June 29, 2010
The Capture of the Ark
The Ark Returns…I Samuel 6
By: Pastor Bill Randles
Then the cows headed straight for the road to Beth Shemesh and went along the highway lowing as they went, and did not turn aside to the right or to the left, and the Lords of the Philistines went after them to the border of Beth Shemesh. Now the people of Beth Shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley, and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark and rejoiced to see it. (I Samuel 6:12-13)
The Ark of the Covenant of God had been in exile for seven months, when the five Lords of the Philistines had a conference to determine how to send it back home. The narrative is reminiscent of the Exodus, with the Philistine priests and diviners standing in for Pharaoh’s magicians. But their advice proved to be sound, in fact it was inspired.
What is the trespass offering which we shall return to Him? ‘They answered, ‘Five golden tumors, and five golden rats, according to the number of the Lords of the Philistines. For the same plague was on all of you and your lords. Therefore you shall make images of your tumors, and images of your rats that ravage the land, and you shall give the glory to the God of Israel; perhaps He will lighten His hand from you from your gods, and your land. Why then do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts?” (I Sam 6:4-6)
Like I say, in spite of being Pagans, the advice of the Philistine priests was astute. Note first of all that what happened in Egypt was common knowledge to them. Also they knew that a trespass offering unto the LORD was the only way they could be saved. The theology of the trespass offering, as we discussed in the last article, amounted to a confession of sin and abasement before the LORD, which they knew would “glorify God”. Also like the Exodus out of Egypt, the Ark left Philistia with treasures. Finally the priest’s caution not to repeat Pharaoh’s calamity by hardening their hearts no doubt saved the lives of Philistine Lords.
In order to assure themselves that the plagues were truly caused by God and that it was the right thing to send the Ark back, two milk cows were enlisted to draw the cart. The instinctive and natural thing for the cows to do would be to stay where they were, that they might nurse their calves. But after harnessing them, loading the Ark and the golden trespass offering for sacrilege, the bawling cows headed straight towards Israel, leaving their calves behind them.
This too foreshadows a momentous event that has been happening all over the world, the exodus out of the ends of the earth of Jewish people, heading back to Israel, fulfilling the prophesies,
Behold I will bring them from the North country, and gather them from the ends of the earth, the blind and the lame, the woman with child and the one who labors with child together; a great throng shall return there. They shall come with weeping and with supplications I will lead them…Hear the Word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, He who scattered Israel will gather him and keep him as a shepherd does his flock.” (Jeremiah31:8-10)
Beth Shemesh, the city to which the Ark returned, was a priestly city. But what good is a priest, if there is no Ark? How can a nation perform the priestly function, the ministry of mercy, sacrifice, intercession, and teaching if there is no presence of God among them or if there is no temple, no sacrifice, no Ephod? But when the priests of Beth Shemesh lifted up their eyes to see the Ark making its way back, they rejoiced!
Thus is the culmination of history prophesied by this story, the climax of which we are all headed, the return of the Ark to the people of Israel, rather, the return of the One whom the Ark prefigured, and of whose person and work the Ark was the great object lesson. The restoration and re-instatement of the Priestly nation - He comes back to them.
And I will pour out on the inhabitants of the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me, whom they have pierced. Yes and they will mourn for him as for an only son and they shall weep over him bitterly.
What was it that those priests saw as they surrounded the Ark and wondered at the golden objects? They certainly saw the confession of sin, the trespass offering of the Gentiles. And furthermore, they had to have realized that their God would not ever allow Himself to be used as a fetish, an object of leverage by a sinful nation. Another thing they had to have perceived was that here is a God who can humble Himself, and that even by what appeared to be an apparent defeat, He executes one of His greatest triumphs! Finally, they would note, that in spite of their obstinate rebellion and sin, their God came back to them - He returned to His people.
O Israel, return unto the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; take words with you, and return unto the Lord, say to Him, take away all iniquity; receive us graciously. For we will offer the calves of our lips…I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, For my anger has turned away from them.” (Hosea 14:1-4)