Raiders of the Lost Ark

We left our story with a cliffhanger ending: 1) the nation of Israel devastated from a defeat at the hands of the Philistines, 2) Eli’s sons killed in battle, 3) the ark captured, 4) the death of Eli and 5) the birth of his grandson, Ichabod, meaning “the glory has departed.” With no ark and no leader, it seemed as though Israel was defeated and Yahweh essentially handed over to the enemy. Chapters 5 and 6 of 1 Samuel detail the story of the ark in exile in Philistia, telling of the superstitious religion of the Philistines and their false god, Dagon. After the symbolic defeat of their false god on Dagon’s home turf (5:1-5) and being struck with devastation and disease (5:6-12), the Philistines did everything they could to rid themselves of ark; at last, it returned to Israel accompanied by two cows and a peculiar guilt offering (6:1-6:13). Israel rejoiced that the ark was back in their hands at Beth-shemesh (6:14-18); however, this alone was not enough to restore the nation. Instead, the Levites of Beth-shemesh incurred further chastisement by ignoring God’s law and looking into the ark (6:14-7:2). Instead of repenting, they, like the Philistines, sought to rid themselves of the ark, which they recognized was God’s holy presence, by sending it to Keriath-jearim. Finally, after 20 years of lamentation, the nation’s prophet Samuel prevailed on the people to repent of their idolatry and put away their foreign gods. Honoring what was true repentance in Israel, Yahweh destroyed their enemies and restored to them the cities that had fallen into enemy hands. Israel was at last, safe, at peace, and under the leadership of Samuel.