1 Samuel 4:13
And when he came, see, Eli sat on a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God…
I. WHY WAS THE ARK SO ENDEARED TO THE FAITHFUL IN ISRAEL? Not on account of any costliness of its own. It was but a simple box of wood; it had not jewels and precious stones to bespangle it; there was only on its surface a simple lid of gold, upon which were raised two graven cherubim of the same metal; and between the wings of these, and over above these, there was a mystic light, which told that Jehovah was specially and manifestly present there. It could not therefore be anything in the mere structure of the ark that made it so dear. If we open its sacred lid we find beneath it these marvellous contents: the rod of Aaron, that budded; the pot of manna, the angels' food, which fed the people of God in the wilderness; and above all, the two tables of stone, His covenant with His people. But more than this: the golden lid which covered in these mystic contents was itself designated the mercy seat; upon it was yearly, on the great day of atonement, sprinkled the hallowed blood of the appointed victims; and from that wondrous seat of His grace and glory the Most High gave His answers to His priests, and through them to the people. It was, therefore, the mystic meaning of the ark; the precious treasures the ark enfolded; the wondrous purpose the ark served; the grace emblematized; the fatherly presence of God, glorious in holiness, but tender in compassion towards all that sought Him in sincerity by the "new add living way," which was then intimated and which should afterwards be fully revealed; — it was these things which made the ark the special treasure, the peculiar glory, the heart, the life, the all of Israel.
II. HAVE WE, THEN, AUGHT THAT ANSWERS TO THE ARK? Have we, then, a treasure that should be more precious to us than was even the ark of the testimony to the faithful Israelites? We have. The ark was the shadow; to us belongs the substance. Yea, we have, therefore, in the precious Gospel of Christ all that the ark signified; and that no more in dimness and in gloom, but in noonday splendour. What know we of God as "in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, and not imputing their trespasses unto them?" What know we of Christ, "Emmanuel, God with us," "the Lamb that taketh away the sin of the world?" What know we of the wondrous way of access to God thus thrown wide through the veil, that is to say, His flesh? And, therefore, it is this precious Gospel that is the ark of the Church of Christ; it is this precious Gospel in the midst of us that is the living sign and symbol of God's abiding presence with His faithful; and the shechinah, which has beamed in the tabernacle, and sparkled in the temple, has no glory, in comparison with the pure simple Gospel. If, then, the shadow, the type, the harbinger, was so precious to Israel of old, how much more precious to us should be the substance, the antitype, the glorious reality. This, therefore, is the ark of the Christian Church; and how dear it was to the holiest and the best of every age. Let one speak for many. "What things were gain to me," said the glowing Paul, "those I counted loss for Christ; yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord."
III. HAVE WE, THEN, EVER REASON TO "TREMBLE FOR THE ARK OF GOD," as trembled the heart of the faithful Israelite, when it went forth to the battlefield, where the uncircumscribed fought with Israel? We have. If the ark could be withdrawn from any spot, and return no more, may not the Gospel be withdrawn from us, and return no more? It has been withdrawn from many a scene, where once it reigned, in purity and in power. Look at Ephesus, and Laodicea, and Thyatira, and Sardis: where is the bright lamp, which once filled them with beauty and gladness? And what is there in our own favoured land that should hinder the withdrawment of the lamp of life from our shores? There is much reason why we should often "tremble for the ark of God." The dearer anything is to us the more we should tremble, lest we should lose it; the dearer the Gospel the more we have to be taken away from us. Will any man say — "If once I have the Gospel in my heart who shall take it from me?"
IV. BUT ARE THERE, THEN, SPECIAL REASONS WHY WE SHOULD "TREMBLE FOR THE ARK OF GOD" AMONG US AT THE PRESENT JUNCTURE IN OUR NATIONAL HISTORY? We can conceive that there are. It was at a special season that the venerable priest trembled for the ark: it was when it had been carried into the field of battle; it was when he knew that it was in imminent danger. Christian brethren, it is not the might or the mustering of all the foes of the Gospel of Christ; it is not the strength, or the combination of all that have ill will to his Zion; it is not that "Gebal, Ammon, Amalek, and Assur also, have holden the children of Lot," to war against His truth: but if we could but say, as the holy Hezekiah said, "They be more that are with us than with them; for with them is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles," then should we indeed stay ourselves in these precious words, "The Lord being our light and our san ration, whom should we fear? the Lord being the strength of our life, of whom should we be afraid?" God being for us, who could be against us? But our apprehension arises from within, rather than from without — from ourselves rather than from our adversaries. In the days of old, when our reformed faith came forth in its precious freshness and beauty — when the Gospel was as dear to the people as deliverance to the prisoner: in those days, whatever combination of might was against the Gospel of Christ, the faithful had little or nothing to fear. It is not from without, then, that we apprehend danger; it is far more from within that we apprehend it. We apprehend it because there has come over us a fearful want of a holy confession of the Gospel, and a holy protest against the perversion of the Gospel, which so actuated our martyred forefathers that it seemed to them but one feeling — to love the Gospel more than life, and to hate the error, which marred, and mutilated, and destroyed the Gospel, more than death. Nor is it only this: the laxity and the latitudinarianism which have come over us are worse than this, for there is no stopping on the inclined plane of error. First, men become secure, then indifferent to the truth, then open to error; they are then gradually drawn to choose it, and to love it, and are at last led blindfold by it, at its will. Is there not cause, then, that we should "tremble for the ark of God?" May not God take the vineyard away from us, and give it to other husbandmen, who shall give Him the fruit in due season? But more than this: Is there not a cause, because of the too light esteem, and the too feeble faith, and the too cold zeal, which even those who know somewhat of its preciousness, and have somewhat of its blessings in their own souls, manifest towards the ark of God? Where is the self-denial? where is the freedom and largeness of sacrifice, for the service of God? But if we go from men of low degree to men of high degree what meets us there? We speak not of one administration, or of another administration; we speak not of rulers and dignitaries, as such; we give them the deepest respect, but we speak of the general tone of moral legislature, and of moral government, in our once protestant England; and none can gainsay us in stating that all have been unfavourable to the national maintenance of the simple Gospel. Shall not God visit for these things, and will not His soul be avenged on a nation like this? Suffer the word of personal and practical application. Is this ark of the covenant, this glorious Gospel of the blessed God, dearer to us than any thing in the whole world besides? Has God opened the eyes of our understanding, to discern its worth?
(H. Stowell, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out.