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The Ark Is Returned (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
February 28, 2022 3:00 am

The Ark Is Returned (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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February 28, 2022 3:00 am

The Philistines thought they’d captured Israel’s good luck charm—but plagues turned their celebration to fear, and they sought to rid themselves of the ark. Similar efforts to appease God persist today. Hear more on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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When the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant, they thought they had acquired Israel's good-luck charm.

Their celebration quickly turned to fear, however, when plagues accompanied the ark, no matter where it was sent. Today on Truth for Life, we're in chapter 6 of 1 Samuel. Here's Alistair Begg with part 1 of a message titled, The Ark Is Returned.

I invite you to turn with me and follow along as I read from 1 Samuel and chapter 6. The ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months. And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, What shall we do with the ark of the LORD?

Tell us, with what shall we send it to its place? They said, If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why his hand does not turn away from you. And they said, What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?

They answered, Five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines. For the same plague was on all of you and on your lords. So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you, and your gods and your land. Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away and they departed? Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows, on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home away from them, and take the ark of the Lord and place it on the cart, and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off, and let it go its way, and watch. If it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth Shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm.

But if not, then we shall note that it is not his hand that struck us. It happened to us by coincidence. The men did so and took two milk cows and yoked them to the cart and shut up their calves at home. And they put the ark of the Lord on the cart and the box with the golden mice and the images of their tumors. And the cows went straight in the direction of Beth Shemesh, along one highway, lowing as they went.

They turned neither to the right nor to the left. And the lords of the Philistines went after them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh. Now the people of Beth Shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. And when they lifted up their eyes and saw the ark, they rejoiced to see it. The cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh and stopped there.

A great stone was there. And they split up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. And the Levites took down the ark of the Lord and the box that was beside it, in which were the golden figures, and set them upon the great stone. And the men of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices on that day to the Lord. And when the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned that day to Ekron. These are the golden tumors that the Philistines returned as a guild offering to the Lord—one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron.

And the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines, belong into the five lords—both fortified cities and unwalled villages. The great stone beside which they set down the ark of the Lord is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh. And he struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the Lord.

He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned, because the Lord had struck the people with a great blow. Then the men of Beth Shemesh said, Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall he go up away from us? So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, The Philistines have returned the ark of the Lord.

Come down and take it up to you. Thus ends the reading of God's Word. Thanks be to God. Make the book live to me, O Lord. Show me yourself within your Word. Show me myself. Show me my Savior. And make the book live to me. For Jesus' sake.

Amen. Well, we have arrived at the first verse of 1 Samuel 6 in our studies in 1 Samuel. It reads as follows, The ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months. Well, what are we to make of that, if anything? That is what I found myself thinking as I set to study it this week, asking myself, What does this mean? Why should it matter?

Clearly, it meant something. It mattered greatly, 1050 BC. But this is the twenty-first century. And I don't know about you, but I'm not aware of having met any Philistines lately. So it is a long way away and far away, and here we are this morning, trying to keep in mind the verse which we said was foundational last time in Romans 15.4, which, without quoting it, simply says the things that were written in the past—and Paul has just quoted from the Old Testament—the things that were written in the past were written for us so that through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. In other words, all the things that were written here in the Old Testament and were written long ago are meant to teach not only then but also now. And so when we read of God's dealings in the past, we are to be encouraged to go on believing and trusting in our own day. Now, part of the challenge in that, in dealing with the Old Testament, is that the Old Testament is full of sights and sounds and smells which largely are absent when we read the New Testament.

The Old Testament is full of liturgies and repetitive ceremonies. In other words, it essentially provides for us, when you walk into it, a kind of multimedia presentation of the revelation of God and of what it means to have a relationship with that God as a result of his grace. So, at the very beginning, God reveals himself by his name. He says to Moses, if when you go to Pharaoh, say that, I am sent you. We transliterate that, Yahweh in our English. It's translated mainly in our Bibles, Lord, capitalized Lord. So he reveals himself as Lord, and he reveals himself as holy, and then he tells his people that that holiness is not only to be found in God but is to be displayed in them. You shall be holy, he says, for I am holy. When you think of these ceremonies—and part of this made me think very much about it this week—you might be helped, as Sinclair Ferguson points out to us, of regarding them as kind of pop-up books, the kind of books that we read to our children and our grandchildren, so that they're full of pictures, and they unfold as you hold them up.

And they learn not simply by the words that are there but also by the pictures that are provided. And so it is that when we read from the very beginning of the Bible all the way through—whether it is what we did in Ephesians, where God is blending Jew and Gentile and making one people of his own—when we think in terms of the family of God as we've sung about it just now, all of this throughout the Old Testament is teaching his people who they are and what he expects of them. Now, of course, this is important—not just, if you like, on a theological basis—because if we're honest, we acknowledge the fact that it is by knowing whose we are, who we are, and what we're for that we're able to determine how we live.

