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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Approaching God

I've reached 1 Samuel in my reading now and this morning I read through the chapters where the ark was taken captive by the Philistines (chap. 4-6).
A few things really stood out to me in these chapters. The first being the way the Philistines treated the ark.

Surprisingly, when the Philistines captured the ark they did not take any action against it but rather carried it to somewhere safe. At first glance this seems like a spoil of war sort of thing, but it contrasts greatly with the foolishness of the Israelites to carry it into war as their standard, essentially moving God where they will rather than where he has commanded. A foolish representation of us placing demands on God rather than listening to his demands for us.

No, the Philistines treated the ark with respect, and in many ways gave it a more divine treatment than the Israelites themselves who had regulations regarding such. The placement of the ark inside the temple of Dagon has been taken as some to mean that they offered it as worship to Dagon, but I think it more likely that Yahweh was meant to be an addition to the Philistine's pantheon. We like to think of Dagon having fallen face downward as him falling forward towards the ark, but the description is one of the ark being placed "by" Dagon, thus indicating the falling before the ark may have been an extremely unnatural position as the ark was probably placed to the left or right, not in front.

Another reason I belief they were attempting reverence in their treatment of God is that Dagon may have been the chief god either of the city or the Philistines themselves and thus placing the ark in his temple was not merely adding God to the pantheon, but placing him in a high position of reverence in the pantheon as well (it is difficult to ascertain Dagon's exact place in the pantheon because towns and accounts varied on their descriptions, but he was at least once referred to as lord of the gods). God would not accept this regardless of whether the Philistines thought of it as worship. Matthew Henry says it well when he says "for He is not worshipped at all if He is not worshipped alone".

Finally we see the Philistines "repentance", in releasing the ark. Of course this was after the plagues occurred in at least 3 cities (3 mentioned by name, but the diviners in chapter 6 make reference to the plagues being on all the philistines). It's interesting to note that the Philistines diviners, although not knowing how to handle the ark or what God demands, still had some understanding of what was to be done. They suggested a guilt offering of golden tumors and mice, apparently to signify the plagues brought about by Gods displeasure. In this they lacked the knowledge that God only accepts blood as a guilt offering, but what they do acknowledge is their own guilt. An example of the knowledge God has placed in all men's hearts of their need for repentance and salvation.

When we approach God, we approach with reverence and humility for we know His power just as the Philistines did. However, we also approach with joy for although we know of our own guilt, we also know of our perfect guilt offering in Christ. Our guilt has been taken away and we can approach God as those in right standing to Him. This should provoke us to worship of God, and also to compassion towards those who have the same guilt we experienced, but lack the knowledge of Christ. Our hearts should be tender toward them, for it was not so long ago that each of us was as they are.

The last time I read this passage I remember celebrating in the Philistines being shown God's power and essentially having their gods defeated. I think this time I have a little more pity, seeing how close the philistines came to God and yet how far they were from truly knowing Him.

Jeremy Peggins, Building Bookcases Writer