4 The Ark Taken

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” And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent; and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. “AND THE ARK OF GOD WAS TAKEN; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain. – SAM. iv. 10, 11.

The loss of the Ark by the Israelites, when they had become quite unworthy of it, and its seizure by the Philistines to be paraded in their country, represented the loss of the Word by those who profess to revere the commandments of God but do not keep them, and its being taken possession of by those who neither profess to revere nor to keep the commandments of God, but expect to be saved by a scheme of their own devising, which they denominate THE SCHEME OF SALVATION.

The Ark represents the Word, and especially the divine commandments which are the centre of the Word. The Israelites represent the members of the church, at this time faithless, corrupt, vile, and unworthy; the Philistines those who make a religion of “faith alone,” which they declare to be saving, but which leaves them quarrelsome, vindictive, self-indulgent, greedy of domination, eager for proselytism, unjust where it suits them, moderated only by what the society amongst whom they associate deem proper and allowable.

When we keep constantly before our minds, in reading the Bible, that its divine author intends its history as well as its precepts to be subservient to the regeneration of man, it magnifies the Word, and makes it honourable. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul ” (Ps. xix. 7). We regard the literal history first; and our reverence makes us careful to acquaint ourselves fully with its facts and circumstances, that they may be a proper basis for the spiritual lessons we hope to receive. We study well and thoughtfully the divine record, and then we say with the apostle, “These things are an allegory” (Gal. iv. 24).

The Ark was the representative of the Word, because it contained within it the divine commandments on two tables of stone, and these are the essence of the Word. All the commandments may be regarded as comprised in two, “Love to the Lord, and Love to our neighbour;” and “on these two,” as the Lord said, “hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt, xxii. 40). The Ark contained also the pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded. This signified that from the Word is all heavenly food, the “hidden manna” (Rev. ii. 17), and from it is all the power of spiritual growth in regeneration. We bear blossoms and fruit as we receive life and power from the Word of the Lord. The chest formed of the precious cedar of Shittah, covered with gold within and without, represented the Word as it is received by the highest angels and the best of men. The precious gold of their inmost affections embraces the Word. It is impressed upon their inward parts, and written on their hearts (Jer. xxxi. 33).

The Israelites lost the Ark when they had long ceased to perform their part of the covenant of which the Ark was the abiding sign. It was about four hundred and fifty years from the death of Joshua to the death of Eli, and those years had been periods of great disorder and decay. The judges had ruled with a loose hand. The people had neglected the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. Virtue had gradually declined, and zeal for what is good was entirely lost.

The twelve tribes in their order, under the direction of Moses and Joshua, were the types of the Lord’s true church. How grand they seemed when Balaam said of them, “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob! and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river’s side, as the trees of lign-aloes, which the Lord hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters ” (N urn. xxiv. 6). When they were zealous for God under their heroic leader Joshua, they were triumphant; and while he lived, they were faithful and true. They were then the proper representatives of the church, which the apostle calls “The Israel of God” (Gal. vi. 16).

More especially were Judah and Benjamin the types of the men of heavenly love, and the men of genuine faith. Those two great tribes were the centre and bulwark of the Israelitish power. Their lands were situated next to each other. Jerusalem was built at the joining of the two tribes.

Judah, large, fertile, beautiful, entrenched in glorious mountains, and populous in noble men, fulfilled the prophetic words of Jacob, “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen. xlix. 8-10). The tribe of Judah was the largest and most influential, the sovereign tribe. Ultimately it gave its name to the whole nation, who from the name “Judah” were called “Jews.” The tribe of Judah in its good and genuine state, represented those among Christians who are mainly animated by love to the Lord. The name Judah means in Hebrew, “praise Jehovah.” Those who love the Lord desire to do His will and to praise Him. They are those of whom the apostle says, “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom, ii. 28, 29).

The tribe of Benjamin was possessed also of a large, fertile, and beautiful country. Shiloh, where the Ark so long abode before going up to Jerusalem, was in their land. They were a noble people, and gave their first king, Saul, to the whole nation. They were also great archers, powerful with the bow, and exact in their aim. Their name, Benjamin, means “the son of the right hand;” and it indicates, prophetically, their skill and strength. Of them it is written, “The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him ; the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders” (Deut. xxxiii. 12). In the spiritual sense, they are of the tribe of Benjamin who are animated by the faith which is grounded in love. These cultivate their intellect, they abound in divine truths because they love them. They are keen and powerful against wrong. The Lord is with them and covers them all the day long. The Lord dwells between their shoulders. He is the source and fulcrum of their power.

Jerusalem, the true church of the Lord, is formed of the combination of both, of men of affection, and men of intellect; and in each person of love in the heart and truth in the understanding, and hence the earthly Jerusalem, the type of the church, was placed where the lands of the two tribes met.

But let us now turn to consider the Philistines, who for a great part of their history were prominent as enemies of Judah and Benjamin, and who inhabited the country between those two tribes and the Mediterranean Sea. They were originally from Egypt, and after having inhabited Caphtor (most likely the island which is now called Crete), they settled in the land of Canaan. They would no doubt take with them the learning of the Egyptians, and their habit of expressing their ideas in personifications and hieroglyphical forms. In the days of Abraham and Isaac, they appear to have possessed a true knowledge of God: for when those patriarchs resided among them they expressed themselves most reverently concerning the Lord, spoke of their seeing that the patriarchs were blessed of the Lord, and were very desirous of doing His will (Gen. xxi. xxvi.).

They must have been familiar with the science of correspondences, for this was well known in Egypt, from whence they came; and the same fact appears from the measures they took in returning the Ark when they dared not longer retain it amongst them. They would know, therefore, that a fish corresponded to a disposition which delights in knowledge, as the fish delights in water. The ocean of truth in its lowest form is the object of scientific investigation; and those who pursue this are as fishes who swim about and so enjoy themselves. The water of the heavenly river which the prophet Ezekiel saw in vision, would, it is said, “cause all the fishes TO LIVE, whithersoever the river came” (Ezek. xlvii. 9); because, when wisdom from heaven fills all the scientific ideas we have, it animates them with angelic life. One of the most ancient accounts of the impartation of knowledge to mankind was the story among the Babylonians related by a very early writer, Berosus, “that a creature from the sea, with the head and hands of a man, but the body of a fish, came and taught them agriculture, literature, arts, law, and religion;” no doubt an ancient allegory describing the fact that scientific thought, derived from the vast domains of knowledge, gave them all the intelligence which nurtures and embellishes human life.

Pharaoh, as the representative of Egypt, the land of science, is described by the prophet Ezekiel when he says, “Thou art as a great fish in the seas: and thou earnest forth with thy rivers, and troublest the waters with thy feet, and fouledst their rivers” (xxxii. 2). And again, “Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself” (Ezek, xxix. 3). When a scientific man boasts himself in his attainments, and believes that his knowledge is supremely great, supremely valuable, self-derived, and the means only of self-exaltation, he is just like Pharaoh. He is saying “My river is my own, and I have made it for myself.”

The Philistines had great stores of knowledge; they were enterprising traders; they made an image of a fish with human head and hands, and they worshipped it. This was their famous god Dagon; “Dag,” in their language, meaning “fish.” It was the symbol of their character and state of mind. Their intellect was their deity. They made their own scheme of life, and they worshipped that. Their hearts remained what their natural impure selfishness made them. They regarded thought as everything. With them it was religious thought, for all ancient nations were religious. They worked out the views of God and man which seemed to them the truest and the best. Their hearts, the great sources whence issue life or death, being overlooked. and unpurified, the Philistines became restless, quarrelsome, impure, and cruel. They are generally denominated in Scripture the “uncircumcised Philistines,” a phrase no doubt literally true, but also indicating that impurity of heart which ever exists where religion does not perform its daily work of resisting sin, and promoting chastity and justice. The Philistines, when they took possession of that part of Canaan which they afterwards made their own, exterminated the Avims, a terrible race distinguished for violence and cruelty (Deut. ii. 23), formed a regulated and powerful nation, and became of so much importance by their trade and commercial activity, that by their name the whole country became chiefly known, as if is to the present day; for Canaan is even now best known as “Palestine.”

The Philistines, then, were learned even in divine things; they had much knowledge of God; they lived in Canaan; they were skilful and energetic; they were “Tell-ordered and well-trained; but they were corrupt, self-seeking, quarrelsome, and restless. Their minds were clever, but their hearts were bad. The fish with human head and hands was their most sacred symbol; as if they would indicate that the science of things human and divine was the supreme object of their regard. As they had a true knowledge of God in their early days, they probably used the fish at first only as a symbol of the Divine Intelligence, that attribute of God which they chiefly revered, but it became to them latterly a mere idol. They worshipped the sign, and lost sight of the thing signified. Thus had Egypt also degenerated from her early reverent knowledge of God and heavenly wisdom, and thus all idolatry had its rise.

We have now all the elements for fanning a clear idea of those at the present day who are Philistines in Christendom, and who war against the Israelites. They are the religious by memory and by thought. All religious people have first to learn religion as a sacred science. They go clown, as it were, into Egypt. They must know what religion teaches before they can embrace it. They next form some plan of religious doctrine which constitutes them a section of the professing church in an island of their own, as the Philistines went from Egypt to Crete or Caphtor. A religious denomination is like an island in the world’s great sea. They then expel from themselves those rude evils which constitute a lawless life, signified by giant Avims whom the Philistines drove out, and take upon themselves the outward form and demeanour of religion. They have their particular symbol of religious creed, and unhappily they stop there. They set up Dagon. Their scheme of doctrine they call their faith, prostituting that beautiful word, which means LOVING TRUST, to mean a formula of certain views. They talk much of their doctrines and of faith; they meditate upon their doctrines, they dream of their doctrines, they push their doctrines forward in season and out of season, They think little of humility, piety, patience, gentleness, charity, faithfulness to duty, love for truth, order” and virtue. Their scheme of thought, or their “faith” as they call it, or it may be, their particular form of church government, their shibboleth, is their one chief thought, their Dagon. They who admit their especial creed, are the church of Christ; they who do not, are no Christians. The Bible is their book of passages to prove their scheme correct, not their law of love and goodness. They know where to find their favourite passages, but are little versed in the divine truth which teaches self-denial. They sneer at justice, mercy, devotion to the good of others, struggle against interior ‘evils, and a heavenly life of usefulness, from love to God and man. They are swift to mark, and harsh to denounce, those who differ from the scheme they have set up. They are “bitterly” good, meaning by goodness their particular form of church life; but when some selfish end is to be sought in business, or political conduct, they are reckless of all true justice, real right, or divine religion, as though no divine law existed, THESE ARE THE PHILISTINES.

They are uncircumcised in heart. “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved” (Jer. iv. 14). “Cast away from you all your transgressions whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. xviii. 31.) “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?” are the words of the Lord Jesus (Luke vi. 46). “Put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind ” (Eph. iv. 22). Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God” (I Cor. vii. 19). Such are the teachings of divine wisdom by prophets, apostles, and the Lord Himself, but the Philistines maintain it is faith, faith alone, which saves; faith in five minutes, faith at the “moment of death, although a life-time has been spent in desecrating the whole man by lust and passion. The Philistines are bigots; severe about jots and tittles, fastidious about any deviations from their dogmas, harsh in temper, bitter and persecuting, but ready to excuse very grave faults indeed in a sound believer. Such are the Philistines. They are fond of contention, and come up often to assail the Israelites. They respect the Word, as the Philistines did the Ark (ver. 6, 7, 8), but only as a means of power, not for its humbling or regenerating influence.

The Israelites, on the occasion of the battle mentioned in our text, were smitten and overcome by the Philistines. And we are taught by this divine lesson that having true principles will avail nothing, unless we are true to them. The men who say they believe that the Lord should rule in their hearts, but who still permit selfish pride to reign there, who declare Gael’s commandments should be done, but who dispense with them at their will, who are for everything good, so far as professions go, but in practice are as avaricious, impatient, violent, impure, or untrustworthy as others, cannot stand against the Philistines. They believe and they do not believe. Theoretically they believe in charity, goodness, and obedience; practically, they believe as the Philistines do, that these are of no importance or cannot be done. These are the'” corrupt Israelites, who are overcome of the Philistines. Sooner or later, their intellects become darkened by the evils of their hearts. They love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. Their candlestick is taken out of its place (Rev. ii. 7). Their lamp has received no oil, and their light has been hidden under a bushel, until it has gone out. Philistia has triumphed, and the false and corrupt Israel has fallen.

Thirty thousand footmen fell that day. Footmen, as distinguished from horsemen, scientifically represent the principles which affect the details of dally life, Life In this world is like the movement of the feet of the immortal man, Hence there is so much in the Divine Word of the foot slipping, of the necessity of washing the feet, of cutting off the offending foot, and of the feet walking in the way of the Lord’s commandments. Thirty, like three, represents what which is full. By thirty thousand footmen are meant, spiritually, all the truths of daily life. They fell, signifying that in such minds they become inactive, dead, and extinct.

Thirty thousand footmen fell; that is, all the religion of daily life is lost: the Ark of God is taken, all true reverence for the Word of God has expired, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, are slain. The destruction of these two signify the death both of intellect and heart, which complete the moral ruin of a church or of a man, when death triumphs over life, when corruption has done its awful work, Israel is confounded and hushed in mourning and defeat. Philistia triumphs and carries off the Ark. How sad is such a consummation! How different all might have been!

“But if thou slight the King of kings,
Behold Him here disclose,
How surely disobedience brings
A thousand thousand woes.”

How much is it otherwise when the soul is an Israelite indeed! Then the heart becomes purified by the Lord Jesus, while repentance amends the life. Then a life of holiness acquires greater and greater power within, as regeneration proceeds. No enemy triumphs over the obedient soul. The Ark of God gleams with a richer and a brighter glory; and no Philistines can approach, or live in its radiant atmosphere. O let us this day again resolve that we will be faithful, sincere, and true. Let us, my brethren, pray that the divine words may ever be realized in us: “Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! And thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places” (Deut. xxxiii. 29).

Author: Jonathan Bayley— The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)