That sense of connectedness to someone or to something. Whose am I? To whom do I belong? Who am I? Am I just a random collection of molecules held in suspension? And what am I here for?

Now, you don't have to just go to the Bible for this. You just listen to contemporary music. You say, You don't even know any contemporary music.

The stuff that you quote is buried about forty years in the past, guilty as charged. Here is Supertramp. You say, You say, Super who? You remember this? When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, beautiful, magical. Do you remember that? But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical.

And then they refrained, There are times when all the world's asleep. The questions run too deep for such a simple man. Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned?

I know it sounds absurd, but please tell me who I am. It's the quest for meaning, isn't it? I'm reading at the moment Brooks's latest book, The Second Mountain. And just yesterday afternoon as I was reading, I said, Well, this fits, so perhaps I should mention it. He's writing in chapter 21, headed a most unexpected turn of events.

I'm not going to tell you what they all are. You can buy the book and enjoy it yourself. But he's talking about the dimension of spiritual life and of meaning. And he's talking about the fact that we use biblical stories to understand our aliveness and our significance.

I can only answer the question, What am I to do? If I can answer the prior question of What story or stories do I find myself apart? If there are no overarching stories, then life is meaningless. Life does not feel meaningless. These stories provide in their simple yet endlessly complex ways a living script.

They provide the horizon of meaning in which we live our lives—not just our individual lives but our lives together. So, you see, when the Bible unfolds in this way and when we think about what happened, as we will, towards the end—what happened to seventy men—what happened to seventy men was significant, but it wasn't significant just for the seventy men and their families. It was significant for the whole nation of Israel, and not only for the whole nation of Israel.

It was significant for everyone who ever lived at any point in time. That's why the story matters. Now, will you say, Please get to the story?

All right, here we are. The ark, which represents the covenant of God, is, as we're told, in the hands of their archenemies. It has been for seven months. It's a challenge for the Israelites. This has never happened to them before.

The ark has never been captured before. It has never been in this situation, inasmuch as it represented God's covenant purposes, contained the Ten Commandments, and so on. They knew how significant it was that it had been taken away. It was also a matter of great concern, as we saw in chapter 5 and now see again, for the Philistines themselves. And so you will notice that in verse 2, the people are calling beyond the lords of the cities to the priests and the diviners—they're calling ghostbusters, if you like—and they're asking, quite simply, What shall we do with the ark of the Lord?

Tell us with what shall we send it to its place. In other words, they saw that there was a direct link between the predicament that they had faced with these plagues, the tumors, some horrendous circumstance with being overrun by mice and rats or whatever it was. They had tried, under the leadership of the heads of the five cities, to cope with the problem by just moving the ark around.

But it actually compounded the problem, because as they moved it from place to place, the plague followed them. So, let's go beyond the leadership, politically as it were, and let's try and find counsel somewhere else. You know, people will do that eventually. It's just a matter of where you seek the counsel. Now, you will see from the text, if it's open, that they recognize that they were guilty.

They were guilty. And so the people who are giving them advice say to them, you know, it's important that you don't send this ark away empty. If you return it with a guilt offering, then perhaps the God of the Israelites will lighten his hand of you and also against all of the rest of your land and your other gods too. That's at the end of verse 4. Now, we might just pause there and acknowledge something and see if you agree with this. Whenever people think of God—a God or God to whom they are accountable—because usually, if they're prepared to entertain the notion of God, of divinity, they immediately assume that divinity will be good in a way that they, that we, are not good. And so they will be aware of the fact that somehow or another we need to close the gap between who and what we are and who and what God is by way of his revelation.

And so, routinely, what we try and do is manage this gap, try and fix the situation, by our own efforts and by our own offerings. Now, as I was reading the newspaper this week, there was an article on Sherpas reaching the ascent of Everest. Perhaps you saw it. And it focused on one particular Sherpa, a man by the name of Kamirita, a forty-nine-year-old Nepalese man who has taken people to the top of Everest twenty-three times. And I wondered to myself, I said, I wonder what makes this man tick.

Well, part of what makes him tick was then described in the article. This is quoting the man. He says, In every mountain there is a goddess. It's our responsibility to keep the goddess happy. And so months before I start my ascent, I start worshiping and asking for forgiveness, because I will have to put my feet on her body. If you've ever wondered about those Nepalese prayer flags, this is the kind of thing that underlies that.

Fascinating, isn't it? I have to start asking for forgiveness. Forgiveness for what?

You say, Well, people don't do that now. Steady, steady, recognizing that I am what I am and God is who he is. I think what I'll do is I'll give that furniture to Habitat for Humanity. I could sell it and go out for dinner, but I think God would like it if I did this with it.

