Mysteries of the Bible

"Unanswered Questions of the Bible"

When Israel’s Holiest Object Fell Into Pagan Hands

Posted by foryourfaith on May 19, 2011


The Ark of the Covenant, Israel’s holiest object, was the visible symbol of God’s presence. It was a rectangular box made of acacia wood, overlaid with gold inside and out, in which the tablets of the Ten Commandments were placed: “And in the Ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you.” Thus the Ark was the repository of the law and was also a constant reminder of God’s covenant.



By the time of Samuel, the Ark had become established in the shrine at Shiloh, where a yearly festival dedicated to the Lord took place. At Shiloh, the Ark was in the care of the priest Eli and his sons, Hophni and Phineas. These sons had displayed their disrespect for the Lord by treating sacrificial offerings with contempt. In his first revelation to Samuel, the Lord had thus vowed to punish the house of Eli for the sins of his sons.

When the army of Israel was defeated by the Philistines. Eli’s sons, along with the elders of Israel, thought that they could force God to give them victory by bringing the powerful presence of the Ark into battle. Yahweh would not be forced: the Ark was captured and Eli’s sons were slain.

The capture of the Ark in no way diminished its power. Indeed, it wreaked havoc among the Philistines. It was brought into the house of the Philistine god Dagon, and was set up next to Dagon’s image. Twice the image of Dagon fell to the ground before the Ark. Next, a plague of tumors beset the Philistines: “The hand of the Lord was heavy upon the people of Ashdod, an he terrified and afflicted them with tumors.” The plague did not end until they returned the Ark to Beth-shemesh, along with an offering of “golden mice and tumors” to appease the Lord. By sending the golden images of the tumors and the mice that had ravaged their land, the Philistines hoped to rid their cities of these troubles.


The Ark went into a period of obscurity when it was kept for some 20 years in the house of Abinadab in Kiriath-Jearim. Finally, King David made preparations to bring it to Jerusalem. It was mounted onto a cart and brought forth with dancing and song. A mysterious incident occurred while the Ark was being transported. Uzzah, a son of Abinadab, who was driving the cart, “put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.” Though the gesture was not disrespectful, he was instantly killed. Three months later, the Ark was at last restored to its rightful position in Jerusalem, where it was greeted with great rejoicing. Its establishment there was a political coup for David, for it marked the centralization of the national religion in the nation’s new capital.




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