In 1 Samuel 4 and 5 we have the story of the ark of the covenant being captured by the Philistines. In 1 Samuel 4:3, we read:
“…Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies.”
The Israelites had turned the ark of the covenant into an idol; they had disassociated it from God Himself, and were now trying to use it like a lucky charm, just how the pagans did with their own idols. God cannot be manipulated by human machinations, and when man does try to manipulate God for his own purposes, he will inevitably fail.
30,000 Israelites died that day, including their priestly leaders, Hophni, Phineas and Eli. 30 is the number for spiritual maturity in the Bible: David and Jesus both entered their ministries at 30. In this story though (1 Sam 4:10), we see that 30 thousand died! I believe this indicates Israel had completely lost their spiritual maturity. 30 is also the number of fruitfulness, and in this case, they had totally lost all ability to produce righteous fruit before God.
So that is the background story, right? Then the ark gets captured, and brought to the Philistine cities. God will not be subject to any idol, and so we see the idol of Dagon being dismembered during the night. If you haven’t read this story recently, you should; there is a lot more in here than I’m touching on today.
Then next thing that happens is that tumors start breaking out on the Philistine people all over the place. They start moving the ark around from city to city, but everywhere it goes, it carries a deadly curse with it.
In 1 Sam 5:11 we read:
“”Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go back to its own place, so that it does not kill us and our people.” For there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there.”
The thing that struck me as I read this was that despite Israel having proven their total lack of spiritual maturity, and their total lack of respect for their God, God was still arranging events so that the ark of His covenant could get back among His people.
Despite their rebellion, they were His people, and the Philistines were not! God wants to dwell among His people!
There’s a similar story in Numbers 23, where Balaam goes to curse the Israelites, and God looks down and says “there’s nothing wrong with them!” Balaam ends up blessing Israel instead. Looking from the outside in, God sees His people through the lens of Christ’s sacrifice, and sees us holy and set apart for Him. As such, He wants to dwell among us and have fellowship with us.
From the inside, God of course does not condone sin, and the Holy Spirit always brings conviction of sin in order to bring about true experiential holiness among His people.