The Ark of God
and the Fortunes of Israel
THE ark of God was a sacred chest, made to
be the depository of the Ten Commandments, which law was the representative of God
Himself. This ark was considered the glory and strength of Israel. The token of the Divine
Presence abode upon it day and night. The priests who ministered before it were sacredly
consecrated to the holy office. They wore a breastplate bordered with precious stones of
different materials, the same as compose the twelve foundations of the city of God. Within
the border were the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, graven on precious stones set in
gold. This was a very rich and beautiful work, suspended from the shoulders of the
priests, covering the breast.
At the right and left of the
breastplate were set two larger stones, which shone with great brilliancy. When difficult
matters were brought to the judges, which they could not decide, they were referred to the
priests, and they inquired of God, who answered them. If He favored, and if He would grant
them success, a halo of light and glory especially rested upon the precious stone at the
right. If he disapproved, a vapor or cloud seemed to settle upon the precious stone at the
left hand. When they inquired of God in regard to going to battle, the precious stone at
the right, when circled with light, said, Go, and prosper. The
stone at the left, when
shadowed with a cloud, said, Thou shalt not go; thou shalt not prosper.
When the high priest entered
within the most holy, once a year, and ministered before the ark in the awful presence of
God, he inquired, and God often answered him with an audible voice. When the Lord did not
answer by a voice, He let the sacred beams of light and glory rest upon the cherubim upon
the right of the ark, in approbation, or favor. If their requests were refused, a cloud
rested upon the cherubim at the left.
Four heavenly angels always
accompanied the ark of God in all its journeyings, to guard it from all danger and to
fulfill any mission required of them in connection with the ark. Jesus, the Son of God,
followed by heavenly angels, went before the ark as it came to Jordan; and the waters were
cut off before His presence. Christ and angels stood by the ark and the priests in the bed
of the river until all Israel had passed over Jordan. Christ and angels attended the
circuit of the ark around Jericho and finally cast down the massive walls of the city and
delivered Jericho into the hands of Israel.
of Eli's Neglect
When Eli was high priest he
exalted his sons to the priesthood. Eli alone was permitted to enter the most holy once a
year. His sons ministered at the door of the tabernacle and officiated in the slaying of
the beasts and at the altar of sacrifice. They continually abused this sacred office. They
were selfish, covetous, gluttonous, and profligate. God reproved Eli for his criminal
neglect of family discipline. Eli reproved his sons but did not restrain them. After they
were placed in the sacred office of priesthood, Eli heard
of their conduct in defrauding
the children of Israel of their offerings, also their bold transgressions of the law of
God and their violent conduct, which caused Israel to sin.
The Lord made known to the
child Samuel the judgments He would bring upon Eli's house because of his negligence.
"And the Lord said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the
ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all
things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end.
For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he
knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. And therefore
I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged
with sacrifice nor offering for ever."
The transgressions of Eli's
sons were so daring, so insulting, to a holy God, that no sacrifice could atone for such
willful transgression. These sinful priests profaned the sacrifices which typified the Son
of God. And by their blasphemous conduct they were trampling upon the blood of the
atonement, from which was derived the virtue of all sacrifices.
Samuel told Eli the words of
the Lord; "and he said, It is the Lord: let Him do what seemeth Him good." Eli
knew that God had been dishonored, and he felt that he had sinned. He submitted that God
was thus punishing his sinful neglect. The word of the Lord to Samuel was made known by
Eli to all Israel. In doing this, he thought to correct in a measure his past sinful
negligence. The evil pronounced upon Eli was not long delayed.
The Israelites made war with
the Philistines and were overcome, and four thousand of them were slain.
The Hebrews were
afraid. They knew that if other nations should hear of their defeat they would encouraged
to also make war with them. The elders of Israel decided that their defeat was because the
ark of God was not with them. They sent to Shiloh for the ark of the covenant. They
thought of their passage over Jordan and the easy conquest of Jericho when they bore the
ark, and they decided that all that was necessary was to bring the ark to them, and they
would triumph over their enemies. They did not realize that their strength was in their
obedience to that law contained in the ark, which was a representative of God Himself. The
polluted priests, Hophni and Phinehas, were with the sacred ark, transgressing the law of
God. These sinners conducted the ark to the camp of Israel. The confidence of the men of
war was restored, and they felt confident of success.
