The Ark, too hot to handle.

I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene.

“Look up – look out – look at the creation I have made and with that the one moment when I met with each person who I had created and will create. The moment on the cross when Jesus said, ‘It is finished’, ‘It is accomplished’, ‘It is done’! Consider all this and be amazed this morning at My mighty works and especially this magnificent act of salvation. It was not done in the abstract, it was done with each person who has ever lived in mind – it was done with you in mind. Stand amazed and in wonder at My Presence. Soak in it and enjoy every moment of it.”

We come now to 1 Samuel ch 6. The Philistines who had been so happy at capturing the ark because they thought it contained Israel’s God, are now desperate to get rid of it. They have also developed a holy respect for the Israelites after their experience with the ark, so they are too scared to just take it back. They should make some sort of sacrifice or offering to make up for stealing the ark, so they come up with this idea of making golden rats and tumours.

By the way the prominence of the rats and tumours confirms that it was bubonic plague which had affected the Philistines- this has no significance in the unfolding story but is only of interest. Bubonic plague is transmitted by fleas, carried by rats and the most prominent symptom is the appearance of tumours or “buboes” in the groin.

The amount of gold that was sent back with the ark reminds us of the way the Israelites plundered the Egyptians when they left Egypt, taking much silver and gold with them cf Exodus 1:35,36. God was once again demonstrating His favour towards His people.

The detail in the story of the return of the ark once again shows us how real this was, not a made up story written years later and serves to remind us of the reality of the whole of God’s word.

The other point that comes to the fore is how slow the Israelites were to learn. Despite the demonstration by God of His holiness represented here by the sacredness of the ark, there are nevertheless some 70 men who would actually disregard this and go and peep into the ark to see what was inside. I stop and shake my head, how can people be so stiff-necked that they don’t learn, despite the demonstration before their eyes of the events that have been described before.

This brings me to consider one of the major lessons of this chapter. How easy it is to misread and misunderstand God and His holiness and awesome might if we are stiff-necked and hard of heart. We are reminded, lest we are in a hurry to point fingers, of Jesus’ frustration with His own disciples when they were so slow to learn and understand. Read Mark 8:17-21 for an example of this. Somehow it is so important to continually prepare your heart in your devotional time so that you remain teachable and ready to “listen to Jesus“.

So this interlude ends with the ark in the house of Abinadab with his son specially consecrated to guard over it. It is not the last that we will hear of the ark. But the message of God’s holiness which is demonstrated by His Presence, symbolized by this inanimate object should remain a lasting reminder to the Israelites and not less to us today. It should give us a new appreciation of what Jesus did on the cross so that we can have access to this awesome and mighty God through Him. Let us not ever lose our awe at the very thought of His holy Presence.

May God bless you till next week.

God cannot be contained in a Box.

“Be still and know – that I am God – be still and consider My creation – consider the lilies of the Field they don’t labour or spin yet are clothed in more beauty than a king. Consider the sparrows – they don’t sow all plant – but I provide for them all they need. I am the One who hangs out the stars at night and tells the Sun went to shine – I kiss the flowers every morning with dew, yet I am never too busy to care about you – yes I never slumber nor sleep. I am there all the time caring for you that you will not stumble or fall. Consider all these things and many more which speak of Me and know I am not only your Creator but I am also your Father and your Lover and Friend – and yes, I really care about you and everyone else who reads this blog.“

On now to 1 Samuel chapter 5. Looking back over God’s story so far in His bible we have seen various ways that God represented Himself. Each one had a significance. Think of the burning bush and Moses. Then some time later the picture in Exodus 19 where God was going to speak to His people from a mountain. Thunder and lightning, plus a warning that no-one should come near as He demonstrated His holiness and power. Then later, hiding Moses in a cleft in a rock so that he would not die as God passed by.

The end of Exodus shows God’s careful preparation of the “Tabernacle”, every part of which was significant in representing God and how He should be approached and worshipped by His people. The most significant part of the tabernacle was the “Holy Of Holies” where the golden box, containing the testimony was placed. The high priest could only go in there once a year, it was so holy and then they tied a rope around his leg so that if he should die because of God’s presence they could drag him out without going in there themselves.

Of course this was really symbolic to teach the people to be in awe of Yahweh, because God could never be contained in a box.

In Chapter 5 of 1 Samuel we see the Philistines delighted that they had captured Israel’s God. Little did they know or understand. What starts as delight soon turns to horror as their favourite deity Dagon falls on his face the first night they are together. Even worse the next day he is found broken. Interestingly He has lost his head. Dagon was then one of three major figures in 1 Samuel to be destroyed. The other two were Goliath and Saul.

