1 SAMUEL 4:1 – 6:21 and LUKE 12:35–59
1 Sam 4
This to me is one of the saddest chapters in the Word of God. An event of great significance is about to take place. It is a chapter that has great meaning and insight as well. We were previously introduced to the Ark of the Covenant going back to the days of Moses. There were strict procedures in place as to how the Ark would be managed by the priests. It was positioned in the most holy place and had the mercy seat overshadowing it. The Ark contained the 2 tables of stone, (Law) Aaron’s rod that budded along with the golden pot of manna. The Ark represents the presence of God; it would be brought into many battles against the enemies of God.
What is the major event that transpires in this chapter that is so noteworthy? Israel is about to lose a major battle but worse still will be its losing of the Ark. Why is this the case? It is directly tied to the condition of the priesthood. The presumption, the taking the presence of the Lord for granted and the up and down relationship with God is all about to come to an end. God will no longer allow His presence to be represented by a corrupt and tainted company of priests. As a result the Ark will begin its own journey out of Moses Tabernacle at Shiloh, never to return. Here is a brief review of events to this very sad account.
Once again we see Israel coming under siege by the Philistines. There was a loss of about 4000 men in this battle and plans were made as to how to counter this assault. What did their plan consist of? In times past they would call upon the Lord in their distress and He would raise up a deliverer on their behalf. Surely, God can be counted on to do it again. They made the decision to summon the priests to go in and do that which was unlawful which was to arbitrarily go into the Holy of holies to gather the Ark to then bring forth to battle.
There was precedent for bringing the Ark into battle as seen in Num 10:35 and 14:44. This was assuming that Israel was law abiding and flowing under the guidance and direction of God. The depravity of the priesthood under Eli’s sons is now on full display. There was no remorse or seeking for repentance for the siege taking place against them. There was no picture of humility or contriteness. This is the product of a recycling type of relationship with God. If the fruits of true repentance do not reach the root it will never change the heart. Israel is now taking on the characteristics of their enemy in the way they presume upon the presence of God. “Let us fetch the Ark” is a cold indifferent approach to God. There is now no relationship; it is ritual and it culminates with the vile sons of Eli going in to the tabernacle to bring forth the Ark into battle.
Notice what happens when the Ark is brought forth into the midst of the camp; the people start rejoicing, yes happy days are here again. Surely now the tide will turn against the Philistines. Personally, I cannot help but wonder if this will happen in our day. Many of the contemporary churches which make allowance for compromises continue to grow and be seemingly blessed. In some cases they are represented by modern day versions of Hophni’s and Phineas’. Is there a similar “taking God for granted” mind-set that needs to be guarded against today? I would say a definite yes to that question; the church must not be presumptuous regarding the things of God. He is a God of long-suffering and patience but He is also a Holy God and there is a limit, a boundary that can be crossed.
We see the enemy initially being concerned to this sudden turn of events (vs 7-8) however a voice emerges to challenge them to stand up and be men, to no longer be slaves to the Hebrews (vs 10). It appears that God was allowing for courage to rise amongst the Philistines seeing it was His will to deliver Israel into their hands. There is an evident smugness in many western churches today. There is this false sense of security and attitude of being immune from the judgements of God. People tend to rely on previous blessings with a confidence that God will again come through. Remember 911? Sure it was a national crisis and the country (USA) rallied behind their leader and nation. If a similar event were to happen again how would we respond? Would we seek the face of God in true repentance?
The modern day church is not much different from what we have seen. We need to be a people who constantly cry out for God’s mercy and healing as well as for restoration. The atrocities and persecutions being witnessed in other countries is hitting closer to home. Is it possible that we could have a Shiloh type event? What happened here is that Israel lost both the war and the Ark. Once the Ark came out of Moses Tabernacle of Shiloh it never ever returned. It began a journey and it is a journey we need to mark and take note of. We learn so much from the study of the Journey of Israel. There are also many lessons that can be gleaned from zeroing in on the Ark’s journey.
