Apr 9 (Daily reading: 1 Samuel 4-8, NIV) Today we read about the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When the Israelites were defeated, and the ark was taken by the Philistines, Israel’s elders came up with what seemed to be a good solution. “Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies” (4:3). Even the Philistines, after hearing the shouts of joy from the Israel camp, said, “We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods?” (4:8). But Israel suffered a terrible defeat, so what happened?
The answer is revealed as the story continues. The ark was kept by the Philistines for seven months, but its presence caused so many problems that they eventually sent it back to Israel (chapter 6). Twenty years passed, and we read, “Then all the people of Israel turned back to the LORD” (7:2). The people were still suffering under the domination of the Philistines, and this time, God gave Israel a great victory (7:10-11). What was the difference?
Samuel said to the people, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods…and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines” (7:3). It appears Israel had put confidence in the physical presence of the ark, but their hearts were not right with God. This could be compared to legalism in the church today. Jesus quoted Isaiah and applied his words to the Pharisees: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mk. 7:6, from Is. 29:13). The power was not in the ark itself; the ark only symbolized the powerful presence of God with them. May we not depend on our traditions and methods, but on God alone!
– Al Gary