The Capture of the Ark - Future History of Israel
By Bill Randles
Bible stories, as we noted earlier (see Part 1 CETF # 56), are so much more than morality lessons. They preach the Gospel, reveal Christ and, as we will show in this instance, they contain eschatology.
The story of the capture of the Ark of God in 1 Samuel chapters 4-6 is an amazing example of these things. They are narratives of actual events in history. The Israelites really did try to throw off the Philistines, using the Ark of God as a talisman, and losing it in battle. The Philistines truly played hot potato with the Ark, after they “captured it”, passing it from city to city among the five lords of the Philistines. All of this happened.
But there is more in this narrative than meets the eye. God has here indicated the future of Israel, and of the associated Gentile nations. The passage is prophetic as well as historic.
How does the story in 1 Samuel chapter 4 relate to the then future history of Israel?
First of all, there is the condition of Israel, a holy but backslidden nation, led and oppressed by a corrupt high priesthood. The nation was in their God given land, yet dominated by a foreign (Gentile) power, attempting vainly to throw off the yoke by military resistance. Israel would find themselves in this situation time and again - resisting Assyrian, Moabite, Ammonite, Babylonian and finally Roman subjugation.
The story develops around two shattering defeats. The first was bad enough—the loss of four thousand men in one battle was devastating to the nation; but the second defeat was even more shattering, indeed the loss was incalculable. The nation wasn’t the same afterwards - 30,000 dead, the devastating loss of the high priest and his sons and if that weren’t enough, the desolation of the tabernacle in Shiloh and the capture of the Ark of the Covenant of God!
In this story, lies a prediction of the future of Israel, which would be fulfilled with uncanny precision. The two major defeats and consequent captivities in the history of Israel correspond to the twofold defeat in 1 Samuel 4. The first resulted in the destruction of temple in 586 BC and was the most devastating and traumatic defeat Israel had ever experienced to that time.
Judah, by her sins, had come under the power of the Babylonians. Rather than listen to Jeremiah and the true prophets, who counselled her to see the hand of God in the Babylonian rule, other Jewish (false) prophets agitated for military resistance. This resulted in the Chaldean siege of Jerusalem, which led to the destruction of Solomon’s temple and the 70-year captivity in Babylon. The calendar date of the destruction of the temple, “Tish Ba Av” is to this day commemorated by fasting and mourning.
But after 70 years God raised up another Gentile ruler, Cyrus the Persian, to be benevolent towards Judah - sending the captives home and even financing the building of the second temple.
Fast forward to 70 AD, and once again, Israel chafes under a foreign rule and once again there is a patriotic resistance. Battles are fought, blood is spilt and the city of Jerusalem is besieged by the Romans. The stage is being set for the second, and more catastrophic defeat, which corresponds to the second battle in 1 Samuel chapter 4.
This time it is the Romans who breach the walls of the city, slaughter the inhabitants and amazingly, this occurred also on the same calendar day, Tish Ba Av. But the Jews resisted the Roman invaders so fiercely, fighting occurred in the temple itself. Titus had commanded that the temple not be destroyed, but in spite of his command, curtains in the temple caught fire in the fighting and burned the cedar timber, melting the golden trim work thus causing gold to seep between the massive stones of the temple. The stones were pulled off one at a time to retrieve the gold. Thus was fulfilled the words of Jesus from forty years earlier,
Do you see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another which will not be torn down - Matthew 24:2.
The desolation and destruction of the temple in Jerusalem set off a chain of events which ended in the complete dissolution of the Jewish state, the over populating of international slave markets with Jewish captives and the dispersion of Israel to the very ends of the earth - all in fulfilment of the warnings of Moses and the prophets. Unbelievably this disaster dwarfed even the earlier disaster! Israel has not really recovered up to this day, almost two thousand years later.
But there is an event which occurred shortly before the second catastrophic defeat in Samuel’s time. 1 Samuel chapter 4 records that the corrupt priests of Israel removed the Ark of the Covenant from the Tabernacle, and in effect handed it over to the Gentiles. One generation before 70 AD, Annas and Caiphas virtually did the same thing, but this time not with the Ark of the Covenant, but with all that the Ark of the Covenant of God stood for and pointed to!
Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him to the Gentiles… Mark 10:33 cf. Luke 9:44.
Remember the last little character sketch in 1 Samuel chapter 4, the horrifying death in childbirth of the daughter-in-law of the high priest? She was despondent in labour, even when they told her that she had a son. She only came out of her despair enough to name him “Ichabod - for the Glory has departed from Israel” (1 Samuel 4:21) then and there she died and in a way the nation died with her.
For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king; and shall fear the LORD and his goodness in the latter days - Hosea 3:4-5.
Fortunately for all of us, Ichabod is not the last word, as Hosea says, there is an “Afterwards” in the “Latter Days” which corresponds to things revealed about Israel’s future History in 1 Samuel chapter 6, but before we get into that we need to consider what is happening in the Gentile world as this too is foreshadowed in our story.
