God, Glory, and Sleepy Hollow

God, Glory, and Sleepy Hollow
By: J. B. Hixson, Ph.D.

Then she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. (1 Samuel 4:21)

Most of my grade school years were spent in the little western Connecticut down of Danbury. As a child growing up in New England, I remember hearing many anecdotes and traditions from early American history. Stories about Williamsburg, Salem, Mystic Seaport, Plymouth Rock, and other legendary sites captured my attention. One of my favorites, though, was the tale of Sleepy Hollow and the Headless Horseman. The town of Sleepy Hollow, made famous by Washington Irving’s 1820 short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is about forty miles south of Danbury near Tarrytown, NY along the banks of the Hudson River. Perhaps it was its proximity to my hometown that made the story so riveting to me. Regardless, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow definitely has everything an eleven year old boy could want: murder, mystery, and ghosts.

In the story, Ichabod Crane is a skeptical constable sent out to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a rash of decapitation murders alleged to be the work of a headless horseman. Not being a believer in the supernatural, Crane refuses to accept such a preposterous fable. But he soon becomes convinced. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a mesmerizing story that, along with Rip Van Winkle, earned Irving a place on the list of America’s most famous authors.

Given his skepticism, “Ichabod” is a fitting name for Constable Crane. Ichabod is a Hebrew term that first appears in the Bible. It is found in a historical account that, like Irving’s fictional classic, is a page-turner. In 1 Samuel, we read that the Philistines slaughtered 30,000 Israeli soldiers at the Battle of Aphek, and in the process captured the sacred Ark of the Covenant. When Eli, Israel’s high priest at the time, heard the news about the Ark and that his two sons Hophni and Phinehas had been slain in the battle, he was so upset that he fell out of his seat and died!

But it gets worse. Eli’s daughter-in-law, Phinehas’s wife, was pregnant at the time. When she heard the news about the Ark and the deaths of her husband and father-in-law, she went into labor and died giving birth to a son. Just before she died, she declared the name of her new son to be “Ichabod,” meaning “no glory.”

For Phinehas’ wife, the events of that day were too much to bear. They were beyond belief. She could not fathom how such misfortune could befall one family all at once. In her mind, God was absent and His glory was gone forever. This was not true, of course. God was still very much in control of the situation and Israel had much better days to come (and still does!). But in the tragedy of the moment, her doubt and disbelief led her to immortalize the occasion with the name Ichabod.

Similarly, Constable Crane was having trouble making sense of an otherwise senseless situation. The reports coming out of Sleepy Hollow were beyond belief. Perhaps that is why Irving chose the name Ichabod for this character. We do not meet too many Ichabods, do we? It is not the most flattering name. It has to be right up there with Lucifer and Jezebel on the list of least used biblical names! The essence of the name Ichabod implies that there is no God—or at least that He is no longer present with you. In Old Testament times, the Ark of the Covenant represented the very presence of Yahweh. Wherever it went, it was accompanied by a cloud, the Shekinah glory of God. When the Ark was stolen, it signified that God’s hand of blessing and protection had been removed from Israel. “The glory had departed from Israel” (1 Samuel 4:21).
Though they may not go by that name, we have all met a few Ichabods in our day. Perhaps it is the atheist who, like Crane, refuses to believe in the supernatural. Or the skeptic who doubts there is a God. Or maybe it is a believer who, faced with devastating circumstances that stretch his faith to the limits, throws up his hands and gives up. The truth is, all of us act like Ichabod from time to time. Anytime we choose to go it alone, without acknowledging the presence and hand of God in our lives, we have become an Ichabod.

I find it interesting that Scripture equates glory with God’s presence, especially given the world’s view of glory. To the world, glory means attaining fame, fortune, or wealth through one’s own personal accomplishments—apart from God. According to worldly philosophy, glory belongs to those who are talented, strong, and rich. There is no room for God in the world’s definition of glory. But the reality is there can be no true glory without God.

Without the presence of God in your life, all the glory in the world is just a fading light that will one day be extinguished. Jeremiah the prophet sums it up this way, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23–24). Or to put it more succinctly, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is just a fable, and Ichabod Crane is just a fictional character, but the reality of living life for the glory of the moment instead of rooted in God’s presence is a danger we all face. Where is your glory today?

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