August 16 I Thursday
“Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that He may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.” —1 Samuel 4:3
In some strange way, the Ark of the Covenant symbolized all that God was and all that He intended to do for His people. The Israelites were to treat the ark as God going with them, meeting with Him and experiencing His wonders wherever it went. But bad things happened when people substituted the ark, a symbol of God’s presence, for God Himself.
After a battle where the Philistines sent the Israelites home with their tails between their legs, the Israelites sent for the ark. “When the ark…came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, ‘What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?’ When they learned that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. ‘A god has come into the camp,’ they said… ‘They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness’” (1 Samuel 4:5-8). The Philistines wrongly, though understandably, identified the ark as a god, and more specifically, the god responsible for Israel’s past victories and in the next battle, the Israelites not only suffered an even greater defeat, but the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines.
The Israelites lost this battle because they made the same mistake the Philistines did. Instead of recognizing that their hope and help was rooted in God, they substituted the ark for God Himself and declared that it would save them when only He could. The moment we substitute God with even a legitimate means by which He works, God moves out. Anything God may bless as an expression of Himself, He curses when it becomes a substitute for Himself.
Are there arks we look to for hope and help in place of God? Many Christians consult godly friends, family members, pastors, programs, counsellors and self-help books. Others depend on religious rituals, praying similar prayers each day or structuring their worship around a particular liturgy. These are all of value, but it actually hinders our relationship with God when we prioritize the advice of a friend or our expectations for worship over meeting with God directly.
The Philistines returned the ark to Israel after seven months, but it took 20 years and several bumps in the road before it reached its new home in Jerusalem. When it finally arrived, the celebration was enormous. The symbol of God’s presence had come home, but no one was praising the box. Their worship was directed at God Himself, the true source of our hope and help, for whom there is no substitute.
Prayer: Sovereign Lord, thank You for being the source of my hope and help, and forgive me for when I have tried to substitute something in Your place. In Jesus’s name.