The return of the ark….and the return of Lazarus !!

4 06 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY : 1 Samuel 5 v. 1 – 7 v. 17; John 11 v. 45 – 12 v. 11; Proverbs 12 v. 18 – 27 

The Ark in Ashdod and Ekron – The Philistines take the ark of the covenant to Ashdod and place it alongside Dagan, the temple. The very next day, the statue of Dagan has fallen, as if prostrate before the ark of the covenant. They put Dagan back in his place, but the following morning he’s down again, this time with head and hands broken off (because his head and hands lay at the threshold of the temple, a superstition developed that no-one stood on the threshold when entering the temple.
Ashdod suffered more than most at the hands of the Lord. The people of Ashdod realise that their keeping the ark of the covenant was probably to blame for the bad things happening to them.
The ark is moved to Gath, but then that city becomes a place of turmoil (and tumours seemed to be affecting everyone). So they sent the ark to Ekron, but the people there panic and ask for it to be sent away, suggesting it goes back to the Israelites.

The Ark Returned to Israel –
The Philistines are ready to return the ark to the Israelites, and seek the best way to do it. They are advised to send a guilt offering with it, and then they may be healed (of tumours etc). So they are to send five gold tumours (nice !!) and five gold rats (even nicer !!), and they are to ‘pay honour to Israel’s god’.
They ready a new cart and two cows to transport the ark and the guilt offerings, and they watch the direction the cows take the cart (if it heads off in its own direction towards Beth Shemesh, that will indicate the hand of the Lord bringing such disaster upon them; if it doesn’t head off in its own direction, then it was just chance happenings).
The cows took the cart straight to Beth Shemesh, and the Philistine rulers followed on.
The villagers of Beth Shemesh were harvesting; when they saw the ark of the covenant returning, they were filled with joy. The cart is chopped up to make wood for the fire and the two cows are sacrificed as a burnt offering (the Philistine rulers returned to Ekron). The large rock in Joshua’s field, Beth Shemesh (where the cows stopped, and the ark of the covenant was returned) became a place of ‘witness’, a reminder of this great day.
Because some of the folk from Beth Shemesh looked into the ark, seventy were struck dead, and the whole village mourned. They sought to move the ark on, and took it to Kiriath Jearim, to Abinadab’s house, where Eleazar was consecrated to guard the ark.

‘Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this Holy God ? To whom will the ark go up from here ?’

Samuel Subdues the Philistines at Mizpah – for twenty long years, the ark remains in Kiriath Jearim; and during this time, the whole of Israel is in mourning for all that has occurred. Samuel speaks, telling Israel that if it is truly repentant, it will destroy all foreign gods (and Ashtoreths), and commit itself to the Lord, serving Him only; then, and only then, will the Philistines be delivered into their hands.
‘So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths and served the Lord only.’
Samuel becomes leaders of all Israel at Mizpah, as they assemble there, pouring water out before the Lord. The people of Israel fasted and prayed, confessing their sin.
As the Philistines approach to attack Israel at Mizpah, the Israelites are filled with fear, and plead with Samuel. Samuel sacrifices a sucking lamb and cries out to the Lord, who responds.
God sends a ‘thundering loud thunder’ to scatter the Philistines, the Israelites piling down after them and slaughtering many of them.
Samuel sets up a memorial stone for this victory over the Philistines, calling it ‘Ebenezer’ (‘thus far has the Lord helped us’) – meaning ‘stone of help’.
Whilst Samuel was alive, the Israelites prospered over the Philistines. Many towns (like Ekron and Gath) were returned to the Israelites, and the Amorites and Israelites lived alongside each other peacefully.
Samuel continued as judge and leader his whole life, touring annually, and ‘judging’. He always returned, however, to Ramah, where he lived, and where he built an altar to the Lord.

The Plot to Kill Jesus – following on from the raising of Lazarus, many believed in Jesus, but others go directly to the Sanhedrin, to suggest that Jesus should not be left to continue His ministry of ‘many miraculous signs’, otherwise ‘everyone will believe in Him’, and the Romans will destroy the status quo the leaders had been enjoying.
The High Priest, Caiaphas speaks up, ‘You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’ It was seen as a prophecy that Jesus would die for many people (‘the scattered children of God’), and from that day on, they were plotting Jesus’ downfall and death.
Jesus withdrew to Ephraim, a distance away from the public gaze, hidden from the Jewish spotlight.
At the forthcoming Jewish Passover, Jesus was nowhere to be seen, even though many people were looking out for Him, and some were looking to arrest Him.

Ironic that it is the raising of Lazarus from the dead which is the last straw for so many, and precipitates Jesus’ own arrest, death and resurrection.

Jesus Anointed at Bethany – a few days before the Passover meal, Jesus is back in Bethany with Lazarus, Mary and Martha, and a special dinner has been prepared for Him. Martha served, and Lazarus was reclining at the table with Jesus. Mary took very expensive nard perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. It was a fragrant moment, in a fragrant room.
Judas Iscariot (noted as the one who looked after the purse strings!) complains that this is such a waste of money – a years wages poured out, when many poor could have been fed. (John adds that Judas’ motivation was not a care for the poor, but for himself, as he would help himself to the money bag – not only is he the betrayer but he is a thief).
Jesus interprets Mary’s actions as an anointing for death / burial, and that Judas should leave her alone. Also, Jesus intimates that there always has been and always will be a need to care for the poor – an ongoing challenge; but there’s also a time for costly devotion, and Mary has given her time for that (no doubt in recognition of Jesus’ bringing Lazarus back from the grave).

A crowd (of Jews) starts to gather in Bethany, aware not only of Jesus’ presence, but believing in Him because of Lazarus’ story of being raised from death. Therefore the chief priests plan to kill Lazarus too. Nasty !

Thus we see a realisation of Jesus’ prophetic word : ‘If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first…’ 

‘Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing….
The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in men who are truthful….
An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up….’




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