08 April 2016

Eli's daughter-in-law: Ichabod

1. Samuel 4:12-22

My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?
Here I lie in my blood alone,
robbed of my husband, my family,
dying, leaving behind a child
even more forsaken than me.

My God, my God,
why have you forsaken us?
Why let your glory be taken away,
withdrawing your presence, causing defeat?
Why leave us here in our blood alone,
your people - forsaken by you?

My God, my God,
why have you forsaken him?
Why give him life on this darkest of days,
born fatherless, motherless - godless?
Why bring him into this dark, cruel world,
empty, forsaken by you?

"My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?"
I hear my cry
from your lips, o God,
as you die on a cross alone,
robbed of all glory,
cast out and shamed,
with your people
with my child
and with me.

So maybe I am no longer alone,
for you are here,
forsaken like me.
Maybe my cries are not in vain,
for you are here,
crying out with me.
Maybe your glory is not far away -
for you fill this forsakenness
with your presence
and turn this brokenness
into glory.


[8. April 2016]

This was going to be my Good Friday poem for this year, but I had too much going on so didn't get to finish it in time...

I was reading 1. Sam 4, the story of the ark of the Covenant being taken away by the Philistines. In the middle of this story we have Eli's daughter-in-law, giving birth to her son and naming him "Ichabod", which means "The glory has departed from Israel." The ark of the Covenant stood for the presence of God with His people, His glory among them. That it was lost was a heavy blow - the Israelites understood it as God forsaking them. They had thought He would give them victory if they brought along the ark into the battle - instead they were defeated, and instead of concluding from that that the ark "didn't work", that God wasn't stronger than the Philistines (which would have been a plausible thought in the worldview of those times), they realised God had allowed the defeat and distanced Himself from them.

Eli's sons, priests who lived only for themselves and abused their position, were both killed in the battle. Eli died upon hearing the news. Eli's daughter-in-law was the last who was left - and she too died while giving birth to Ichabod, the poor forsaken child whose name expresses the deep forsakenness his mother felt.

Is God cruel? He had warned beforehand that he would punish the family of Eli because of the injustices they committed. It seems harsh that a new-born child has to suffer because of that. I see it this way: Much evil happens in this world where people harm other people, just like Eli's sons. And we want God to take away this evil. But all that we do, all our actions, connects and knots up and in the end, there is no solution without more problems, without more people being hurt - that is the consequence of sin. We can't escape the consequences, even if God intervenes. In this case, God's intervention led to the hopeless situation of new-born Ichabod.

And this is where I had to think of the Cross - the place of Jesus' forsakenness. Jesus was forsaken too, just like Ichabod. He was in a position of deepest shame: the cross, a place not just of torture and death, but of public shaming! The glory had been taken away. And this too was part of an intervention of God to set aright what we had messed up. Jesus bore those consequences. Jesus became Ichabod.

And by doing so, He turned the whole forsakenness around. Because God Himself experienced being forsaken by God, our feeling of forsakenness no longer separates us from Him, but is a place where we can meet Him - because He is right there with us. Because the Cross as place of shame became the place of glory (the Gospel of John focuses on the Cross as the place where Jesus reaches His highest glory, it is where He is enthroned), Ichabod no longer needs to be Ichabod - God's glory is no longer absent, but right there in the middle of our shame. We can no longer be forsaken by God because God, in Jesus, is right there in our forsakenness sharing it with us!

Picture by Diego Velázquez

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