The Signs of the Times


January 12, 1882

The Ark in Philistia


The loss of the ark was the heaviest blow which had fallen upon Israel since their establishment as a nation. Unfaithful to God as they had been, they still regarded this sacred symbol with awe and reverence, not unmingled with pride, as they recalled the glorious triumphs of the past. The tidings that it had been taken by the Philistines sent a thrill of terror through every heart, followed by the mute calmness of despair. Military power, could they command it, would not avail them now; and the strength of their men of war seemed paralyzed. ST January 12, 1882, Art. A, par. 1

But the Lord had not wholly cast aside his chosen, nor would he long suffer the exultation of the heathen. He had used the Philistines as the instrument to punish Israel, and he would now employ the ark to punish the Philistines. In time past the divine presence had attended it to be the strength, salvation, and glory of his obedient people. That invisible presence would still attend it to bring terror and destruction to the bold transgressors of God's holy law. ST January 12, 1882, Art. A, par. 2

The Philistines removed the ark in triumph to Ashdod, one of their five principal cities, and placed it in the house of their god, Dagon. They felt that now they had nothing to fear from Israel. In their superstitious ignorance they imagined that the mighty power which had hitherto attended the ark would be theirs, and this, united with the power of Dagon, would render them invincible. Attributing their success wholly to the favor of their god, they sought to show their gratitude by the most extravagant demonstrations of reverence and praise. ST January 12, 1882, Art. A, par. 3

Their rejoicing was of short duration. Upon entering the temple on the following day, they beheld a sight which filled them with consternation. Dagon their god had fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of Jehovah. Reverently the priests lifted the idol and restored him to his place. But the next morning they found him, strangely mutilated, again lying upon the earth before the ark. The upper part of this idol was like that of a man, and the lower part was in the likeness of a fish. Now every part that resembled the human form had been cut off, and only the uncouth body of the fish remained. ST January 12, 1882, Art. A, par. 4

Priests and people were horror-struck as they beheld their cherished deity thus mutilated and dishonored. They looked upon this mysterious event as an evil omen foreboding destruction to themselves and their idols before the God of the Hebrews. They now removed the ark from their temple, and placed it in a building by itself. ST January 12, 1882, Art. A, par. 5

The living God whom the Philistines had insulted and defied, had arisen to assert his authority and manifest his power. The divine judgments rested heavily upon Ashdod, and the inhabitants were smitten with a distressing and fatal disease. Remembering the plagues which were visited upon Egypt by the God of Israel, the people attributed their afflictions to the presence of the ark among them. Accordingly they assembled their leading men to consider what to do with the ark, declaring that it should no longer abide with them. It was decided to convey it to Gath. But the plague followed close upon its removal, and the men of that city sent it to Ekron. ST January 12, 1882, Art. A, par. 6

Here the people received it with terror, crying, “They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people.” They sought to their gods for protection, as the people of Gath and Ashdod had done. But the work of the destroyer went on, until, in their distress, “the cry of the city went up to heaven.” Fearing longer to retain the ark among the homes of men, the people next placed it in the open fields. There followed a plague of mice, which infested the land, destroying the products of the soil, both in the storehouse and in the field. Utter destruction, by disease or famine, now threatened the nation, and gloomy forebodings for the future added to the heavy burden of the present. ST January 12, 1882, Art. A, par. 7

In his dealings with the Philistines, God had shown how easily at his appointed time he can overthrow the stronghold of superstition, and sweep away the refuge of lies. The Lord often employs his bitterest enemies to punish the unfaithfulness of his professed people. The wicked may triumph for a time as they see Israel suffering chastisement; but let them be assured that the wrath of God will ere long fall with crushing weight upon themselves. However the sinner may now rejoice in the rewards of unrighteousness, the blind eyes will yet see, the hard heart one day fell, that a life of rebellion against God has been a terrible mistake. ST January 12, 1882, Art. A, par. 8

