Many interesting and instructive lessons concerning the
gospel are taught and illustrated by the Old Testament passages
that deal with the ark. Inasmuch as the ark was a coffin, and
therefore an anticipative symbol of the coming death of God,
the Son, it may be regarded as a type of the gospel, and the
passages of which it is the subject give a preview of the course
of the gospel in the world. One passage in particular. First
Samuel, chapters five and six, with the first verse of chapter
seven, illustrates the manner in which the gospel meets with
varying reception among different classes of people.
The Israelites, who, by this time, had come to regard the ark as merely a religious good-luck charm, had taken the ark into battle against the Philistines. Instead of helping them to defeat the enemy, as they had hoped, the ark was captured by the Philistines and taken to one of their chief cities, Ashdod. Since the Philistines were highly religious, but not worshippers of the true God, this incident well illustrates the usual results when the gospel is carried among such people. Being polytheistic, the Philistines had no objections to adding another god to their pantheon, provided that he was regarded as inferior to Dagon, their chief god.
Since the ark was the nearest thing that the Israelites had to a statue or material representation of their God, the Philistines placed it in the temple of their god, Dagon. This is, unfortunately, all too often the way in which the gospel is received by religious pagans. Christ is merely added to their existing pantheon; the gospel is brought in and set up in the very temple of heathenism amid the trappings of idolatry, and a religious pot-pourri or popery results, which is neither fish nor fowl.
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But though it may be outwardly degraded, the gospel is
still the power of God unto salvation, and when it comes among
the heathen, the inadequacy and powerlessness of idolatrous
gods are plainly revealed; though many seem not to have the
eyes to see it. The morning after the ark had been placed in
the temple of Dagon, Dagon's statue was found to have fallen
on its face before the ark of God. The idol was fixed back in
place, but the following morning not only found the statue
fallen again, but this time broken to pieces. Even so, the
gospel, by its power to transform men's lives, and turn them
from darkness to light, points up the helplessness and futility of
other so-called gods.
The gospel (good news of salvation to those who receive it as such) is a ministry of judgment to those who reject it when it comes to them. See II Corinthians 2:15-16; II Thessalonians 1:7-8. Thus not only was the image of Dagon afflicted by the hand of the Lord, but the people as well. As the presence of the light of the gospel reveals the flesh for what it is - a veritable fountain of uncleanness, so the presence of the ark among the Philistines brought out clearly the uncleanness of the flesh. They were smitten with emerods, or hemorrhoids, a most painful and humiliating ailment. The perversity and deep seated depravity of the Philistines are clearly seen in their acknowledgment that the hand of the God of Israel was sore upon them and upon their god, Dagon, yet with no acceptance on their part of Israel's God.
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The Philistines rid themselves of the embarrassment of
the ark by sending it back to Israel. So it has always been:
those who cannot seem to comprehend, and therefore dread,
the power of the gospel, wish to send it as far from them as
possible. Like the Gadarenes, they beseech that Jesus will
depart out of their coasts. The Philistines set the ark on a cart
to which they hitched two milch cows. These cows, leaving
their calves behind, pulled the cart and the ark to the Israelite
city of Beth-Shemesh.
This city belonged to the Levites, and was therefore inhabited by those who were, at least nominally, the ministers of the Lord. Unfortunately, many of those who wear the name of ministers of God, do not actually function as such, but seem rather to be doing everything in their power to hinder the gospel and the salvation of the lost. The cows pulling the cart stopped in the field of Joshua (Hebrew form of Jesus) at the stone of Abel. As has been previously pointed out, there is a figurative connection, in Hebrew, between stone and son. Abel means mourning, thus the stone of Abel signifies stone of mourning, or figuratively, son of mourning. But the people did not mourn, they rather rejoiced. The reception of the gospel should never be with unmixed joy. Though it is indeed good news, yet its acceptance involves confession on our part that we need the salvation proclaimed by the gospel. This is turn involves repentance, which is far from a joyful experience. Therefore, while the eventual result of receiving the gospel is joy, the immediate effect is the bitterness of repentance. He who immediately with joy receiveth the word "dureth but for a while." See Matthew 13:20-21.
We next notice that the men of Beth-Shemesh looked into the ark, and as a result many of them were immediately slain by the Lord. The lesson is plain, the gospel is to be received, not analyzed! Yet in spite of this solemn warning, there are many today who claim to be ministers of God, who seem to think that their service to God demands that they question the gospel, the Bible, yea, even the existence of God, himself! In these days, a minister (to say nothing of a layman) who receives the gospel by faith, believes the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, and who refuses to believe that God is merely a concept developed by man in the course of evolution, is looked down upon with undisguised contempt by the self-appointed great thinkers of our times. However, on this occasion, God showed his contempt for those who, instead of receiving the gospel by faith, subject it to intellectual analysis and reject all of it except that which their reason approves.
If people will not mourn because of sin, they must mourn because of judgment. Those who received the ark with joy, instead of mourning over the still unrepented sins which had caused the ark to be lost in the first place, were mourning by the end of the day; if, indeed, they were fortunate enough to be still among the living. We are reminded by this incident that the gospel will be the basis of judgment even upon those who name the name of Christ, if they do not receive it. The men of Beth-Shemesh (those still alive) likewise wished to see the last of the ark, and sent word to the people of Kirjath-jearim to come and get it.
The ark was carried by the men of Kirjath-jearim to the house of Abinadab (Father of liberality) where it remained until David carried it to Jerusalem. By those of the house of the Father of liberality the ark was received with fitting reverence and given into the care of one who was sanctified, or set apart, to guard and watch over it. Thus we see how the gospel should be received as the Word of God; to be believed and passed on to others who in turn will receive it reverently and preserve it, though all of the rest of Israel may be reprobate concerning the faith.
John H Mattox