The bottom line is this. God was no longer going to allow His holy presence to be under the custodial care of a corrupted priesthood. We saw earlier in the Word of the Lord that was delivered to Eli that God would seek out a priest who would do according to His own heart (1 Sam 2:35). I feel there is an immediate fulfilment of that verse seeing that Samuel is now the priest of record. I do feel however that there are other fulfilments that can be applied as well. It says of Eli that he was 98 at this time and of dim vision. The light had gone out in the temple and a transition is about to take place. Israel lost the war, Eli lost his sons but it was the news of the Ark being taken that resulted in Eli’s death (vs 18). The Ark of the Covenant now begins a journey; let’s see where it leads.
1 Sam 5
The Philistines, fresh off their victory against Israel take the Ark and place it in the tent of their chief god Dagon. They have achieved something that had never happened in history. They were able to take possession of the Ark from Israel. The enemies of Israel were well aware of the accounts of their battles through the years as well as the accompanying Ark that would be with them. The Ark is now in their hands and they naturally attribute this victory to Dagon. This is such a sad testimony and scene. God gave man (Israel) an opportunity to know Him, and to be an example of His ways to other nations. It is such a privilege that God extended to Israel but they abused it over and over again. God, in His mercy revealed His arm of long-suffering in constantly hearing and responding to their pleas for help.
There was never true repentance that reached into their hearts hence the need for a New Covenant. The time has arrived where God said no more, no more would He allow His Holy presence to be represented by a self-serving corrupted priesthood. It was for this reason that God allowed His Holy presence (The Ark) to be captured into enemy hands. Israel simply stepped over boundaries leaving God with no other choice. Naturally, the Philistines would think that it was due to the superior power of their god. It is with a sense of sobriety that I write this because of what is seen in today’s church. There is the sense we can keep serving God on our own terms at the expense of God’s Law and His Word. The call to becoming a royal and holy priesthood is ever resounding but who is hearing? It is a sad testimony when we see the church becoming more and more like the world with each passing day. God’s laws are being refashioned so as to accommodate the politically correct currents of the day. What has happened to Israel is a warning to us. We need revival, sparked by repentance.
The Ark was positioned in the tents of Dagon and on two consecutive nights something happened to their god. The first morning they found Dagon fallen on his face. The 2nd morning the heads and hands were cut off. Soon afterwards the people of Ashdod were stricken with diseases on their secret parts. This confirmed to them that they were under judgement and as a result sought to have the Ark immediately removed. The place where Dagon was stationed was Ashdod. The word actually means “stronghold”.
Is it not interesting that the Ark was immediately brought into the stronghold of the enemy where their chief god was located? Is it not interesting that our high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ upon his death went into the stronghold of the enemy (hell) to teach and deliver up those who had been captive (Eph 4:8)? The Ark (The presence of God) was not limited in any way. It was God who was not going to allow a corrupted priesthood to share in such a glorious victory. Can you imagine how Hophni and Phineas along with Israel would have felt about themselves if they were included in this battle? This is why leaders like Gideon had to be winnowed down in numbers so as to prevent them from taking credit for victory. The Lord is reserving such a privilege to priests who know His heart, His ways and Laws and chooses to follow them.
The Ark is now on a solitary journey and it will bring death and destruction to every enemy force; it will also be without an accompanying priesthood. This journey is leading somewhere and this journey of the Ark will one day find itself in very capable hands. That is yet out in the future. The Ark is now sent to Gath where a similar destruction takes place (vs 8-9). The name Gath can be interpreted “olive press”. It was at Gethsemane where the Lord was pressed in the area of His will, so much so that he sweated drops of blood (Luke 22:44).
This is part of the journey for us as well. Our will be challenged and we will have to choose whom we will yield to. Will we yield to the flesh or to the spirit? Will we learn to delight to do the will of the Father (Luke 22:42)? The Ark was then sent to Ekron where a similar judgement took place. The name Ekron can be interpreted as “elimination”. It is a picture of what the Lord did when He went into the temple. He had great zeal for His Father’s house and He destroyed the works of the moneychangers’ (John 2:14-15). This was no small feat, the Spirit of Might was upon Him; a picture of what we saw with Samson.
