abused their power as priests.  They abused the worshippers.  They stole select portions of God’s sacrifices.  They sexually abused the women who served at the entrance to the tabernacle.

The sons of Eli treacherously abused both their covenant with God and their covenant with the people of Israel, violating their covenant vows and abusing their authority.

Then they brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord into the battle camp. Do you see what they were doing?  They were relying on God’s protection under the very covenant they had repeatedly violated!

Even in retrieving the Ark from the tabernacle, they violated the covenant. The Ark resided in the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest was permitted to enter, only once a year, and only accompanied by the blood of the sacrifice.  Yet these two presumptuous abusers barged into the Holy of Holies to carry the Ark out to the battlefield.

Notice they never asked God. They didn’t ask God whether they should battle the Philistines.  They didn’t ask God if He would be with them in battle.  They didn’t ask God for His favor and protection.  They didn’t ask God for victory over their enemies.

Rather, they arrogantly presumed. The sense of entitlement displayed is astoundingly atrocious.  It seems they were trying to force God’s hand…trying to manipulate Him into protecting them, “Let’s bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord into battle.  Then God will have to give us victory.  Otherwise the Ark will be captured or destroyed and surely God won’t let that happen!”

But God did let it happen. The Israelites suffered a crushing defeat.  The sons of Eli were killed in battle and the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines.

Upon hearing the horrible news, old Eli died and Phinehas’ pregnant wife went into labor…with her dying words she gave Eli’s newborn grandson the name Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel.” She understood that, with the capture of the Ark, God’s presence was removed from Israel.

The sons of Eli mistakenly presumed they were entitled to covenant protection despite their repeated violations of the covenant vows.

That is so typical of abusers!

How many times, today, do abusers claim covenant protection despite having egregiously violated their sacred trust?  They act as though they are entitled to claim the promises of the very covenant they have broken.

How many abusive spouses claim the privileges of the marriage covenant despite their treacherous violations of the sacred vows to love, honor, cherish and protect?

How many pastors, priests, and evangelists claim the right of covenant mercy and restoration as leaders in the very church where they have egregiously violated the sacred trust by molesting children or sexually harassing worshippers?

It is a false presumption! It is a false claim!

One cannot break a covenant then claim protection under the very covenant they have broken!

The sons of Eli tried to do that. It cost them their lives.  It cost the nation of Israel the loss of God’s presence.

How many churches, today, have suffered loss of God’s presence because they are supporting an abuser’s false claim of entitlement to protection under the very covenant they have egregiously violated?

Your thoughts?


[Linked to Messy Marriage, Unforced Rythms, Wellspring ]


15 thoughts on “Abuser Protection

  1. Joe,
    I have heard this preached many times. Not once was the word abuse ever mentioned. The sons of Eli sinned against God, but not once was it looked at in a perspective of their abusive entitlement.

    As far as, abusive spouses and church leaders being restored due to covenant protection: That concept is absurd. A church leader found committing immoral acts against women and children should never be allowed restoration to their position. They no longer quality. They have betrayed the trust of the people and should be put out of the church. Eli’s family died due to their sins. They would do well to be reminded of what God’s sentence would have been.

    • I sometimes think we suffer some sort of communication disconnect when it comes to reading scripture about abuse. Or maybe it’s just that so many Christian pastors and teachers know so little about abuse.

      Reading the second chapter of 1 Samuel, the description of the wickedness of Eli’s sons is very clearly unrepentant abuse with a clear sense of entitlement. However, like you, I have never heard the words ‘abuse’ or ‘entitlement’ used in teaching on this passage.

      Some things become clearer for me with each new reading…

      Thank you, Brenda, for adding this perspective!

  2. Very good analysis, Joe.

    One of the most unpleasant parts of “co-opting the covenant” is the way abusers will cherrypick forgiveness Scripture to turn the tables,and make the victim seem like the villain of the piece.

    They go together, really; the demand for covenant protection seems to almost require that shift in focus to pin the blame elsewhere.

