“So they set out from Adonai’s mountain and traveled for three days. Ahead of them on this three-day journey went the ark of Adonai’s covenant, searching for a new place to stop. The cloud of Adonai was over them during the day as they set out from the camp.“-Numbers 10:33-34
Let’s talk a little bit about the Ark of the Covenant that was to lead the Israelites as they journeyed towards the wilderness.
In Numbers chapter 10, it is clear that the Ark of the Covenant is playing a distinct military role here on behalf of Israel.
The people looked up to it as a guide and protecter and a surefire sign that God’s presence was with them.
Let’s travel forward a bit to the book of 1 Samuel.
In Chapter 4 of 1 Samuel, we come across some passages that are a perfect example of what the Ark of the Covenant meant not only to Israel but to Israel’s enemies as well.
“When the ark for the covenant of Adonai entered the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout that resounded through the land. On hearing the shout, the P’lishtim asked, “What does this great shout in the Hebrews’ camp mean?” Then they realized that the ark of Adonai had arrived in the camp, and the P’lishtim became afraid. They said, “YHVH has entered the camp! We’re lost! There was no such thing yesterday or the day before. We’re lost! Who will rescue us from the power of this mighty Elohim? This is the Elohim that completely overthrew the Egyptians in the desert. Be strong; and behave like men, you P’lishtim; so that you won’t become slaves to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Behave like men, and fight!”-1 Samuel 4:5-9
There are two interesting points to understand here.
First, understand that in those days, it was standard procedure for an army to carry with it its banners and symbols that represented their own gods when they went into battle.
So when the Philistines spotted the Ark of the Covenant, they immediately recognized it as representing the God of Israel and it scared the hell out of them.
Every nation in the Middle East was well aware of the devastation Israel’s God had leveled on the Egyptians via the ten plagues and how YHVH had drowned pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea.
There’s no way you can keep something like that a secret.
All the nations in the area were well aware of this powerful God that travelled with Israel.
Second, although you’ll never know it when reading most English Bibles, when you look at the original Hebrew, I find it interesting that the Philistines were aware of the God of Israel’s personal name: YUD-HEH-VAV-HEH.
In the original text, verse 6 does NOT say “God” has entered the camp, it says YHVH entered the camp.
And the reputation of this YHVH was such that the Philistines were quaking in their boots.
Third, these passages from 1 Samuel also demonstrate the ancient Hebrews’ somewhat primitive mindset towards God in those days.
This was a mindset that the Lord permitted Israel to harbor for a time until He was ready to give His People a fuller knowledge of His attributes and nature.
My point is that through the Ark of the Covenant, God had given Israel a way to understand Him that harmonized with the way all the other gentile peoples of the earth understood their gods at the time.
If God had not commanded Israel to carry the Ark into battle with them, the Israelites may have come to the conclusion that YHVH wasn’t with them and that mere thought would have caused them to lose courage.
And the opposite is also true.
If Israel’s enemies saw that the Ark was not with Israel, it would have emboldened them because then they would have assumed their God wasn’t with them.
Of course we now know that God’s presence isn’t limited to only where the Ark was physically present.
But that was how the people (including the Hebrews) thought during this era.
It may seem silly to us now but the truth is we can find similar examples of primitive thinking even today.
Think about how some Christians become emotionally dependent on their crucifixes to the point where they’ll post them on their door entrances or wear them as necklaces because deep down inside they believe that somehow their crosses inherently hold some magical power that will ward off evil or bad luck.
At this time, the Lord in His Grace gave Israel what He recognized they needed.
He gave them a tangible object in the form of an Ark that would serve as a symbol of His Divine Presence and be a strong reassurance to Israel while at the same time serve as a menacing threat to those who would seek to harm Israel.
One final point.
Understand that the way the Philistines viewed the Ark was a bit different than how the Israelites viewed it.
The Philistines viewed the Ark as a direct representation of Israel’s God because that is exactly how they understood their own symbols of their own pagan gods.
However, the way the Hebrews viewed the Ark was a bit different.
The Hebrews understood the Ark as a temporary dwelling place (albeit an EXTREMELY dangerous dwelling place to those not authorized to come close to it) where YHVH would come to visit from time to time.
The Hebrews never viewed the Ark as God Himself, it was more like God’s footstool.
Here’s the thing.
The goyim (gentile nations) DID assume that the image of their gods and the gods themselves were one and the same.
That’s probably why even today, gentile Christians fall for the blasphemous idea that Yeshua was the Almighty YHWH Himself and totally misinterpret verses like “He who has seen me has seen the Father” and “My Father and I are one and the same“.
If something is the image of something, it doesn’t make it that thing it is an image of, otherwise it’s not an image anymore, it’s that thing itself and hence it ceases to become an image. (Dang that was a mouthful. Did you get that?)
Again, I need to emphasize that the Hebrews considered the Ark to be the Lord’s TEMPORARY dwelling place, not his permanent dwelling place.
The protocol at that time is that when the Lord wanted to speak with Israel, His presence would come to dwell above the Ark and from there He would make His Will known to Israel.