2014 – Jerome, AZ
Caution, God at work here
1 Samuel 7: Throughout Israel there was a widespread, fearful movement toward God.
The enemies of Israel, the Philistines, have had enough of the Ark of the Covenant. Not only have they had to repair their idol Dagon, things are not going well at all throughout their territory. There’s general sickness and death and they know that it’s related to the captured Chest. They decide to send it back and be rid of it once and for all. It ends up at the town of Beth Shemesh, but not without incident. Some of the locals look inside this holy relic and are struck dead for their irreverence. This causes the fear of the Lord to fall on that place. It also reminds them that God is real and not just the product of old stories. The Ark is moved to Kiriath Jearim, where it remains for 20 years. It’s during that time that people become more and more “God aware.” It’s been a long journey from the dark ages of the book of Judges to this point, but, once again, these people are becoming a people of God. The words, “there was a widespread, fearful movement toward God” are the result of God’s faithfulness to a people who don’t deserve it. Even though they’re far from God, he’s at work and the boy Samuel is part of his plan. When they use the Ark as a good luck charm, and thus lose it, God is working. Even when the men at Beth Shemesh treat the Ark in an inappropriate way and lose their lives, God is working, setting things in motion to change the attitude of the nation. I pray that God is working in my nation too. I pray that he’s doing things in places and in ways that I don’t even see, changing attitudes, preparing the way for a “widespread, fearful movement toward” himself. And, if he can use me in any of that I want to be available to him, a willing partner in his gracious work in my society.
Take Away: The Lord sometimes works in ways unseen by us and only recognized after the fact.
2014 – At Chapel of the Holy Cross – Sedona, AZ
Poor old Dagon didn’t have a chance
1 Samuel 5: They were shocked to find Dagon toppled from his place, flat on his face before the Chest of God.
The people of Israel aren’t much more spiritually aware than are the Philistines. When the Israelites get into a difficult battle they think that bringing out the Ark of the Covenant will bring them luck. However, it doesn’t work out that way. They’re soundly defeated and their enemies take the Ark, their most holy relic. Now, the story shifts to the Philistine city of Ashdod, the shrine of the idol Dagon. Someone has the bright idea of putting their new religious prize on display there with their idol. After a bit of rearranging the Ark is in its new place. To their surprise, when they visit the shrine the next morning their Dagon idol has toppled face down before the Ark. “I wonder how that happened?” someone asks in an unsteady voice. Dagon is stood up again. The following morning the priest of Dagon peeks around the corner and it’s happened again! This time, though, poor old Dagon’s in bad shape. His head and arms are broken off and he’s once again bowing before the Ark. Something has to be done and the decision is made, not to start worshipping the God of the Ark, but to get rid of it so that they can patch up poor old Dagon and prop him up back in his place again. It sounds dumb and in a sense it is. Still, they believe in national gods and the God of Israel, in their thinking, can never be theirs. The Chest has to go. As I read this interesting account I’m reminded that everything in my life must ultimately yield to God Almighty. Also, God isn’t a good luck charm. He’s the real deal and he insists that I live in a relationship with him.
Take Away: Ultimately everything in my life must bow before the Lord.
2014 – At Chapel of the Holy Cross – Sedona, AZ
God won’t be manipulated
1 Samuel 4: When the Chest of the Covenant of God was brought into the camp, everyone gave a huge cheer.
There’s war between the Israelites and the Philistines and the Philistines have the upper hand. In one battle 4,000 men of Israel are killed. What can they do to turn the tide? Someone has the idea of bringing the sacred Ark of the Covenant to the battle lines. Like the fictional German officers in the Indiana Jones movie these ancient Israelites think the Ark has power of its own that can be controlled by whoever possesses it. As the Chest arrives at the camp everyone cheers. Now they have the Power of God at their disposal and nothing will stop them. However, it doesn’t work out that way. On one hand, the Almighty clearly has an interest in the Ark of the Covenant. As the story continues that becomes abundantly clear. On the other hand, God is in authority over the Ark rather than the other way around. Bringing the Ark to battle doesn’t guarantee victory. They need God much more than they need the Chest. Today, as I read this story I’m reminded that in spite of the Indiana Jones movie, the Ark hasn’t been located and even if it was there’s not much chance that it could be used as a secret weapon now any more than it was in this story from the Bible. In my life, the key to spiritual power isn’t in my waving my Bible around or in my wearing a cross on a string around my neck or in my being anointed with oil. As it was with the Ark, those things may have value, but they’re nothing in and of themselves. It’s God who I need and I’m wise to remember that no matter how many props I come up with he won’t be manipulated.
