Summary: God is holy, not a commodity. Even though Joy is appropriate and even instructed, God must be approached with reverence before joy
Last week we saw that the number one characteristic of God is that he is holy. We need to understand this about God so we can make sure we are worshipping him and not some caricature of him we have made up in our mind.
Do you know what a caricature is? We usually think of it as a picture, such as a political cartoon or drawing at a fair where someone exaggerates some features of another person. It is curious how it works, because even though it is not a true to life representation, you can tell who it is.
People do the same thing with God. What we will see from the texts we will read this morning is that serving a caricature of God can be disastrous.
So that is why we begin once again with God's holiness. The epicenter of God's holiness in Israel was the Ark of the covenant. It was the most holiest object in the most holy place in Israel. Why was it so holy? It was the place where the glory of God dwelt. He sat enthroned above the Cherubim.
So when the Philistines defeated the Philistines in battle, the Israelites were puzzled. So they brought the Ark from its sanctuary in Shiloh out to their encampment on the battlefield. The Philistines were terrified. They had heard of the exploits of Yahweh and how he smote the Egyptians. So they fought with all their might, defeated Israel and captured the ark. This was a gloomy day for Israel. How could this happen? Why did it happen? The glory of God had departed Israel!
The Philistines take the Ark back to Ashdod and set it in their own temple with Dagon. They had captured a most powerful God. With BOTH Yahweh and Dagon together, nothing could defeat them. They were now invincible. However, the next morning, their god Dagon had toppled over on his face. They had to set their God back up again. They should have nailed him down to make sure he didn't fall again. The next morning, not only was Dagon prostrated before the presence of Yahweh, he was broken too. Then the plagues and pestilence started. They knew it was because they had the Ark which didn't belong to them. So they sent it to Gath, and the same thing happened there. So the leaders of Gath sent the Ark away to Ekron. The people of Ekron cried out when they say the Ark coming. They didn't want it and the distasters it would bring. So they sent the Ark back to Israel on a cart. After seven month in Philistia, the Ark came home.
Imagine the joy of the Israelites as the men of Beth Shemesh saw the Ark returning. They were overjoyed to see it. Can you imagine the cheering and the celebration? God was back! Their celebration came to an abrupt halt.
1 Sam 6:19-20 - "He struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the Lord. He struck down of all the people, 50,070 men, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great slaughter. The men of Beth-shemesh said, "Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?""
That is more than the number of people in Leavenworth and Lansing combined! Their joy turned to fear.
The Israelites are about react the same way the Philistines did. They sent the Ark away.
1 Sam 6:21-7:2 - "So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, "The Philistines have brought back the ark of the Lord; come down and take it up to you. And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took the ark of the Lord and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord. From the day that the ark remained at Kiriath-jearim, the time was long, for it was twenty years; and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord."
Did you know that the Ark remained in someone's house for safe keeping for 20 years? It was not to protect the Ark, but to protect the people. So the Ark sat their like a caged dangerous beast for 20 years. The people obviously did not understand their God yet.
Lesson 1 - God is not a commodity to be possessed and used
What can we learn about God from all of this? God is Holy. Just a few chapters prior to this, Hannah declares that there is "no one holy like the Lord (2 Sam 2:2)." Both the Israelites and the Philistines alike had not understood this about God. To them, he was some charm or talisman they could carry about to bring them good fortune. The Israelites thought that by bringing God's Ark out on the battlefield, they would be invincible. The Ark was not a magic wand they could wave to destroy the enemy. The Philistines thought the power of God could be a war trophy that they could possess by putting it alongside their own god, Dagon. They were sorely mistaken. The Ark was not some victory trophy they could catch and use for their own purposes. God was not a power to be possessed.