Technolatry (I Samuel 4:1-11)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 4:1–4:11
I Samuel 4:1-11
(One Truth: In All Things)
October 14th, 2012
I. The Passage: “That It May…Save Us” (4:1-11)
This morning I’d like to begin by looking together at I Samuel 4:1-11 (pg. 228). There is no king over Israel at this time, and the opening words remind us that Samuel was the man God had raised up to be a prophet and a judge for the people. But listen and consider the following incident:
And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek.  The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle.  And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? 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.”  So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.  As soon as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded.  And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the LORD had come to the camp,  the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before.  Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness.  Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”  So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell.  And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
Now there's a lot we could talk about in regard to this passage, but there are three principles I want to highlight as we begin this morning. First of all...
1. God has given humanity tools in order to bless us. Of course, the 'tool' that is central to this passage is the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was the chest that God commanded the Israelites to build when He brought them Egypt under the leadership of Moses. It was covered with gold and contained several items, including the tablets on which God inscribed the Ten Commandments. But the Ark was more than just a container. Listen to what God told Moses:
There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. (Exodus 25:22)
And as Leviticus 16 reveals, the top of the Ark, the “mercy seat” was where the High Priest would make atonement for the nation once a year. So the Ark was a tool through which God would speak to and bring atonement to His people. But in I Samuel 4 we see something else:
2. But we often twist these tools and, in times of need, look to them instead of God. The Israelite defeat described in verse 2 should have been followed by a time of seeking God, the God who had spoken in times past from above the Ark. And if they truly sought God, they would have understood their land was a place in which, according to Judges 21:25, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes”. But instead of regrouping in repentance and faith, the people confirm their foolishness by trying to turn the Ark into some kind of weapon or some kind of good luck charm. For some reason, they believe the Ark, in and of itself, will guarantee them victory. And that takes us to the last principle we see in this passage...
3. Though this twisting can feel profitable, it eventually and always leads to loss. Remember their plan according to verse 3: “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.” And as we see from verses 6-9, this plan seems to work at first. The Israelites are energized and the Philistines are terrified! But as we can see from verse 10 and 11, this strategy resulted in a horrible defeat. Not only was there a “great slaughter” (30,000 Israelites killed), but the Ark itself was captured by the Philistines. So when Israel trusted in the tool, rather than the One who gave them the tool, they suffered incredible loss. Even the tool itself was taken from them.
II. Twisting Our Tools in a Digital Age
This morning we are continuing a study we began last week, a study in which we are trying to better recognize the “American Idols” that are so pervasive in our culture; and more than that, idols which can be pervasive in our own lives. These, of course, are not those future singing sensations you see on TV. No, these are the idols which the Bible teaches us about, the false gods that human beings always seem to be creating.
You may remember that last week we defined an idolatry like this: Idolatry is when our ultimate pursuit and prize is something or someone other than God. As we talked about last time, this definition doesn't allow us to simply think of an idol in terms of a statue or a totem. Instead, we learned that God's word reveals how many things can become an idol, even very good things.
This morning we want to think about the very topic we were just talking about in light of I Samuel 4: I want us to think about tools. More specifically, I want us to think about the subject of technology. Now technology is a very broad label that can encompass everything from the wheel to the windmill to the Windows operating system. So this morning I want focus on the kind of technology we usually think of when we hear that word: digital technology.
While the Ark of the Covenant is vastly different from a laptop, I do believe that in one sense, they are, in general, simply tools that God has given to us, that God has made possible, in order to bless us. Think about it: a person who might have once been tragically lost in the wilderness can now use GPS to find their way out. A soldier in Afghanistan might be able to see his new baby through a video chat. Old friends can reconnect. New friends can made.
A camera phone might provide key evidence for the police. Classic books are now being made accessible to billions. What once took hours or days can now be accomplished at the click of a button. Innovations in areas like medicine continue to advance, because in many cases, the digital tools being used continue to become more powerful and more efficient.
And through technology God's people can more easily learn about and encourage brothers and sisters in Christ on the other side of the world. The internet can make God's word accessible to people in country's that are officialy closed to the gospel. We can reach out virtually to those who might never speak to us face-to-face. E-mail and social media can be tools to strengthen and encourage. The internet makes available to us, at no cost, a wealth of information about God's word (book, articles, sermons).
And I could go on about the blessings of technology. There is no reason not to think about these tools as blessings of God. But...but...we've already seen this mornings, from I Samuel 4, that human beings have a way, in times of need, of twisting these tools. Because we are rebels against God, because each of us has gone astray and turned to his or her own way, because we are sinners, we often use these tools (tools that can be used for such good...we use them instead) to serve our own corrupt and self-centered agendas.
Remember what we said last week about three biblical distinctives of idols and idolatry: 1) idols always promise us 'salvation', 2) idols always demand our service, and 3) idols always encourage our sinning. I want you to keep those three things in mind as we think about the idolatry of technology this morning. In what ways do we today turn our technology into idols? In what ways do we turn technology into our ultimate pursuit and prize.
