Summary: The only part of the Bible we truly believe is the part we obey.
“Oaths and the Ark”, Psalm 132 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Outline: A. David’s resolve (vss 1-9); B. God’s response (vss 11-18)
Today marks the first Sunday in Advent, an anticipation of the coming of Christ. The wise men were led to the manger by a star, which may have been the Shekinah glory of God, not seen in Israel since the time of Solomon’s Temple. Our psalm celebrates the coming of the Ark to Jerusalem. The Ark represented the presence of God, and Jesus is God in human form: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). We have in Psalm 132 a promise of a coming, eternal Kingdom, which began when the Son of David, our Messiah, was born in Bethlehem.
This is the longest of the Psalms of Ascent. It was sung by pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem, tracing the Ark’s journey. The first half of the psalm (vss 1-9) is David’s oath in which he promised to return the Ark to Jerusalem. The second half (vss 11-18) records God’s corresponding oath, promising David an everlasting dynasty.
David is not the author of this psalm, but it is about him. It was likely written by Solomon for the dedication of the Temple. David’s son describes his father’s resolve and God’s response. Those singing along the road to Jerusalem recalled the course of events leading to the construction of the Temple. David brought the Ark to Jerusalem, but Solomon built the Temple in which it rested, in 955 B.C.
The Temple was the spiritual focal point of pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and the Ark resided in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred area within the Temple. Since this psalm deals with the object of the pilgrimages, it’s appropriately placed near the end of the collection.
Each of these pilgrim psalms highlights character qualities, stages of personal growth. The theme of today’s is obedience. Warren Wiersbe writes, “Sin always robs us; obedience always enriches us.” David determined to obey and honor God; nothing would sway him from his objective, in spite of many “hardships”, vs 1. All sorts of opposition conspired to keep David off the throne, and to dethrone him once he was anointed king. The word ‘hardships” could be translated “anxieties” or “afflictions”. We may be troubled, but nothing should deter us from trusting and serving God. When we think of David’s resolve compared to ours, we may see our determination as half-hearted.
We could compare the Ark to the manger in Bethlehem—both housed the presence and glory of God. The Ark was a wooden box about a yard long and 18 inches high, covered with gold plating. Poles were attached, so it could be transported without being touched. It contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments, a pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod. On the Day of Atonement the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice upon the mercy seat, the lid of the Ark, atop which sat two statues of cherubim, angels with outstretched wings, facing each other on both ends.
This sacred object was revered but it could not be controlled by people. God was not “in the box”. It merely represented His presence among His people. It was constructed and kept in the Tabernacle during the wilderness wanderings following the captivity in Egypt. When the Jews reached the Jordan River, the priests walked into the river with the Ark, and the waters parted. The people followed, entering the Promised Land on dry ground. Because of this miraculous event, the Israelites regarded the Ark with superstition. They later took it into battle as a secret weapon, hoping it would bring them good luck. Instead, they were defeated, and the Ark was captured by the enemy Philistines. They later returned it to the Jews after God afflicted them for keeping the Ark as a war trophy. The Ark was kept in a rural town, vs 6, “the fields of Jaar”, otherwise known as the town of Keriath-jearim. It had been all but forgotten. David resided in a palace, while the Ark was neglected. Verses 7-8 recall his urgency to rectify the situation and honor God properly.
It is unclear when the Ark disappeared, although the Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims to have the Ark (it wasn’t found by Indiana Jones). It was entrusted by Solomon to the Queen of Sheba and their son Menelik for safekeeping, according to Ethiopian royal chronicles. The Ark allegedly resides in a sanctuary, the Ark Temple, in Axum (the original capital of the Biblical land of Cush), where priests guard it, and no one is allowed to see it.
Hashim Ahmed, an Ethiopian Christian and journalist, writes: “I do believe the Ark is in Axum. It is not tradition; it is factual. It was moved several times during the Italian invasion. One or two miraculous manifestations are associated with it, but I don’t believe there could be any more miracles with the Ark because we are the temples of God now. The Spirit of God resides in us. We are the Ark of God.” (Christianity Today, 14 June 99). In vs 13 God states that He has chosen Zion (i.e. Jerusalem) as His dwelling. We who trust the Lord are His Zion, His holy city, where He dwells through His Spirit.