By Samuel Ridout
God's Care for His Own Honor
1 Samuel 5, 6.
Having thus vindicated the holiness of His character by permitting the ark to be removed. from Shiloh, and taken captive by the Philistines, God will now show to its very captors that His power and majesty is unchanged. We need never be afraid that God will fail to vindicate either His holiness or His power. Our only fear should be lest we be not in that state in which we can be vessels of testimony for Him.
Notice how all interest is transferred from Israel to the Philistines' land. Wherever God's presence is must be the true centre of interest. Nor does this mean that God has permanently forsaken Israel or ceased to love them. Nay, all that is now transpiring in the distant land is but the twofold preparation for the maintenance of His holiness and His grace toward a repentant people.
The Philistines have looked upon this capture of the ark not only as their victory over Israel, but over God as well. They ascribe both to their own god, Dagon, and in acknowledgement of his triumph over Israel's God, they put the ark in Dagon's temple.
It is now no longer a question between God and Israel, or even between God and the Philistines, but between the true God and man's false one — part fish, part man, as the perverted and corrupt ingenuity of fallen man delights to depict the god of his own fashioning. This false god is at once immeasurably inferior to man, like to the fish in the main, with head and hands of human intelligence and power, and yet the object of his dread and worship. Such is the idol ever, in all its forms, really beneath those who form it.
At first, doubtless to impress more fully the lesson, God simply casts the image prostrate before Him. Poor hardened man sets it up again. But the second time, the blindness of the people failing to understand, Dagon falls and is broken. He loses all that had given him a semblance of intelligence or power, and the headless trunk witnesses of the vanity of idols, and of the majesty and power of that God whom they in their madness had despised.
Had there been the least desire after truth, what an effectual witness would this have been to the Philistines of the vanity of Dagon and the reality of the living God! Alas, their hardened hearts see but little in it, and give added honor to Dagon by not treading upon the threshold, where his head and hands had lain. Doubtless the priests put head and hands back again, and most was soon forgotten. How utterly hopeless is all witness to those who do not desire to know the truth. But God is vindicated, and His desire as well to deliver men from their errors.
In how many ways does Rome answer to all this persistent and shameless idolatry. Dagon, the fish-god, suggests that worship of increase, for which the fish is remarkable, and which forms one of Rome's claims to "Catholic." Does she not number her adherents by millions?
Nor can we fail to recognize in all our hearts that Philistine tendency to worship numbers. Is it not the test of a work? How many simply follow a multitude, and measure all spiritual results by the number of those who are identified with a movement. Again and again does God break to pieces this false god, permitting the loss of hands and feet — both intelligence and power to that which a carnal religion would still deify. We need to have this thing hunted out of our souls Mere numbers are no token of God's presence or approval, whether it be in evangelistic work or any testimony for God. His truth must ever be the test — His word, as applied by His Spirit. Without that it is but Dagon.
God's judgment is not confined to the overthrow of Dagon; He will touch not merely the idolatry of the people, but their prosperity and lives as well. As He had previously in Egypt not only-poured out His plagues upon the people, but upon their sources of livelihood, so He does here. His hand was laid heavily upon them and He smote them with emerods, a plague similar, probably, to the boils of Egypt and to what is now known as the Bubonic plague, repulsive and deadly in its effects. He had said: "Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment" (Ex. 12: 12), making the infliction so sweeping that neither people nor gods could ever again be pointed to as having been immune. So He would do in the land of the Philistines, no less effectually, if on a smaller scale, stopping every possible opportunity for unbelief to lift its head again.
And do we not see mercy in all this? Had Dagon merely been overthrown, the unbelief of the people and their half pity for their god would have found some ready excuse which would have enabled them to patch up their pride and their wounded god at the same time and go on with the old idolatry but if the judgment affects their property as well, and if the little mice, so contemptibly insignificant, can yet ravage their fields so as to rob them of the staff of life, they are forced to acknowledge here a hand whose weight they begin to feel and from under whose chastening they cannot escape. And when the blow comes still nearer and the stroke of God is felt upon their own bodies, with the dead all about them, surely they must be compelled to bow and own the rod.