I think these digital idols, this kind of digital idolatry, expresses itself in a number of ways. See if you can relate. First, we might say that we are often tempted by...
1. Digital Distractions. Human beings have always had a great talent for find something, for finding anything to distract us from what we ought to do. In the digital world the possibilities seem endless. We can watch a movie on our flat screen or on our iPad, or surf the net for the latest news or gossip, or play games for hours and hours, or shop, or chat, or tweet about how our coffee was too hot this morning. We are extremely skilled at wasting a massive amount of time doing absolutely nothing.
But as we watch the latest viral video on YouTube, the world goes on. Our responsibilities remain. Our problems, our fears, our restlessness still needs to be faced. But our idols tell us to ignore those things and download another app instead. But there's more. These digital idols also tempt us to put up our...
2. Digital Defenses. Our gizmos and gadgets are enabling us, in a way that was not possible before, to hide, to run from, to cut ourselves off from the challenges of life. If someone wanted to, they would probably never have to leave their home. They could order groceries online, consult a doctor online, pay their bills online, telecommute to work, and even attend a virtual church. Most people don't go this far, but all of us are tempted to replace a difficult face-to-face conversation with an e-mail, or to tell ourselves virtual relationships are just as good as real-life, or to pretend we are something more than we really are, to become a different person online in order to hide the truth of what we believe about ourselves.
Of course, this goes hand-in-hand with another expression of digital idolatry. We are so often tempted to a kind of...
3. Digital Dominance. Digitial technology in all of its many manifestations has a peculiar ability to nurture our egos. While Paul warned everyone “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3), the internet can greatly inflate our sense of importance. Because we have a blog, or a Twitter account, or a Facebook page, we sometime assume we have something worth saying. Or we somehow feel empowered to do things we would probably never do in a public setting, or to say things we would probably never say to a person's face. Digital modesty and digital humility are rare virtues in cyberspace, even among God's people.
Sometimes just having the latest phone or tablet or Blu-Ray player makes us feel superior, that we have somehow arrived. But this leads to another feature of this kind of digital idolatry. Just as all idols demand our service, we find that when we twist technology, it can make...
4. Digital Demands. Isn't it scary how easily people will spend hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on the newest gadget...even when the device they are replacing is less than two years old? Isn't it scary how much time people devote to gaming, and surfing, and texting, and posting, and blogging, and chatting, and watching or shopping or sinning online? Isn't it scary how our thought lives are becoming dominated by a virtual life and a virtual world? And because of that, isn't it scary how many people truly believe that they simply could not live without this or that device...even for an hour?
We are becoming a nation of slaves, and we are serving the very tools we created to serve us. In the end, we might summarize the temptations of digital idolatry by talking about...
5. Digital Deceptions. Idols are consumate liars. They always promise us salvation, that is, they always promise us joy and satisfaction and meaning and acceptance and control, but in the end, they can never truly deliver. Just think about some of the technological lies we are tempted to believe:
As technology advances, the world will become a better place...as our devices get faster, we will become more efficent and productive...since our virtual life is not real life, no one will find out or remember , or it just doesn't matter what we've done or said online....more information will always make us wiser... the best solution to problems with our technology is always more technology...there is an app for every real need I have...children and youth today need this or that device or else they will look like weirdos.....virtual relationships or just as good as real-life relationships (as a friend of mine wrote on her blog: “It’s easy to hide behind the façade of social media and convince yourself that it’s “real” when in reality it’s merely glimpses into people’s lives, little parts, but never the whole.”)
Brothers and sisters, friends, while twisting our tools in these ways can FEEL profitbale, it will eventually and always lead to loss. We are losing true connections and the ability to relate to one another in healthy ways. We are losing the ability to think deeply for extended periods of time. We are losing our ability to distinguish information from knowledge. We are losing our sense of urgency in the work of Christ. We are losing our sense of civility and propriety and modesty and daily dependency on Jesus. We are losing a whole new generation to the deceptiveness and virtual drugs of the digital age. Idols always encourage our sinning.
III. God’s Compass: Navigating the Digital Waters
This morning, we could spend hours talking about statistics and case studies and examples of digitial idolatry. But as helpful as that could be, what we really need is to be reminded of God's word. Now we know that God's word doesn't speak explicitly about the digital age. But it doesn't have to. God's word provides us with the compass we need as we navigate the digital waters of toda's world. Consider four points of this compass.
1. So Whether You Text or Blog…(I Cor. 10:31)
In I Corinthians 10:31 Paul writes, So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Notice how the Apostle Paul is reminding us in that verses that we can glorifying God in even the most mundane things, things like eating and drinking. And so, when he writes, “whatever you do”, shouldn't we think about our technology habits in the same way? Shouldn't we be asking ourselves:
Is the way I use social media glorifying to God? Is the amount of time I spend gaming or surfing the web glorifying to God? Am I glorifying God by spending this much money on that software or that device? Is my e-mail response to an angry friend glorifying to God? Are the things I forward glorifying to God? Is God glorified by the way I use my cell phone in public? Do my digital viewing habits bring glory to God? Our digital habits cannot be put in a different compartment. It should be our desire that God is honored in everything we do. Amen?
