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Lessons for Life from the Old Testament: The Ark of the Covenant

Updated on August 26, 2020
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Johan Smulders has a . B.A, B.ED and M.A in Education, Theology and Counselling. Works as an evangelist and counsellor.

Lessons for life from the Old Testament: The Ark of the Covenant –where is God?.

One of the really interesting stories recorded in the Old Testament is the event recorded in 1 Samuel 4, 5, 6. Here Israel was at war with the Philistines, and in a battle at Ebenezer they were defeated and about 4000 died on the battlefield (1 Samuel 4:3). Questions were asked as to why God had brought this defeat on His people? This is an easy question to ask, but a difficult one to answer.

The elders decided to send for the Ark of the Covenant which was at Shiloh and bring it into the camp. As it arrived a “great shout” was heard, so loud that “the ground shakes”. This sent fear into the hearts of the Philistines who said: “A god has come into the camp”, and: “we’re in trouble! Nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the desert” (1 Samuel 4:7, 8 - NIV translation, used with permission).

The Philistine leaders realized that a challenge faced them and so they called a meeting and encouraged their soldiers to be brave and to “Be men and fight!” And so they did and they also won the second battle. They captured the Ark of the Covenant and 30 000 soldiers of Israel were killed in that battle; a very bad day for the nation. They lost not only many, many men in battle, but also the important symbol of their covenant with God.

The rest of these three chapters record the trouble that the Ark of the Covenant brought to the Philistines who eventually sent it back to Israel with penalties included; one of the really amusing stories in the Bible. The picture of the Philistines finding the image of Dragon in his temple lying in front of the Ark, broken and battered brings a smile to the face of any reader. The hardship that comes to the cities where the Ark is kept is testimony to the fate of those who mess with the all powerful God.

The question that comes to mind as we read this account is: “where is God?” There was a strong belief in the minds and hearts of the Israelite army that when the Ark arrived the battle was already won. Even the Philistines believed that they were in trouble, now that “God” had arrived. The problem is, of course, that God does not live in a box that can be sent into battle to ensure victory. This is a basic problem that has haunted God’s people from time immemorial. If we perform the ritual, go to the right place, make the necessary sacrifices, then God will win the battle by protecting us and rewarding us.

Amos wrote: “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:21; 23, 24). Israel had failed to understand that God was not carried around in the Ark of the Covenant but rather needed to be carried around in the hearts of the people who believed in Him, who trusted in Him and who practiced the principles that He taught. Trusting in the symbols would simply not do the job. Taking the words of God to heart and putting them to practice in your life is what really counts.

Jeremiah looked to the future during a time when his people had continually tried to put God in the box of empty ritual to a time when God’s people will have the law of God in their minds and written on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).

Lessons for today:

  1. It is important to realise that God does not exist in any building or temple or box. Jesus told the woman at the well, as recorded in John 4:24, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers God seeks. God is spirit and his worshippers must worship in spirit and truth.”
  2. God exists in a spiritual world that cannot be contained in physical places but needs to be worshipped personally and in groups through the spirit.
  3. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper that reminds us of the sacrifice Jesus made as we get together to share in this celebration on the first day of the week.
  4. Like the Israelites we cannot bring God to meet us in a place when we need Him and we are desperate. We rather need to have Him in our minds and hearts at all times. This is what Jeremiah promised and Jesus taught.

References:

Scriptures taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright 1973,1978,1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

The "NIV" and "New International Version" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.

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