To study this, I was first taught to get a definition of the word. "Ichabod" means "Where is the glory?" meaning "where is the glory of God?", "inglorious".
Second I was taught to read the scripture in context so here is the story in which the term is used:
1 Samuel 2:22-25 (Modern King James Version) And Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who gathered at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. (23) And he said to them, Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings by all the people. (24) No, my sons, for it is no good report that I hear. You make Jehovah's people to transgress. (25) If one man sins against another, the judge shall judge him. But if a man sins against Jehovah, who shall plead for him? But they did not listen to the voice of their father, because Jehovah desired to kill them.
1 Samuel 4:10-22 (Modern King James Version) And the Philistines fought, and Israel was beaten, and each one of them fled into his tent. And there was a very great slaughter, for there fell thirty thousand footmen of Israel. (11) And the ark of God was taken. And Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were slain. (12) And a man of Benjamin ran out of the army. And he came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes torn and with earth upon his head. (13) And he came in, and behold, Eli sat on a seat by the wayside watching. For his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city and told it, all the city cried out. (14) And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, What is the noise of this tumult? And the man hurried in and told Eli. (15) And Eli was ninety-eight years old, and his eyes were set so that he could not see. (16) And the man said to Eli, I am he who came out of the army, and I fled today out of the army. And he said, How did the matter go, my son? (17) And the messenger answered and said, Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has been a great slaughter among the people also. And also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken. (18) And it happened when he spoke of the ark of God, he fell backward off the seat, by the side of the gate. And his neck broke, and he died, for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years. (19) And his daughter-in-law, Phinehas' wife, was with child, ready to be delivered. And when she heard the report that the ark of God was taken, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed, for her pains came upon her. (20) And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said to her, Do not fear, for you have borne a son. But she did not answer, nor set her heart. (21) And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory has departed from Israel, because the ark of God had been taken, and because of her father-in-law and her husband. (22) And she said, The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God is taken.
Now let's look at the history of this story. Elkanah was married to 2 women: Hannah and Peninnah. While Peninnah had children, Hannah was unable to conceive and she was very depressed about it. Elkanah tried to reassure her that he loved her anyway but she was miserable. Elkanah and his family would go up once a year to Shiloh to worship God and it was on one of these trips to Shiloh that Hannah was praying and weeping before the Lord at the House of God. She promised God to dedicate her first child to His service if He would open her womb. As she was quietly praying and weeping, the High Priest came upon her. It was the High Priest Eli.
1 Samuel 1:12-13 (Modern King James Version) And it happened as she continued praying before Jehovah, Eli noticed her mouth. Now Hannah spoke in her heart, only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. And Eli thought she had become drunk.
Now, in the 2nd chapter we find that the High Priest Eli had some family troubles of his own. His two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are serving in the Temple but they are behaving outrageously and taking advantage of their position. These spiritual leaders were seducing women who came to the Temple. Eli, their father, and High Priest of the Temple, only bemoaned their sins but did nothing to stop them. This sin was practiced by the very spiritual leaders that were suppose to be leading the people TO God. God calls to the boy, Samuel, in the middle of the night. At first Samuel is awakened and thinks it's old Eli calling him. But Eli says, "Go back to bed." It happens a second time. Finally, the third time:
1 Samuel 3:8-21 (Modern King James Version) And Jehovah called Samuel again, the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, Here am I, for you called me. And Eli saw that Jehovah had called the child. (9) And Eli said to Samuel, Go, lie down; and it shall be, if One calls you, you shall say, Speak, Jehovah, for Your servant hears. And Samuel went to lie down in his place. (10) ;And Jehovah came and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel! Then Samuel answered, Speak, for Your servant hears. (11) And Jehovah said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel at which both the ears of everyone who hears it shall tingle. (12) In that day I will confirm to Eli all that which I have spoken as to his house, beginning and making an end. (13) For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile and he did not restrain them. (14) And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering forever. (15) And Samuel lay until morning, and opened the doors of the house of Jehovah. And Samuel feared to show Eli the vision. (16) And Eli called Samuel and said, Samuel, my son. And he answered, Here am I. (17) And he said, What is the word which He has said to you? Please do not hide it from me. God do so to you, and more also, if you hide a thing from me of all the words that He said to you. (18) And Samuel told him all the words, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is Jehovah; let Him do what seems good to Him. (19) And Samuel grew, and Jehovah was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. (20) And all Israel, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of Jehovah. (21) And Jehovah appeared again in Shiloh. For Jehovah revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the Word of Jehovah.
The Philistines, old enemies of Israel, came back to do battle with the Israelites. Israel lost the battle and lost 4,000 men that day.
1 Samuel 4:3 (Modern King James Version) And when the people had come to the camp, the elders of Israel said, Why has Jehovah beaten us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of Jehovah out of Shiloh to us, so that when it comes among us it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.
So I've defined the word and we've read the scripture in context and studied the history surrounding the passage.
