Here in this chapter, we are given a stark warning of not taking God for granted. In the first few verses of chapter 4, the Israelites go out into battle with the Philistines, however it seems that they have gone into battle on their own and without God. And there isn't a good outcome for the Israelites! We find out in verse 2 that '...Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield.'
I always find the response of the Israelites interesting. Once the soldiers returned to the camp, the elders of Israel asked "Why did the Lord bring this defeat on us today before the Philistines?" They had gone into battle with the Philistines on their own and without God, however once it all went wrong and they faced defeat, they questioned where God was! Does this sound familiar at all? Have you ever found yourself doing something in your own strength and without God's involvement, and then as soon as it goes wrong you start to question where God was and why he allowed it to fail?
The elders of Israel go on to say "...bring the ark of the Lord's covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies." The ark of the Lord's covenant was a sign that God was present with His people. However look at the attitude of the elders of Israel. They want the ark of the covenant bringing from Shiloh so that 'he (God) may go with us...". The Israelites still weren't interested in following God; rather they were hoping to drag God along with them as some sort of good luck charm. And so that's exactly what they did. They went back into battle with the Philistines, dragging God along with them in an attempt to force God to bring victory to them.
The outcome? "So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured, and Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phineas, died."
We cannot go into something and try and drag God along with us as some sort of good luck charm, or forcing Him to do something on our behalf. God cannot be forced into our little box. The Israelites learnt this lesson the hard way.
The question is: what is it that we are involved with? Are we doing the things that God requires of us? And are we putting God first in the things that we do, and allowing Him to lead the way? Or are we just doing the things that we want to do, and hoping that God is going to bless it anyway?