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Who Raided the Ark While It was Lost?

At last the Temple was complete. The stones had been chiselled and set in place, the wood lovingly carved, and the whole thing extravagantly overlaid with gold.

The furniture was in place. The bronze altar for the sacrifices pointed forward to the Cross, where God’s ultimate sacrifice would be offered to provide not only a covering for man’s sin, but total forgiveness and restoration.

The bath where the priests were to bathe before each ceremony spoke of the need to “keep short accounts” with God, coming to Him regularly to receive the cleansing He has provided.

The lampstands burned brightly, speaking of the Word of God which is a “light to our feet and a lamp to our path”, and our need to have our way constantly lit by it.

The tables of shewbread – the bread of the presence – told of the sweet communion with God which is available to the priests (in the New Covenant, that’s all of us who know Jesus as Lord and Saviour!)

Then there was the golden altar, from which incense ascended to God, speaking of the prayer of the saints.

The priests had consecrated themselves, setting themselves apart “for God’s use only”.

Yes, it was all ready, just waiting for one thing… the presence of God. Then Solomon called for the Ark of the Covenant. The priests carried it in on their shoulders using wooden staves passed through the rings on the side of the Ark. It was set up in the Holy of Holies, beneath the outspread wings of the cherubim (which were, incidentally, not cute little babies with fluffy little wings but huge, magnificent creatures with 15-foot wingspans.)

The musicians worshiped with all they had, coming together in unity before the Lord.

Then the presence of God came, the temple was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the presence of the Lord.

Yet something was missing from the Ark. 2 Chronicles 6:11 says that the only thing in the Ark was the Law, the two stone tablets which Moses had received on Horeb. However, in the past there had been two other objects in the Ark: the golden pot of manna (Exodus 16:32-33) and Aaron’s staff that budded (Numbers 17:10.)

The Law speaks of the character of God. It is fashionable for us to New Testament saints to scoff at the law, to see most of it as irrelevant or even arbitrary. Yet it is neither. The law is not merely a set of rules God made up, as one might make up the rules of a game. Nor did He sit in heaven, scratch His head and say, “Now what can I come up with to make life as difficult as possible for these guys?” No, the law is the expression of His character. The moral law is the expression of His righteousness. The judicial law is an expression of both His justice and His love. The laws regarding separation (food, health etc) are an expression of His holiness, his separateness. The laws about dealing with Gentiles are an expression of His goodness and mercy. The ritual laws concerning the Temple, priesthood and sacrifices are an expression of His redemptive purposes. The commands concerning the judgement of sin, whether in individuals or nations, are an expression of His judgement.

The pot of manna spoke of God’s provision for man. In this case, it was specifically material provision, but we can take it as provision in every area of need, whether it be material goods, healing, comfort, joy, peace, anointing, revelation – whatever the need may be, we can see its provision symbolised in the pot of manna. God provided the manner when there were no natural resources available: it was his miraculous provision. His people didn’t have to work for it, other than to go out and collect it, and they were guaranteed that no matter how much or how little they collected they would have just enough. If they got greedy or lazy, however, and tried to keep it for the next day, then it would get maggots and stink – except for the Sabbath, when no manna fell, and what they had collected the previous day stayed fresh and palatable.

Aaron’s rod that budded was the symbol of God’s authority given to his servants. Some of the people of Israel had risen up in rebellion because only Aaron’s family, as priests, had the right to come before the Lord to offer sacrifices. They demanded that they should all have this right. God judged them severely (read the story in Numbers 16), then He told the leaders of each of the twelve tribes to bring an almond rod and set it before the Lord. The rod of the man the Lord had chosen would bud, thus vindicating Moses’ choice of Aaron. In fact, Aaron’s rod not only budded, but blossomed and produced almonds.

However, the jar of manna and Aaron’s rod were missing by the time the Ark was brought into the Temple. Who took them? It almost certainly happened during the time that the Ark was in captivity in the land of the Philistines. The Bible doesn’t tell us, but we can be certain of one thing: whoever removed them paid with his life. If well-meaning Uzzah was struck down when he tried to steady the Ark which was being moved wrongly
(2 Samuel 6:3-7), certainly those who pried open the sacred box to steal from it for their own gratification would have met a most unseemly end.

We can be certain, also, that immediately they were removed from the presence of God the pot of manna would have developed worms and begun to stink terribly, and the rod would have dropped its buds, its blossoms and its almonds and become nothing more than a shrivelled, dry old stick. It was only the presence of God that kept them alive.

So here we have the Ark entering the Temple, minus the pot of manna and minus Aaron’s rod that budded. Yet the presence and the glory of God still fell. Why? Because His character were still there, and God’s presence is tied up with His character. It is not dependent on His provision for us – God would still be God if He had never given us a single thing. Nor is it dependant on His delegation of authority to us – He would still be God even if He had never given us a single crumb of His authority. Where His character is, His presence is.

Have we, I wonder, been like the Philistines? Have we raided the Ark while it was lost? When there was little sense of the presence of God in the Church, have we snatched the pot of manna, thinking that if we had His provision we had Him? Have we then wondered why the manna got maggots and began to stink? Have we failed to see that the ever-fresh provision of the Lord is to be found only in the presence of the Lord, and His presence is to be found only in His character?

Have we taken God’s authority out of His presence, thinking that we can have it without really having Him? Have we then wondered why our authority withered and shrivelled and became nothing more than a dry stick in our hands? Could we not see that God’s authority is like a stream of life from the throne, which can come only from His presence and His character?

Worse, have we wrenched the tablets of the law from the Ark, thrown them away and left only the pot of manna and Aaron’s rod? Can we really imagine that God’s presence would sit on such a throne? Of course not! His presence went with His character, which we threw away.

God is bringing His church into a time when He will manifest His presence in ways which exceed our wildest imaginings. But He will do so only when His character is enthroned in the Ark. He will do so regardless of whether His provision for us, and His authority given to us, is there or not. If we want His provision to be fresh, if we want His authority to be alive, it is up to us to see that they are returned to the Ark, joined to His character and received from His presence.

This article was first published in The Full Gospel Messenger (Australia) in March 2002.

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