2. It’s Even Better than Skype! (II John 1:12; I Cor. 13:12--Ex. 33:11; I Thess. 2:17; 3:10;)
Another point of God's compass is reflected in a verse like II John 1:12. John writes, Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete. (II John 1:12)
Notice the tools that John mentions here: “paper and ink”. But more importantly, notice how John points to a right use of these tools. What is far superior to another letter is “face-to-face” contact. That is what the Apostle is eager to do. As John indicates, only then will the joy of their relationship “be complete”. A text or an e-mail or even a conversation over Skype is no substitue for spending time, in person, with the people God has placed in our lives.
I've seen a variety of commercials that all make the same point: with the right technology, a businessman or businesswoman doesn't have to feel bad about missing another of Johnny or Sally's school plays. Being too busy is okay because now there is always video chatting! Look, these tools can be a blessing, but they can also be tools used by the other idols in our lives: the idol of success, the idol of control, the idol of comfort or the idol greed.
We need to ask ourselves how much of our face-to-face contact is suffering because of our technology. Are we less able to relate to one another? Are we now texting people who are in the other room? Are we leaving a job or leaving a church or leaving a relationship by sending a text or an e-mail? Is fear driving this kind of settling for second best? We need to remember what God says about what is best, even in our relationship with Him...For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (I Corinthians 13:12) When you can, don’t substitute the face-to-face.
3. How to Use That Digital Clock. (Eph. 5:15-17)
Compass point #3: have you thought about the fact that almost all of our digital devices have clocks? Yeah, in fact, the digital watch was one of the first digital devices made available to consumers, starting in the 1970's. But listen to these verses and think about how we can best these digital clocks:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,  making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
Think about what Paul is saying: because “the days are evil”, because we live in a fallen world, we need to think carefully about how we are using our time...because, the assumption here is that we will always be tempted to waste our time on sin. But if we are wise, we will make “the best use of the time”, or more literally, “redeem the time”. And according to verse 17, there's only one way we can do this: by understanding “what the will of the Lord is”. God has priorites for your life. He has a way He wants you to live. He has a mission in which He wants you involved. Are your tools serving God's priorities are are you serving your tools?
4. Resist, Retreat, & Refocus (Mark 1:35)
The fourth point on this compass can be seen in the example of Jesus in Mark 1:35. This is what we read there...And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
Mark tells us how Jesus, right when His ministry was really taking off and huge amounts of people were eager to see and hear Him, it was right then that He 'unplugged' or 'logged off'. And He did this by pulling back from the busyness and by praying. Are your devices 'crowding out' the time you need to slow down and stop and be still and meditate on God's word and pray; to be with people, with family, time encouraging a brother in Christ?
One of the families in our church did this recently. They fasted together. But this wasn't a fast in which they denied themselves. It was a week-long fast from all things digital, from media. No games, no secular movies or music, no texting. Listen to the dad’s words about this fast:
“...The result was overwhelmingly positive. On the first morning, before the kids left for school, the majority of early morning arguments between siblings were reduced by a good 90%. By the end of the day we had spent more quality time as a family than we had in, at least, the previous two days combined, and those were weekend days. As the week progressed, relationships grew stronger, communication blossomed, and trivial disputes became, almost, nonexistent. It was absolutely amazing to see what happened in the hearts of our children, and in us as well, when the “voice” of the world was snuffed out for a mere seven days.”
Are you willing to step back, to log off, to resist, to retreat, to refocus? Sometimes doing that is the only way to tell how tight the grip of technology is on our lives. And remember, this should not simply be an ‘every once in a while’ thing. A disciplined use of technology should be a daily discipline.
As we wrap this up, let me ask you this: is your digital device, is digital media filling a void in you that only Christ can truly fill; a hunger that only Jesus can truly satisfy?
In His book, “The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion”, blogger Tim Challies sums up this concern well when he writes:
“Technology presents us with a unique spiritual challenge. Because it is meant to serve us in fulfilling our created purpose, because it makes our lives easier, longer, and more comfortable, we are prone to assign to it something of a godlike status. We easily rely on technology to give our lives meaning, and we trust technology to provide an ultimate answer to the frustration of life in a fallen world.”
Brothers and sisters, friends, our technology is simply one more thing in our lives that confirms how broken we really are. We fill the internet with our corruption and twist our tools to become weapons of self-centeredness and foolish distraction.
My hope is that what we have seen this morning will lead you, not just to reforming your habits, but first to seeking the reformation of heart that can only come through the gospel. Jesus died for idolaters like us. And only the new heart that Jesus purchased on the cross, with His own blood, can keep our eyes focused on the only true God.
Remember, the fact that Jesus died and rose again to secure God’s promises for us, only that gospel, only that Good News can truly bring us the assurance and peace and acceptance and transformation we often look for in digital idols.
Technology may save us time, but only Jesus Christ can save us…even from the idols of the digital age.