So God's judgments are designed, if there be the least vestige of submission to Him, the least desire to turn from wickedness to Himself, to break down the pride and unbelief of the heart. This is the effect of all chastening upon those who are properly exercised thereby: "What son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" God's people from the beginning have been acquainted with the rod, and how many have had occasion to bless Him infinitely for the overthrow of idols which they had set up, the loss of property, of health, yea even of this life itself! May we not all say: "I know, Lord, that in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted," and add: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted. Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now have I kept Thy word"?
So God was not merely vindicating His own honor, but had they only known it, was speaking in no uncertain way, in mercy, to the godless nation among whom He had permitted His glory to be brought. What an opportunity indeed for repentance we might almost say what a necessity for it. And yet, alas, it was unavailed of showing how hopelessly and permanently alienated from any desire toward Himself were the Philistines, who, like the other nations cast out by Joshua, had filled up the measure of that iniquity which, in the days of Abraham, God in His patience had declared not yet full, and whom indeed it would be a mercy to sweep from the land.
And as we look at the world about us, under both the goodness and the severity of God, receiving His blessings, and experiencing the weight of His hand in providential dealings, do we not see how all this is calculated both to lead man to think of God and to repentance? Will it not be a weighty item in that awful account which the world must one day face? Particularly is this true in Christendom, where the light of revelation and the gospel of God's grace alike serve to illumine all that is darkest in His providence. Men will be without excuse. The very plea that they sometimes make, that for one who has had so much suffering in this life there must surely be a relief in the life to come, will but give added solemnity to the awful doom. If they had suffering in this life — trial, privation, bereavement, sickness, what effect did it have upon them? Did it bring them to see the vanity of earthly things, the uncertainty of life, the power of God, and above all their own sin before Him? Did it drive them to Christ, if they would not be wooed and drawn by the love of God? Oh, what an awful reckoning for the world! Woe to those indeed upon whom neither the love and mercy of God, nor the smiting of His hand have any effect!
At least, however, His own honor and His own goodness are vindicated. Men will not be able to say that God did not make His presence manifested. They will not be able to say that the sun of prosperity shone so uninterruptedly that they were never forced to think of eternal things. God's cup indeed is "full of mixture," and the mercy and the judgment alike vindicate His ways and show that deep desire of His heart, "Who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Such lessons, surely, we are warranted in gathering from this judgment upon the Philistines, though undoubtedly the main lesson was for His redeemed people. To bring upon them a deeper sense of their own unfaithfulness, and to show the power and holiness of God unchanged, were the primary objects.
What Israelite, as he looked back at the defeat at Ebenezer (1 Sam. 4: 1), with the ark carried off in triumph by the Philistines, and then at prostrate Dagon and the plagues upon the Philistines, could fail to learn the lesson so plainly taught? Must he not say, "Our God is holy" — He will not leave His honor to the unclean hands of wicked priests or an ungodly nation. But that which we could not care for, He still maintains"?
But how touching it is to think of the desires of our blessed God as manifested in all this judgment on the Philistines! He dwells amid the praises of His people. He cannot dwell in a strange land. His heart is toward them, though in faithfulness He may have had to turn from them and all that went on in Philistia but showed that divine restlessness of love which could not be at peace until it reposed again in the bosom of His redeemed ones. What love we see here! Veiled it may be, but surely not to faith. He will go back to the land from whence He has been driven by the faithlessness of His people, and not by the power of their enemies. He will bestir Himself to return to them if indeed there is a heart to receive Him, but in that divine equipoise of all His attributes His love must not outrun His holiness. Hence the object lesson before the eyes of all.