Take Away: The Lord is real and he insists I treat him as something other than some unseen force to manipulate to get my own way.
Go ahead…wait! Stop!
1 Chronicles 17: Nathan told David, “Whatever is on your heart, go and do it; God is with you.”
It sounds so right. David’s throne is established and now the Ark resides in Jerusalem. When David tells the man of God that he wants to build a Temple of worship Nathan never hesitates to place his stamp of approval on the project. After all, David is God’s man and who could ever deny God’s man the privilege of building a great house of worship. That night though, God speaks to Nathan. The message is quite a positive one for David. The Lord’s pleased with David and the greatest leader in the history of the world will be one of his descendants. But David isn’t to build a Temple. The prophet is a good man who returns to David the next day to relay this message from God. The “no Temple” thing is brushed aside as David focuses in thanksgiving on the promises he’s just received. Still, I can’t help but think about Nathan at this point. When he tells David to go for it I think his heart’s in the right place. To him, this is a slam dunk that doesn’t even require prayer. He’s probably the most surprised person in the world when he hears this word from the Lord. Really, I don’t think Nathan does anything wrong in this story. His reaction to David’s suggestion has the earmarks of a good man who delights in God being honored and served. Still, his reaction to the message of the Lord is even better. Think of it: he’s already set sail on this Temple project. In fact, he’s granted permission in the Name of the Lord for it to proceed. Then, with just one word from the Lord he pivots one hundred eighty degrees and goes straight to David with the correction. This incident doesn’t cause me to fear having opinions and reaching conclusions based on the facts as I know them. It does, though, teach me not to hold too tightly to those conclusions. Even as a dedicated Christian, I often reach the wrong conclusions. Nathan’s story is a good lesson in how I’m to respond when I realize that has, once again, happened.
Take Away: For godly people to have godly opinions is a good thing, but even such people and such opinions are subject to God, himself.
1 Chronicles 16: God is great — well worth praising!
It’s a world class worship service. A tent has been pitched for the purpose of housing the Ark of the Covenant and that Ark is being brought into Jerusalem for the first time. King David, himself, leads the procession, joyfully dancing before the Lord. The great worship leader, Asaph, leads the choir in singing praises to God. They sing a wonderful song of praise and worship in which they recount the wonders the Lord has performed and declaring “God is great — well worth praising!” They sing of God’s goodness and love and holiness. When the song has ended, the congregation responds with shouts of “Amen” and “Praise God.” What a holy event! Know what, I’m glad that such worship services aren’t just for the pages of the Old Testament. I’m glad that there are times when the people of God go all out in praising him and that at such times the Lord comes close, filling such holy moments with himself. This passage reminds me of awesome worship services I’ve been in. Even more, it creates in me a desire to occupy such holy ground again, real soon!
Take Away: The great worship events of the Bible, along with worship events we’ve experienced personally, provide the inspiration and desire to once again enter into the presence of the Lord.
1 Chronicles 15: God exploded in anger at us because we didn’t make proper preparation and follow instructions.
This is the second effort David has made to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The first ended with death. David says that was because the proper preparations and procedures weren’t followed. This time things will be different because he’s paying better attention to the details. There’s nothing like the Ark in Christianity. Many traditions have holy objects but none of them are revered as was the Ark. There’s a reminder here of the importance of sacred places and things. For instance, there are places that are special to me because I’ve had especially powerful encounters with God in them. Maybe you have your mother’s old Bible and just holding it causes you to feel not only closer to her, but to the Lord. These things aren’t the same as the Ark or, later on, the Temple’s Holy of Holies. Still, though, as I see David making plans to move the Ark, I’m reminded of the power of some things that have been used by the Lord to connect me to him. I don’t worship them, but they are precious to me.
Take Away: It’s a good thing to be reminded of times and places where the Lord has seemed especially near.
I’ll just trust God anyway.
