Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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There was a time in Israel’s history when “the ark of the covenant” Moses built at God’s command was revered among both the Israelites and their enemies. It was the ark that was carried ahead of the Israelites in the forty years of wandering in the wilderness to find a resting place for the tribes. It was the ark that was carried into the Jordan River first, and then the waters parted to allow all of Israel to cross over into the promised land. The ark was carried around the walls of Jericho for seven days before the walls came crashing down, giving Israel easy access into the cursed city. In war, when Israel brought the ark of God into the battle zone, Israel’s enemies trembled and Israel’s army was greatly encouraged.
The ark represented the mighty presence of God, and when God was present, no enemy of righteousness could stand.
But that time passed. Israel added to the service of the Lord the worship of other deities, and the Lord withdrew His saving presence from them. Without God’s righteousness, Israel could not stand. When they fought the Philistines, their armies were destroyed, their priests slain, and then the unspeakable happened: the ark itself was taken! The ecstatic Philistines took the captured ark into a temple as a prized offering to their god Dagon. But soon, the Lord “awoke as a mighty man” and plagued the Philistines so much that they gladly returned the ark to Israel.
Tragically, however, the great fear and reverence once shown to the ark of God in Israel had been lost. Its mystique was taken away when God’s presence was no longer with it for Israel’s blessing, even if it was Israel’s own sins that caused God to withdraw Himself a little from their midst. The ark was sent back to Israel in a wagon drawn by two cows, but when it returned, God’s people had no holy regard for it and desecrated it again. As a result, God slew tens of thousands in Israel, and they sent His ark into an exile of sorts, away from the tabernacle where it belonged.
Nevertheless, a few in Israel still understood the value of God’s presence. Decades after the ark had been returned by the Philistines to Israel, young David came to the throne. He sought for the ark of God and found that it had been relegated to a backwoods location called Baalah (a city named in honor of the god Baal), far from the holy tabernacle Moses had built for it. How strange it seems, that the ark wasn’t important enough to the priests and people of Israel at that time for them to make sure it was kept where God told Moses to keep it.
David was thrilled to find the ark and immediately constructed a special tent in Jerusalem for it. He organized a great company of military officers, princes, civil authorities, and religious leaders to go to Baalah to bring the ark to Jerusalem. David zealously sought the presence of God, stood in awe of it, and if there was a chance to have it, he pursued it. The vast majority in Israel had no such feelings. Would to God that all Israel had viewed the ark of God with such fear and love!
Uzzah, one of the priests designated to drive the cart into which the ark was placed for transfer to Jerusalem, had been infected with the prevailing attitude of his time. To them, the ark was not much more than a wooden box used in worship. To Uzzah, carrying it to Jerusalem was a chore, a duty demanded of him because he happened to be a descendant of Aaron, Israel’s first high priest. As the procession made its way along the road that led from Kirjath-jearim (the other name for Baalah) to Jerusalem, the oxen stumbled and the ark was violently shaken. Uzzah, irritated at this interruption in his otherwise uneventful journey, reached up and grabbed the ark to steady it. It was forbidden for anyone to touch the ark in this manner, and God immediately struck Uzzah down. The frightened leaders parked the ark in the house of another descendant of Aaron, Obed-edom, and returned to Jerusalem.
David was very displeased with Jehovah for killing Uzzah, but he knew that God must have had a good reason for doing so. He just did not know what that reason was. But after several months of searching the Scriptures, he learned that God had given Moses clear commandments concerning how to move the ark when it was moved. David told his fellow Israelites of their transgression in failing to keep that commandment and immediately proceeded to successfully bring the ark into Jerusalem the correct way, this time with a greater entourage than before – and this time with priests carrying the ark on staves that rested on their shoulders, as God had commanded Moses.
The holy Ghost is the New Testament ark of the covenant; it is the presence of God among His children today. But the saints have been under the domination of spiritual Philistines so long now that they do not have much regard for the ark any longer. They do not stand in awe of the holy Ghost because it has, with them, been brought under subjection to foreigners. In other words, they have been Christians so long that they do not know how to fear the ark; they do not see why they should.
The people of God have relegated the holy Ghost to the backwoods and moved on. They have turned to things that produce real results: larger numbers, larger buildings, more prestige, and more money. Where is a David for our times? Where is a man who understands the value of the holy Ghost and will provide a place for it? Is there no man who will do whatever he can do to have the ark near him always?
Pray to be kept from the spirit of our times, to be kept from the contempt for the holy Ghost that is shared by the world and the majority of God’s own discouraged people. None of us are above being influenced by our times, but all of us may go to God for help, and He will help us to honor Him in our hearts as we should and not become hard-hearted with the world. Love the things of the Spirit; it may be that the Lord will return with his power to a people who will honor his presence.