Saturday, June 7, 2014

I Chronicles 13

For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied  I Chronicles 13.

In I Chronicles 13:2-3, David states: “If it seem good unto you, and that it be of the LORD our God, let us send abroad unto our brethren every where, that are left in all the land of Israel, and with them also to the priests and Levites which are in their cities and suburbs, that they may gather themselves unto us: And let us bring again the ark of our God to us: for we enquired not at it in the days of Saul” (KJV).

I have two items:

1.  I Chronicles 13:3 states that the Israelites failed to inquire of God at the Ark of the Covenant in the days of King David’s predecessor, King Saul.  In I Samuel 4-7, we read the story of what happened to the Ark of the Covenant.  In the time of Samuel, before Saul was even king, the Israelites brought the Ark of the Covenant out as they were battling the Philistines, thinking that the Ark could deliver them.  What happened instead was that the Philistines captured the Ark and set it in their sanctuary beside their god Dagon.  But God had the last laugh, for the statue of Dagon kept falling down and eventually broke, the Philistines were smitten with tumors, and the Philistines finally decided to return the Ark to Israel.  The Ark ended up at Kiriath-Jearim, in somebody’s house.
Before the Ark was captured by the Philistines and ended up at Kiriath-jearim, the Ark was inside of the Tabernacle, where the priests performed their duties, except when the Ark went out to battle.  Now that the Ark was at Kiriath-Jearim, however, the Ark was at a different location from the Tabernacle.  The Ark was at Kiriath-Jearim, whereas the priests ministered at Nob.

Why did the Israelites fail to inquire of God at the Ark during the days of King Saul?  One reason may have been that it was in somebody’s home at Kiriath-Jearim rather than at the central sanctuary.  It was not at the place where the Israelites were accustomed to finding it, so the Israelites neglected it.  Another explanation, which appears in the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary, is that King Saul undermined the Ark when he slaughtered the priests at Nob during his pursuit of David (I Samuel 22).  Granted, the priests were at Nob, whereas the Ark was at Kiriath-Jearim, but the priests of Nob were still involved with the Ark, the commentary argues.  Consequently, when Saul killed the priests of Nob, he eliminated important people who were promoting and supporting the Ark.

The Ark only appears once between I Samuel 7 and II Samuel 6, the chapter in which David is bringing the Ark from Kiriath-Jearim to Jerusalem.  That is in I Samuel 14:18, in which Saul brings the Ark out to Israel’s battle with the Philistines, and God delivers Israel.  The Ark was not completely neglected in the days of Saul.  Moreover, people found ways to inquire of God before David brought the Ark to Jerusalem.  They could hear from God through prophets or the ephod (I Samuel 23).  What was so special about the Ark, if Israelites could inquire of God without the Ark?  The Ark was supported by God, who had commanded its construction, and it represented God’s presence to Israel in a special way.  Israel had a history of experiencing God through the Ark.  David felt that he had to support it.  David, too, had neglected the Ark, but he decided to do something about that.  There are all sorts of ways to hear from God, but do we value what God values?

2.  In I Chronicles 13:2, we find the Hebrew word niphretzah, which is from the root p-r-ts.  This word is significant in our story because it often relates to breaking out or bursting forth, and that is what God does in I Chronicles 13:11 when Uzzah places his hand on the Ark to keep it from falling: God bursts forth against Uzzah and kills him, since the Ark is not being transported in the holy, reverential manner that God wants.  What does this word mean in I Chronicles 13:2, however, in which David wants to gather all of Israel to witness the transportation of the Ark to Jerusalem?  We don’t see anything about breaking out or bursting forth there, right?

Different explanations of p-r-ts in I Chronicles 13:2 have been proposed, especially by medieval Jewish interpreters.  One is to understand it to mean far and wide: David is commanding the message of the Ark’s transportation to be carried far and wide throughout Israel, so that many Israelites can come and witness the event and show their respect for the Ark.  The root, after all, can relate to spreading out or overflowing.  Another explanation is that the root in I Chronicles 13:2 relates to showing strength or enthusiasm about the transfer of the Ark, maybe even to strongly encouraging the Israelites to come and see the event.  There are occasions when the root pertains to urging or compelling.  A third explanation is that the root in I Chronicles 13:2 is about God opening a way, since the root can mean to break forth or to open: the way to inquiring of God has been opened, since the Ark is once more being recognized and valued.  Israel will have an intimacy with God, the way that God desires it.  The door has been opened!  (See here for a list of the uses of p-r-ts in the Hebrew Bible.)

From a Christian perspective, I am tempted to draw a parallel between the third explanation and Jesus Christ.  Granted, God can minister to all people, believers in Christ and non-believers, as the ancient Israelites managed to inquire of God and to receive answers from God apart from the Ark of the Covenant.  But God prefers that we approach him through Christ, as God preferred for the ancient Israelites to consult God at the Ark.  In Christ, we see the revelation of what God is like and what God wants to teach us: our weakness as human beings, and God’s love in sending his son to die for us.

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