How Was the Ark of the Covenant So Powerful? #231
Happy Friday, Friends! Our Bible readings for the day include 1 Samuel 4, Jeremiah 42, Psalms 18 and Romans 4. So, there’s 4-5 different approaches to the big Bible question that I take. I kind of think of it as the headline to the show – especially for new subscribers, or those that haven’t downloaded in a while. The whole point of the title is to describe the contents AND to encourage you to partake of the contents. Thus here are the top 4 forms the big Bible question usually takes:
- Just the facts, ma’am. (With apologies to Joe Friday from Dragnet, who never actually said, ‘just the facts, ma’am.’ His line was actually, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” The more famous version came from a satire of Dragnet…but I digress) Sometimes the big Bible question is absolutely straightforward.
- Clickbait: Sometimes the big Bible questions is sort of over the top, and meant to get people curious enough to download. Usually when it is obviously clickbaity, I am trying to be ironic and over-the-top.
- Humorous: (Or, usually more like attempted humor) This is like the episode from a few days ago that used lots of outdated English words for jerks and goobers. I was trying to be funny with the big Bible question. Usually I fail, but amuse myself, and it helps break up the monotony.
- Misdirection or Misleading. This is when I intentionally try to phrase the big Bible question in such a way so that you THINK you know the answer, or know where the topic is going to go, but lo and behold – we go off in another direction entirely OR the answer isn’t what it appears to be.
I’ll let you decide what today’s question fits under.
We are talking about the Ark of the Covenant, an item even most non Christians know about thanks to movies like Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark and its iconic ending scene. FYI: If you are interested to know MORE about the Ark of the Covenant, please check out episode #87 What is the Ark of the Covenant and Where is the Ark of the Covenant? That big Bible question was a bit of a misdirection, because I have no idea WHERE the Ark is now, but we did answer the question where will it be in the future.
That movie came out when I was a boy, so like 200 years ago, and therefore I don’t feel like I need to give a spoiler alert, but I am about to spoil the movie. Most old fogeys like myself know how Raiders ends: The evil Nazi’s manage to gain control of the Ark of the Covenant, found by amazing and dashing architect Indiana Jones Solo, and before they can use the Ark to destroy the allies, something terrifying – multiple ghosts, it would appear – comes out of the Ark and melts all of the Nazi’s faces. It’s a pretty remarkable scene, and I remember it being pretty unsettling when I was a kid. I just watched it again on Youtube, and it is still somewhat unsettling, even though the special effects are quite dated. Phoebe – do not look this up on Youtube! (My lovely and curious soon to be 9 year old daughter listens to this podcast.) Anyway, the obvious message from the movie is that the Ark of the Covenant is powerful and will kill you if you are a Nazi and try to use it’s power!
Another story that we will soon read in 2nd Samuel, features the death of poor, unwise Uzzah, who reaches his hand out to steady the Ark (despite God’s command not to touch it!). As you probably know, Uzzah was instantly killed when this happened, and King David noped right back to his palace, leaving the Ark with some rando Philistine named Obed Edom. (Interestingly, Obed Edom was from Gath – the same city Goliath was from.) And you know what happened to our rando Philistinian friend? Philly friend? Philistine friend? God super-blessed his household so much that David went back and got the Ark and took it back to his palace. So – obviously from our survey of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the skimming over of a couple of Bible passages (without actually reading them…) we know that the Ark was SUPER-powerful, and a mighty artifact – probably a lot like the Spear of Destiny, which was the spear that supposedly stabbed the side of Jesus and supposedly makes any army that carries it invincible. The Ark of the Covenant is probably like that, right? Oh yeah – I almost forgot – the Israelites also carried the Ark around Jericho 7 times, and then it collapsed, so that’s another win for the Ark, right?! So – how is it so powerful? Well, let’s read 1 Samuel 4, and see how powerful the Ark really is, and see if we can find some clues as to just why it’s so very powerful.
Okay, that was surprising, right? Well, if YOU weren’t surprised, I know the Israelites were. The had just lost a big battle to the Philistines, so they went for their secret weapon: The Ark of the Covenant! The guarantor of victory, right – because it’s so powerful!
3 When the troops returned to the camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord defeat us today before the Philistines? Let’s bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh. Then it will go with us and save us from our enemies.”
1 Samuel 4:3
Only…it didn’t work. In fact, the Philistines were so riled up by the Ark being in the camp of Israel that they rallied themselves in fear and desperation and stomped the Israelites and captured their precious Ark. WHAT WENT WRONG? The Ark was UNDEFEATED? Well, like a lucky shirt won during a football game, the Ark of the Covenant had no power to determine the winner of a contest. The Ark of the Covenant – as special as it is/was – is not powerful in and of itself – it is a thing. The Israelites superstitiously trusted in a thing to save them, rather than God, and it led to their downfall. Brothers and sisters -what are we trusting in to deliver us right now as we go through a surging pandemic? A politician? A scientist? A doctor?
Let’s close out with a bit of wisdom from Spurgeon on this episode. As I think about it, I realize I should start paying him a stipend, because he appears on this show so frequently. If the insurance company deal I mentioned yesterday comes through, I guess I’ll have to do that – it’s the least I can do for brother Charles.
(They trusted in the outward sign, and forgot that the most holy emblems bring no blessing to ungodly hearts. God will have us know that external religion is nothing worth without inward holiness. It is vain to trust in lying words, saying, “the Temple of the Lord are we.” Ceremonies cannot help us if the Lord be not with us. A cross on the bosom is worthless, Christ in the heart is precious.)….The elders said, “Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.” They ascribed to the ark what could only be done by God himself. This is the tendency of us all. Anything which we can see, we pine after. Hence we lean upon an arm of flesh: we trust in man, though it is written plainly enough, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.” Yet, still we want some symbol, some token, something before our eyes; and if it can be something artistic, so much the better. We lay hold of something beautiful, that will charm the eye, and produce a kind of sensuous feeling, and straightway we mistake our transient emotion for spiritual worship and true reverence. This is the great mistake that many still make; they think that God has come into the camp merely because some outward religious rite or ceremony has been observed, or because some sacred shrine has been set up among them…..And the ark of God was taken; (It was never captured till it was defended by carnal weapons; true religion always suffers when men would guard it by force;)
C. H. Spurgeon, The Interpreter: Spurgeon’s Devotional Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1964), 227.
Some teachers attract attention to themselves, and are like the moon; when it shines everybody says, “What a beautiful moon!” The true prophet of God shines like the sun, and people do not say, “What a beautiful sun!” but “How lovely is the landscape!” Let it be your ambition so to declare the Word of God, that people will not say, “What a splendid preacher!” but, “How glorious is his Christ!” No man must come between the seeker and God, for the best of men are but men at their best. Not even the ordinances of religion can meet the need of the people, though they be God-appointed; they were meant to lead us to God, and not to be a substitute for him. When the Philistines triumphed, as we read in the fourth chapter, the elders of Israel said, “Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.” And lo! when it came, it did not save them. When people trust in the religious symbol instead of the spiritual power, they are idolaters in heart, and court disaster. But the house of Israel did not lament after the ark, they lamented after the Lord, without whose glory, shining between the cherubim, even the ark was void and valueless. …There is much gained when you look away from all others, and from all else, to God. Say now, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” And if your soul still sighs, “Oh, that he would help me! Oh, that it were true that he did hear me, and would come to my rescue!” remember his word, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.”
C. H. Spurgeon, “Three Decisive Steps,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 37 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1891), 459–460.