"And when the ark of the
covenant of the Lord came into the camps, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that
the earth rang again. And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said,
What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood
that the ark of the Lord was come into the camp. And the Philistines were afraid; for they
said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such
a thing heretofore. Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty
gods? These are the gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness.
Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto
the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight. And the
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."
The Philistines thought that
this ark was the Israelites' god. They knew not that the living God, who created the
heavens and the earth, and gave His law upon Sinai, sent prosperity and adversity
according to the obedience or transgression of His law contained in the sacred chest.
There was a very great
slaughter in Israel. Eli was sitting by the wayside, watching with a trembling heart to
receive news from the army. He was afraid that the ark of God might be taken and polluted
by the Philistine host. A messenger from the army ran to Shiloh and informed Eli that his
two sons had been slain. He could bear this with a degree of calmness, for he had reason
to expect it. But when the messenger added, "And the ark of God is taken," Eli
wavered in anguish upon his seat and fell backward and died. He shared the wrath of God
which came upon his sons. He was guilty in a great measure of their transgressions,
because he had criminally neglected to restrain them. The capture of the ark of God by the
Philistines was considered the greatest calamity which could befall Israel. The wife of
Phinehas, as she was about to die, named her child Ichabod, saying, "The glory is
departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken."
the Land of the Philistines
God permitted His ark to be
taken by their enemies, to show Israel how vain it was to trust in the ark, the symbol of
His presence, while they were profaning
the commandments contained in the ark. God would
humble them by removing from them that sacred ark, their boasted strength and confidence.
The Philistines were
triumphant, because they had, as they thought, the famous god of the Israelites, which had
performed such wonders for them and had made them a terror to their enemies. They took the
ark of God to Ashdod and set it in a splendid temple, made in honor to their most popular
god Dagon, and placed it by the side of their god. In the morning the priests of these
gods entered the temple, and they were terrified to find Dagon fallen upon his face to the
ground before the ark of the Lord. They raised Dagon and placed him in his former
position. They thought he might have fallen accidentally. But the next morning they found
him fallen as before, upon his face to the ground, and the head of Dagon and both his
hands were cut off.
The angels of God, who ever
accompanied the ark, prostrated the senseless idol god and afterward mutilated it, to show
that God, the living God, was above all gods, and that before Him every heathen god was as
nothing. The heathen possessed great reverence for their god, Dagon; and when they found
it ruinously mutilated and lying upon its face before the ark of God, they were sad and
considered it a very bad omen to the Philistines. It was interpreted by them that the
Philistines and all their gods would yet be subdued and destroyed by the Hebrews, and the
Hebrews' God would be greater and more powerful than all gods. They removed the ark of God
from their idol temple and placed it by itself.
The ark of God was kept seven
months by the Philistines. They had overcome the Israelites and had taken the ark of God,
wherein they supposed their
power consisted, and thought that they should ever be in
safety and have no more fear of the armies of Israel. But in the midst of their joy at
their success a wailing was heard all over the land, and the cause was at length credited
to the ark of God. It was borne from place to place in terror, and destruction from God
followed its course, until the Philistines were greatly perplexed to know what to do with
it. Angels, who accompanied it, guarded it from all harm. And the Philistines did not dare
to open the chest; for their god Dagon had met with such a fate that they feared to touch
it, or to have it near them. They called for the priests and the diviners, and inquired of
them what they should do with the ark of God. They advised them to send it back to the
people to whom it belonged, and to send with it a costly trespass offering, which if God
would be pleased to accept, they would be healed. They should also understand that God's
hand was upon them because they had taken His ark, which belonged alone to Israel.