The nature of these plagues, no doubt, is typical here, as in the similar circumstances in Egypt. The emerods or tumors suggest the outward manifestation of a corruption which had long existed within, and which needed but the opportunity to display itself in all its hideous vileness. How solemnly true it is that to "receive the things done in the body" will be in a very real sense the essence of retribution! "Let him alone" is the most awful sentence that can be pronounced against any, and to allow the hell that is shut up in the heart of every unsaved man to express itself is an awful foretaste of that eternal doom where the knowledge of one's self means the knowledge of sin. True indeed it is that there will be the infliction of wrath also, but will not this be felt in the reaping of what has been sown? "He that is filthy, let him be filthy still." Permanence of character — solemn and awful thought for those who are away from God! The world little realizes, or makes itself easily forget, that beneath the fair exterior of a life no worse than that of most, there is hidden the possibility for every form of sin. It is out of the heart that "proceed evil thoughts, murders, blasphemies," and all the rest. So God was merely letting the wickedness of the wicked be manifest.
So, too, with the mice, as we said, small and contemptible in themselves; who would have thought that those fields of golden grain, with their abundant store, could be devoured by these trifles? So, today, in the world, men despise the trifles as they call them, which one day will eat out all the gladness and peace of life. Socialism, anarchy, various forms of infidelity, disobedience to parents, restiveness under restraint, pride, self-sufficiency — these things are either looked at with toleration, or, if characterized aright, as being so exceptional that there is no danger from them. And yet the book of Revelation traces all these things to the heading up of iniquity. The lawless one is but the embodiment of that lawlessness which even now is working in the children of unbelief. The fearful plagues recorded in that last book of prophecy are but the full development of the little mice, as we might call them, which are even now gnawing out the vitals of society and present order. Once let the powers of evil be turned loose, let the restraining hand of Him who "letteth" be lifted, and He (the Spirit in the Church) be taken away — as will soon come to pass at the coming of the Lord — and the ravages of evil fittingly described as famine and pestilence will show what the world may expect when left to itself. Would to God it had a voice for it now in this the day of His patience!
These inflictions appall the men of Ashdod where the ark had first been brought, and like men in similar case, they try to get rid of the cause, not by repentance, but by putting, as it were, God far off from them. If the load grows too heavy for one shoulder, it will be transferred to the other and then to the arms. It does not become so intolerable that they are prostrated before the God of Israel as yet still less does it have the effect of bringing them to a sense of their true condition. They will get rid of the trouble by getting rid of the ark, and so it is sent on to Gath and from Gath to Ekron, and thus through all the cities of the Philistines.
The same story is repeated everywhere. Men cannot so easily get rid of their chastening, and to shift the burden of an uneasy conscience will not remove the certainty of judgment. This passage of the ark from one city to the other of the Philistines is again a witness of the mercy and of the holiness of God. He will, as it were, knock at the door of each place, even as He did in Sodom, ere judgment fell finally, to see if there would be any that feared Him. And as He passes from one place to the other, we may well believe that there was no response save that of terror, no turning to Himself.
But what a triumphant procession for this ark it was! Even as when Paul passed from one heathen city to another, where Jewish hatred and Gentile scorn vied with each other in heaping reproaches upon him, he could say: "Thanks be to God who always leadeth us in triumph" (as the original has it) "in Christ." Whether it were the stones at Lystra, or the prison at Philippi, or the mockery at Corinth and Athens, faith could see the triumphant witness of the glory of God brought face to face with those people. Even as our Lord, when He sent His disciples through the various cities of Israel, foreseeing their rejection in many places and telling them that they were to shake off the very dust of their feet from those cities where they were not received, added: "Notwithstanding, be ye sure of this, that the Kingdom of God is come nigh unto you." So here, the ark of God makes its majestic progress from city to city, and prostrate forms of men, and devastated garners bear witness to its progress. "The Lord is known by the judgment which He executeth."