1 Samuel chapter 5 is likewise actual history, Gospel and Eschatology, only this time in regard to the Gentiles.
Now the Philistines took the Ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the Ark of God and brought it to the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon. When the Ashdodites arose early the next morning, behold Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the Ark of the Lord - 1 Samuel 5:1-3.
The Gospel can be seen in this part of the story. The people of that time and in that part of the world interpreted a military victory as a triumph of one god over another. In fact that is still the case in the Middle East today. Every advance by Islam is seen as the victory of Allah over Yahweh (Jehovah) and Jesus! The battle cry “Allah Akbar” does not mean, “Allah is Great”, but rather, “Allah is Greater!” Islam is a religion of comparison.
To the Philistines Dagon had defeated Yahweh. They took the Ark of the dead god, Yahweh, down into the temple of their victorious god, Dagon. When they shut the door on the Ark in the temple of Dagon, it foreshadowed the rolling of the stone over the face of the tomb where Jesus was laid.
I can see Easter morning in 1 Samuel 5: 3-4. Early the next day the Philistines went down to the temple of Dagon to triumph over the defeat of Yahweh, only to be confronted with the fact that the God of Israel had not been defeated at all. He had risen and was exalted. This is the Gospel in 1 Samuel chapter 5. In apparent weakness and powerlessness our God triumphs over His enemies.
But there is Eschatology here also. This is prophecy as well as history. The Gentiles, like the Jews in chapter 4, suffered a double defeat, the first one was seemingly recoverable, but the second was utterly devastating - they were broken and that without remedy.
The first defeat is in verse 3. Dagon lies prostrate before the living God.
And when the people of Ashdod arose early in the morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon its face to the earth before the ark of the LORD.
This would be the future of the Gentile world, from 70 AD until the end of the age. All of the Roman gods, the Greek gods, the pantheons of classical antiquity were abandoned, shown to be impotent, as the Christian Gospel advanced. The Celtic, Teutonic, Saxon and Gothic gods were abandoned, Paganism collapsed as Christianity took root and spread.
…So they took Dagon and set him in his place again - 1 Samuel 5:3b.
Between the first and second half of verse 3 is two thousand years of history for the Gentile world. What happened when they found Dagon prostrate before the Lord himself? They picked Dagon up again and set him up in his exalted place. In other words, right before the end, the old gods, the pre-Christian deities are brought back into play. This sets the stage for the second and irreparable defeat of the gentile powers.
The old gods are back, and the world is now consciously “post Christian”. Dagon has been set up; Molech is now worshipped with Abandon (abortion), as well as Baal and Astarte (sexual revolution). All these have re-emerged in one form or another. The old gods that were once prostrated by the spread of the Gospel have been set back up in their place.
Jesus warned us concerning this when He spoke of an unclean spirit being driven out of a house (nation),
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walks through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, “I will return to my house whence I came out.” And when he comes, he finds it swept and garnished. Then he goes, and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first – Luke 11:24-26 cf. Matt. 12:43-45.
The secularization of the West has only left an empty house, and if nature abhors a vacuum, how much more the spiritual world?
But when they arose early the next morning, behold Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the Ark of the Lord. And the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off, on the threshold, only the trunk of Dagon was left to him - 1 Samuel 5:4.
The second defeat of the Philistines was greater than the first. Dagon was not only prostrated, but his head and his hands were broken! The breaking of the head alerts the biblically aware of the primal Gospel promise (prophecy):
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel – Gen 3:15.
The crushing of the idol, Dagon, foreshadows what Nebuchadnezzar saw in his vision of the final defeat of the Gentile world powers. He saw a massive statue of a man, with a head of gold, shoulders of silver, waist and loins of bronze, legs of iron, and feet and toes of iron mixed with clay. Then a stone not cut out by human hands struck the statue and crushed it to powder.
The end of the “times of the gentiles” (cf. Luke 21:24) will be as the crushing of the great, humanistic idol, by the return of the Saviour and Lord to rule and reign on earth.
You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay, and crushed them. Then the iron, the clay the bronze the silver, and the gold, were crushed all at the same time, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors, and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled all of the earth - Daniel 2:34-35.
This is the Gospel according to the capture of the Ark. Rather than capturing Yahweh, Yahweh captured the Philistines! Yahweh triumphed over their gods and showed Himself to be either the savour of life or the savour of death.
This is the Eschatology of the story of the Ark—a twofold defeat of paganism—first prostrated, and in the last days propped back up, but then utterly crushed by the return of the true King and Saviour!
NEXT – Part 3 - Haemorrhoids and Mice and the future of the Gentile World.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR –
BILL RANDLES came out of the Word of Faith Movement and is the founder and pastor of Believers in Grace Fellowship in Marion, Iowa which has been in existence since 1982. He is the author of 4 books: Making War in the Heavenlies, Weighed & Found Wanting, Beware the New Prophets, and Mending the Nets. He has travelled to Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Russia and the Philippines preaching the gospel and contending for the faith that has been delivered to the saints. He and his wife, Kristin, have 6 children and 10 grandchildren.