If you read Psalm 78, God brushes the history of Israel with broad strokes in a summary. Then He says,
Psalm 78: 56-64 (Modern King James Version) Yet they tempted and provoked the Most High God, and kept not His testimonies; (57) but they turned back, and acted unfaithfully like their fathers; they were turned aside like a deceiving bow. (58) For they provoked Him to anger with their high places, and moved Him to jealousy with their carved images. (59) When God heard, He was angry, and turned away from Israel; (60) so that He left the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which He placed among men, (61) and delivered His strength into captivity, and His glory into the enemy's hands. (62) He also gave His people over to the sword, and was angry with His inheritance. (63) The fire burned up their young men; and their maidens were not given in marriage. (64) Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows were not able to weep.
This is a very good supplemental reading so I encourage you to read the entire chapter. Again and again, God gave His people chances and withheld judgement in mercy. But they just took advantage of His mercy and judgement had to come. Then they would turn back to Him for awhile only to start the whole process over again. But verses 60-64 summarize the loss of the Ark of the Covenant during the battle in 1 Samuel 4.
As Matthew Henry says in his commentary, "If God go, the glory goes, and all good goes. Woe unto us if he depart!"
So we've studied the meaning of the word, read the verse in context, read about the history surrounding the verse and discussed what it meant to the mother of this child. What does this have to do with us today?
I'm not sure that was suppose to be the proper use of the term. "Ichabod" is descriptive of a terrible thing, to have the Lord remove His Presence. But as New Testament Christians, believers, we are told that God will never leave or forsake us.
(Hebrews 13: 5 (King James Version) Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.)
I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. I believe He is the Son of God, died on the cross and rose again in order to forgive me of my sins and give me eternal life. I know that I am secure in Jesus therefore God will never leave me or forsake me. My salvation is not in question. My name will never be "Ichabod" because NOTHING can take me from His Hands. I have accepted Him as my Father and He has called me His Child. His Holy Spirit now lives in me to help my new spirit to grow. His Spirit will not leave me because I'm a believer. Even though I still sin, I am forgiven and will be with Him in Heaven. The only unforgivable sin is NOT accepting Jesus Christ as the only way to eternal salvation. You have that choice. You can choose to reject Him and His offer of salvation. If YOU choose to reject Him and continue to reject Him up until you die, then God says you will spend eternity in Hell. This is NOT what He wants. He has provided a way to be saved by accepting what Jesus did for you. He loves you which is why He took on the responsibility of providing a way for salvation. He knew we could never save ourselves. We were lost to an eternity in Hell except that He made a way to save us. He paid the price to redeem us. He took the whipping, the beatings, the mocking, the humiliation, the torturous death and rose again! He was 100% human and died. Yet He was 100% divine and rose again. He was able to pay the price for humans and rise again because He was divine. What a mighty and loving God! One that is worthy of our praise!
I have also heard that if people question their spiritual leaders, then that church will become "Ichabod". The glory of God will desert that church. I have a problem with that. The Holy Spirit lives within us, as believers, not within a building or organization. As long as there is a true believer in that church or organization, the Holy Spirit is there because He is in that one person. And, as we have studied, the use of the term was in a story about spiritual leaders who egregiously sinned and did not repent. They were, in essence, evil spiritual leaders. So bad, that the people had complained to their father, High Priest Eli, and Eli did nothing to stop them. He warned them but he did not stop them. This led the people astray. It was because of the leaders that the enemy was able to beat the Israelites, killing thousands, as well as killing Phinehas and Hophni and capturing the Ark of the Covenant.
It seems to me that these spiritual leaders, who had knowingly sinned (they were warned) and had not repented but kept on sinning, called judgement down upon themselves and the people who had blindly followed after them (see Psalm 78). It was this that led to the birth of Ichabod. The people had allowed wicked priests to minister before God in the Tabernacle at Shiloh. They became guilty of collusion by allowing it. I'm sure having wicked priests led the people away from God and following in their sins.
Please don't misunderstand me. I think we should be very careful about criticizing pastors, church leaders, elders, denomination leaders, ministry leaders. It's not something we should do carelessly. That can become gossip, slander and discouragement which are sinful. We don't want to fall into sin ourselves by criticizing, murmuring and complaining. On the other hand, spiritual leaders are only human. They are just as subject to sin and error as any one of us. This means we should be compassionate with them but sometimes they need some correction. And if they refuse correction, sometimes it needs to be taken a step further. Jesus, Himself, said,
Matthew 18: 15-17 (King James Version) Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. (16) But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. (17) And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
These are the recommended steps to bring about resolution. In the case of leadership, try to talk with the leader. If he doesn't listen, try again but with 2-3 witnesses. My thoughts, at this step, is to let one of the witnesses be one over his head. If he still refuses to hear, tell it to the church. Jesus doesn't say, let the error continue, keep your mouth shut, don't make waves, quietly sneak out the back door. Why? Because that person is one of His Children and the best blessing is for that leader to repent of his/her error. Also you don't want others to fall into sin or to fall away from the faith because of the sin of that leader.