At last, desperation drives the lords of the Philistines to a conference in which they decide that what they thought was a victory over Jehovah was but a defeat for themselves; a victory too dearly bought to be longer endured, and they take the world's way (alas, the only way the world will take) of finding relief. They will get rid of God, even as the men of Decapolis besought our Lord to depart out of their coasts, though before their very eyes was the witness of His love and power in setting free the poor demoniac. Yes, the world will try to get rid of God. It may apparently succeed for a season, until the final day.
They decide to return the ark to the land of Israel: "Send away the ark of the God of Israel and let it go again to his own place, that it slay us not and our people; for there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there."
"And the ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months" — a complete cycle of time, witnessing perfectly to God's abhorrence of His people's course on the one hand; and, on the other, to the utter helplessness of idolatry to resist Him, or of the unsanctified to endure His presence.
Seven is too familiar a number to need much explanation. Its recurrence, however, in connection with the periods of God's separation from His people and of the infliction of judgments is significant and needs but to be mentioned. A glance at the pages of Daniel and the book of Revelation will make this plain. Is it not significant, too, that the day of atonement came in the seventh month, the time of national humiliation and turning to God marking the beginning of blessing, — a date, in fact, taken as the beginning of the year rather than redemption in the passover of the first month. Redemption is to be entered into, and the humbling truths of sin and helplessness and departure from God on the part of His own to be learned, before there can be the true beginning of that great year which we call the millennium.
Determined now, if possible, to get rid of their plagues and of Him who had inflicted them at the same time, the Philistines cast about for the best way to return the ark to its place without further offending such a God as this. It is significantly characteristic of their utterly unrepentant. condition, that they turned not to Him who had afflicted them for instruction, but to their own priests, those who ministered before Dagon, and to the diviners, corresponding to the magicians of Egypt, who bewitched them and led them astray. How true it is that the natural man never, under any circumstances, will of his own accord turn to the only source of light there is. It is only the child of God, the one divinely and savingly wrought upon by the Spirit of God, who can enter into the word, "Hear ye the rod and Him who hath appointed it." It is to His own people that God says: "If thou wilt return, return unto Me." What can priests or diviners know of the true way in which to deal with God, or to return to Him that which had been taken from Him, His own glory and His throne? Still the divine purpose has been effected and the time for the return of the ark has come. Therefore no fresh judgment marks this further insult, and they are allowed to take the way suggested by the priests, out of which indeed God gets fresh glory to Himself and gives an additional testimony to the fact that He is indeed the only true God.
There is some feeble groping toward divine truth suggested in the advice of the priests and diviners: "If ye send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not away empty, but anywise return Him a trespass-offering. Then shall ye be healed, and it shall be known to you why His hand is not removed from you" (1 Sam. 6: 3). In the darkest mind of the heathen there is a vague, indefinite sense of sin against God. It is, we may well believe, that witness which God leaves in the heart of every man, the most benighted, as well as the most highly cultured, that he has trespassed against his Creator and his Ruler. It is too universal to be ignored. The sense of sin is as wide as the human race, and the sense, too, of the need in some form or other, of a propitiatory offering to God. It takes various forms, the most uncouth and repulsive of the savage, and, no less insulting to God, the self-satisfied presentation of gifts of good works or reformation on the part of the Christless professor.
This trespass-offering, then, which is to be returned with the ark must be at once a memorial of the judgment, and of a value which suggests the reverence due for the One against whom they had trespassed. We notice, however, that the offerings go no further than the memorial of their affliction. Images are made of the emerods and of the mice, but what about that sin which brought this judgment upon them? Is there any confession of that, is there any memorial of that? Ah, no. The natural man sees the affliction and so magnifies that as to forget or ignore the cause for which the affliction came. How different this from the true trespass-offering which alone can avail before a holy God! that which is not so much a memorial of the affliction or judgment deserved as an acknowledgment of the sin which made it necessary; and above all, a confession that the only propitiatory which can be acceptable to God is that unblemished sacrifice of a guiltless substitute, a constantly recurring witness throughout Israel's history and ritual, of Christ, who alone is the trespass-offering, the One who "bare our sins in His own body on the tree."