Some were not in favor of
this. It was too humiliating to carry back the ark, and they urged that no one of the
Philistines would dare venture his life to carry the ark of the God of Israel, which had
brought such death upon them. Their counselors entreated the people not to harden their
hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh had done, and cause still greater afflictions and
plagues to come upon them. And as they were all afraid to take the ark of God, they
advised them, saying, "Now therefore make a new cart, and take two milch kine, on
which there hath come no yoke, and tie the kine to the cart, and bring their calves home
from them: and take the ark of the Lord,
and lay it upon the cart; and put the jewels of
gold, which ye return Him for a trespass offering, in a coffer by the side thereof; and
send it away, that it may go. And see, if it goeth up by the way of His own coast to
Beth-shemesh, then He hath done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that it
is not His hand that smote us: it was a chance that happened to us. And the men did so;
and took two milch kine, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home. . .
. And the kine took the straight way to the way of Beth-shemesh, and went along the
highway, lowing as they went, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left."
The Philistines knew that the
cows would not be induced to leave their young calves at home unless they should be urged
by some unseen power. The cows went direct to Beth-shemesh, lowing for their calves, yet
going directly away from them. The lords of the Philistines followed after the ark unto
the border of Beth-shemesh. They dared not trust that sacred chest wholly to the cows.
They feared that if any evil happened to it, greater calamities would come upon them. They
knew not that angels of God accompanied the ark and guided the cows in their course to the
place where it belonged.
The people of Beth-shemesh
were reaping in the field, and when they saw the ark of God upon the cart, drawn by the
cows, they were greatly rejoiced. They knew that it was the work of God. The cows drew the
cart containing the ark to a large stone, and stood still of themselves. The Levites took
down the ark of the Lord and the offering of the Philistines, and they offered the cart
and the cows which had borne the
sacred ark, and the offering of the Philistines, unto God
as a burnt sacrifice. The lords of the Philistines returned to Ekron, and the plague was
The men of Beth-shemesh were
curious to know what great power could be in that ark, which caused it to accomplish such
marvelous things. They looked upon the ark alone as being so powerful, and were not
accrediting the power to God. None but men sacredly appointed for the purpose could look
upon the ark, divested of its coverings, without being slain, for it was as though looking
upon God Himself. And as the people gratified their curiosity and opened the ark to gaze
into its sacred recesses, which the heathen idolaters had not dared to do, the angels
attending the ark slew above fifty thousand of the people.
And the people of
Beth-shemesh were afraid of the ark, and they said, "Who is able to stand before this
holy Lord God? and to whom shall He go up from us? And they sent messengers to the
inhabitants of Kirjath-jearim, saying, The Philistines have brought again the ark of the
Lord; come ye down, and fetch it up to you." The people of Kirjath-jearim brought the
ark of the Lord to the house of Abinadab and sanctified his son to keep it. For twenty
years the Hebrews were in the power of the Philistines, and they were greatly humbled and
repented of their sins, and Samuel interceded for them, and God was again merciful to
them. And the Philistines made war with them, and the Lord again wrought in a miraculous
manner for Israel, and they overcame their enemies.
The ark remained in the house
of Abinadab until David was made king. He gathered together all the chosen men of Israel,
thirty thousand, and went to bring up the ark of God. They set the ark upon a new cart and
brought it out of the house of Abinadab.
Uzzah and Ahu, sons of Abinadab, drove the cart.
David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of musical
instruments. "And when they came to Nachon's threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand
to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord
was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the
ark of God." Uzzah was angry with the oxen, because they stumbled. He showed a
manifest distrust of God, as though He who had brought the ark from the land of the
Philistines could not take care of it. Angels who attended the ark struck down Uzzah for
presuming impatiently to put his hand upon the ark of God.
