War is common in the Old Testament.
There are a lot of battles and wars in the Hebrew Bible. In 1 Samuel 4, the people of Israel go to war with the Philistines. Twice.
The Philistines moved into the neighborhood on the coastal plain SW of Israel and they had plans to take more land in Canaan. Their military strength and ambition prompted Israel to go to war with them to protect the land God promised Abraham and delivered through Joshua.
However, when Israel goes to war with them they lose! Thousands die.
The elders of Israel gather together and ask a wise question. "Why has God defeated us?" They recognized that God was not with them when they went to battle and that God allowed their enemies to win the war.
So what was their solution?
Let's drag the Ark of the Covenant out of the Tabernacle at Shiloh and take it to battle with us. Surely, God will have to be with us if we take his Ark of the Covenant with us. Our God does not want to be embarrassed or shamed in battle.
So, thinking they could manipulate God to act on their behalf, the people of Israel call the Ark of the Covenant out of the bullpen and into battle in 1 Samuel 4.
What was the result?
The Philistines won the battle and the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant home with them to Ashdod.
This was a total failure for Israel. Thousands died, they lost the battle, and more importantly, they lost the Ark!
As you think about this story, what went wrong in Israel? What caused God to allow them to be defeated?
Simply put, instead of repenting of their sin and turning to God in faith, the people of Israel turned to religious formality and superficial spirituality for answers. They thought by pretending to be devoted to God with the Ark they could twist God's arm into helping them. They foolishly relied on their actions to force God to act rather than repenting and turning to God in faith.
This principle is important to you today, over 3,000 years after the events of 1 Samuel 4 occurred. God wants you to repent of your sin and place your faith in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was crucified on a Roman cross 2,000 years ago for your sins.
God does not want you to rely on your actions, but rather on his. Instead of placing confidence in what you can do in order to get God to act, place your trust in what God has already done for you through Jesus Christ. The example of Israel in 1 Samuel 4 is there to remind you to avoid inch-deep religious activities and embrace the eternal Triune God.
God wants your sincerity, not your formality.