Where To Park an Ark?
1 Samuel 4 – 7
The ark of the covenant was kept behind the veil of the Tabernacle and later the Temple at Jerusalem. It has been covered in a veil of mystery throughout the ages. The Samaritans believe that the ark should never have been taken to Jerusalem and to the Temple but at Mt. Gerizim. Steven Spielberg’s movie Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 told of the adventures of Indiana Jones finding the ark buried in the ancient city of Tanis in 1936. At the end of the movie, the ark was sent to the United States and stored in a warehouse. Some actually believe that the ark was taken to Rennes-le-Château in Southern France from Jerusalem. From there it was moved to the United States before World War I. Others have claimed the ark was taken to the Chartres Cathedral in Rome by the Knights Templar. One of the oldest Jewish traditions tells of Jeremiah moving the ark to a cave on Mount Nebo before the Babylonians destroyed the Temple in 586 BC (cf. 2 Maccabees 2;4-10). One of the more popular places for the location of the ark is in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Aksum, Ethiopia. Just where did they park the ark? No one knows. However, considering our text a better question to ask during the days of Samuel would have been: where should you park the ark?
What was this ark? In Hebrew it is called aron ha-berith meaning “chest of the covenant.” The term aron simply means a storage container. It was used of Joseph’s “coffin” or “mummy case” (Gen. 50:26). The ark stored the budding rod of Aaron, a pot of manna, and two tablets of the decalogue (Heb. 9:4; Num. 17:10).
When Moses was on Mount Sinai, God gave him a pattern for the building of the ark (Ex. 25:10-22). It had special rings on it for poles designed to move the ark. The ark was covered with the very veil that hung between the holy place and the Holy of holies (Num. 4:5).
The approximate dimensions of the ark was 45 inches long and 27 inches wide and 27 inches tall. The lid of the ark was called the “Mercy Seat” (Ex. 25:17). It had two cherubim stretching out their wings. It are was made of acacia wood and was completely overlaid with gold (Ex. 24:10-22).
The ark of the covenant represented the presence of God with His people. It was here that God would meet with the high priests. On the day of atonement, the High Priest would come into the Holy of holies once a year to sprinkle the blood of atonement upon the Mercy Seat of the ark.
When Israel was in the wilderness they did not move without moving the ark (Num. 10:33-36). Over the ark there was a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. The ark went before the children of Israel when they entered the promised land. It was carried across the Jordan River before the people. The ark went before the Israelites when they marched around Jericho (Josh. 6:13). Joshua fell face down before the ark when Israel lost the battle of Ai to consult God (Josh. 7:5-15). God was consulted concerning the war with the Benjaminites at the place where the ark was parked (Judges 20:37,38). Next comes the time the Philistines captured the ark.
As it was in those days in Israel the Philistines were Israel’s chief adversaries. In one battle they lost four thousand soldiers. “And when the people had come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies” ( 1 Samuel 4:3). So the ark was brought from Shiloh and the Israelites rejoiced over their war machine or lucky charm. At first this news terrified the Philistines. Then it emboldened them (1 Sam. 4:8).
In the next battle the Philistines killed thirty thousand Israelites. They captured that ark and killed the two sons of Eli: Hophni and Phinehas. When the High Priest, Eli, heard the news of his sons’ death and the ark’s capture, he fell backwards and broke his neck. This was part of the fulfillment of the prophecies in 1 Samuel 2:22f. That day Phinehas’ wife dies in child birth having named her son “Ichabod” meaning “no glory.” With her dying breath she explained, “The glory is departed from Israel.”
The Philistines parked the ark at the temple of their god, Dagon. The next morning they found Dagon fallen down on his face before the ark. The second night Dagon falls again and this time the idol’s hands and head are broken off. God sent a great plague of tumors and rats among the Philitines cities of Ashdod and Ekron where they parked the ark. “Therefore they sent and gathered to themselves all the lords of the Philistines, and said, ‘What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?’ And they answered, ‘Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried away to Gath.’ So they carried the ark of the God of Israel away” (1 Sam. 5:8). They asked their priests for guidelines for sending the ark out of their territory. The plan was for a new cart to carry the ark with an offering of five golden rats and tumors for each of the city states of the Philistines. Two cows with calves were chosen to pull the art with the ark. If they went toward Israel instead of turning back to their calves, they would know the ark was behind the suffering.
When the ark returned to Israel, the people offered up the two cows and looked inside the ark. For this sinful behavior God sent a plague and 50,070 died. “And the men of Beth Shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? And to whom shall it go up from us?” (1 Sam. 6:20). Next they parked the ark at Kirjath Jearim for the next 20 years. It stayed there until King David brought it to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6). But at the cost of Uriah’s life because they parked the ark on an ox cart.
After the return of the ark Samuel gathers the people of Israel at Mizpah. And demanded repentance of them, if the Lord was to help them against the Philistines. He said, “If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.”
In the third battle the Lord sent thunder upon the Philistines At this victory a stone memorial was set up and called “Ebenezer” – “for the Lord has helped me”. Finally, there was peace in the day of Samuel.
There are several applications to be made concerning the misuse of the ark of the covenant. First, unlike the Israelites we must remember our lives are in the hands of God and not in the plans of man. Instead of consulting God, they determined to bring up the ark “by our own hands” (1 Sam. 4:3). Later the Philistines had to set up their god Dagon “by their own hands.” The ark was not being treated any differently by the Israelites than the Philistines viewed Dagon. And yet the phrase “Hand of the Lord” is found nine times (4:8; 5:6,7;9;11; 6:3; 5;9). All fall at the hands of God. Twice Israel fell in battle. Eli fell (4:21). Dagon, the idol, fell twice. The philistines fell victim to a great plague. And Israel fell victim to a plague (6:19). The Philistines fell in battle before God’s mighty hand. So, do not take matters into your own hands.
After the first defeat. Instead of consulting God through prayer, they bring the ark. We often go ahead with what we have decided to do and fail to consult the Lord. Do not make decisions for God when we do not know what He has decided. “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). At least at Mizpah the people confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord” (7:6).
The ark of the covenant was not intended by God to be used as a weapon of mass destruction or a Trojan horse. The Philistines found this out the hard way. They captured the ark, but the ark captured them. The ark was to be regarded with reverence, because it was holy unto God. All the holy furniture of the Tabernacle was to be treated with proper regard. God commanded the Kohathites of the tribe of Levi “do this in regard to them, that they may live and not die when they approach the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint each of them to his service and his task” (Num. 4:19).
Christians need to reverently regard the holy things of God today. How often do we see the church, communion, Sunday, the Bible treated more like a tool for personal use and abuse? These are not set apart and made holy to us but to God. They are the Lord’s. After all, they are called the Lord’s church, Lord’s Supper, Lord’s Day, and the Lord’s Word.
If the ark of the covenant could be found today, where would they park the ark? After reading this story I wouldn’t want them to park it in front of my house.
– Daniel R. Vess