In a previous article we spoke on the presence of God as it relates to the Ark of the Covenant.
Mention was made of the three items contained in the Ark which help to give understanding what the presence of the Lord constitutes. The article also cited that the Ark was not always a permanent fixture in the Tabernacle of Moses. There is a journey attributed to the Ark that began in the days of Samuel. This journey symbolized a shift in the way God would relate to Israel. It serves as a poignant reminder of God’s dealing with the church today. It is a clear case example of an Old Testament story coming to life with a warning and message for the church of our day. Do not take the presence of the Lord for granted!
Let’s ask the question again; what comes to mind when thinking about the presence of the Lord? It is a term loosely used but in reality is very much misunderstood and abused. Do we meditate on the attributes of God’s holiness and truth; do we see Him as worthy of reverence when coming into His presence? The tendency today is to come before God on our terms and “fit Him in” to our world and sphere of existence. There is added attention given to the Lord in times of crisis with the hope that the Sovereign God would intervene and makes things right. Let’s be honest; is that not the common pattern seen today; is it a pattern that describes you or your church? Who do we think we are fooling; take a good look at worship services and determine if the congregation is coming before a holy God. How many eyes are drawn to mobile devices as opposed to the Lord in devotion and worship? God is not mocked and the time is at hand when the glory may well depart from our life and church if the trend does not change. There is precedent for this and it is seen through the journey of the Ark of the Covenant. The modern day scene depicted above has a powerful parallel. Let’s examine the journey of the Ark and learn from its lesson.
The Ark of the Covenant was constructed at the time of Moses Tabernacle. It was positioned in the most Holy Place which could only be accessed by the high priest once a year on the Feast of Atonement. (Lev 23:27-30) During the latter stages of the period of the Judges we find the Tabernacle of Moses located at a place named Shiloh. We also can determine the state of the people during this period by the very last verse in Judges.
“In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Jud 21:25)
The people had become very “casual” in their relationship with God. They took His presence for granted and only sought after Him when in trouble or need. God graciously came through for them by raising up a Judge who would war on their behalf. It was only a matter of time before the people of God would slip back into their old ways; casting God aside until such a time when He would again be needed. It was at this time when God moved upon the heart of a barren woman to cry out for a “man-child”, a child who could be used of God to introduce a whole new order of priest and future king for Israel. (1 Sam 2:35, 1 Sam 13:14) It was a sign that things were about to drastically change! What was to be that change? The Ark of the Covenant was about to begin an unprecedented and unaccompanied journey out of Shiloh. The reason for this sudden turn of events is highlighted below: Please take careful note to see the modern day version of this account.
It happened again! Israel was under threat of another enemy. This time it was the Philistines and the people did what they always did; sought the Lord for help in their time of need. They presumed upon God as they were led by the corrupted priesthood of Eli and his two sons. Notice the blatant disregard for the things of God in the following verse:
1Sa 4:3 And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.
Did you catch that? Let’s fetch the Ark; it sounds like throwing a bone for a dog to fetch and bring back. It was a “tried and true” method that worked during the reign of the Judges. The casual routine that had served Israel well was again put into motion. The enemies of Israel braced themselves for another defeat as had become the norm. (1 Sam 4:7-8) Before proceeding further would it be a stretch to suggest this scene being replayed today? The people of America started filling churches in the aftermath of America’s 911 tragedy. It did not last long; people soon returned to a life of sin, rebellion and pleasure.
The storm clouds of economic distress and potential war are close at hand. Are we heeding the warnings by going to the Lord in intercessory prayer while lamenting over the scourge of sin? Sadly, the church as a whole is anesthetized and immune from the realities at hand; just as Israel was under the priesthood of Eli. What happened next should serve as a sobering wake-up call. History is about to repeat itself?
So what actually did take place? The next few verses paint a sad and bleak picture for Israel; is there yet time for us?
1Sa 4:10 And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen.
1Sa 4:11 And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.
The people of God not only lost the battle they lost the Ark which speaks of the presence of God. Their presumptuous relationship with God had finally taken its toll. This sad landmark was referenced by Jeremiah on a number of occasions as he confronted a people who did not learn from history.
Jer_7:4 Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these.
Those words reflected a “casual” approach with regard to the things of God. There was no “Fear of the Lord” or sensitivity to His presence. Remember, we have the advantage of history but have we learned anything? Does this not make us even more accountable seeing we have a record to draw from?
Soon after the Ark was taken the word of what happened came to Eli, the father of Hophni and Phineas. It was the news of the Ark being lost that caused Eli to die; not the death of his two sons. (1 Sam 4:18) This is an unprecedented event and one that has eternal repercussions. How can we sum up in a nutshell the events that have just transpired? It could be narrowed down to the following statement. God was no longer going to allow His presence (The Ark) to be represented by a corrupted priesthood. The Ark was now about to begin a journey away from Shiloh into enemy territory. There would be no priesthood accompanying the Ark after its capture for reasons we will understand a bit later. It should also be noted that once the Ark was removed from Shiloh it never returned. A journey was now underway which would bring the Ark through enemy strongholds in its charted route to Zion. It would be sometime before a new order of priest would have the privilege of representing the presence of the Lord. This order of priest will know the heart of God and faithfully serve on His behalf. This journey is now playing out right before our eyes. Where are the true priests?
In the next installment of this study we will take note of the Ark’s journey through the strongholds of the enemy. The journey of the Ark signalled a transition and change of order to Israel. There is a very strong message and parallel that can be made for our. It is clear that history is repeating itself; will we hear and respond to the message? May God grant that we never, ever take His presence for granted. Let us not be casual in our approach to Him knowing that we serve a Holy God who is to be revered and worshipped.