Texts: 1Samuel 4:1-11, 1Samuel 5:1-12, 1Samuel 6:1-16
The three text sections above carry the full tale of the Ark. The Israelites under old Eli have gone to war with the Philisitnes and were being slaughtered, so they think “let’s bring the Ark out with us!” This of course is the Indiana Jones Ark, along with the spear of destiny and any other “holy” artifact that would give anyone – even Hitler – the victory. Sorry for the sarcasm. Indy is a great movie, but the theology is horrendous. A bad theology shared by the Israelites of the time. “We’ve got God in a box. Let’s take him out to fight for us.” That ends badly as the Philistines capture the ark.
The Philistines have their own bad theology. “Since we defeated the Israelites, our God must be stronger. Let’s put the Ark of their God in our temple as a lasting tribute.” The theology is suffering equals punishment from God or in a multi-god worldview -“Nah, Nah, your god is a 98lb weakling.” But the “winning idol” falls over twice and plagues start appearing in the land. The Ark becomes a hot potato being passed around among the cities of the Philistines, and plague travels with it.
Eventually the Philistines just want the Ark gone. What is interesting is that the Philistine priests acknowledge the Exodus. The warning is don’t be like Pharoah – let the thing go now! The hook it up to two cows, put images of the plagues inflicted on them next to it and send it on its way driverless. Never-the-less the cows go the right way and the Ark is returned.
It is probably a moral failure in me, but I find stories like this one amusing. We moderns think we are so advanced, but the two theological errors of the Israelites and the Philistines are still with us. When things are going bad, the first response for the christian is often to play the religion card – “God, get me out of this.” Or should we call it is the Jesus Take the Wheel theology. Not that God is not there, it is the easy and thoughtless manner of the call for divine intervention. When we think we are on top an easy triumphalism enters or maybe “Our God is an Awesome God” theology. Again, not that he is not awesome, but He claims everything is his and not just one side in a petty dispute.
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob whose Ark this was has his own ideas. Ideas as crazy as “I am God – there is no other. (Isa 45:5)” Ideas as crazy as dying on a cross actually being victory. Whose ideas have ultimate reality? God has a way of poking fun at our bad ideas about Him – like a driverless cow cart bringing back the Ark with gold tumors next to it.