    • Yes, the blame shifting and the sin leveling…so typical of abuse…

      The treating of egregious violations of vows as minor infractions and the treating of minor unintentional offenses as major violations…all to confuse and claim rights under the covenant they have broken…

      And so many times, the abuse target’s heart is tender enough to accept the blame and shoulder the misplaced guilt…

      You’re right Andrew, they go together hand-in-hand…all centered around a heart of entitlement and control.

      Thank you for adding this perspective to the discussion!

  3. wow, Joe. thanks for your thoughts. i will never read this section of scripture with the same eyes again.

    i hope your words somehow reach the attention of those who use mis-read and twist snippets of God’s holy Word to somehow validate their warped sense of entitlement to abuse others … in home and the church.

    • Me too, Linda! Or at least the attention of abuse targets in need of encouragement…or of pastors and teachers in need of resolve to stand firmly alongside the downtrodden.

      Thank you!

  4. This story was actually in our sermon just yesterday. Went on to study Obed-edom and how his household was blessed while the ark was with him.

    You make me think of it from a different angle today. We definitely need to avoid “using” God as a tool for abuse. It has to be the most loathesome thing ever in his sight.

    • What a coincidence! I love it when timings work out that way.

      Yes, I expect hearing His word of truth twisted to enslave and abuse is very loathsome to God.

      Thank you, Lisa!

  5. I appreciate your use of the language of abuse and entitlement – sometimes abusers use the distance of time and language to make it seem as though right is wrong and wrong is right in the eyes of scripture. Have you ever seen the movie “Chocolat” made in 2000? It deals with spousal abuse and the legalism of church structures – great movie for this conversation. Thanks for linking with Unforced Rhythms, Joe.

    • “…sometimes abusers use the distance of time and language to make it seem as though right is wrong and wrong is right in the eyes of scripture”

      Yes…and sometimes church traditions and cultures seem to reinforce the abuser misuse of scripture…especially on the topics of marriage, divorce, and abuse. Too often, Christians have a legalistic perspective that is contradictory to biblical teaching and God’s heart of love and redemption toward His children who have experienced divorce or are trapped in a covenant of abusive bondage.

      I have not seen the movie ‘Chocolat’, but you’ve piqued my interest…

      Thank you, Kelly!

  6. It’s been a while since I’ve read the account of Eli and his sons. I remember that Eli fell backwards, which resulted in his death, I think. I envisioned that scene and thought what a horrible picture. Eli could’ve been such a great man of God and, I suppose, he was blessed to be able to raise a great prophet in Samuel. But not the greatest parent, I’d say! I’m so glad you brought out more of the nuances here, Joe. I always love hearing the details that often get missed without someone doing a thorough examination of the text. You’ve done the hard work for us here and left us with a very important lesson – to take seriously our efforts as ministers and servants of God. We cannot rely on God to protect us when we abuse our power. “To whom much is given, much is required!” Thanks for being a servant that gives much to all of us!

    • I find myself hesitant to call Eli a poor parent. We tend to assume that how children turn out (godly or ungodly) is a direct reflection on the parents…but that’s not always true.

      From the biblical account it is clear that Eli had a deep respect for God and that he succeeded in passing on that deep respect to young Samuel.

      It is equally clear that Eli’s two grown sons were very abusive and ungodly. However, the story begins, in 1 Samuel, with Eli’s sons already grown and already serving as priests. Eli was old with poor eyesight, and only knew of his sons’ wickedness by what he was told by others (1 Samuel 2:22).

      While it’s possible that his sons’ wickedness is a direct reflection on Eli’s parenting, the biblical text doesn’t ever say that or even imply it. God condemned Eli’s behavior, not for poor parenting, but rather for honoring his grown sons over God…for not handing his grown sons over to be condemned for their wicked behavior.

      Certainly that was fault enough, because of the harm done to Israel by Eli’s inaction and for the dishonor brought on the house of God. However, that is reflective of being a poor priest, not a poor parent. I think most parents would find it difficult to condemn their grown children.

      Was Eli’s hesitancy to condemn his grown sons reflective of overleniency during their childhood and adolesence? Perhaps. It’s certainly a possibility. On the other hand, there is a big difference between disciplining a child for misbehavior and handing over a grown son to be executed…especially when relying on the word of others in regard to the sins of the son.

  7. Pingback: Abuser Protection — by Joe Pote | A Cry For Justice

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge