The Return Of The Ark - Prof. Benne Holwerda
Note about the translator: This sermon was translated by Willem Amoraal of the Free Reformed Church of Armadale Western Australia.
From : “Tot de dag aanlicht” by prof. B Holwerda published Oosterbaan & LeCointre NV Goes 1950. Page 152 ef
Text: 1 Samuel 6:13- 7:2a
Sing: Ps 134:1,3 Ps 134:2 Ps 68:2,3 Ps 68:7,8,12 Ps 132:4,9
Beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ,
You are aware that lately, in our circles, much attention is given to the question how our attitude should be towards life in general. And this question in particular keeps the minds busy: how should our attitude and behaviour be toward all sorts of Christian organisations, that is toward the parties and trade unions, Christian education and similar. As is to be expected, the opinions differ substantially on this issue; and here and there it has led to tensions. The question is then also raised how the church in her preaching and in all her duties is to position herself.
There are those who fear that the unity of the church is endangered and that it would be best if we left all those current issues alone. It is said then: Let us as church restrict ourselves to maintaining the unity of the believers. And all questions which divide us are best not dealt with.
Now we read together a part of the letter to the Ephesians, that beautiful letter which Paul wrote about the church and about her unity. And we notice this in it: On the one hand Paul takes as starting point the unity which through Jesus Christ has been put in the church already. He therefore admonishes the congregation to not disrupt that marvellous unity which Christ had worked, through all sorts of human sins. He wants that they with all humbleness and kindness, with longsuffering will bear one another in love and will endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
For, so he says, there is one body and one Spirit and similarly you have been called to the hope in your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. He then speaks of the unity which is already present in the communion of faith and which, because it is present, should also be kept through the bond of peace.
But a little further on Paul says a second thing which in connection with this is also important. He then speaks of the offices which Christ had instituted in the congregation in aid to perfect the saints and for the upbuilding of the body of Christ. But then follows: “till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. First then he has emphasised and maintained the unity of faith which has been given already. He then expresses with the same urgency that we will later come to that unity of faith so that this unity today is not yet present.
What does this mean? Does Paul now also belong to that big group of people who say yes and no at the same time about one and the same matter? Because is it not contradictory that we are on the one hand exhorted to maintain the already present unity of faith, and a few verses later on the other hand we hear that we still have to come to that unity so that this unity of faith is apparently not a present mercy but rather appears to be an ideal for the future?
Yet it is of great importance that we now listen to Paul. For he is right when he says that all are united through faith so that they have one Lord, one faith, one baptism. But on the other hand he is no less right when he proclaims that this unity still has to grow and come to full fruition. Even though they all partake of the same Christ and the same baptism, the depth of faith is not the same in everyone and the knowledge of Christ Jesus is not evenly far advanced in all.
And therefore Paul does not just say: Keep what you have, maintain the already present unity, peace, peace, peace. But he says: even as a small child is a complete human being, yet it must grow up into an adult, so also must all believers bring to maturity the already given unity by striving after the unity of faith and knowledge. For if they let go of the already given unity, then the love chills and the church falls apart. But as soon as they stop striving for the ideal of unity of faith, the church also deteriorates because the members may then be cosy and comfortable together but they will then remain in the stage of childhood and will easily be changed by every wind of doctrine and they will be brought to false teachings through the treachery of people.
And so the things we experience today are not strange. We are one and at the same time we still have to become one. We are not allowed by our sinfulness to risk what we already have. But neither are we allowed to pretend as if we have arrived already for we have to still progress from the initial unity to the perfected unity of faith. And we can only reach that through Jesus Christ. After His ascension into heaven He instituted the offices in the church. So if today you experience on the one hand the communion of faith and at the same time see great difference of opinion do not let it disturb you. As long as you as communion of fellow believers keep putting your feet on the road to the complete communion of faith, the road which the exulted Christ has paved in the administration and use of the offices in the church. He passed them on through the Spirit of Pentecost.
It is not so bad when we as church are not yet where we should be. As long as we continue to live out of the great redemptive fact of His exultation, and as long as the offices faithfully distribute the gifts and treasures of Christ Jesus, we will come to the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.
Therefore I preach to you the Word of God as it speaks to us here about,
The return of the ark
Scripture shows us here that the return of the ark
1.) is initially received with joy
2.) is subsequently insulted by indifference
3.) is eventually treated with fear
1.) In front of us we have the story about the return of the ark from the land of the Philistines. You remember what preceded this. For the book of Samuel starts with a sombre story with which. In fact so dark were the times that you would say: if it was up to people then the work of God in this world would never come to anything.
At the start of this book we find the ark of God in Shilo. And the service in the holy place is executed by Eli and his two sons Hofni and Phineas. But early on already we not only see Eli as an old man, he is also a weak person; someone who perhaps because of his old age was not fully able to do the duties of his office but especially someone who by his giving-in and lack of firmness, had let the whole service of the Lord fall into great disarray.
For in actual fact his two sons Hofni and Phineas really ruled there in the tabernacle in Shilo. And those two did no longer know what the holiness of the Lord means. The best pieces of the meat offered, which by law were prescribed to be reserved for the Lord, they took for themselves. If this did not happen voluntarily then they took it by force. They gave the holy place a bad name by their evil life with women which came there. So here all fear of the Lord had departed. And Eli, although he himself did not act that way, does not have the courage to make an end of the wicked practices and to act with power and determination. His boys once received the very soft advice to change their lives for the better; but when it came down to it Eli did not even dare to pull a sour face at them. A powerful intervention and energetic reformation could not be expected from him
And so things went wrong. For if the priests give such an example then it is very likely that the people did not take the service of the Lord seriously either.
The day then arrives when the Philistines start a war. And when the situation takes a turn for the worse for Israel, the elders decide to take the ark out into the army. For was not the ark the throne of God, a sign of His presence in Israel. That ark is the centre of Israel's life. On it the blood of atonement flows, and on it the powers of mercy are set in motion. By it God proves his covenant and His desire for communion. By it too does He want to keep the people under His law for the tablets of stone are deposited into the ark. Through the ark He proves that He wants to live and walk among His people. For although He keeps Himself hidden behind the curtains in the holy of holies, his glory and godly majesty are still present here. And when the Israelites see the ark among them they take courage for here God clothes His priests with salvation and He makes his favoured ones shout for joy. Here He wants to richly bless their food and satisfy them with bread. When the enemies threatens they let the ark advance and all men say: arise o Lord and let your enemies be dispersed and those who hate You flee from your countenance (Numbers 10:35)
And that is what they did when the might of the Philistines became too much for them. They said: But we still have the ark don't we? We will bring the Lord Who lives among us to the battle field and He will defeat our enemies. They behaved as if the ark was a magic potion that always helps; as if they could do as they please with the Lord and force Him to help even this disobedient and stubborn people.
But things turned out different for them. The Lord would rather have His ark be captured than coming to the aid of this faithless people. It became a black day in Israel's history: The Lord has departed from His people and has taken from them the throne of mercy. Eli did not survive the disaster. He fell over backward off his chair and broke his neck. And the wife of Phineas his daughter-in-law did not survive either; her child was born prematurely but she passed away. Her last words show the great upset in her life when she said: the glory has departed!
The glory of the Lord has departed from Israel. With the departure of the ark, Gods merciful presence had also come to an end.
When however the Philistines had placed the ark as a trophy in their temple, they too discover who the Israel's God is. He may have left His people but He will not let himself be robbed of his honour. And He lashes the people there so severely with sores and a plague of mice that eventually they return the ark with a valuable peace present. Oh yes they still had some doubt if the disasters were really caused by the ark. But their priests determined the sign: If the cows are removed from their calves and contrary to their mother instincts, will walk straight out on the road to Beth-Shemesh, and if these dumb animals reject the call of their young, then that will prove that indeed a greater power is directing them and that this is truly the God of Israel who is in control and wants to see His ark returned.
That is the point where our text starts. The cows low but still abandon their calves and pull the cart with the ark of Israel's God. They travel in a straight line on the road towards Israel's territory and eventually arrive at the border near Beth-Shemesh.
Naturally the people there are totally taken by surprise. They could never have imagined that the ark of God would return to them. They are busy with gathering the grain crop in the valley says the bible.
And it is easy to then imagine an idyllic setting of farmers busy with their crops. But beloved you have not forgotten that this was not the case at all? Their lives were under a cloud. The Philistines oppressed the people and they were servants. They had also suffered their worst defeat for years and especially the fact that the ark had been captured weighed heavy on them. They knew that without the presence of the Lord among His people their lives could not blossom. And if you then here read about their labours on the land then certainly this time it was not a joyous occasion, but they were people labouring with sorrow and with great concerns for the future because the Lord had departed from them.
And there is another reason. Who are the inhabitants of Beth-Shemesh? What sort of standing did they have among their people? You will probably answer that they were farmers. But Beth-Shemesh was a city of priests (Joshua 21:16) That does not mean that they were always in the holy place and did nothing else but bring offerings. They had been appointed special cities, they cultivated their own farm land and had pastures for their flocks. And in as far as their service to the Lord allowed them to,they did work the land. But they were priests! Then you can also understand that in vers 15 it says that the Levites are immediately at hand to remove the ark from the cart. For these people are children of Levi, called as sons of Aaron to the service in the holy place.
Well it is then natural that these people who were so closely involved with the tabernacle and ark, rejoiced when they say the ark of the Lord. Of course they would have recognised the ark from afar and their hearts must have been touched when they saw it approach.
Don't get me wrong, I am not going to say that only priests lived in Beth-Shemesh. It is very well possible that people lived there who belonged to another tribe of Israel. But the fact remains that Beth-Shemesh was one of the 48 cities appointed for the Levites, and one of the 13 places which had been specifically designated to the priests in particular. This city then has the distinct identity of the priestly city. Even those not of Levi were constantly in contact with the others and had been influenced by it. Beth-Shemesh had its own unique character; it was a city which was more closely involved with the service of the Lord in the holy place. And because of that these people in particular were touched by the return of the ark. They knew that now the Lord would return to His people, now the service of atonement would be reopened, now life can blossom again. Now there was again hope after the depression of the last year and now there was a new future for Israel.
For just imagine that all of life had become sombre and black for the people of Israel. And the office of priest had lost its meaning in Israel. Their existence was without hope now that the ark had been led away. Of course they can just like the others sow the seed and look after their flocks. But that is not why they were priests, set aside from the others for the service to the Lord! God has chosen them together with the other sons of Aaron to sacrifice and to sprinkle the blood of atonement. They were specially appointed to be an image of the coming Christ in their execution of the ceremonial laws. They were chosen for the service of mercy in the Name of the Lord for the people of Israel. And that is what gave depth and meaning to their lives. They were also well aware that without this priestly service the life of Israel could never flourish. The life of the people would then become a life without God, without hope and an aimless perpetuation and senseless struggle through the ages only to eventually enter death.
When the ark was taken by the Philistines it must have hurt these priests tremendously. The purpose of their specific task had become obsolete. What were they to do now? Sure they could work the land and like any other farmer look at the skies to see if it will rain. They could talk with one another about their cows, whether they give plenty milk or little. But what would be the sense of that?
Of course I do not deny that also a farmer has a God-given occupation: Even Scripture says that the farmer in his work will be taught by God Himself. I also know Psalm 8 where we read: O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your Name in all the earth. There are cattle farmers who are wearing a crown on their head because God has put the sheep and oxen in subjection to them. These farmers are crowned kings. And therefore there is the finish in that Psalm which is like the beginning: Oh Lord our Lord how excellent is your Name in all the earth. Also on the farmers life the glory of God reflects.
But what I mean is this: What purpose or glory is left if the glory of the Lord has vanished and if the sun of His mercy goes down? What life is still possible if the service of atonement is gone and the mercy seat has been removed? If the streams of life no longer flow from the ark? Then the life of a farmer has become a toiling and struggling against thorns and thistles. And the glory of life has disappeared.
And in essence this gathering of the grain crop is really meaningless for Israel. Why would they do it still? The ark of God has been taken, its glory vanished, there is no more atonement, no more mercy, no more hope. So why are they still doing it?
The priests knew alright that the skies had blackened and their lives had become hopeless. Alright they gather the harvest, they have something to do, something to pass the time. But the life of their people was without hope, and they, the priests who had always been the servants of God, who were allowed to bring salvation to the people, stood powerless and they could do nothing for Israel any more. Do you feel how meaningless it all had become because their office had become meaningless now that the ark had gone?
Well then you can also understand the joy when they saw the ark approach and come to a standstill on the land of Joshua. They left the crop for what it was. The ark had returned! The glory of the Lord would shine again in their lives and offerings could be brought again, offerings of atonement, of mercy! It goes without saying that their hearts leapt for joy and the priest in them awoke again. They put the ark on top of a great stone in that place and the planks of the cart were quickly chopped up for firewood: the cows were slaughtered. The Lord had returned to His people so what else could they do but bring an offering of adoration now? They dropped their activities: there were celebrations and it was a day of great joy.
And when they opened the little box they saw the 5 golden sores and I don't know how many golden mice. And then they realised that this was the peace offering of the Philistines: how much they must have suffered from this God! And so they saw the tangible evidence of the glory of their God; Because of their sins He had departed He had let Himself be captured but He came back richer then He had left. He was a God who would not be insulted by His own people and would rather depart captured then that He would bless them. But He was also a God who would not let Himself be mocked by His enemies: He made them so desperate that they gladly let Him go again and honoured Him with expensive presents. Yes indeed, at that time they saw it better then ever before: Their God was the God who would always win. Of Israel, but also of the Philistines, He was the living God who always triumphed. And now this God wanted to return to them with His treasures, with His wealth, His glory and eternal power! He wanted to again live with them!
It is obvious that the rock where the ark had been put on would remain where it was as a witness of this undeserved and immeasurable mercy!
For this rock, ...well it was a sign for Israel, just like the Sunday is a sign for us.
You should not think this a wild leap from that rock to our Sunday. Neither should you think that I am starting to spiritualise matters. For one is not allowed to spiritualise anything in the Bible because everything is spiritual already.
You remember that this initial return of the ark came to a standstill for a while ; later on it is David who brings up the ark to Jerusalem and to her final destination. At that occasion David had made a Psalm, Psalm 68 in which he puts to song the entire history of the return from the land of the Philistines. And among other things he said; You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive. David does not go proud on Israel or his own care over the ark. He is only overcome by the glory of his God who proved Himself the living God. For He has gone up on high. He came from the low lands of the Philistines to the mountain tops of Jerusalem. And how did this miracle come about? Was it people who made it possible? Oh no, for You have taken captivity captive, You have received gifts among men.
He had been captured, this God of Israel. And He had nobody who helped Him whatsoever. But He broke out Himself and through His living power He forced the Philistines to let Him go. The prison where he had been put was taken captive by Him. After one day He had already taken a firm hold of the once so proud Philistines that great fear came over them. And eventually He returned with the gold of the Philistines, the gifts which He had taken from them. They had thought to use the gold of the ark to decorate their temple but God simply took their gold to His temple.
And that is why David sang`: God's chariots are twenty thousand. That God is to us a God unto salvation, a God of total salvation. Because He Himself has broken out of prison as conqueror, therefore David understands: With this God, this Lord, there is escape from death. Indeed God will destroy the head of his enemies. David understood very well what this return of the ark meant. And now we, in our darkest moments, can still comfort ourselves with the words of this old Psalm 68, the psalm of the ark:
Blessed be the Lord who on our way,
Provides for us and day by day
Upholds us by His power.
God of salvation is His Name;
This glorious Name shall we proclaim.
He is our shield and tower.
Our God the Lord is strong to save
From mortal dangers from the grave
And every cruel oppression.
Do you see now that for David this event was one of conquering death so that he could sing about this fact as an Easter prophecy?
And Paul in Ephesians 4 simple follows the same line. For there he repeats that one sentence from Psalm 68, the sentence which deals with the return of the ark:
When He ascended on high
He led captivity captive
And gave gifts to men."
And Paul then speaks in New Testament terms when he says that this speaks of Christ Jesus.
Do you understand now congregation? For a little while ago I said of the ark that it was a sign that lives among Israel, of His communion with His people through the achieved reconciliation. It is the place of glory and full of mercy and that is why it is a place of the fountains of life. And what else can it be but that the ark is the Old testament symbol of Christ Jesus?
John says of Him: The Word which itself is God, the Word has become flesh and has lived among us: God among men. And we beheld His glory, the glory of the First born of the Father, full of mercy and truth. The same glory of the Father which, when the ark was taken captive, caused Phineas' wife to cry out: The glory has departed from Israel.
In Him there is reconciliation through faith in His blood. For His sake God comes to live in His people with His Spirit. In brief: In Jesus Christ the shadow of the ark was fulfilled.
That is why Paul can see this text, which only speaks of events in 1Samuel 6, this text fulfilled in Christ Jesus.
He has descended into the lower parts of the earth. When He was crucified and descended into hell, when He died and was buried, then the only One through whom the Father would have communion with us, departed. And with Him our hopes vanished. For now the glory of the Father has departed from this life, the glory full of mercy and truth.
But He arose from the dead, He ascended into heaven! He poured out heavenly the gifts upon His people on Easter. And says Paul, David already prophesied of that in Psalm 68: the shadow of this has already been shown when the ark returned. For what else is this ascension but the one mentioned in the Psalm: You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive, You have received gifts among men'?
He who has descended is the same as He who ascended far above all the heavens so that He would fulfil all things. Christ broke out of His prison. He bound the strong one who had captured Him and robbed him of all his vessels. He defeated him who had the power of death and in doing so released the powers of the world to come and the gift of eternal life. Christ returned from hell and death and proved Himself to be the powerful Son of God through His resurrection from the dead. He ascended into heaven as also the ark did before; after His captivity he brought the most beautiful presents of God just like the ark returned with very much gold. God returned in His ark to bless His people with treasures and to hand out His gifts.
But that was only the beginning, a prelude of what would once be realised in the ascension of Christ Jesus. For He arose and ascended far above all the heavens in order to hand out His gifts: and pour out the Holy Spirit by Whom God would live with His people, where He desired to rest for ever. In that whole road of ascension from Easter to Pentecost he therefor fulfils the triumphant ascension of the ark, starting in the land of the Philistines and finishing on the temple mountain.. And this moment then at Beth-Shemesh is therefore prophecy of Christ's ascension as it started on Easter. And that rock or stone which lay there on the field of Joshua and which remained there through the ages as witness of this salvation, that stone as sign of the ascension, sees its fulfilment in the Sunday; for this day remains forever as the witness of Christs resurrection from the dead.
Well then beloved, Israel rejoiced at that time because the Lord returned, and Israel could continue to rejoice about that fact through the centuries because that dumb stone would continue to speak of this act of salvation. In the same way does now the church not only rejoice on Easter when Christ rose from the dead, but she continues to rejoice and celebrate as often as a new Sunday appears. For then that day has again arrived which forever will remain witness of this glorious ascension!
And no matter what we may differ in brothers and sister, surely in this we are one: in the joy over the Sunday. I do not deny that over many things we still think differently and that we in particular concerning current issues of this day and age we have not yet come to unity of faith and knowledge. But surely we have all rejoiced this morning because it was Sunday again and we also all together rejoice in the resurrection of Christ from the dead? Then our communion of faith is not mature yet but neither do we remain separate for the feast connects us with the ascension on high. And we do not even have to speak about the things on which we cannot agree yet if we do not use as starting point the unity in the joy that Christ has conquered death.
But that is how we are together here is it not, and that is how we hang on to one another don't we? And we all confess together that without Him our lives are nothing but a constant death! Without His gift of life we would stand in this world without God and without hope! If Jesus does not live, what then is the sense of my life? Why would I still have a home and a business? What am doing still on my plot of land or in the workshop? Why would we still have children and why would we raise them still? Why would they go to school still? It has become more vain then vanity itself if it is not done in the communal belief concerning the fulfilment of the ark in Christ Jesus!
