THE ARK OF GOD / THE GOD OF ISRAEL; THE HOLY ARK
We read of the title "the ark of God" first in 1 Samuel 3.3, and wherever it occurs thereafter it occurs it seems to imply "ownership", something that belongs exclusively to God, as for example in 1 Samuel 5.7: "The ark of the God of Israel". The Ark was in Shiloh, a name that means tranquillity and peace, but at that time such attributes resided in just three individuals - Hannah, Samuel, and the wife of Phinehas. When the Ark of God was taken by the Philistines the Lord slew the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, because they profaned the service of the priesthood. Eli allowed the lamps in the temple to go out each day, contrary to Jehovahs instruction (Lev 24.1-4), and he failed to maintain the service of the Sanctuary for the glory of God. In judgment, Eli died and by an irreversible decree the Lord removed his family line from succeeding to the priesthood (1 Sam 3.14; 1 Kings 2.26-27). So what is the lesson for us today? Every Christian believer has a responsibility to contribute to and ensure that the light of the testimony of the love and grace of God is evident in the world (Mt 5.14-16), and that those called of God - not appointed by man - to service in the local assembly should serve with faithfulness, integrity, love, and compassion, as wrought upon by Gods gracious Spirit.
Elis daughter-in-law was a God-fearing woman married to a wicked man. Grief stricken on hearing that the Ark of God had been taken, she named her new-born son "Ichabod" (the glory of God is departed - from Israel). Her father-in-law and her husband had been taken from her, but it was when she heard that the Ark of God had been taken by the Philistines that there was nothing of value left for her in this life; clearly a devout woman whom the Lord took home to Himself. We might ask how devoted we are in the defence of the truth of Holy Scripture. When did we last weep tears because of the wanton abuse, misuse, misinterpretation, misapplication, and careless handling of the Word of God? To us, the Word of God should be like an Ark; our spiritual security, guide, protection, and light for the path, and within it all the spiritual food needed for this life.
In taking the Ark of God, the Philistines disregarded the fact that it belonged to the God of Israel; their trespass was handling the Ark and carrying it around from place to place in mockery. God punished the Philistines severely, afflicting them with haemorrhoids and a plague of mice. Eventually, the Philistines acknowledged the wrong they had done in taking the Ark of God away from Israel, and to salve their consciences they returned the Ark on a new cart drawn by two milch kine (heifers that had just calved). So important was the return of the Ark to Israel that God influenced the nature of the milch kine and guided them on a straight course to Beth-shemesh. Normally, such heifers would resist being removed from their new calves, but on this occasion they appeared to be content as indicated by their lowing as they went. The Philistines also sent a trespass offering in recognition of the injury they had caused to the testimony of the Ark of God. God did not punish the Philistines for returning the Ark upon a new cart, for they had not received specific instruction from Him on how the Ark should be carried. But later, when David wanted to fetch the Ark of God from the house of Abinadab (the house of generosity where it had been for many years) to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6.3) they followed the way of the Philistines by themselves placing the Ark on a new cart. On this occasion, David failed to respect something that was Gods property and very holy. Alas, when the oxen stumbled, the cart and Ark wobbled, Uzzah put out his hand and touched the Ark to steady it, but this was a violation of Gods law regarding the holy furnishings of the Tabernacle. God had said of the Kohathites, who were authorised to carry the Holy things, that "they shall not touch any holy thing lest they die" (Num 4.15). Uzzah died for his folly. We should handle Gods Word with dignity and respect, for it is His property.
The title "the holy ark" is found in 2 Chronicles 35.3. Josiah was king of Judah just before the captivity, and, although he was only eight years old when he began to reign, he turned out to be one of Judahs faithful kings. He was only 39 years old when he died, but during his short reign he purged Judah and Jerusalem of idolatry, repaired the Temple, received the book of the Law of Moses which had been found in the house of the Lord (2 Chr 34.15), and read out in the ears of all the people "the book of the covenant" which had been discovered there (2 Chr 34.30). Once the Temple had been repaired, the Passover was again celebrated and the priests kept the services of the Sanctuary according to the word of the Lord by the hand of Moses. Most important of all, Josiah ordered the Levites, in his own words, to "Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon, son of David, king of Israel did build" (2 Chr 35.3). This is the only occasion when the Ark was called "holy", and this for a very special reason. Josiah, being pure in mind and purpose was greatly disturbed by the corrupt practices of the priesthood and how the service of the Sanctuary had been polluted during the reign of his father Amon and grandfather Manasseh, causing the people of Judah to be led again into idolatry. It is clear that all Josiah did met with divine approbation, for he greatly reverenced all that was holy before God.
The Holy Ark in the Temple with the blood sprinkled Mercy Seat was the focal point on which the eye of God rested with complacency, albeit there was no glory. Nevertheless, the sanctity of everything within and of the Temple took character from the Holy Ark. The Temple without the Holy Ark, would count for nothing, it would simply be a lifeless, deserted place with all its activity being merely a vain formality. In John 2.16, the Lord Jesus speaks of the Temple as His Fathers house, but when it became clear the nation had rejected Him and polluted the Temple it was neither His house nor His Fathers. The Lords own lament over the city of Jerusalem was, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (Mt 23.38). The Lord preserve us from all forms of ritualism and empty formulae which are the procedures for worship in Christendom today, and where the Holy Ark is neither acknowledged nor wanted. The level of our respect and honour for the Lord Jesus (the Holy Ark), will be commensurate with the holiness of our walk day by day. Thus, Peter writes, "But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Pet 1.15-16). The Lord Jesus deigns to be among us as "he that is holy, he that is true" (Rev 3.7). May our gracious Lord by His Spirit keep us sensitive to the dignity of His presence (the Holy Ark) when gathered unto His Name.
To be continued.