9th September 2011

Passing The Ark

Samuel before Saul series (1 Samuel 5) 

What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?”
1 Samuel 5:3 (NIV UK)

Have you ever played “pass the parcel”?  In this game you don’t want to be the one holding the parcel when the music stops because, if you are, you’re out! 

That’s how it was with the Philistines and the Ark of the Covenant. They began to pass it around and no one wanted to be left holding it. Having captured the Ark in a great victory over the Israelites, the Philistines moved it into the temple of one of their deities called Dagon. Placing the Ark in the temple at Ashdod was symbolic. It was to show that the Israelite God was subservient to Dagon, just as the defeated Israelites were under the rule of the lords of the Philistines. 

But they were in for a big surprise. They couldn’t control God any more than the Israelites could. God was more powerful than they could ever imagine. 

It initially seems an amusing tale. The next day when the people of Ashdod went to the temple there was the image of Dagon kow-towing to the Ark, which represented the presence of the one and only God. The statue of Dagon was face down in a position of homage and surrender. The Philistines put Dagon up again but, on the following day, the same thing happened, only worse from their perspective: Dagon was on his face, but his head and limbs had been broken off. Maybe, just like it was with Humpty Dumpty, all the horses and all the men couldn’t put him together again! Dagon was lying on the threshold of the temple, and so they made a superstition about it: that the priests should not tread on the threshold in the future, just like the idea of not walking under a ladder. 

Then it gets darker. A plague of tumours devastated Ashdod. The city leaders in Ashdod decided to pass on the Ark. They sent it to Gath, but, once it arrived there, the plague broke out again . Destruction followed the Ark wherever it went. So the people of Gath despatched it to the city of Ekron, where the citizens were terrified about what would happen next. They called for a council of the Philistine lords, who determined it was time to return the Ark to the Israelites.

Interestingly, the New Testament celebrates the presence of God. Christians want to embrace his presence when the music stops. Sometimes we don’t. We want to pass God on, away from us. This gospel stuff is too disruptive to our lives. Thankfully, even when we try to escape his presence, God never leaves. 

Submit to God, and rest in his presence. 

Gracious Lord, you are mighty, you are powerful, and we rest safely in your compassionate and wonderful presence. In Jesus’ name.

Study by James Henderson

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