Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Raiders of the Forgotten Ark

Then let us bring again the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul. -- 1 Chronicles 13:3

As I look at churches and worship services, I sometimes wonder about the point of it all.  My life was way off track at one point and going to church helped me greatly.  I learned from other Christians.  I discovered that some people genuinely cared about others.  I found friends on whom I could depend.  I sought to better align my thinking with God’s way which led to blessings and opportunities and enlightenment.  I came to better understand what Christ had done -- and does, and why it is vital to me.    

In David’s day, there was a place of sacrifice at Gibeon.  The tabernacle of Moses or some iteration of it was erected at that spot.  There was an altar, and the priests, I suppose, served it, slaughtering the animals and placing the appropriate parts on the fire to be burned.  But the ark, which was so central in the days of Moses, was not at Gibeon.  We know that the rather apostate sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas, had imprudently and impudently carried the ark out to a battlefield where it had been captured by the Philistines.  After it wreaked havoc upon the Philistines, they had placed it on a cart hitched to two milk cows whose calves had been removed.  Instead of going to their calves, the cows headed the opposite direction, carrying the ark back to the territory of Israel, to a place called Kiriath-jearim where the Israelites removed it from the cart.  There it had remained, mostly ignored and unattended, all through the years of Samuel’s leadership and Saul’s reign. 

The ark was, in a sense, nothing more than a box containing a stone tablet on which was written the Decalogue, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s staff which had budded and blossomed.  We might say, it represented God’s requirements, God’s provision, and God’s authority.  The ark was God’s point of contact with His people.  It had been the seat of His presence. 

So what was at Gibeon?  An empty tent.  No doubt the Lord responded to the sincerity of those who brought offerings to the altar.  He continued to bless, protect, and sustain His people.  Yet it was not the way He meant for it to be.  He sought to be present with them and to reveal Himself.  The place in the tabernacle called the Holy of Holies where the ark was supposed to be was off limits to any except the high priest who could enter it only once a year on the Day of Atonement bearing a container of blood.  That was because of the presence of God on the ark.  Now the ark has been sitting in an open field for over forty years while people have been going up to Gibeon as if it were still in the tabernacle.

This seemed wrong to David, and it was wrong.  The ark is a type of Christ, of what was to come in the Incarnation.  The ark needed to be at the center of Israel’s worship.  There is nothing wrong with ritual, but ritual is not enough.  There is nothing wrong with doing right, but doing right is not enough.  There has to be Someone we are seeking to know, Someone with whom we abide and who abides with us. 

When that is not the case, our rituals and our worship and even our obedience devolve.  Church becomes mechanical, merely social, and self-righteous without Christ at the center of our lives.  We may “feel better” about ourselves because we adhere to approved and accepted doctrines and dogmas, yet Jesus warns that merely casting out the demons and cleaning up the sanctuary leaves us open and vulnerable to a worse and more destructive invasion.  We need the living presence of the Stronger Man to occupy and guard our hearts (Luke 11:21-26).      


julie said...

This was a good one. I had to let it percolate for a while before saying anything.

Just now, I read this, and everything clicked.

I'm reminded of how, so often, Christians, particularly Born-Agains, like to claim that they found God or Jesus, almost as though they had been wandering in the desert and stumbled across the abandoned Ark hidden under a tumbleweed. Or perhaps a revival tent. (Huh - suddenly the idea of a "tent revival" seems far more fitting than I ever realized! Was the original reference to the tented Temple intentional, or did they just use a tent because that's the easiest way to cram more people into an event?)

Me, I always felt the opposite - a wanderer, yes, but being the found object and not the finder. The rescued, not the rescuer.

He finds us, where we are.

mushroom said...

That's a powerful story. I also liked Pope Benedict's words.

I agree. The Lord found me. My experience has been that people who think they found Him tend to be the ones who didn't do much, if any, wandering.

As to tents, there were probably a number of factors. One was denominational neutrality. Another was the tradition of camp-meetings and open-air preaching that was prevalent in the holiness movements of the 19th Century. Tents might have been cooler -- walls could be raised to alleviate some of the summer heat.

It was probably a combination of practical considerations in addition to the power of imagery and metaphoric meaning. It took the attendees out of the usual.

julie said...

True, that. My mom had a turnaround moment at a tent revival in rural Missouri. She had long been angry at God, and there was something about the experience that helped her to be able to finally let it go. I don't know that it "stuck" exactly, but I'm sure it planted a good seed.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"This seemed wrong to David, and it was wrong. The ark is a type of Christ, of what was to come in the Incarnation. The ark needed to be at the center of Israel’s worship. There is nothing wrong with ritual, but ritual is not enough. There is nothing wrong with doing right, but doing right is not enough. There has to be Someone we are seeking to know, Someone with whom we abide and who abides with us."

Aye. A relationship to Abba. Without that relationship people are lost.

mushroom said...

That's interesting about your mother. A lot of strange things happen out here in rural Missouri.

Hi, Ben. Yes, Abba.