The Ark and Obedience

Brief notes of an address

1916 120 There are two portions of Scripture in which we may see the blessedness of obedience and the sorrow of disobedience, or neglect of obeying. In the second the order is reversed. Paul committed the dear ones he was about to leave (he had told them who the apostolic successors would be) to God and the word of His grace. Oh, that we knew more subjection to that word!

In Joshua 3, when the priests came to the river of Jordan, its waters rolled down to the Dead Sea, and left a passage some miles wide, quite a contrast to the passage of the Red Sea. The waters of judgment are stayed by the ark; all the praise is His! The Jordan crossed, they, in figure, are risen with Christ. On the resurrection side, they get to Gilgal, and there circumcision is carried out, the flesh judged, and their whole confidence is now to be set on the One Who had stayed back the Jordan, and brought them into the promised land.

Let us contrast Egypt with the land. In Numbers 11 they lusted after six things. "We remember" (said they, forgetting the hard bondage) "the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions and the garlic." They all belonged to Egypt, and they were all low down. Egypt's prosperity depended on the Nile, but they did not know the source of it. The land God brought them into drank water of the rain of heaven. Seven things grew in that land that could be gathered without stooping: "Wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive and honey" (Deut. 8:7). When they were circumcised the manna ceased, and they ate the corn of the land — type of Christ risen.

In Numbers 34 we are told the boundaries  of the land; on the north a great mountain the world and its power; on the east a great river — the world and its prosperity; on the south, a great wilderness — the world and its sterility; On the west a great sea — the world and its lawlessness. It is a type of the land into which we are brought, but there are always contrasts between type and antitype. Abraham could walk through the land, but we get lengths and breadths and depths and heights, immeasurable, "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." Do we realize and value this? We are already thus blest.

Let us just turn to the prayer of the apostle for these saints (Eph. 3:16 to 19). The words "length, breadth, depth, and height," are often applied to the love of Christ, but I do not believe that this is the meaning, for he goes on to say, "and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge." It is according to the riches of His glory, not from it that He desires they should "apprehend" (not "comprehend") the vastness of all this blessing, and then know the love of Christ.

But Israel had to be warriors, and to fight the Lord's battles in that land; their warfare was against flesh and blood, but ours are far mightier foes, even "principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in high places," and we are no match for these in ourselves. God forbid that we should ever trust in ourselves, for we are only earthen vessels. In Eph. 6 we get our equipment for this warfare. There is never anything lacking on God's side. He has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness. We can always praise Him, though we have so much to mourn over in ourselves. In this armour there is, as has often been pointed out, nothing for the back. Never turn your back on the foe. We are always more than conquerors if our confidence is in the Lord. "Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth." Let us become acquainted with it let us hold it tighter it is strength-giving when we have it tight about ourselves.

"And having on the breastplate of righteousness" this is practical righteousness. So Paul exercised himself to "always have a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men."

"Taking the shield of faith" — the Roman shield was generally sufficiently large to cover the whole body. Let us use it well — "wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one." Satan cannot touch you if faith is kept up, together with prayer. "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might." It is the very same word in Paul's prayer in chapter one, "the exceeding greatness of His power … which He wrought in Christ." That power which stayed the Jordan is what these must have who fight these battles.

Jericho was the first obstacle to the Israelites after crossing the Jordan, and the ark goes with them, "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might." On the seventh day the people surrounded the city seven times, and then a great shout went up from those who became "more than conquerors," for they had spoil. It is when we are obedient that we are strong in the Lord. Then we have the other side, Ai. They fall back on their own understanding, and do not seek the Lord's mind. They only send a few men up and get defeated. They had not on the breastplate of righteousness. They could not cover up the Babylonish garment and the wedge of gold from His eyes. They were not strong in the Lord. They had to be searched and the sin judged, and Achan and his family stoned, before they were clear of the evil in their midst.

Now turn to 1 Chron. 13; David makes much more of the ark than Solomon. Solomon makes more of the brazen altar, but David is on a higher level. David was always able to turn to the Lord. In his darkest hour, when Ziklag was destroyed, he encouraged himself in the Lord. It is a gloomy picture we have of Solomon's old age, but David's last words are very bright. He constantly recovers. He has a nimbleness of faith, which leads him always to the Lord.

Very often when the Lord has enabled us to shine for Him our darkest hour is at hand. When David had escaped from Saul, he said in his heart, "I shall now one day perish by the hand of Saul": all declension begins in the heart.

Here in 1 Chron. 13, "David consulted with the captains and with every leader," a natural thing to do, but he should have sought the Lord's mind first. A sad path is thus begun. He put those first and the Lord last (verse 2). We should always put Him first, and throughout.

We may do a right thing in a wrong way. We all know how before this the Philistines had adopted this course, for they knew no better. They sent the ark home on a new cart. It was very well for them, for God had not given them instructions. Let us beware of human reason. Do not let us be imitators of apparent success. Let us be subject to the word of God, and let us do nothing without it. We get on broad, dangerous, sinful ground if we get away from it. Do not ask, "What does it condemn?" but "What does it enjoin?" "And when they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzza, and He smote him, because he put his hand to the ark: and there he died before God." That could not have occurred if they had not had the new cart. "And David was afraid of God that day, saying, How shall I bring the ark of God home to me?" What a contrast between the experience of Obed-Edom and that of David!

Now we find David was being trained. In 1 Chron. 14, "David inquired of God." This was better than consulting captains, however able. So a breach is made on his enemies, not on Uzza; and again he gets God's mind (verses 8 to 4 ).

God has said, "I will instruct thee and teach thee." What a shame if we do not get His guidance! "David did as God commanded him," so he proved the blessedness of getting His mind and carrying it out.

In the next chapter, having learnt his lesson, he can now say, "None ought to carry the ark of God, but the Levites, for them hath Jehovah chosen to carry it." "For because ye did it not at the first, Jehovah our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought Him not after the due order" (verses 2, 12, 13). What a lesson is this for us! It is not simply to show us David's mistake, but for our sakes also it is written. May we ever seek to do things in "the due order." There is no failure in the love that gives the light for every circumstance; let us get it. Have we not often been tripped up and led astray by relying on the counsel of others instead of seeking the light of God's word.

"God helped the Levites." We may sometimes shun that which is not very easy for us by slipping aside from the path of obedience, but oh, what a blessing for them to have His help and power! It led to worship. May this be our portion too.

"And Michal the daughter of Saul … saw king David dancing and playing: and she despised him in her heart." We may be despised by the world, but what matters if we have the Lord's approval?