This doesn't mean you attack the person. This doesn't mean you gossip and slander the person behind their back (boy, that's a hard one!). This doesn't mean you never forgive them and hold it against them the rest of your life. This doesn't mean to start a name-calling, rage-filled confrontation. It means you pray. It means you ask for discernment. It means you keep taking inventory of your own self so that you aren't falling into the all too human sins of bitterness, unforgiveness, gossip, etc. (We are all very subject to this, it's a human condition. But we need to fight it and keep asking forgiveness for anything we see cropping up in ourselves. I am not immune, I confess to having made sinful mistakes like this and have asked God's forgiveness.) It means we should keep ourselves under control and speak calmly. If we find ourselves getting too heated, take a prayer break! It means we should follow the steps Jesus prescribed. Whether they ask for forgiveness or not, in our hearts we are suppose to forgive them. If they do seek to be returned to the church, we should compassionately and gratefully welcome them back. There is NO ONE without sin. None of us can cast the first stone. All of us need forgiveness for something we've done, from Jesus and from others. We should be understanding. But, if they never repent and turn from their wicked ways, we are to "let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." In other words, treat him as though he were no longer a Christian brother, much less a spiritual leader. You need to determine what this means to you and in each situation. You have unsaved friends, can you still be friends with them? Do you continue to reach out to unsaved people, can you continue to reach out to them? It doesn't have to mean they are shunned, unloved, locked out forever. What if it's so bad that they can be sued or charged with crime (as in they robbed the church)? Appealing to a government court is the last thing we want to have to do. We should try all other remedies before that. Sometimes we swallow the loss. But sometimes, it's just that bad and the legal system should get involved. Priests or pastors who have practiced pedophilia should be arrested. It should not be covered up. Just be sure you keep your heart right during the whole process.
Leviticus 19:15-18 (Contemporary English Version) Be fair, no matter who is on trial--don't favor either the poor or the rich. (16) Don't be a gossip, but never hesitate to speak up in court, especially if your testimony can save someone's life. (17) Don't hold grudges. On the other hand, it's wrong not to correct someone who needs correcting. (18) Stop being angry and don't try to take revenge. I am the LORD, and I command you to love others as much as you love yourself.
A pastor, ministry leader, elder, deacon, etc. is someone whom we should respect but they are yet human and subject to sin. It is even more important to keep watch over them. We must keep them in prayer. It is a normal evil human condition to abuse power and all too easy to fall into sin because of that power. And if we are surrounded by people who think we do no wrong, it's just that much easier to take advantage of it. All of us have heard of pastors who fall into adultery, or who have secret sex lives of pedophilia, or have pornography problems. All of us have heard of ministry leaders who have stolen or misused ministry funds. All of us can see, any day, on TV those spiritual "leaders" who ride in private jets and have million dollar houses as they strut in pride in their thousand dollar suits and expensive, fake facelifts. All of us have seen bickering and power plays amongst elders and deacons even in the smallest churches. We tend to think they are immune to the lure of sin because they proclaim to be Christians (they may or may not be) and teach God's Word. But they are not and if we don't watch after them and call them on it, they can fall into some really bad stuff that not only destroys them and their families but makes the cause of Christ look ridiculous. It can do permanent damage to someone's search for salvation. We don't ever want someone to go to hell because we let our spiritual leaders run amuck!
Then there are those who refuse to confront leaders when it's a "little" thing only to see, in horror, that the unchecked leader goes on to bigger sins that affect more people. For instance, we let him get away with using the church's credit card for personal purchases only to eventually find that he's stolen the church's savings account and absconded with the church secretary. We should be good stewards. There are good protocols (financial and otherwise) to follow and it's for very good reasons. It protects the leaders from undue accusations and it protects the congregation from being abused. The leaders should follow the very practical protocols and procedures.
Or what about those leaders who insist that their word is from God and God only speaks through him. That kind of spiritual leader loves to surround himself with "yes men" who only rubberstamp his "mission". If anyone brings up an objection they are labelled "troublemakers" and shunned. This is cult-ish and dangerous. Once someone has that kind of power over people they will abuse it at some point and that can become pretty serious, even life and death. See Jim Jones, David Koresh, etc.
Should we raise objections to every thing the pastor wants to do, every new project, every new idea? No. We should pray, we should discuss, we should come to consensus, we should vote. I mean, if the pastor wants orange curtains and you think that would look ridiculous, be submissive and peacekeeping. If it means all that much to someone to have orange curtains, bite your tongue. It's not a sin to have orange curtains. But if you see real potential for a problem, you should be able to voice your concern in a calm and non-threatening way. Then it should be considered, prayed about, discussed and voted on. If you still think there is something really bad going on and God has given you some discernment about a real problem, or potential problem, you have a responsibility to speak up (following Jesus' conflict resolution steps in Matthew 18). If you perform what God has led you to do and performed your responsibility, then it is up to you to leave or not. If it is something you think is that important, don't just sneak out and never talk about it. Because others are concerned in the situation and they can be hurt if the abuse isn't stopped. If I see an abusive situation and don't intervene am I not part of the problem? But do it thoughtfully, carefully, prayerfully, kindly and with ready forgiveness so that the sin is not yours.