“She named the child Ichabod–“Where is the glory?”–murmuring, ‘Israel’s glory is gone.’ She named him this because the Ark of God had been captured and because her husband and her father-in-law were dead. Then she said, ‘The glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured.'” — 1 Samuel 4:21-22
During the great Welsh Revival of 1904, the churches and chapels of Wales were crowded with worshippers seeking to “get right with God.” Miners covered with coal dust went straight from the pits to the church, and the valleys rang with the grand sound of Welsh voices singing the great hymns of the faith.
An American tourist who was familiar with the stories of the revival was anxious to visit the towns and villages where the Spirit of God had moved. He found an old Welshman who took him around to some of the chapels and churches, where he reminisced about the great preaching and singing of bygone days. But then, with a tremor in his voice, he said, “The glory has departed. You could write across the front of the church in great big letters the word ‘Kickerbocker.” Unfortunately, the word he meant was “Ichabod.”
But give the old Welshman some credit. Even if he was a little confused, at least he knew about a Bible story that most people have not encountered! It is the story of what happened when a messenger brought word back to Shiloh of Israel’s defeat in battle and the capture of the ark.
When poor old Eli–the fat, blind priest–heard about the ark and the deaths of his sons (he seemed more concerned about the former than the latter), he fell off the bench, broke his neck, and died. Eli’s daughter-in-law, wife of Phinehas, the philandering priest, gave premature birth to a son and died in childbirth. But before she died, she murmured, “Israel’s glory is gone,” and she named her son “Ichabod,” which means, “Where is the glory?” (1 Samuel 4:21)
The Middle East is littered with the magnificent ruins of formerly great cities whose glory has long departed. Many of those cities are the ancient sites of first-and-second-century churches that are now nowhere to be seen. Now there is no church, no Christian witness. The glory is gone.
In the great cathedrals of Europe, where vast crowds once gathered for worship, now only tourists with cameras flood the ancient aisles, clambering unthinkingly and unknowingly over the graves of the great men and women of God who once stood tall and strong for the Lord in that place. The glory has gone.
The church is never more than one generation away from extinction. In some places it happens through violent persecution. In others, through slow moral erosion. That erosion takes place in the hearts of individuals who, like Hopni and Phinehas, go through religious motions with hearts estranged from God. When that happens en masse, Ichabod! The glory departs.