What do I care about politics and economy without Him? What sense and options does life have if it was not in Him? But now that he is risen, now I can rejoice. Now God wants to live among us with His Spirit, now the light shines in the darkness, now there is a future even beyond death. Now we hang on to that hope and we can handle life again. For it is now completely radiated with the light of the glory of the Lord who wants to live with us and who has proven Himself to be the truthful and living God through His conquering of death. Now everything stands in the expectation of life eternal. And in that joy over Easter, we now also sit together here don't we, and we say, one body, one Spirit, one hope.
Well then we have found one another in the unity of the faith and we continue to strive for this unity of faith and of knowledge. For if this is our deepest joy, then it is also true that together we will become very scared of anything which could disturb or take away this joy.
2.) But there in Beth Shemesh, on that happy day, shadows were immediately cast as well because of the sinfulness of men.
Our translation says that God killed a great number of people there because they had looked into the ark. Without realising it we think then of the sin of curiosity which trespassed the boundaries of reverence. But the text here is not quite right. It is a fairly complicated matter which I can not really explain to you here from the pulpit. May it suffice to say this one thing, that the heavily damaged paper with the Hebrew text was probable cause that only some letters remained of the original message, a message which was preserved in the Greek translation. The original reads: The sons of Joachin did however not rejoice amidst the people of Beth-Shemesh when they rejoiced at seeing the ark of the Lord.
This does not yet mean much like that, because we do not know more about Joachin we think. But I believe that a couple of things can help us here. In the first place Beth-Shemesh was one of the 13 cities allotted to the sons of Aaron, to the priests who had to do service in the holy place. That makes it plausible that these 'sons of Joachin' were also a priestly family. And this idea is supported by 1 Chronicles 24. Here we find one of the lists /which we probably never read at the table but which is not without importance. There we are told that David divided the priests into 24 divisions, which took turns in doing their duties in the holy place. And as number 21 in that list we come across the family of Jachin, the abbreviated name for Joachin. When we combine these two pieces of information it becomes pretty certain that the sons of Joachin are meant as descendants of Jachin. And that gives colour to our text. For then it becomes a whole priestly family which withdraws itself from the celebrations at the return of the ark.
Then you again get an impression of the great decay in Israel. And that, mainly in the circle of leaders with their families who had a special office in the church. Eli's family in Silo was a hopeless mess; they had trivialised their work and had made it into a profit making business. But this family of Joachin has lost all interest for the holy place and the service of atonement. Note well that the Lord had chosen them to be His priests. And the priests were according to the words of Psalm 132 the men clothed by God with salvation so that those of Gods favour could rejoice. The priests were the ones who brought the salvation of the Lord to the people and in this way caused their hearts to be joyful.
If all had been well these priests would have suffered immensely in the past number of months. The ark had been led away, their special office had become void and they could no longer do anything for their hard hit people. They could not sprinkle the blood of atonement and so were unable to pass on Gods blessings to the people. Their fingers should have been itching to again be able to pick up the offer knife and light the fire of the altar.
And then the day arrives when they too see the ark of the Lord arrive. They receive the opportunity to again work as priests and to bring the Lords mercy to the people. The whole city is enthusiastic and glad but they are not interested, they stay out of it. They too heard of the precious gifts with which the Philistines had sent away the ark. They have also understood the majesty of their God which had forced such great reverence from the heathens. But even that cannot kindle the fire in their hearts. As far as they are concerned the ark could have remained with the Philistines.
What was the meaning of their priestly office? Ah well they said: we will gather the grain. We will find another way to make a living.
What was to become of the people without the presence of their God? What did they care!
So here you have the type of office bearer who have become totally indifferent toward their God and therefore also toward their people. They did not believe in their own office and no longer saw the necessity of it. To them it was all the same. Life without the Lord was possible for them and they could do without mercy, reconciliation and salvation. They would have preferred that the ark had remained with the Philistines for then they would no longer be troubled by that thing, for that is how their hearts thought of it.