For seven long months the ark remained in Philistia. During all this time the Israelites made no attempt to recover the symbol of Jehovah's presence. But the Philistines were now as anxious to free themselves from its power as they had been to obtain it. Instead of being a source of strength to them, it was a great burden and a heavy curse. Yet they knew not what course to pursue; for wherever it went, the judgments of God followed. The people called for the princes of the nation, with the priests and diviners, and eagerly inquired, “What shall we do to the ark of the Lord? Tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place.” They were advised to return it with a costly trespass-offering, that the wrath of God might be appeased. “Then,” said the priests, “ye shall be healed, and it shall be known to you why his hand is not removed from you.” ST January 12, 1882, Art. A, par. 9

In India at the present day, when a pilgrim comes to a pagoda or temple to be cured of any disease, he invariably brings with him a figure of the member or part affected, in gold, silver, or copper, according to his means, and presents it as an offering to his god. A similar custom was in vogue among the Philistines; and in accordance with the prevailing superstition, the lords directed the people to make representations of the plagues by which they had been afflicted,—“five golden emerods, and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines; for,” said they, “one plague was on you all, and on your lords.” ST January 12, 1882, Art. A, par. 10

These wise men acknowledged a mysterious power accompanying the ark; a power which they had no wisdom to meet. Yet they did not counsel the people to turn from their idolatry to serve the Lord. They still hated the God of Israel though compelled by overwhelming judgments to submit to his authority. Thus sinners may still be convinced by the judgments of God that it is in vain to contend against him. They may be compelled to submit to his power, while at heart they rebel against his control. Such submission may honor God, but it can have no power to save the transgressor. The heart must be yielded to God and subdued by divine grace before man's repentance can be accepted. ST January 12, 1882, Art. A, par. 11

We are filled with wonder as we contemplate the long-suffering of God toward the wicked. The idolatrous Philistines and backsliding Israel had alike enjoyed the gifts of his providence. Rain and sunshine, objects of beauty, gifts for sustenance,—the music of birds, the fragrance and loveliness of flowers, fruits without number, pleasant to the sight and good for food, golden harvests to clothe the plain and cattle upon the hills—all came to them from God. Ten thousand unnoticed mercies were silently falling in the pathway of ungrateful, rebellious men. Every blessing spoke to them of the Giver, but they were indifferent to his love. The forbearance of God was very great toward the children of men; but when they stubbornly persisted in their impenitence, he removed from them his protecting hand. They refused to listen to the voice of God in his created works, and in the warnings, counsels, and reproofs of his word, and he spoke to them through judgments. They rejected mercy, and the great I Am caused them to feel his power. ST January 12, 1882, Art. A, par. 12

How many there are today, who, like the Philistines, will present offerings to God, but refuse to give him their hearts, and cast away their idols. How many with idolatrous delight set their affections on sparkling vanities, that must ere long be consumed, turning away from the only treasure worth possessing. ST January 12, 1882, Art. A, par. 13

God still bears long with the wicked. He still surrounds them with temporal blessings. It is his hand that provides the bounties upon their tables. He gives them raiment and dwellings. There are rich fields for the harvest; there are flocks and herds, gold and silver, friends and health. Let God but remove his providential care, and what want, desolation, and inexpressible wretchedness would result! A blight would come upon the fields, every creature that ministers to our comfort would perish, and man himself would be swept from the earth as by a devouring plague. And yet men enjoy God's blessings, and, like the soulless beasts, return to him no grateful acknowledgment. They feel secure in their possessions, when a word, a breath, the slightest accident, might deprive them of their earthly all. No bounty or blessing can men claim as their own. All are committed to us as a trust, which, if not wisely improved, God will remove. ST January 12, 1882, Art. A, par. 14

The Philistines hoped by their offerings to appease the wrath of God, but they were ignorant of the one great sacrifice which alone can secure to sinful men the divine favor. Those gifts were powerless to atone for sin; for the offerers did not through them express faith in Christ. Not a ray of hope, no proffer of mercy, no token of God's favor, could have been ours, but for the cross of Calvary. Justice must have cut men off forever from temporal and spiritual blessings, separating us from God both here and hereafter, closing the door to all the joys of earth, and forever shutting out the brightness of Heaven. For us, Jesus trod the wine-press of God's wrath. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Let every son and daughter of Adam unite to exalt the name of Christ, as our King and our Redeemer. “For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” ST January 12, 1882, Art. A, par. 15