Even worse the people of the area are affected by an outbreak of a disease which featured tumours (probably Bubonic plague). This supposed huge magic asset had now become a major liability and the Philistines did not know what to do with it. The writer repeats, “God’s hand was heavy on them“. Next time we will see how the Philistines desperatelytried to get rid of the Ark.

So what lessons have you picked up from this most insightful passage?

Here are some I felt Jesus was saying to me: 1.Our God can appear in any form or shape He wants and at any time. From a still small voice to mighty thunder and lightning.

2. He cannot be packaged or manipulated in a sort of magic way, like a rabbit’s foot. He meets with us (through Jesus and His Spirit) on His terms, but at the same time He is ever so close and responds to our seeking Him, since He wants a relationship with us.

3. The pagan people often believed that their God’s were high up in the mountains or on the clouds. Hence Psalm 121; “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? (no, no not from there) My help comes from the Lord the Maker of Heaven and earth“. A God who is not restricted to time and place.

4. As much as God was angry with His people because of their neglect and symbolically left them. He was not going to allow the Phlistines to mock Him or use Him. his judgement was heavy on them. We can never play the fool with God. He might be testing others but soon may test us as well.

I am so glad I worship a God who cannot be manipulated or used. Share any other words you may have picked up from this passage with us. Bless you all this coming week.

The Glory of God’s Presence departs.

I am conscious of God’s presence here in the room with me. His love and His Spirit fill the room around me. “I love you Jesus!”. But do I really love Him?

“You ask what is real love? How do you know whether you love Me fully? To start with love is not an emotion. It contains a huge emotional element but it is far more than that. It is a whole attitude of one towards another and that reflects in a number of ways. You cannot fake the real thing – you can pretend, but it quickly becomes apparent when you do that. Ultimately the attitude of one who loves is demonstrated by actions. That is why the sacrifice of my Son on the cross is such a clear and definite picture of the attitude I have towards you and My whole creation. Just because you are not filled with loving thoughts towards Me all the time it does not mean your love is deficient. your love for Me is reflected by your whole life and all your actions.”

Returning now to Samuel we reach ch 4 today. Last time we saw how Gods word had become rare in Israel because of her turning her back on Him and living their lives as they pleased without reference to Yahweh.. It represented a form of judgement by God towards His people, withdrawing His communication with them and effectively His presence. As the story here unfolds we see how God has raised up a new prophet, Samuel who would bring His word again as He prepared His people for a new phase when He would introduce His rule through His chosen kings.

Today we see another way God demonstrated that He had withdrawn His glory from His people, which runs parallel to His withdrawing His word. Can you remember how the Tabernacle was constructed. In the well-protected Holy of Holies was the golden Ark of the Covenant, with it’s Cherubim on top. The Ark contained the “Testimony” or the 10 words or commands God had given Moses on Mt Sinai. It represented the presence of God with His people and there were many instructions that reminded them of that.

Of course we recognize that it was only symbolic of His presence as was the cloud and the fire. God cannot be contained in a building never mind a box, but He wanted the people to have a continual visual reminder of His presence. At this time it was clear by the attitude of the people towards the Ark they had lost all respect and interest in God who had rescued their forefathers from Israel.

Now when faced with the setback in their ongoing war with the Philistines they conveniently remember that they needed God to fight on their side. The two evil sons of Eli are involved as they bring the physical ark to the Hebrew camp. There is a loud shout as the ark arrives. Are the Israelites glad that the presence of God is with them again? As the story unfolds it is clear that their joy is merely a selfish expression of the feeling that they would soon be on the side of victory. It had nothing to do with the reality of God’s presence and their recognition of how they had fallen away from Him.

God has a strong and unpleasant message for them. His ark is not a magic token which would give them victory. They were still under His judgement and the subsequent defeat in battle including the effect on Eli and His family demonstrates this. Not only are they heavily defeated but the ark itself is captured and now in Philistine hands. Could God not have protected Himself and His ark? We will see in the next section what the answer is to that question. The lesson here is clear. God cannot be manipulated or used. He desires an ongoing relationship with His people. In the OT this was represented by their keeping the Sabbath as a reminder of their covenant relationship with Him.

What is the message for us here today? It seems that it is exactly the same as to those people. God desires to have an ongoing relationship and fellowship with us. While He uses means to remind us of that eg taking communion, He will not be manipulated by our keeping memorabilia of Him as a means to obtain His blessing.

