In the Hands of the Enemy

The ark of the covenant 2

1 Samuel 5, 6

Chapters 5 and 6 form a sort of subplot in the story of Samuel; they describe the problems the Philistines experienced because of the Ark of the Covenant.  These enemies of God’s people were positively jubilant that they had scored such a coup:  stealing the precious and, in their minds, powerful Ark of the Covenant.  They stole it and carried it away like a trophy, little knowing that in doing so, they were about to face real power:  fierce and unrelenting judgment from God.

Meanwhile, Israelite morale was at an all-time low.  Remember, the Israelites have already had to put up with a now deficient religion, made so by its morally licentious administrators.  But to lose the visible symbol of their whole belief system would have crushed the people’s spirits.  To add insult to injury, they had just lost some 30,000 soldiers in a single battle.  Thanks to the sad state the people of God, the Philistines now controlled vast areas of the land.  Israel, living in the land God had promised to Abraham over a thousand years earlier, had literally squandered God’s blessings time and again and now the mighty Philistines were threatening to absorb them completely.

The arrogant Philistines, by capturing the Ark of the Covenant, were about to brought into contact with the very presence and power of which the Ark was the visible symbol.  The power of God is something most people don’t understand; the Philistines certainly had no idea what was about to unleashed on them.  1 Samuel 2:6—8 gives us a glimpse into what the power of God is all about—

“The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.  The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.  He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. “For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s;  upon them he has set the world.”

The Ark was just a box, just like the Bible is just a book, but in the hands of the Holy Spirit, the Bible becomes a double-edged sword.   When God manifested His presence, the ungodly Philistines found out what God’s power was.  When the Word of God is preached with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the mere words from the preacher can strike fear in the hearts of the ungodly, unconverted sinner as his words, become capsules of God’s presence, lodging in the hearts of those hearing him.

1.  God’s presence upset their religion, 5:3—4

When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place.  But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained.

From the battlefield at Ebenezer, the victorious Philistines took their prize, the Ark, back to their capital city, Ashdod, a distance of some 30 miles.  They thought they had something very special, something very powerful.  Curiously, they placed their new religious token beside Dagon, their national god.  They foolishly thought they could have both the Ark of God and Dagon at the same time.  They soon learned something Jesus Christ taught thousands of years later—

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. (Matthew 6:24)

When Christ comes in, the foolish, false notions of man have to go out!  Many Christians think like the Philistines did; they can have Christ and the Dagon of self.   Every time the Philistines set the Ark beside Dagon, Dagon would fall down.   When the presence of God comes into the temple of our hearts, He upsets all our old ideas, He makes living the way we used to live uncomfortable, sometimes painful.   God will have His way with His children as He did with the Philistines.  God smashed Dagon, rendering him useless.  God showed Dagon for what he was; something useless and out of date.  Until the god of self is broken to pieces, God cannot remake us into the kind of people He wants us to be.

People think they still have to do many great things to merit God’s free gift of salvation; but when they come into the presence of Christ, the Ark of God, their high and lofty thoughts and arrogant imaginings must fall prostrate before Him.

2.  The were severely punished, 5:6, 12

The LORD’s hand was heavy upon the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation upon them and afflicted them with tumors.

Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.

Besides having their national religion made to look impotent and foolish, the people were afflicted with “tumors.”  Some scholars see a reference here to something much more serious:  bubonic plague.  The Ark of the Covenant brought not power to the Philistines, nor did it bring the Israelites begging for it to be returned, it brought destruction upon God’s enemies.   This whole incident reminds us of what Jesus said in John 16:8—9—

When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me.

The Philistines were beside themselves; they shipped the Ark to another location, but nobody wanted anything to do with it!  We can hardly blame them.   As has been noted, the Gospel will be the savior of death where it is not the savior of life.  The Ark of God was a dreadful possession to the unsaved.

3.  They were totally confused, 6:2

[T]he Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.”

Chapter 4 tells us of the Ark’s capture, chapter 5 of its movement from place to place, and chapter 6 of its return to the Israelites.

These poor people, shuffling the Ark from place to place, were trying to find a place to ditch it where it could do no harm, yet they found the opposite happened:  their suffering continued.  Years and years later, people didn’t know what to do with Jesus Christ, either.  It was Pilate, who not knowing what to do with Jesus, asked the people—

What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?  (Matthew 27:22)

There are a lot of people asking that same question today.  They may believe in God, they may know all about Jesus Christ, but they don’t know what to do with Him.  When Jesus Christ comes into the sphere of human existence, He confronts man right where he lives and forces a very simple choice upon that man.

“But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”  (Joshua 24:15)

When Christ came and stood before Saul on the road to Damascus, Saul cried out,

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.  (Acts 9:5)

That is the most profound question a man can ask of Christ:  “Who are you?”  There is no more urgent question a man can ask himself than;  “What am I going to do with Jesus?”  What have you done with Him?  Have you submitted to Him?  Have you denied Him?  Have you moved him around your life, trying to placate Him, to find a place for Him?

4.  They got rid of the Ark, 6:7—8

“Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up.  Take the ark of the LORD and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way.”

Suppose we changed the wording of these verses a little bit:

They made a new cross, put Him on it, and as a trespass offering they sent Him away.

The Philistines would not allow the Ark to rule over them, so they sent it away as quickly as they could.  Christ, like the Ark, was delivered up at the behest of the religious leaders of His day.  Religious leaders of every generation never know what to do with God or His Son, just like the religious leaders of the Philistines were utterly in the dark.  Religion is the fastest way to Hell.

Here where the Philistines with the very presence of God among them, yet instead of repenting and submitting to Him, even to save their very lives, they tried to control Him, they tried to get rid of Him so they could get back to their former blissful, pagan existence.  That’s what man has to do with God; either submit to Him or put Him away.

[H]ow shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  (Hebrews 2:3)

5.  The Philistines saw the wonder of God, 6:9—12

Send it on its way, but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the LORD has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us and that it happened to us by chance.”

So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves.  They placed the ark of the LORD on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors.  Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh.

Here was one more proof of the presence of God in their midst.  The way the Ark went home was another demonstration of God’s presence.  Do you recall what was said at the foot of the Cross?

And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”  (Mark 15:39)

The Word of God is still like the Ark of God among people today.  It manifests the presence of God in the midst of the Church.  It has changed countless lives throughout the centuries, it still convicts sinners of the wrong in their lives.  By its works, the Word of God asserts its own divine nature, and yet despite the incontrovertible evidence, people, even those who claim to be Christians, still treat it like the Philistines treated the Ark.  They refuse to submit to its teachings, and politely send it away with the offering and remain on the outs with God.

How foolish, when so-called Christians have more in common with people like the Philistines than they do with Christ.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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