Then Moses sent them to the war, one thousand from each tribe; he sent them to the war with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the holy articles and the signal trumpets in his hand. (Numbers 31:6)
You may recall that Phinehas is the young man who, upon seeing the Simeonite man and the Midianite princess acting dishonorably at the door of the Tent of Meeting, took a javelin and killed them mid-act. He is the same Phinehas that God promoted to the position of priest. Now we see that he is the one going before the children of Israel, to encourage and exhort the soldiers, as they prepare for battle. Later, Moses defines exactly what that exhortation should be:
And it shall be, when you are come near unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, and shall say unto them, “Hear, O Israel, you approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be terrified because of them; For the LORD your God is he that goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” (Deuteronomy 20:2-4)
The Bible also says that Phinehas took “holy articles” into battle with him, one of which we presume to be the Ark of the Covenant, God’s Throne on earth. That is intriguing for this reason: the battle resulted in great victory for Israel because God, indeed and most literally, went before them to do battle against their enemies. Now compare that battle to the one that is recorded in 1 Samuel 4. The enemies were a different people but, still, they historically opposed Israel and Israel’s God. Furthermore, leading Israel into this battle were the sons of Eli the High Priest, Hophni and Phinehas (not the same one mentioned earlier). Like the other Phinehas before them, they also carried the Ark of the Covenant with them. However, rather than a great victory for Israel, it was a great victory for their enemies. In the end, Hophni and Phinehas were killed along with thousands of Israelis, not to mention, the Ark of the Covenant was taken captive.
The major difference between the two battles is obvious — God went before His people in one battle and was not present for the other. In other words, it wasn’t Phinehas or the Ark that made the difference, rather it was the Presence of the Almighty. Taking trumpets and holy articles into battle is great but what will matter more than anything is whether we are living holy lives. There are no magic potions or formulas that bring victory for God’s people. Victory comes only by the power of His might and His Presence among His people. Therefore, it behooves us to live in a way that says to Him, “You are welcome here!” And so, “If God be for us, then who can be against us?” But if God is not with us, then God help us! So let’s not focus so much on whose side God is on but, rather, make certain that we are on His side.
Blessings and Shalom,