Day 78: 1 Samuel 4-7: The Ark of the Covenant

Today’s reading is all about two things: the importance of the Ark of the Covenant and, more importantly, God’s power over other gods.

Yesterday we read about the vision of Samuel, calling him to ministry, and also the promise of God to cut off Eli from the priesthood because of his sons, Hophni and Phinehas.  We see this word from the Lord come true in 1 Samuel 4 & 5.  True to form, God always keeps His promises.

But this is not really the main part of the narrative we have read today.  There is a lot of action that happens around the Ark of the Covenant.  Remember with me all the way back to the time that Israel was at Mount Sinai, when they first created the Tabernacle.  This is recorded in Exodus 25.  The Ark was created as the dwelling place of God, the “Mercy Seat” as it is often called.  The very presence of God sat enthroned on the Cherubim that were on top of the of Ark.  It was the most sacred item in the Tabernacle, so much so we read that those that even looked on it were punished by death.  Israel’s decision to bring the Ark out of the Tabernacle and into battle without the direction of God is a testimony to their depravity at this time.  They were not trusting in God, they were trusting in this golden box on some sticks.  One could say that they had become so used to worshiping idols that they made the symbol of the presence of God an idol.

The Ark of the Covenant

Interestingly, this is one of the reasons that the Church, especially the Western Church.  Icons are artistic pictures, representations of Saints, scenes, and things of the Church’s past.  If you ever visit church’s of Orthodox belief, you will notice many of these.  They are pieces of art that can be used in worship, or in daily life to help direct our attention to God.  This is the important point of both the Ark and icons in general, they are not themselves to be worshiped, but serve to point us, our minds and hearts, to the living God.  These were removed from many churches because of the fear that the icons themselves would be worshiped, a type of “graven image” which would be in direct violation of Commandment #2.  The following is a more modern version of an Icon of Samuel from salliesART.

Samuel Icon

Finally, the most important question that we ask about these Narratives is, as always, “where is God in this narrative?”  Sometimes this is more difficult to answer than others.  However, today it is very clear to see that God is present and powerful, even when His “throne” is in the hand of the enemy.  The people of Israel associated the present of God with the Ark of the Covenant.  So, when the Ark is taken, the people are shaken to their core because they believe that somehow the Philistines have taken God away from them (which is odd being that they are worshiping idols all over the place anyway).  But God is still at work, showing Himself to be more powerful that Dagon, or any of the other Philistine gods and the people as well.  And while the Ark may indeed be the physical seat of God’s presence on earth, it is clear that He is working in Israel and in Philistia all at the same time and he makes it clear to the leaders of Israel’s enemies where He and the Ark belongs.

What do we learn from this?  Well… don’t ever take the Ark of the Covenant into battle with you.  Or perhaps the presence of a Bible at official and unofficial functions doesn’t not guarantee the presence of God at that place?  Maybe we are being shown that it isn’t about having the right religious trinkets, shirts, books, etc. that connect us to God, but rather we need to be steeped in His Word, keeping it on our hearts every day to truly hear Him and be connected to Him?  I think that one thing that God is showing Israel here is that He is neither limited by our bad actions or disobedience, nor is He limited by any distance, space, or other god that might be present.  He again shows that He is more powerful than any other god, and even has control of “untamed” animals that bring the Ark home.  God is all powerful, all knowing, and always working His will in all situations, no matter how grave they might seem.



Day 77: 1 Samuel 1-3; The Call of Samuel

As we begin our transition from the time of the Judges to the time of the kings, we walk through the books of first and second Samuel, the narratives of God’s working through the man Samuel to bring about His purposes and will, ultimately establishing the royal house of King David from which the Messiah, Jesus Christ would be born.  This is marked largely by God’s declaration to Samuel in Chapter 3:

“Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.”

It isn’t as if God was trying one this before this and found out that it wasn’t going to work so He scrapped it and moved on to like, plan C or D or whatever it would be now.  God has always been at work in the people of Israel and in the world, bringing about Restoration to the created order after the Fall.  Through Abraham and his offspring God has entered into this covenant relationship and is continuing to work out the fulfillment of His promise from Genesis 12 in which all the nations of the Earth will be blessed.  What God is doing is revealing what the next phase of this restoration project is doing and how it will take on a different shape as before.  All this is laid before us in stark contrast with the words we see earlier in Chapter 3, “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.”

With that in mind, God appears, “standing before Samuel” telling Samuel that He is moving and that things are about to change!  What awesome news for Samuel, even with it positioned around the death of his mentor’s family.

Though I won’t say a great deal about it, I do want to direct your attention to the song of Hannah that she sings after Samuel is born.  It is very similar to the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise when she finds out she will be carrying the Son of God, recorded in Luke 1.

One thing that is interesting to me is how I react to this story now when I think about how it was presented to me as a child.  My Sunday School teachers would always tell us about how we needed to make sure that we were listening to the voice of the Lord and that we were ready to respond to Him.  I think that even at some point one of the criticized Samuel in our class for thinking that the voice of God was actually his mentor Eli.  While I think that this is a good lesson to keep in mind, I’m not entirely sure that the message of this narrative is solely based on that.  Here we find God coming to the one that He has appointed to lead Israel calling to Him and revealing Himself to him.  In much the same way that God called Abraham or Isaiah, God here is calling Samuel to a particular ministry in a particular place at a particular time when God is moving in especially obvious ways.  Its not to say that God hasn’t been working, of course He has.  We’ve seen it  through out the book of Judges and throughout Ruth as well.  God is always at work, always moving, always bringing about His perfect will.  Yet here, God is moving in a new way, a profoundly visible way, and He has appointed Samuel to lead the people through that.  I wonder, thinking about it from that context, if we God speaks to us in the same way.  Perhaps we’ve been doing things pretty much the same for a while.  Maybe we’re just doing church because its church.  Maybe we just get up every day and do what we have to do because that is our lot in life.  I wonder if you have ever had a profound experience like Samuel where God swoops in and says, “Behold, I am about to do a (new) thing in your life at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.”

Oh that we would listen to the voice of God and heed the call to this new thing, whatever it may be, that the ears of everyone who hears it will tingle… to the praise of His glorious name!