Can you see how the Ark brought destruction to every stronghold of the enemy? Can we also see that the Lord is achieving this with no accompanying priests or armies from Israel? There is a transition taking place. We are seeing the power of God at work and it is a picture of what can be seen in our day if we qualify to be that royal priesthood. It will not be a privilege given to the casual or middle ground Christian. Do we realize that we are being qualified in this day and hour? Are we passing the tests? Are we choosing to be on the Lord’s side? Are we willing to stand up against the tendency to compromise? The tests are taking place before us so we need to be vigilant. Now is not the time to be complacent.
There is another truth to bring out from this chapter. Is it possible to think of the Ark of the Covenant to be a picture of the Holy Spirit being introduced into the Ashdod (strongholds) in our life? Is it possible to see the Ark being brought to the Gath (our will) and Ekron (idols and things that need to be eliminated) so that our heart will reflect His heart? Perhaps this is an indicator as to whether we will qualify in our day to be that manner of priest; to be a David, to be a New Covenant believer that will faithfully represent the presence of God. This inner work is only accomplished by the penetration of the Word of God into our heart. As the Word gains a greater entrance the Holy Spirit has a greater ability to help ensure that our temple can be a dwelling place for His presence. Yes, there are outward battles and mountains to overcome. To me, the greater mountains are the ones within, our own respective Ashdod’s, Gath’s and Ekron’s. The kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21).
1 Sam 6
The Ark remained in the country of the Philistines for a period of 7 months. The Philistines are now looking for a means to have it removed from their land, possibly back to Israel. They seek counsel from those who had an understanding of history of God’s dealings with Israel from the time of Moses. The damage that has taken place amongst the Philistines is extensive and they do not want to take any chances. They place the Ark on a newly made cart to be pulled by untrained heifers that are not accustomed to being yoked. This counsel is reflective of the great care and concern they had for the Ark, knowing that it was a most delicate matter. The Philistines believed that Providence would direct the cart to the right place. The two heifers took a very direct path to Beth-shemesh, not turning to the right hand or left (vs 12). The Ark came to a particular field of a man named Joshua and rested there. It was here where the Levites took down the Ark of the Lord from the cart.
I find it curious that the Ark would come to a specific man’s place whose name happened to be Joshua. (Another name for Jesus) The name means (The house of the sun) and speaks of a new beginning for Israel. There is a tragedy however when the men of Beth-shemesh looked into the Ark as seen in verse 19. What these men did was against the instruction of Moses in Num 4:19-20. In truth, the men of the Philistines showed more regard for the Ark in seeking its return then the men who pried open the Ark for all to see at Beth-shemesh. It was a casual disregard for the Ark (God and His presence) that resulted in its removal from Israel in the first place. The law given to Moses was still very much in effect.]
Num 4:19 But thus do unto them, that they may live, and not die, when they approach unto the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in, and appoint them every one to his service and to his burden:
Num 4:20 But they shall not go in to see when the holy things are covered, lest they die.
The Fear of the Lord fell afresh amongst the people and they sought guidance as to what to do next. The men remarked; “Who shall stand before this Holy Lord God?” This is how God wants to be known amongst His people. That He is a Holy God, to be reverenced with godly fear. It is the Fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom, the beginning of knowledge and understanding (Psa 111:10, Pro 9:10). This needs to be the foundation of every believer. That expression “Who shall stand before this Holy God” should ever be before us. It will hold us and keep us; it will help us to be like those two heifers that with heads bowing do not look to the right or the left but move as guided by Providence (vs 12). We serve a Holy God and this is how He desires to be known. The men now seek help from a nearby city named Kirjath-jearim. The men come down and bring the Ark to its place and here it will rest for a season.
Luke 12 – Read day 94 commentary