The Arkless Tabernacle (6)

W.W. Fereday

From 'God's Emergency Man'

The ark having gone into captivity, Israel's whole religious system lay in ruins. The ark was the visible symbol of Jehovah dwelling in grace in the midst of His people. No more expressive type of the promised Christ existed in Old Testament days. The materials of which it was made spoke of His Person; the Shittim wood of His incorruptible humanity, and the gold of His deity. The mercy seat spoke of His great propitiatory sacrifice accepted by God, for the atoning blood was never absent from it; and the contents of the ark-the budding rod, the pot of manna, and the tables of the Covenant-spoke of the various offices which He is graciously pleased to fill. When the tabernacle became arkless, it might justly be said that Jehovah had departed. The proper ministry of the priesthood became impossible. How could the ordinances of the Day of Atonement be observed, seeing that the throne of Jehovah was no longer in the sanctuary to receive the sprinkled blood? Yet this was the basis of all God's dealings with His people. The foundations were now truly out of course, to the intense grief of every pious soul in the nation.

Be it noted that the ark never returned to the tabernacle. It found no resting place again until Solomon built the temple. Thus there was no resumption of proper priestly services until the reigns of both Saul and David had run their course.

Israel's loss was judgment to the foe. The Philistines in their pride of heart carried the ark into the temple of their fish-god Dagon. In their benighted minds Dagon had triumphed over Jehovah. But the God of Israel soon vindicated His majesty and made His presence felt. First, Dagon fell before the ark, and then, on being set up again, was broken before it. God plagued the inhabitants of the temple-city, Ashdod, so that they were glad to pass the ark on to Gath. Gath also suffered, so that it was removed thence to Ekron. Ekron's cry of dismay led to the suggestion to return the ark to Israel, their mode of procedure-the use of two milch kine with their calves tied up at home-making it abundantly clear that it was no mere epidemic that had broken out amongst the Philistines, but that Jehovah's hand had come down upon them.

Again Jehovah's hand went forth in judgment, this time upon His own people, for their irreverence in peering into the sacred vessel. Accordingly the ark of God had to move on again, and for many years it abode in the house of the pious Abinadab in Kirjath-jearim, to the great blessing of his household (1 Sam. 7:1-2). These people felt they had God with them of a truth albeit they did not confound the symbol with the reality.

The priesthood was never restored to its former position. It was never again the chief link between Jehovah and His people. The unfaithfulness of Eli and his sons not only caused the holy office to pass into the hands of another branch of Aaron's family, but it brought about the forfeiture of the exalted position which the priesthood had enjoyed since the death of Moses (Num. 27: 18-23). When the King came upon the scene, not Saul, the man of the people's choice, but David, the man of Jehovah's choice-it was he who became the link between the people and their God, and the priesthood fell into quite a secondary place. This was foretold in 1 Samuel 2:35. It has frequently been remarked that God never repairs a ruined order. Instead, in its place, he sets up something new, something that will yield even greater blessing to His people, and which marks also a further development in His blessed ways.

We pass over the ruinous episode of Saul, and what do we find? The King is the prime mover in everything pertaining to the worship of God. Unlike Joshua, he did not stand before the priest, going out and coming in at his word. It was the King who proposed to bring up the ark from Kiriath-jearim to Zion, and on that memorable occasion he danced before Jehovah clad in a linen ephod, and when the offerings had been offered, "he blessed the people in the name of Jehovah of hosts" (2 Sam. 6). Delightful type of Him, who, when all the purposes of God concerning Israel are brought to completion will bear the glory and be a priest upon His throne (Zech. 6:13). It was the King, not the High Priest, who appointed Asaph and his brethren to minister before the ark continually; while the High Priest and his associated priests were appointed to serve at the tabernacle in Gibeon (1 Chron. 16:37-43). When the plague came upon the nation as the result of the numbering, it was David, not the High Priest, who stood in the breach and offered sacrifice. Contrast 1 Chronicles 21:26 with Numbers 16:46-48. When the time came for the temple to be built, it was one king who charged another king (David and Solomon-1 Chron. 22:6), and the High Priest appears to have had no say in the matter. It was the King again who numbered the Levites and appointed to them their services (1 Chron. 23:24-27), and it was he also who distributed the priests with reference to their work (1 Chron. 24:3). The singers were separated to their service by the King and the captains of the host (i Chron. 25: 1). In 1 Chronides 28:16, the chief priests are named among the chief officers of the kingdom, as if they were that only. What a transformation as compared with the days of Moses and Aaron. What a significant change in the ways of God.

But it was long after Eli's failure before the new order was established. What was the divine provision meanwhile? Samuel. He-the man of God, "God's emergency man"- filled the gap, and became the link between Jehovah and his desolate people. Truly our God is never without resources The erstwhile temple-child entered into the mind of God about the condition of things; the ruin of everything by the unfaithfulness of men gripped his soul, and he gave himself up to a ministry of intercession (1 Sam. 7:5, 8; 12:23). This at all times is very precious in the eyes of God. Many centuries later, when the kingly order had grievously failed, and was about to be set aside until the day of the Lord Jesus, Jehovah made reference to Samuel thus: "Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind could not be toward this people; cast them out of My sight,' etc. jer. 15: 1). Mark the link with Moses. When the people ruined themselves by the worship of the golden calf, they were saved by Moses' pleading (Exod. 32:33). Later, when the priestly order broke down, and ruin once more ensued, the people were maintained before God by the intercession of Samuel.

The value of a ministry of intercession thus stands divinely emphasised. It is God's delight. But this precious ministry can only really be exercised by those who enter into God's thoughts concerning the times in which they live. Thus, those who today have before their souls the divine pattern-the Church as the Holy Spirit established it at the beginning, and who realise its utter failure as a witness for God in the world, are alone able to intelligently have dealings with God about it. But this is open to us all. May the Lord graciously increase the number of those who are spiritually able to fill Moses' and Samuel's part in these last days of the Christian era.