He has not merely satisfied every demand of God's justice, but in the beautiful teaching of the type, has restored to Him more than was taken away; for the fifth part had to be added to whatever had been stolen. What a joy it is to contemplate this trespass-offering and to know that our acceptance before God is not measured, as we might say, by mere even-handed justice, though divine, but that we are far more the objects of His delight and complacency than we could possibly have been had we never sinned. We are "accepted in the Beloved," thank God. No image, even though it were golden, of our plagues and the sins which made them necessary, but the Image of God Himself, the One in whom shines "all the fulness of the Godhead bodily," and we "complete in Him." How worthless, and in one sense insulting to divine honor, seems this presentation of the golden mice! It was all that poor heathenism could give, all that it could rise to in its conception of what God demanded; nor can this be in the least an excuse for their ignorance, as it was a witness of most absolute and hopeless estrangement from Himself.
And yet we need not travel very far in Christendom to find very much the same spirit at least, amongst those about whose feet shines the light of gospel truth. In the churches of Rome can be seen hundreds of little votive offerings hung upon the walls; crutches, and other evidences of affliction which have been offered to God by those in distress. Nor is it confined to such tawdry trifles as these. In the spiritual realm how much is brought to God of this character! It comes far short, indeed, of His thought, because it comes so far short of Christ Himself.
The priests also appeal to the Philistines to take warning from the similar judgments which had been inflicted upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. In his blind hatred, Pharaoh knew not what his servants recognized, that the land of Egypt was destroyed, his heart being hardened to his own destruction. The Philistines are warned lest they harden their hearts in the same way. So it is, nature can take warnings and guard its course so as to escape the extreme of judgment, without in the least being softened into true penitence. It is but another form of selfishness that will save itself and take sufficient interest in God's past ways to learn how it can with least danger to itself go on still ignoring and despising Him. An Ahab might walk softly for many years and put off the evil day of reckoning about his murder of Naboth. But Ahab with all his soft walking was Ahab still, unrepentant and hardened, the very goodness of God in sparing him not melting him to repentance, but encouraging him to go on in his course of apostasy. All this is the opposite of that godly sorrow which worketh repentance that needeth not to be repented of.
The lords of the Philistines are willing enough to listen to all this advice, and further, in obedience to their instructions, they prepare the trespass-offering, putting it in a coffer alongside the ark and laying both upon a new cart. Fitting indeed that it should be new, one that had never been used in Philistine service. Instinct often guides those who are most ignorant.
The latent unbelief in the heart of the Philistines is seen in the way they took to restore the ark to the land of Israel. Who would have thought of taking two heifers who had never known the yoke, and harnessing them to a cart without drivers? Would not this insure the destruction of the ark? And to accentuate the difficulty, the calves of these cattle were left behind, so that all nature was against the ark ever reaching the land of Israel. May we not well believe there was a latent hope in the hearts of the people that it would turn out differently from what they were constrained to believe? "If it goeth up by the way of its own coast to Beth-shemesh, then He hath done us this great evil; but if not, then we shall know it was not His hand that smote us; it was a chance that happened to us." Truly, if the living God Himself were not directly concerned in it all, if it were not absolutely His hand that had inflicted the blow on account of the presence of His ark, if it were not His will to restore His throne again to His people, no better means could have been taken to manifest the fact.
