Saturday, February 13, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 14. The Ark Brought To The Temple

Prophets And Kings
Day 14
The Ark Brought To The Temple

Its a glorious day for King Solomon and the people of Israel: the ark of the covenant is brought to reside in the new temple. 

1 KINGS 8:1-21
Yesterday we saw the temple completed and furnished. Today's events take place next. "Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord's covenant from Zion, the City of David. All the Israelites came together to King Solomon at the time of the festival in the month of Ethanim, the seventh month." (1 Kings 8:1-2) We were told in Chapter 7 that Solomon completed the temple in the eighth month, and today the ark is being brought up in the seventh month, which appears to be in the following year. The ark would not have been put in place before the temple was finished. This would have been disrespectful to an object that they considered to be the visible symbol of God's presence. We wouldn't invite a great King into His new palace until every last detail was in place. We wouldn't invite God into His new temple until every last detail was in place.

The explanation for the delay could have to do with them being an agricultural society. The timing of such a great gathering needed to occur after the harvest was brought in but not during the fall and winter when they had heavy rains and sometimes snow. Springtime was for plowing and planting, so it would place a hardship on the people to be summoned at that time. The end of summer, right after the harvest, was probably the most convenient time to plan and put together such a large-scale celebration. There wouldn't have been enough time left the previous year after the temple was completed in the eighth month. Since the ark is brought up in the seventh month at the time of the festival, this would occur on the Day of Atonement. 

However, some scholars believe the year the ark was brought up was a "jubilee year", and if so the bringing of the ark fell at a special time and this could be why Solomon delayed the bringing of the ark. Leviticus 25 spells out the regulations for giving a sabbath rest to the land every seventh year. This meant the people could plant and harvest six years in a row, then every seventh year they let the land rest, eating the food they have already stored up. Every fiftieth year the sabbath year was known as a jubilee year and the celebration began on the tenth day of the seventh month, which would line up nicely with Solomon bringing the ark up on the seventh month. On that day, the Day of Atonement, trumpets would blow throughout the land as liberty was proclaimed to the whole nation. Anyone working as a slave to pay off a debt was to go free. Land taken and held for a debt was to be returned to its owner. It was a time of great celebration throughout the land and there was plenty to eat even though they did not sow or harvest because the Lord said, "I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years." (Leviticus 25:21) God is so faithful! He never asks us to do anything that He doesn't make us able to do. The observation of a sabbath rest for the land was a solemn and strict commandment but it didn't place hardship on the people. In fact, they had more than enough. 

I tend to agree with the scholars who believe Solomon delayed the bringing of the ark so it would fall on a jubilee year, a year of celebration. And it's also fitting that the proof of God's covenant would arrive at the temple on the Day of Atonement. According to some commentaries, it is thought that the Lord Jesus Christ began His public ministry on the Day of Atonement, the day He preached His first sermon from the book of Isaiah. How like our God to make such perfect symmetry out of everything He does. 

"When all the elders of Israel had arrived, the priests took up the ark, and they brought up the ark of the Lord and the tent of meeting and all the sacred furnishings in it. The priests and Levites carried them up, and King Solomon and the entire assembly of Israel that had gathered about him were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and cattle that they could not be recorded or counted." (1 Kings 8:3-5) Solomon doesn't make the mistake his father made in 2 Samuel 6 when he transported the ark on a cart instead of having it carried by priests as commanded by God. Solomon is very careful to do things exactly right so that God will be honored in every way by this great event.

"The priests then brought the ark of the Lord's covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. The cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark and overshadowed the ark and its carrying poles. These poles were so long that their ends could be seen from the Holy Place in front of the inner sanctuary, but not from outside the Holy place; and they are still there today." (1 Kings 8:6-8) I tried to find out why particular mention is made of the poles being seen from the outer sanctuary but opinions differ on this. The poles were long enough that all the priests carrying the ark could do so without touching the ark but they were forbidden to remove the poles from the rings at any time. So it would seem that once the ark rested on its stand, the poles were pulled out to the sides as far as they could go without pulling them out of the rings, perhaps signifying the ark was at rest, at home, in the place designed for it. I also wondered if the purpose of allowing the poles to be seen from the outer sanctuary is so the people worshiping there could know the ark was present. They weren't allowed to look upon the ark itself, but if the tips of the poles protruded outside the Most Holy Place, the people could rest easy knowing the ark was safe and secure. They could worship there knowing the visible symbol of their God was with them. It's hard to say why the author makes a special point about the poles but apparently he found their visibility to be significant, but in our day it's difficult for us to say exactly why.