1 Chronicles 13: God erupted in anger against Uzziah and killed him because he grabbed the Chest.
The death of Uzziah is shocking to me even as it is to David in this passage. They’re doing a good thing, bringing the Chest of God back from obscurity to its rightful place of honor in Jerusalem. Everyone agrees that it’s “the right thing to do.” For transport they go so far as to build a brand new cart and David and others lead the way in a joyful procession. It’s at the threshing floor in Kidon that disaster strikes. The oxen pulling the cart stumble and Uzziah, who is, it seems, somehow involved in the mechanical part of the move reaches out and touches the Ark to steady it. That’s when the shocking thing happens. God strikes Uzziah dead for showing a lack of reverence for this holy object. If you expect me to explain all this away I’m afraid I must disappoint you. Even David who’s right there is frightened by what he’s just seen. He decides to put the Ark in the building there, unwilling to bring it to Jerusalem. It may be that Uzziah didn’t really need to steady the Ark and only used the incident as an excuse to reach out and touch it. After all, everyone knew that the Ark was to be carried with poles so that the Levites who were entrusted with the task wouldn’t ever actually touch it. However, that’s just speculation. Ultimately I’m left with my belief that God’s character is pure love and that he never acts in a way contrary to his character. This situation, like a million others, is beyond me. It’s another of those “I’ll just trust God anyway” situations we find in both the Bible and in our own lives.
Take Away: Happily, our salvation isn’t based on knowledge, but is, rather, based on faith.
I’m part of this story
2 Samuel 7: God himself will build you a house!
For David, the sun’s finally beginning to shine. His long struggle with Saul has come to an end. The promise made to him when he was a mere shepherd has come to pass and he sits securely on the throne of Israel. Even the Ark of the Covenant is now at rest in the city called the “City of David.” David’s comfortable and settled and he wants the same for the precious Chest of God, so he proposes the first ever permanent worship structure, a Temple, for Israel. To his surprise God says “no.” It isn’t that the Lord’s against the building of such a place but this is not the time. Still, God’s pleased with David and he tells him so. David will become one of the most famous people in the world. He’ll reign in peace and when his days on earth are over it will be one of his own offspring who will rule Israel. Even as the Lord fully rejected Saul he now fully accepts David. His family will rule Israel forever. David doesn’t know it, but he’s just heard the promise of the Messiah. One of his descendants will be King of kings and Lord of lords. He’ll rule, not only Israel, but all of Creation — forever! I’m not a part of the people of Israel but, today, I’m a beneficiary of the promise God makes to David. That ultimate Ruler only hinted at in this passage is the Ruler of my life. How wonderful to read about an event that happened thousands of years ago and to suddenly find myself a part of the story!
Take Away: All those who live by faith have a place in the story of the people of the Lord.
2 Samuel 6: David…danced with great abandon before the Lord.
The Ark of the Covenant, Israel’s greatest religious item, has been kept at Abinadab’s house with faithful Eleazar serving as priest. Now, David wants to bring it to Jerusalem. One false start results in the death of Uzzah who carelessly treats the Ark with disrespect, but three months later the Chest of God is being brought into David’s City. The celebration is impressive and genuine. David, the newly recognized King of Israel, leads the way as all Jerusalem celebrates. I can’t help but think of the drum major of the great Tiger band from Grambling State University. No marching in military precision here! David, warrior and king, lays all that aside in unrestrained exuberance before God. However, it isn’t David’s abandoned drum major like dance in leading the Ark that impresses me today so much as his open heart before God. As I study David’s story I find that his life isn’t mistake-free. In fact, he messes up a lot, and sometimes in major league ways. It’s his good heart that commands my attention. This man loves God with every fiber of his being. His drum major routine with the Chest of God opens for me a window to his very heart.
Take Away: The Lord loves it when we worship him with abandon.
Not famous, but faithful
1 Samuel 7 They ordained his son, Eleazar, to take responsibility for the Chest of God.
The Ark of the Covenant ends up in Kiriath Jearim, the house of Abinadab. Someone needs to be responsible for the Ark. After all, during the seven years that it was in the hands of the Philistines tumors broke out among the population and when the men of Beth Shemesh treated it in an irreverent way they were struck dead. They can’t have the Ark just sitting around. Someone has to care for it. Abinadab’s son, Eleazar, takes the job. For the next twenty years Eleazar takes care of the Chest of God. We know nothing else about him. Not a single word from him is recorded in Scripture and he’s associated with none of the adventures of the Bible. He just takes care of the Ark. During that time a spiritual change for the better is taking place. Samuel is growing too — in spirit and in body. Soon, this spiritual giant will take center stage and will be the spiritual leader of Israel for decades to come. But, for now, God just needs someone to look after the Ark; to be a “place holder” for Samuel until he’s ready to assume leadership. Not many of us are “Samuels.” No doubt, God calls some to do the big stuff, and I thank God for them. Most of us are called to simply be faithful, serving the Lord every day, doing what he’s placed before us. It’s nice to be reminded though, that in this small way Eleazar kept things going for the good. His faithfulness held things together while God prepared the “big player” to come on the scene. I think that is pretty impressive.
Take Away: What an honor it is to be used of the Lord, even in some small, unnoticed way.