But God delights in such opportunities to manifest Himself and to make bare His arm, surely we may well believe a closing witness to the hardened hearts of these people that He was indeed God, and a wondrous testimony as He returned to His people, of the fact that His hand was not shortened that He could not save. It reminds us of that time in the history of Israel's apostasy when the prophet Elijah issued his challenge in behalf of God to the prophets of Baal, with all the people as witnesses. It was to be no ordinary test. They were to see whether it was God or whether it was Baal. So the priests of Baal are allowed to take their sacrifices and, without unusual care, to see i f they can bring down fire from heaven. When they had consumed the day in their vain cries and cutting themselves, and there was no response, and abashed and silent they had to wait for the voice of God, then it was that the prophet took those special precautions to manifest that it was indeed God and He alone who was dealing with His people. Water is again and again poured over the sacrifice, over the altar, until it fills the ditch about the altar, and when every possibility of fire has been removed, all nature's heat quenched, then it is that in a few simple words the prophet asks the Lord to manifest Himself. Ah, yes, He can do so now. He cannot manifest Himself where there are still smoldering embers of nature's efforts; and it is well for the sinner to realize this. The fire to be kindled by divine love comes from God, is not found in his heart. It would only be a denial of man's need of God. Nor must the saint forget the same truth.
And so the kine with their precious burden go on their way, unwilling enough as far as nature is concerned, lowing for their absent calves as they went, but not for a moment turning aside; and the lords of the Philistines who follow them are constrained at last to admit that God has vindicated His honor and manifested the reality of His own presence and His own care for His throne. They follow and see the ark deposited upon a great rock, may we not say, type of that unchanging Rock on which rests the throne of God, the basis of all sacrifice and of all relationship with Him, even Christ Himself? And here we leave the Philistines, who return to their home, glad, no doubt, to be well rid both of the plagues and of Him who had inflicted them.1
The ark returns to Beth-shemesh, "the house of the sun," for it is ever light where God manifests Himself, and His return makes the night indeed bright about us. It comes into the field of Joshua, "Jehovah the Saviour," a reminder to the people whence their salvation alone could come. In vain would it be looked for from the hills, Jehovah alone must save. And here the spiritual instinct of the people, weak and ignorant as they are, is shown. They take the cattle and the wood of the cart and offer up a burnt-offering, far more acceptable to God than the golden images sent by the Philistines, of which we hear nothing again.
But the lesson of God's honor has not been fully learned, and, alas! His own people must now prove that His ways are ever equal. If He is holy in the temple of Dagon, so that the idol must fall prostrate before Him; if that same holiness will smite the godless Philistine nation, it is none the less intense when it comes to His own people. In fact, as we well know, judgment will begin at the house of God, and as the prophet reminds the people that they only as a nation had been known of God, so far from this entitling them to immunity from punishment, it was the pledge that they would get it if needed: "Therefore will I punish you for your iniquities."
The men of Beth-shemesh rejoiced to see the ark, but they little realized the cause of its removal into the enemy's country, and the need of fear and trembling as they approached God's holy presence. They lift up the cover and look within the ark, and God smites of the people, and there is a great slaughter. It seemed a very simple thing to do. We may hardly say that it was an idle curiosity to see what was therein. Possibly they may have thought that the Philistines had taken away the tables of the covenant, or at any rate they would see what was there. Was it not the covenant under which they had been brought into the land? Was it not the law which had been given on mount Sinai, written with the very finger of God, and were they not as the people of God entitled to look upon these tables of stone? Ah, they had forgotten two things, that when Moses brought the first tables of stone down from the mountain, and saw the idolatry of the people dancing about the golden calf, he cast the stones out of his hand and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He would not dare either to dishonor the law of God by bringing it into a godless camp, or insure the destruction of the people by allowing the majesty of the law to act unhindered in judgment upon them for their sin. They also forgot the divine covering over those tables of stone, that golden mercy-seat, that propitiatory with its cherubim at either end, beaten out of pure gold, one piece, speaking of the righteousness and judgment which are the foundation of God's throne and which must ever be vindicated or He cannot abide amongst His people. So upon that golden mercy-seat the blood of atonement had yearly been sprinkled, the witness that righteousness and judgment had been fully vindicated in the sacrifice of a substitute, and that the witness of atonement was there before God as the ground upon which His throne could remain in the midst of a sinful people.
To lift off the mercy-seat was in fact to deny the atonement. To gaze upon the tables of the covenant was practically to lay themselves open to the unhindered action of that law which says: "Cursed is he that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them." The law acted, we may say, unhindered, as the covering was removed.