And perhaps I can close the gap by my own efforts and by my ingenuity. You may be here this morning, and essentially you're asking the same question, What do I do with God? Because that's what they're saying. What are we going to do with the ark of God? Now, second question that comes in the text is in verse 4. They said, What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him? And they recognized that they were guilty. Woodhouse has a wonderful sentence when he says, Well, how do you pay a debt you cannot assess to a God you do not know? And that's what they were going to have to do.

And so they're told, Well, this is what we suggest you do. The answer comes there, and now we're in a world that is very different from our own—five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the lords of the Philistines, and so on. And we suggest that you make them in gold, because it's not wise in these circumstances to appear to be stingy. We don't want little plastic mice or little paper-mashy mice.

We want to do nice golden mice. Because, after all, we're trying to explain, and we're trying to, by our own efforts, deal with the predicament. How are we going to deal with God? What will I offer God?

If I'm indebted to God, what would I possibly produce? It's pathetic, isn't it? But it's understandable in the time frame. What they were doing—and this was standard pro forma—they would take that which represented the predicament, which in this case was plagues, and express their tumors. And then they would make forms of those tumors, and then they would present them to the deity. In this way, they were providing an image of what their problem was, and they were also pleading for the removal of their problem. That's why they're doing what they're doing. Here, we know what our problem is, and we made these in the hope that you'll fix this for us.

It's pathetic, actually. I mean, who modeled for the tumors? You know? They had, like, I'm trying to do the database, you know? So, we're having on Monday, if you'll all come and show your tumors, we're looking for some nice tumors that we can… It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? And who knows where the tumors were?

But we'll leave that to the medical people. Notice that there is no indication—there's no indication—that they thought that this was going to be foolproof. Perhaps, they said. Perhaps. Perhaps.

No guarantee, but it's worth a try. What do we have to lose? And then the next question, verse 6. Why should you harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? Now, in the background to this story here, both in chapter 5 and chapter 6—in fact, all the way into chapter 4—the background picture, if you like, if there was a movie running in the background, as this unfolds in real time, it would be the picture of the exodus from Egypt, and it would be the picture of the people of God being set free from Egypt, as a result of the plagues that were brought upon the nation and so on. And that is the background to it.

And there are echoes of that all the way through. The defiance of Pharaoh and the people had brought the judgment of God, and only when God's judgment was executed were the people then free to go. And in the same way, now, we're going to return the ark to its own place.

It's only sensible to do this. So, just as you have the picture of the people being exited from Egypt, so now we're anticipating the ark being removed from the cities of the Philistines. You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg pointing out the futility of trying to resolve issues with God through our own efforts and offerings. If you've been benefiting from our study in the book of 1 Samuel, maybe you'd like to re-listen or share these messages with a friend. The series is titled Give Us a King. It's available on a USB drive for just $5.

That's 54 messages that will take you through the entire book of 1 Samuel. You'll find it at truthforlife.org slash store. People often thank us for offering so many wonderful resources at cost and for the unlimited access to all of Alistair's teaching online.

But the thanks does not belong to us. It belongs to our monthly truth partners who faithfully pray for us and who give generously to make it possible for Truth for Life to provide Bible teaching to everyone without cost being a barrier. Truth for Life is entirely listener funded. These daily programs come to you by way of many listeners who are passionate about seeing others become followers of Jesus by hearing God's Word. If you're looking for a way to share the gospel with others, know that your giving to Truth for Life directly delivers Alistair's teaching to a worldwide audience. So if you've been listening to and benefiting from this program, give it to others by becoming a truth partner today.

It is quick and easy to sign up. Go to truthforlife.org slash truth partner, or if you'd prefer, you can call us at 888-588-7884. One way we say thank you to our truth partners is by inviting them to request both of our featured books each month. Being a truth partner is a great way for you to share the gospel and build a wonderful library of biblically sound books.

Today we're recommending a book titled Name Above All Names, and this is the last day I'll be talking about this book, co-written by Alistair and his friend Sinclair Ferguson. This book explores seven key names attributed to Jesus in the Bible. You'll find out how Jesus fulfills the roles of the true prophet, the great high priest, the conquering king, and more.

The very roles we've been learning about in 1 Samuel. For instance, you'll discover how Christ's sovereign kingship should change your perspective on everything, including how you view the world and how you live in it. You can also request Name Above All Names when you give a one-time donation. Just tap the image you see on the mobile app or visit us online at truthforlife.org slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine, thanks for listening. It's surprisingly easy to violate God's plans when we have a wrong view of who God is, so who can stand before a holy God? We'll hear the answer to this great dilemma tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-29 05:45:01 / 2023-05-29 05:53:58 / 9

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