It was a somber time in Israel's history. The Ark of the Covenant had
been taken captive and was being held by the enemy, the Philistines, and
God's high priest Eli was dead, as were his two sons, Hophni and
Phineas. For all appearances, God was gone from Israel. However, last
week, in "The Captivity of the Ark," Part 2, we saw that God was busy
teaching the Philistines some important lessons on His sovereignty. It
shows us that when we go through dark times, we must also consider how
God may be using our own circumstances to bring Truth to dark places.
Within the boundaries of their knowledge of the Ark of the Covenant, it must be said that the Philistines showed utmost respect for the Ark of God; but did Israel have the same amount of respect for this gold-covered box?
It would be expected that they would show the Ark even more respect than the Philistines, for they knew that it represented the actual presence of God. Israel had also been given instructions on how the ark was to be housed, transported, etc. If you look carefully at God's instructions for the Ark (Numb 4:15), you see that even taking the Ark into battle in the first place was disrespectful, and even upon its return, Israel did not transport it immediately to Shiloh to put back in the tabernacle. In fact, they didn't even have it carried on the shoulders of the God-appointed Levites (See Numb 4:15). Instead, they set it on a rock and offered sacrifices to it, and some of them even touched the ark, which was also strictly forbidden (See Numbers 1:51)!
God's response? He didn't just strike the people with tumors and rats: "Then He struck the men of Beth Shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. He struck fifty thousand and seventy men of the people, and the people lamented because the LORD had struck the people with a great slaughter." (1 Samuel 6:19)
Even after the deaths of these 50,070 men, the people still didn't remember how important it is to fear the Lord. The ark was still not taken to Shiloh, it was still not placed in the care of God-appointed priests. Instead it was kept in a simple house and guarded by a man named Eleazar: "So the men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the LORD. They brought it to Abinadab's house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the LORD." (1Sam 7:1-2, NIV2).
Why is it that the Philistines, after only seven months, showed more respect for God and His Ark than Israel?
I believe that the answer lies in the fact that after all those years of possessing the Ark of the Covenant, God's presence in Israel had become commonplace. They had lost their fear of the Lord.
When I look at new believers, I often sense a much higher degree of respect for God than I sense in seasoned believers. Are we in danger of falling into Israel's trap, and in so doing, are we putting ourselves in danger of separation from God's presence?
As I examined my own heart in the Lord's presence this morning, I realized that I, too, have lost my sense of awe and respect for the Most High God. Oh, I bind and cast out demons in the name of Jesus and I pray down God's healing power over sick bodies; yet I snap out in anger at my family, I struggle to remain in control of everything that happens at home, and I continuously fail in regards to temperance. If I truly feared the Lord, I would sense my own "dirtiness" in the presence of a Holy God! I would make my own sanctification a higher priority! I would approach His throne of grace with far more reference and worship, just like I did when I was first saved!
Friends, wherever you find yourself in your walk with God, remember: God is holy. Yes, He wants to be our friend, yet in our friendship with Him, we must not attempt to bring Him down to our level. Instead, we must attempt to raise ourselves to His level. We must treat the presence of God with the respect the Philistines showed the Ark of the Covenant, and not with the apathetic disconcertment of the people of Beth Shemesh; for in so doing, we will prevent another Beth Shemesh massacre.
This is the last lesson in "The Captivity of the Ark" series. If you have missed any of the former lessons, you will find them published online by clicking here. Or if you do not have access to the Internet, email me and I will be happy to forward them to you.
In His love,
Lynona Gordon Chaffart, Speech-Language Pathologist, mother of two, Author -- "Aboard God's Train -- A Journey With God Through the Valley of Cancer", Author and Moderator for The Nugget, a tri-weekly internet newsletter, and Scriptural Nuggets, a website devoted to Christian devotionals and inspirational poems, with Answers2Prayer Ministries. Follow Lyn on Twitter @lynchaffart.
(To access the entire "The Captivity of the Ark" mini-series, please click here.)