I am going to take a short break from our study of Dust and Stars, because several things have been happening around me, and in my heart, and frankly, I have to share some things with you.
I was reading some Scripture and recently ran across the time when the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant and it immediately reminded of something Paul admonished Timothy to do:
Study and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved, a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing the Word of Truth (II Timothy 2:15)
I know, you don’t see the connection, either, do you? Well, I was led to look at the story in I Samuel 4. And just to clarify what is happening, before the Israelites went into battle, the Ark was residing at the ancient sanctuary of Shiloh, but the Israelites brought the Ark out to the battlefield because they hoped it would bring them victory.
Unfortunately, that did not happen. The Israelites suffered a significant defeat, Hophni and Phinehas, who were sons of the High Priest Eli, were killed in this battle and the enemy captured the Ark. The news of the ark’s capture was such a shock to the High Priest, Eli, he fell off his chair and died. Also, Phinehas’ wife died in childbirth when she heard the news, after giving birth to Ichabod, whose name means “Where is the glory?”
Interestingly, scholar Robert Alter, argues that I Samuel 4:22 should be translated as “Glory is exiled from Israel,” and that the story of the Philistine captivity of the Ark is one of exile. Peter Leithart suggests that it was Israel who deserved to go into exile, but the ark went instead: “Yahweh went into exile, taking on the curse of the covenant for His people, and while in exile He fought for them and defeated the gods of Philistia.”
Now that is pretty amazing when you realize that it is a perfect symbol of Jesus’ work on the Cross. But what I have often wondered is how, once they captured the Ark, the Philistines were able to handle it without being instantly killed by YWHW?
What has bugged me for a long time is that in Leviticus, Israel was told that only a certain clan of Levites was authorized to carry the Ark, and only certain Priests were authorized to pack and unpack the Ark. Otherwise, the violator will be instantly struck down dead and of course, we see this in a later story concerning the Ark and King David, where that is exactly what happens. So again, how were the Philistines able to handle it and live?
It took a little digging (and a lot of praying) for me to understand this, but what I discovered is an important God-principle that every Christian must understand. What I am talking about is that only those who are joined to Israel’s covenants are subject to the terms of those covenants. Huh? That’s right. The curses and the blessings that come with our membership in the Kingdom of God belong only to the members of God’s Kingdom and not for outsiders. Does that confuse you?
It was the Covenants that established the relationship between Yehoveh and His people. The terms of those covenants (both positive and negative) do not apply to those who have never signed on to those covenants. They have no relationship with the Lord or to the covenants.
I realize this might rattle your cage a bit, but this is one of the greatest of all Biblical principles: Yahweh’s Laws are only for His elect. There is (generally speaking) no requirement for a pagan to live by the 10-Commandments.
As I have explained in other messages, the Torah, the Law, Jesus Christ (and all the covenants of God with humans) are only for those who He has made a covenant. And the only people He has ever created a covenant with were the Hebrews. However, and this is important, He did make provision for any gentile (foreigners) who wanted to join themselves to Israel’s covenants, He would accept into His Kingdom.
The invitation has always existed, but until a person was willing to submit themselves to Yehoveh, they were not subject to the demands of that Covenant. Now, until Jesus–Yeshua–came, that joining had to be a physical commitment signed with a pledge of national allegiance to Israel, (including circumcision if the foreign convert was a male). But once Messiah arrived, was crucified and then rose from the dead, joining with Israel’s covenants by an outsider became a spiritual joining, by means of faith in the Jewish Messiah (Yeshua of Nazareth).
Yes, there is a universal curse placed on all mankind, but that has nothing to do with any covenant: Jesus admitted that He did not come into the world to judge it. Why? Because the world had already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son (John 3:18). The curse of physical death is due to mankind’s inherent sin nature that came through our common father, Adam. That is something every member of the human race shares without exception. But, when it comes to eternity and spiritual death, there is only one way out, and that is by means of God’s covenants.
I do not know if you realized this or not, but a non-Believer is not automatically plagued by the Lord all of their days. A pagan is not automatically assumed to expect a worse earthly future than someone who worships the God of Israel. The rain falls on the good and the evil. There is no earthly penalty per se for remaining a pagan. In fact, the only exception to that is that their spiritual destiny is one of assured destruction. Secondly, they will have no relationship with the Godhead and will never be eligible for the special blessings, comfort, direction, protection, and wisdom which a relationship brings with it.
However, when it comes to the capture of the Ark, the Philistines by definition were pagans and not party to Yahweh’s covenants with Israel. So what about the prohibitions against touching or even looking at the Ark? Didn’t it apply to them?