How we should bless our God that His throne rests on the golden mercy-seat; that the blood of the Sacrifice has met every claim of a broken law, and faith delights to look where the cherubim's gaze is also fixed, upon that which speaks of a Sacrifice better than that of Abel — calling not for vengeance, but calling for the outflow of God's love and grace toward the guilty. Ah, no; God forbid that we should ever in thought lift the mercy-seat from the ark.
And so at last the lesson of divine holiness is in some measure learned. The people are forced, by the smiting of God, even though but just returned amongst them, to acknowledge that He must be approached with reverence and godly fear. "Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?" Here unbelief struggles with reverence, and for the time triumphs; and instead of turning in simplicity to the One who had smitten them, to learn why, and how they could approach Him and enjoy His favor without danger, they are more concerned, as the Philistines had been, that the ark should go up from them, not of course to be taken out of their land, but still to be removed from their immediate presence — so that they could have the benefit of God's favor without the dread sense of His too near presence, a thing, alas, too common amongst God's professed people. And may we not detect in our own hearts a kindred feeling which would shrink from the constant sense of the presence of God in every thought and word and act of our lives, and would rather have Him, as it were, at a little distance, where we can resort in time of need or as desire may move us, but where we are not always under His eye? Thank God, it is vain to wish this, it cannot be; and yet as to our experience, how often are we losers in our souls because the desire of the psalmist is not more completely our own: "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord, and inquire in His temple."
And so the ark cannot yet find a resting-place in the midst of the nation, but is sent off to Kirjath-Jearim, "the city of the woods;" strange contradiction, and suggestive of the place of practical banishment into which God was being put, a city in name and yet a forest. Here David finds it (Ps 132: 6). "We found it in the fields of the wood;" no place, surely, for the throne of God; yet here it abides for twenty years (1 Sam. 7: 2), until the needed work of repentance is fulfilled. We can well believe them to have been years of faithful ministry on the part of Samuel, and of gradual, perhaps unwilling submission and longing, on the part of the people. We are told all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord. Meanwhile, the ark rests in the house of Abinadab in the hill, and his son Eleazar, with the priestly name "my God is help," remains in charge.
The ark never again returns to Shiloh: "He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which He placed among men, and delivered His strength into captivity and His glory into the enemy's hand" (Ps. 78: 60, 61). "He refused the tabernacle of Joseph and chose not the tribe of Ephraim (Ps. 78: 67). "Go ye now unto My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My name in the first and see what I did to it for the wickedness of My people Israel" (Jer. 7: 12).
There was fitness in this in two ways. God never restores in exactly the same way a failed testimony. Shiloh had, as it were, become defiled and its name connected with the apostasy of the people under Eli. It had the dishonor of having allowed the throne of God to be removed into the enemy's hands. It had, so to speak, as the representative of the nation, proven its incompetency to guard God's honor, and it could not again be entrusted with it.
Then, too, it was in the tribe of Ephraim — that tribe which spoke of the fruits of the life in contrast to Judah, from which tribe our Lord came, and whose name, "praise," suggests that in which alone God can dwell: "Thou inhabitest the praises of Israel." Praise for Christ is the only atmosphere in which God can abide. How everything emphasizes the refusal of the flesh! Even as Joseph himself displaced Reuben the first-born, and as Ephraim, the younger brother, was chosen before Manasseh, so now again the tribe which had had the headship and out of which the nation's great leader, Joshua, had come, must be set aside. "The Lion of the tribe of Judah" is the only One who can prevail, and all these changes emphasize this fact which God has written all over His word — there is no reliance in man, the flesh is unprofitable, Christ is all.
1 May we not reasonably think that this history of the ark and its deeds amongst the Philistines remained a powerful testimony among them, producing its fruits as we see in 2 Sam. 15: 18, where we find that Ittai and several hundred with him from Gath were following David?