Can you now understand that the Lord who in His mercy wanted to return, and who did return in His glory as the God who is always victorious, does not accept this attitude of His priests? That He who forced the respect and honour from the heathens would not endure this disrespect and indifference from his priests? And that He now strikes down seventy lives and so brings mourning upon 50 families?
But if He then did not tolerate that of His ark, which was but a shadow of his merciful presence in Christ, I say then, that if He then already was intolerant that the shadow was insulted by indifference, why would He then spare us if we did the same?
We who have seen the shadow vanish because the fulfilment came in Christ Jesus? What do you think is in store for us if we try to build a life with disregard for the mercy in Christ?
For I mentioned previously the questions which keep us busy and which at this point in time are not unanimously answered. That in itself is not so bad.. But it would be terrible if a number of us would be indifferent to the basic principles which always come up again. It is not so bad that today we cannot clearly see how to proceed in matters such as the press and schools, political organisations and unions. But it would be terrible if even one among us would think that we could build a future without the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. If someone would say in his heart: economics can be done without Gods mercy in Christ and in politics we can work together without the Holy Spirit of God living in us. Such a person does exactly the same and even worse as did the sons of Jojachin; they gathered their harvest and built an existence for themselves but for the ark of God they did not care.
Beloved, is there not one among us here, who separates life and existence from God as He today lives in the church with His Spirit? It is true that we are still grappling with certain questions. But all of us will understand that, and surely you believe it with your heart and confess it with your mouth, that not one part of our lives is separate from the ark? Today that means outside of Gods communion in Jesus Christ, outside the church where God is pleased to live with His Holy Spirit. Our whole life is tied in with the church is it not? And our whole life in economic respect, political respect and so on, our whole life is therefore automatically connected to Christ's ascension, to His resurrection, His pouring out of the Spirit, the gifts which He handed out to fulfil everything.
And it is then impossible not to rejoice in the church and that not only on Sunday, but in all matters which may arise during the week! Surely there is not one among us who in dealing with everyday matters, regards as unimportant God's merciful presence and who does not rejoice in the Father, who because of Jesus Christ, is living among His congregation in His Spirit? Or a person who tries to build a life outside of the return of the ark, which we have now been shown in it's fulfilment? For the Lord will not tolerate such indifference towards His mercy in Christ.
And although there are special offices in the church, we are by faith all Christians, which also means 'priests'. We have seen and believed the triumph of God in the exultation of Christ. Then we will naturally seek together for the understanding of this in all its length, breadth and width, also for life as it is today. Else the Lord would bring such judgement over us as we cannot imagine.
3.) For it is obvious that the men of Beth-Shemesh were stunned. They had become so scared, that they would openly say to one another: who can then stand before the countenance of this holy God? That is: who then could do the priestly duties before the face of Him who is so majestic and who made His presence felt? Here they have seen the consuming and destructive power of His impressive Deity. So now they have become scared. The sons of Jojachin did not want to be priest any longer; but the rest did not dare it any more.
And they say the same as the Philistines said: the ark has to disappear, the sooner the better. Keeping it here is much too dangerous. So they send the message to Kirjath-Jearim which is not at all a priest city. The villagers there come and collect the ark and make sure it finds a place in the house of a certain Abinadab. His son Eleazar was asked to keep an eye on the ark.
Do you really understand how poor this in essence was? Sure they now had someone who took great care of the ark, who would not allow unauthorised people access and who kept things tidy. But no offering takes place! The ark of God had become stranded in that house somewhere! And there she remained for 20 years, inactive!
The return of the ark did not benefit Israel at all like this for the service of atonement had not restarted; the priests were not clothed with salvation and therefore the people could not rejoice.
Oh it was not a bad thing that the men of Beth-Shemesh had been impressed by God's majesty. But reverence which leads to fear of His presence and to refusal of the priestly service, because of fear, is unfruitful. Reverence which leads to the eventual carrying away of the ark to a sealed room somewhere is a disaster. For the ark does no harm there. But neither does it any good! Because of the fear of the men of Beth-Shemesh the powers of salvation for Israel are not set in motion. And that was the reason for the return of the Lord with these great booty so that He could distribute gifts to His people through the service of the priests.
