We mustn't become so familiar with God that we “tame” him and begin to treat him disrespectfully.
I suppose a mysterious, strange, unsettling story might just as well be mysterious and strange and unsettling from the very beginning. After all, the ark of the covenant itselfthe cause, proximately speaking, of the whole uproarwas a rather mysterious item. What was the ark of the covenant, anyway?
The ark was a symbol of God's presence.
As a piece of furniture, it is described in Exodus 25 with some precision. It was a chest, a little bigger than 31/2 x 2 x 2 feet, with two rings on each side through which carrying poles were to be thrust. Remember the poles; they're important. It was made from acacia wood, a hard, durable wood ideally suited for cabinet making. You wouldn't have noticed the color, though, because the whole thing was overlaid with pure gold, and the top was covered by a slab of gold, the mercy seat, with two golden cherubim facing one another on either side. What, precisely, is a mercy seat? Well, there's some question about that, too, but it had something to do with the presence of God. All in all, in any case, this ark was quite a magnificent piece.
And inside, we discover from various references, were placed the two tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written; Aaron's rod, the rod of the house of Levi that had miraculously sprouted; and a pot of manna, a reminder of the long sojourn in the wilderness. That's all. That much seems straightforward enough.
But surely the ark was more than a gorgeous piece of furniture. When Joshua was to cross the Jordan River, the waters stopped flowing as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bore the ark touched the edge of the river. When Joshua marched around Jericho, before the walls came ' down, the ark was carried around ...
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Dr. Marguerite Shuster is Senior Professor of Preaching and Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Harold John Ockenga Professor Emerita of Preaching and Theology.