May 18, 2010
The Capture of the Ark
The Future History of Israel
By: Pastor Bill Randles
Bible stories, as we noted earlier, are so much more than mere morality lessons. They preach the Gospel, reveal Christ and as we will point out in this instance, they contain eschatology.
The story of the capture of the Ark of God in I Samuel 4-6 is an amazing example of this. These three chapters are narratives of actual events in history. The Israelites really did try to throw off the Philistines, using the Ark of God as a talisman, and losing it in battle. The Philistines truly played hot potato with the Ark, after they “captured it”, passing it from city to city among the five lords of the Philistines. All of this happened.
But there is more in this narrative than meets the eye. I believe God has summed up in it an outline of the future history of Israel, and a future history of the Gentile nations in these three chapters of I Samuel. These are prophetic events as well as historical.
How does the story in I Samuel 4 relate to the future history of Israel? First of all, there is the condition of Israel, a holy but backslidden nation, oppressed by a corrupt high priesthood. The nation was in their God given land, yet dominated by a foreign (Gentile) power, and attempting vainly to throw off the yoke by military resistance. Israel would find themselves in this situation time and again - resisting Assyrian, Moabite, Ammonite, Babylonian and finally Roman subjugation.
But the story centers around two shattering defeats. The first was bad enough, for the loss of four thousand men in one battle was devastating to the nation. But the second defeat was even more completely shattering, indeed the loss was incalculable, the nation wasn’t the same afterwards. 30,000 dead, the devastating loss of the high priest and his sons and if that weren’t enough, the desolation of the tabernacle in Shiloh and the capture of the Ark of the Covenant of God!
In this story, lies a prediction of the future of Israel, which would be fulfilled with uncanny precision. Two defeats in the history of Israel correspond to the twofold defeat in I Samuel 4. The first resulted in the destruction of temple in 586 BC and was the most devastating and traumatic defeat Israel had ever known.
Judah, by her sins, had come under the power of the Babylonians. Rather than listen to Jeremiah and the prophets, who counseled her to see the hand of God in the Babylonian rule, Jewish prophets put up a military resistance. This resulted in a Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, which led to the destruction of Solomon’s temple and the 70 year captivity in Babylon. The calendar date of the destruction of the temple, “Tish Ba Av” is to this day commemorated by fasting and mourning.
But after 70 years God raised up another Gentile ruler, Cyrus the Persian, to be benevolent towards Judah - sending the captives home and even financing the building of the second temple.
Fast forward to 70 AD, and once again, Israel chafes under a foreign rule and once again there is a patriotic resistance. Battles are fought, blood is spilt and the city of Jerusalem is besieged by the Romans. The stage is being set for the second, and most catastrophic defeat, which corresponds to the second battle in I Samuel 4.
This time it is the Romans who breach the walls of the city, slaughter the inhabitants and amazingly, this occurred also on the same calendar day, Tish Ba Av. But the Jews resist the Roman invaders so fiercely, fighting occurs even in the temple itself. Titus had commanded that the temple not be destroyed, but in spite of his command, curtains in the temple caught fire in the fighting and burned the cedars of it - also melting the golden trim work causing gold to seep between the massive stones of the temple. Consequently, the stones would be pulled off one at a time to retrieve the gold. Thus was fulfilled the words of Jesus from forty years earlier,
Do you see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another which will not be torn down. (Matt 24:2)
The desolation and destruction of the temple in Jerusalem would set off a chain of events which ended in the complete dissolution of the Jewish state, the glutting of international slave markets with Jewish captives and the dispersion of Israel to the very ends of the earth - all in fulfillment of the warnings of Moses and the prophets. Unbelievably this disaster dwarfed even the earlier disaster! Israel has not really recovered up to this day, almost two thousand years later.
But there is an event which occurs shortly before the second, catastrophic defeat. In I Samuel 4 before the disastrous defeat, the corrupt high priests of Israel remove the Ark of the Covenant from the Tabernacle, and virtually hand it over to the Gentiles. And one generation before 70 AD, Annas and Caiphas do the same thing, but this time not with the Ark of the Covenant, but with all that the Ark of the Covenant of God stood for and pointed to!
Behold we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him unto the Gentiles…
Remember the last little vignette in I Samuel 4, the horrifying death in childbirth of the daughter-in-law of the high priest? She is despondent in labor, even when they tell her that she had a son. She only comes out of her despair enough to name him “Ichabod - for the Glory has departed from Israel”, then and there she dies and in a way the nation died there also.
For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, and without ephod or image. Afterwards the sons of Israel will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king and they will come trembling to the Lord and His goodness in the last days.
Fortunately for all of us, “Ichabod “ is not the last word, as Hosea says, there is an “Afterwards” in the “Last Days” which will correspond to things revealed about Israel’s future History in I Samuel 6. But for part three let us see what this story reveals to us about the future history of the Gentile world.