Well, that is the point. Since the Philistines never agreed to follow Yahweh’s Torah, they were not subject to the curses and penalties ordained for those who violated those prohibitions. In fact, when the Philistines returned the Ark, it the Lord never required them to. Nor was it the result of any commandment of God. It was simply an intelligent and pragmatic choice to end God’s oppression on them.
Believers, and those of you who worship Yehoveh, you need to listen to me: you have been joined to our God’s covenants with Israel (even if you never realized it) so you do have obligations to the Lord. If you begin to be disobedient and it causes harm to yourself or your relationship with your God, you will be divinely disciplined (partly to try to get you back on track) because you are violating the covenant you signed on to.
You will suffer consequences for violating His Law because violating His Law was, is, and will always be called “sin. ” And what else is a sin other than violating God’s commands? As Believers, you and I have the benefit of having a Messiah, who pays the price for our violations of our God’s commands, but that does not mean it has no effect on us. The point is that a penalty is always due (and is always extracted) when a Believer trespasses (sins) against our God; it is just that Jesus takes our stripes instead of us so many times we don’t even feel it.
Now, if you have not voluntarily surrendered your life to Yeshua, and have not been filled with His Holy Spirit, then you will never be able to grasp anything regarding His Word. It will be foolishness to your ears—open to your ridicule and dismay.
So let‘s follow this God-pattern, and see where it goes. Think back to the time where Israel was being rescued, redeemed, from Egypt. The very first thing Yahweh did was to remove them from everything they were familiar with: Egypt. Slavery to a cruel and evil taskmaster. All of that was over! However, and this is important, this did not mean their difficulties and challenges no longer t existed.
In the earliest days of their exodus, their fears and insecurities caused some of the Hebrews to want to turn back. With all of the hardships and difficulties they experienced in Egypt, they still preferred to toss away their newly found freedom and return to the awful slavery they were experiencing. That is odd.They were more comfortable with the idea of being slaves—than fully submitting themselves to their God and allowing Him to remold and remake them into His image (which, in itself is a long and sometimes fearful process under the best of circumstances).
Once the Lord put some distance between the Israelites and their past, the next thing He did was to teach them about holiness—His holiness. On the summit of Mt. Sinai, Yahweh gave Moses all kinds of ordinances and rules, laws and commands, to give to the people of Israel; how else would a people who did not know God, learn who He is?
Although we tend to think about those 613 laws of the Torah as being about us—things, we are to do and not do. The truth is that those laws inform us all about Him. They tell us how immeasurably holy and just the God of the Bible is. They tell us what holiness amounts to and what it looks like; they tell us Who this God is, and that He fully expects those who He has bought and paid for to strive throughout the duration of their lives towards His definition of holiness. Friends, this exact pattern established 3300 years ago is still what the Believers‘ walk looks like today.
Israel was not redeemed by knowledge; they were redeemed by the work of God. In the same way, we cannot be intellectually persuaded to turn to Messiah; it is a work of the Holy Spirit on us. But once that work of the Spirit has occurred, and once the Holy Spirit has indwelled us, what comes next, at least what is intended, is our quest for knowledge.
The problem is that too often the Church has implied that once we experience our Salvation, whatever knowledge of God we hope to have will come through some mystical means. We believe that we can just sit in our armchairs, watch TV, and somehow in our subconscious the Holy Spirit will implant in us an understanding of Yahweh‘s holiness and what that entails. We believe that as a Christian, nothing outside our Salvation experience matters; that striving to learn God‘s ways, and to experience them by our deeds and works, is something we need to avoid. However, that is not the example we find in Scripture—Old or New Testaments.
The fact remains that we can no more intellectualize our way to a relationship with Christ, than we can sleep our way to knowledge of holiness. The Israelites did not learn about Yahweh‘s righteousness and His laws, and then develop an elaborate and systematic plan to rise against Pharaoh, and free themselves—the Lord did it all. However, after they were redeemed, it was expected that they learn about holiness and the ways of light, first by knowledge, then by the acting out of what they had learned in every facet of their lives.
Friends, more is required of you than sitting around and hopping things get better. You must study to show yourself approved of your calling and ministry. You must call of the Holy Spirit to teach and draw you closer to our Father.
With these Morning Messages, I take you on guided tours to, as Bunyan described, the Celestial City. At times we linger at corners familiar and unseen. And explore the depths of our faith along the way.
The trail is long, but there’s no hurry. Though we do need to stock up on supplies for the way, and that’s where I need your help. If you enjoy these messages, please consider becoming a contributing member of this tour group. It will be very much appreciated.