Meditating on the Judgements of God: 2.3 Judgement. Was it God?
Ex 25:10,11,22 Have them make a chest of acacia wood–two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold moulding around….. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.
Remember, in these first two Parts we are simply looking at various things that pertain to God and to judgment and are not really looking behind individual judgments to see the why; that will come in the later Parts.
Deaths appear, dare we say it, almost casually or without little further comment sometimes. Consider the following three examples:
- Judah’s son, Er. “Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death,” (Gen 38:6,7)
- Lot’s wife. “But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt,” (Gen 19:26)
- The bad reporters. “So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it– these men responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the LORD. Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived.” (Num 14:36-38)
Remember, here we are not so much interested in the ‘why’ but the ‘how’; the ‘why’ will come later.
- In the first of these three examples the death is attributed to the Lord but we are not told how Er died.
- In the second case Lot had been warned about this by the Lord but when his wife looked back and turned to a pillar of salt we are not told that it was the Lord, merely that it had happened. There are those who suggest that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah had been carried out by the equivalent of a nuclear explosion or something similar. Lot’s wife ‘looking back’ may be shorthand for her pausing some time to watch what happened and therefore remained in the blast range and was burnt to a pile of chemicals.
- In the third example, the ten spies died from plague and although the text does not expressly say it was God who did it, it is implied.
So in these three examples we have one unknown cause, one speculative ‘natural’ cause, and one clear ‘natural’ cause. We have used the word ‘natural’ to describe a physical phenomena. However, rather like miracles, judgments like this are things out of time or out of nature, things that get attributed to God simply because they happen when He said they would happen and they happen within certain limitations (in the last one the ten unbelievers died and the two believers lived).
Now when we come to the history of the ark of the covenant, which commenced in our starting verses above, we see various things happening. The ark was supposed to be holy and, as the verses above indicate, was the place (modern sci-fi would say ‘the portal’) where God would meet with His people. Thus it was behind a heavy curtain in the Tabernacle where only the high priest ever went and that with great caution and appropriate procedure. However by the time of 1 Samuel the spiritual state of Israel had fallen and so when they went to battle against the Philistines they took the ark with them as a good luck charm. Now we don’t know whether they covered it up as it travelled but one way or another they were doing wrong – which is probably why they lost the battle and fled, losing the ark to the Philistines. This is where it gets interesting!
“After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained.” (1 Sam 5:1-4) When this happened they fearfully moved the ark to Gath but there “He afflicted the people of the city, both young and old, with an outbreak of tumours” (v.9) They then moved it on to Ekrom and we find, “death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy upon it. Those who did not die were afflicted with tumours.” (v.11,12) They eventually send it back to Israel.
Now the point here is that both Israel and the Philistines were tampering with the property of God and because of what it was, it was supposed to convey the sense of the holiness of God, and you did not mess with that. We say this as an aside that we’ll repeat when we come to ‘why’ or ‘causes’. But the forms of judgment are worth noting. In Israel people died in a battle defeat. In the Philistines (whose knowledge of the Lord and of His expectations were limited) they first simply suffered a broken idol, then tumours and then presumably plague (and death?), as well as tumours.
Now compare this with something that happened a number of years later. David and his men had been casually taking the ark up to Jerusalem from where it had been ever since, in another part of Israel, we find, “When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.” (2 Sam 6:6,7)
Now desperately trying to overcome the temptation to consider the ‘why’ we hold to our search of ‘how’. How did Uzzah die? Did he have a heart attack or what? Again we have something attributed to the Lord but not explained. It happened. End of story. But of course it is not the end of the story because we and David are left wondering ‘why?’ and the answer will mean a change of attitude and a change of behaviour.
What is strange about these accounts of the dealings with the ark are the different judgments that came – death in battle, broken idol, tumours, plague and instantaneous death. Now is this purely an academic exercise or does it teach us something? THE point must be – and it comes out very clearly in this last group of illustrations – that judgments have a reason, why they occurred in the first place, and that reason is linked to an intended outcome, what the Lord wanted them and us to learn through it. A judgment like the last one we noted here, is devastating at first sight for the individual concerned (and his family) but its impact in history is enormous, and that is what this is all about, and what we must learn and consider further.