By Bobby Graham
In case you’re wondering, this article has nothing to do with Washington Irving’s fictional character Ichabod Crane, but it concerns the Ichabod in 1 Samuel 4:21. When Eli was judging Israel, the Philistines defeated God’s people and seized the ark of the covenant. In the same conflict the wicked sons of Eli who had besmirched his name were slain. Upon hearing of the defeat and the death of the sons, the ninety-eight year old Eli was undoubtedly shaken; but the Scriptures say that when he heard of the ark’s dislocation by the Philistines, he fell backward, broke his neck, and died. Eli’s daughter-in-law soon heard of the compounding bad news; in her condition of grief she gave birth to a son whom she named Ichabod.
She explained the name’s significance: “The glory is departed from Israel.” A nation once glorious in her relationship with God had now been brought low through the unfaithfulness of the people, priests, and priestly servants who despised the offerings of Jehovah, and a generally profane attitude toward the holy things of God. There was no glory in Israel for God’s people had left him, and God’s approval of his people had been withdrawn.
One needed observation relates to the wife of Phinehas, who named the child. Apparently she had some understanding of the will of God in some important matters that were of current concern. At a time when her own husband, his brother, Hophni, and her father-in-law, Eli, had recently manifested a lack of regard for the things of God, she knew where the glory resided. Both of the sons had sinned in fornication with the women who came to the Tabernacle and in the offerings mishandled. And Eli had failed to restrain them. It was evidently left for this wife of Phinehas to uphold the divine glory if it was to be done in this family. Based on her knowledge of what God had desired and her understanding that God had not been served, she declared in this child that “there is no glory.” May she be remembered and her faith in God and reverence for him recalled as a proper model for all time to come (Rom. 15:4).
Similar conditions at different times can produce similar results. The glory characteristic of the Lord’s church (his family, his people) can also depart through failings of our own, not through any insufficiency on God’s part. God’s design for the church was that it be glorious, “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). Whenever the people of God turn their backs on God and resort to the idols of their hearts, their disaffection with God becomes the means of the glory departing. Such disaffection is shown by our elevating anything of man to the level of God and his will. Our love for him must be with the whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Entanglements with the sinful element of the world in any form can be our undoing with God, causing the glory to depart. The cares, riches, and pleasures of this life can rise up like thorns to choke out the Word (Luke 8:14). We must remember that the divine glory departs from our lives as we glory in anything defiling.
Christ’s law of entrance into the body, acceptable worship and service by his holy priests, the organizational structure of local churches, and the functional operation of local churches under local oversight in the areas identified by the head of the church are all matters included in the will of Christ set forth in the New Testament. Only when we observe his will in these and other matters do we function to his glory in the church.
When those in a local church depart from the will of Christ, they are glorifying themselves; but glorifying God they are not. Christ removes the candlestick of a local church when its glory has departed (Rev. 2:5). It no longer exists as a true church (Rev.1:20).
Any who have established an agenda of changing the Lord’s church in any way that would alter those divine features of the church must understand the inevitable result of their changes. It will be Ichabod: the glory associated with God and resulting from God will depart. This is the birth of another human religious system — denominationalism all over again. The glory has departed.
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