When I first met Sylvia, she was clinging to a tenuous connection she felt she had with God through a special bible her mother had given her many years before. A bible, no matter how precious it may be, carries God’s word to us. But it does not in itself represent God’s presence with us. There is no superstitious magic with God. Our interaction with Him is through Jesus and His Spirit and represents an ongoing relationship.

The other thing that we are reminded of through this passage is that God may carry out His judgement on His people or a person by withdrawing His presence and His fellowship so that they may experience the vicissitudes of life without Him.

More on the Ark next week. God bless you all.

God’s Word in Redemption.

Singing through many of the names of Jesus, His Majesty, His kingship, His beauty. Names like Bright morning star, blessed Redeemer, most Holy one – I feel frustrated at the inadequacy of words to truly express how my God looks, how he is. Then it strikes me maybe one of the important words is “my” – he is my Jesus, he is my Redeemer – what a wonder that I can use that intimate word – a relationship word of true intimacy.

“ Yes Ian I am indeed yours and you are mine. That is what I created you for – remember in Acts – created that you may seek me and in finding me I will know you and you will know me. This is indeed the intimacy of the closest of relationships – yes words may not adequately describe this – but as you let your heart go you know, you experience My presence with you. That is what I desire for you, to enjoy and appreciate Me and that is what I desire for everyone who turns to Me and asks, seeks and knocks. Enjoy it today, enjoy Me today and enjoy Me every day.

Back now to 1 Samuel chapter 3. We have arrived at a picture of Israel, God’s chosen people, redeemed from slavery in Egypt, now in the promised land, but having drifted away from God completely, highlighted here by the evil sons of Eli. Into this scene God introduces a bright light. His name is Samuel. God is going to use this lad in His plan of the redemption of His people.

Chapter 3 reveals a vital aspect of the means that God is going to use in this process of redemption. You should see what this is as you read through this chapter. More than 6 times we read of God’s word or that God speaks. The means to redemption hinges on the fact that we worship a God who speaks and has spoken. His communication over time carries immense power because it is the very connection with our Creator Himself.

See if you can pick up the thread of what I have been saying.

Firstly in vs 1 we have a description of the situation in Israel at that time. It is featured by the fact that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days”. If we follow the biblical story we will come across other times when God’s word was rare. We read of it in Psalm 74:9.Lamentations 2:9 and Ezekiel 7:26 for example. These occasions were all a feature of God’s judgement upon Israel. He was withdrawing His presence and His communication with His people because of their sin and neglect of obedience to His law and guidance.

Perhaps the most difficult time was the few hundred years before the incarnation of Jesus, when God was silent. So this small picture is looking forward to the coming of another prophet” one day, who would also be known by the title “John the Baptist”, who would be the forerunner of the true King of Israel also called, “The Word of God”.(John 1:1).

So God takes the initiative to reestablish His relationship with His people. He has raised up a prophet and is going to give Israel a king. So He speaks to the boy. There is the interesting vs 7 where the writer remarks that: “Samuel did not yet know the Lord: the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him”. Was this the moment then that Samuel met the Lord and came to know Him? It seems likely since how else was the boy going to meet Him.

Interestingly the word that Samuel receives from God is a word of judgement. Judgement against Eli and his sons, and I take it by inference, judgement against the whole of apostate Israel, although it does not specifically stipulate that. Looking way down into the future we see another prophet we came preparing the way for a king. Tis time for the real king of Israel. Remember him? The word of John the Baptist was also a word of judgement and warning eg “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” Matt 3:8

Israel is ready then to start a new chapter and Samuel will be the one who will be the fore-runner hence the description in v 19 where Samuel proves His prophetship is authentic in that none of his words fell to the ground. In other words all his prophecies came about. His position is finally stated in 4:1 which showed that Samuel’s word was received by the whole nation.

Let us reflect a bit on this. God’s word has no magic power of its own. The power of God’s word lies in the fact that it reflects what God is saying to us. It is what He desires for us and instructs us to do. If we understand and follow His word we have His full power behind it. Jesus was in fact the living word and His whole life demonstrated God’s will and power in a dynamic way. It is our privilege as Christians to be able to receive and follow God’s word and through that to develop and grow a dynamic relationship with Him. Equally when God’s word is twisted and read out of context it is an insult to Him and carries no power.

This passage revealed to me again the importance and value of God’s word and His communication with us as well as giving us an insight to the greater plan of God for the whole world. May He bless you all richly this coming week.