What a terrible thing really: One priestly family abuses the office, an other family is indifferent to it, and a third did not dare to be in the office any more. But that last group was the cause, that Israel remained deprived from the service of atonement. The Lord did return but it brought no salvation to Israel. For the priests just tucked the ark away somewhere so that they themselves did not run any risks. They appointed a sexton! But the priests were on strike!
We will take this to heart won't we beloved? For we are very rich: God is in Christ ascended up on high, He returned to His people in the Spirit and He desires to give us all spiritual gifts. But it will be no use to us if the office bearers hold back because of the risks of their office! If they are more focussed on their own well being then to have the good of the congregation at heart! It is a terrible thing if they no longer dare to fulfil their office.
For only now I come to fully understand Paul. When he speaks about the going up on high of Christ and the gifts which He now comes to bring to the people, then he has in mind 1 Samuel 6 and then he preaches in this context about the necessity of the serving offices. Those treasures are there in Christ, but they also have to be distributed to the congregation by those whom He called to the office. For He has given some to be apostles, some prophets others evangelists and again others teachers and shepherds for the perfection of the saints, for the office of service and for the building of the body of Christ.
A little while ago we said that the ascension of Christ touches on the whole of our human lives and everything receives it's reflected beauty from the glory of God. But without something more this ascension is fruitless for the treasures must be distributed. It has to be mentioned in the sermon here and so be distributed to the church what this ascension means for example for education of children, what the ascension means for politics and what the pouring out of the Spirit means in regards to social questions.
That must be preached! And also on the homevisits it has to be distributed to the congregation. Otherwise the congregation remains poor, in spite of the ascension of Christ, and the members will never mature in the faith but will become children tossed to an fro with every wind of doctrine and all sorts of scare tactics.
Regularly one detects the thinking in people that the church should leave all those questions alone because we do not agree on them. Some even see it as a must so that peace and unity is maintained.
But when the ark in the house of Abinadab remained neatly tucked away behind locked doors, when the ark had caretakers instead of priests, then nothing happened. Then there was peace and unity but Israel was spiritually dying! There is a grave danger that even today we are willing to let the office bearers function as caretakers who have neatly hidden the riches of Christ and he keep the confessions in a vault.
What use is a church which only has a sexton? Pray for priests beloved! Pray for the men who are motivated by their calling to office by God! Who are also motivated by the needs in the congregation and who therefore wrestle to distribute the riches in the midst of life today. After all you are not a minister because it is such a cushy job and you are not an elder to pretend that all is well with the people, but rather they are distributors of the gifts of Christ. And therefore no one is allowed to say now: let the ministers keep quiet about these questions, we want peace. Neither are the office bearers allowed to neglect their duties out of fear for what the congregation might say. You have not received the office in order to walk away from dangers but in order to bless the congregation and to rejoice over the glory of the Lord.
And if only the office bearers understand it now and the congregation desires it, then we really do not have to be too concerned about the peace among us. As long as consistory and congregation are deeply aware, that on the one hand the humbleness, meekness and forbearance must preserve the unity in the Spirit, but on the other hand we also together strive for the full disclosure of all the treasures of Christ for all of life and we so may never desert our calling. Well beloved then the gifts of Christ will come to us and we will by His mercy be united more and more in unity of faith and knowledge, also in the issues of today.
For today we still sit in church and we still taste the communion with God through faith. We are however rushing along to that day in which the temple of God in heaven will be opened and the ark of the covenant will be seen in the temple (Revelation 11:19) And there above are no curtains any longer behind which the ark is hidden. Neither are there only few who can enter the holy of holies while the rest has to wait in the inner court.
But we shall all enter into the holiest place with joy, we who have here in a new testament way greeted the return of the ark of God and rejoiced and so have never disgraced our office in the church as did the house of Eli, or despised the office as did the sons of Jojachin or have refused our office because of fear as did the men of Beth-Shemesh.