"And David was afraid of
the Lord that day, and said, How shall the ark of the Lord come to me? So David would not
remove the ark of the Lord unto him into the city of David: but David carried it aside
into the house of Obed-edom, the Gittite." David knew that he was a sinful man, and
he was afraid that, like Uzzah, he should in some way be presumptuous and call forth the
wrath of God upon himself. "And the ark of the Lord continued in the house of
Obed-edom the Gittite three months: and the Lord blessed Obed-edom, and all his
God would teach His people
that, while His ark was a terror and death to those who transgressed His commandments
contained in it, it was also a blessing and strength to those who were obedient to His
commandments. When David heard that the house of Obed-edom was greatly blessed, and that
all that he had prospered, because of the ark of God, he was very anxious to bring it to
his own city. But before David ventured to move the sacred ark, he sanctified himself to
God and also commanded that all the men highest
in authority in the kingdom should keep
themselves from all worldly business, and everything which would distract their minds from
sacred devotion. Thus should they sanctify themselves for the purpose of conducting the
sacred ark to the city of David. "So David went and brought up the ark of God from
the house of Obed-edom into the city of David with gladness. . . .
"And they brought in the
ark of the Lord, and set it in His place, in the midst of the tabernacle that David had
pitched for it: and David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the
After Solomon had finished
building the temple he assembled the elders of Israel and the most influential men among
the people, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David.
These men consecrated themselves to God and, with great solemnity and reverence,
accompanied the priests who bore the ark. "And they brought up the ark of the Lord,
and the tabernacle of the congregation, and all the holy vessels that were in the
tabernacle, even those did the priests and Levites bring up. And king Solomon, and all the
congregation of Israel, that were assembled unto him, were with him before the ark,
sacrificing sheep and oxen, that could not be told nor numbered for multitude."
Solomon followed the example
of his father David. Every six paces he sacrificed. With singing and with music and great
ceremony, "the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the Lord unto His place,
into the oracle of the house, to the most holy place, even under the wings of the
cherubims. For the cherubims spread forth their two wings over the place
of the ark, and
the cherubims covered the ark and the staves thereof above."
A most splendid sanctuary had
been made, according to the pattern showed to Moses in the mount and afterward presented
by the Lord to David. The earthly sanctuary was made like the heavenly. In addition to the
cherubim on the top of the ark, Solomon made two other angels of larger size, standing at
each end of the ark, representing the heavenly angels always guarding the law of God. It
is impossible to describe the beauty and splendor of this tabernacle. There, as in the
tabernacle, the sacred ark was borne in solemn, reverential order, and set in its place
beneath the wings of the two stately cherubim that stood upon the floor.
The sacred choir united their
voices with all kinds of musical instruments, in praise to God. And while the voices, in
harmony with instruments of music, resounded through the temple and were borne upon the
air through Jerusalem, the cloud of God's glory took possession of the house, as it had
formerly filled the tabernacle. "And it came to pass, when the priests were come out
of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could
not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord had filled the house
of the Lord."
King Solomon stood upon a
brazen scaffold before the altar and blessed the people. He then knelt down and, with his
hands raised upward, poured forth earnest and solemn prayer to God while the congregation
were bowed with their faces to the ground. After Solomon had ended his prayer, a
miraculous fire came from heaven and consumed the sacrifice.
Because of the sins of Israel
the calamity which God said should come upon the temple if His people
departed from Him
was fulfilled some hundreds of years after the temple was built. God promised Solomon, if
he would remain faithful, and his people would obey all His commandments, that that
glorious temple should stand forever in all its splendor, as an evidence of the prosperity
and exalted blessings resting upon Israel for their obedience.
Captivity of Israel
Because of Israel's
transgression of the commandments of God and their wicked acts, God suffered them to go
into captivity, to humble and punish them. Before the temple was destroyed, God made known
to a few of His faithful servants the fate of the temple, which was the pride of Israel,
and which they regarded with idolatry, while they were sinning against God. He also
revealed to them the captivity of Israel. These righteous men, just before the destruction
of the temple, removed the sacred ark containing the tables of stone, and with mourning
and sadness secreted it in a cave where it was to be hidden from the people of Israel
because of their sins, and was to be no more restored to them. That sacred ark is yet
hidden. It has never been disturbed since it was secreted.
Copyright © 1974
The Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.
All Rights Reserved