"There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites after they came out of Egypt." (1 Kings 8:9) We do know why this is significant to the author, for the ark once held two more items: the golden pot of manna and Aaron's rod that budded. At some point these extra items disappeared and only the tablets with the ten commandments remain. It could be that the Philistines removed the golden pot of manna and Aaron's rod when they captured the ark. The Philistines had the ark in their territory seven months until the plagues fell so fiercely on them that they returned it to its rightful owners. We don't know whether they looked into the ark or not, but it would be almost unthinkable that they wouldn't. Common human curiosity would have led them to do so. The ark itself was a magnificent work of art, covered in gold, and I am sure the Philistines would want to see what was inside it. If the outer box was glorious, they would expect its contents to be glorious. I imagine what puzzled expressions they must have had when all they found inside were two stone tablets, a bowl with old bread, and a stick. Possibly they discarded the bowl of bread and the stick, unable to determine their purpose, and kept only the tablets because they looked to be of more value. Putting the ark in the temple of their own pagan god Dagon, it may have pleased the Philistines retain the tablets on which were set forth the rules of a foreign God in a foreign language. In essence, they were saying to their false god Dagon, "You are greater than the God of Israel. Your laws are greater than His laws. We submit His belongings to you." 

We know some of the people of Israel looked into the ark when it was returned by the Philistines but we are not told that anyone removed anything from it. The impression we are given by the author of 1 Samuel is that they looked into it out of curiosity, not that they took anything out. The Lord struck dead the men who looked into the ark in 1 Samuel 6. Why then did He not strike dead the Philistines who may have looked into the ark? I think its because they didn't know any better, the same reason God didn't punish the Philistines for placing the ark on a cart, a thing which had disastrous results when David put it on a cart. The Israelites knew better; the Philistines did not. God showed these pagan people mercy because of their ignorance. How many things did we do in ignorance before we came to Christ, before we knew His holy word, before we memorized any of the Scriptures? God had mercy on us in our ignorance. The Apostle Paul gives glory to God for overlooking his own ignorance when he persecuted the church of Christ, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me trustworthy, appointing me to His service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief." (1 Timothy 1:12-13) 

"When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled His temple. Then Solomon said, 'The Lord has said that He would dwell in a dark cloud; I have indeed built a magnificent temple for You, a place for You to dwell forever.'" (1 Kings 8:10-13) We find a number of references in the Old Testament about the presence of God appearing as a cloud. The glory of His presence blesses the temple, which is obviously how Solomon interprets this cloud. But it means far more than that. It means God is with His people. This is what is known as the "Shekinah Glory", which literally means something like "He caused to dwell". The cloud means God is with His people, dwelling among them. This cloud appeared to the children of Israel when they wandered in the desert, as a pillar of cloud in the daytime and as a pillar of fire in the nighttime. God spoke to Moses from a cloud when promising to be with Israel and when giving instructions. God's glory was a cloud in the tabernacle in the wilderness. His glory was a cloud when appearing to the high priest performing his duties over the ark. Almighty God is so holy and righteous that He must clothe himself in a dark cloud in order to visibly interact with man. Otherwise, anyone standing in His presence would be consumed. He is protecting us from Himself, protecting sinful man from His all-consuming holiness. This too is mercy, mercy on our ignorance, mercy on our weakness. On the day the ark was put in place in the temple, the glory of the Lord was so overwhelming that nobody could stay inside, not even the consecrated priests. The awesome realization of what a holy God He is prevented them from feeling worthy to stand in the temple while the presence of God was there. In meekness, they step outside. 

In the New Testament there are several references to the cloud in regard to Christ. Mary was "overshadowed" when she conceived of the Holy Spirit. God the Father spoke from a cloud at the baptism of Jesus. God the Father spoke from a cloud at the transfiguration of Jesus. The Lord Jesus was taken up to heaven in a cloud and He will return in a cloud. From beginning to end, the word of God is filled with His glory. The word of God is filled with His promise to dwell with man. 

"While the whole assembly of Israel was standing there, the king turned around and blessed them. Then he said: 'Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who with His own hand has fulfilled what He promised with His own mouth to my father David. For He said, 'Since the day I brought My people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city in any tribe of Israel to have a temple built so that My Name might be there, but I have chosen David to rule My people Israel.' My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. But the Lord said to my father David, 'You did well to have it in your heart to build a temple for My Name. Nevertheless, you are not the one to build the temple, but your son, your own flesh and blood---he is the one who will build the temple for My Name.' The Lord has kept the promise He made: I have succeeded my father David and now I sit on the throne of Israel, just as the Lord promised, and I have built the temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. I have provided a place there for the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord that He made with our ancestors when He brought them out of Egypt.'" (1 Kings 8:14-21) Solomon gives all the glory to God who chose a people for Himself, who brought them out of Egypt, and who has been with them from that day to now. He brought them into the promised land and during King Solomon's reign they possess the most of the promised land they have ever had. The Lord raised up David, a king after His own heart, and promised great things to David's offspring. God has fulfilled His promises and He always will, for that is who He is. 

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