We are about to come to the last of the three “ark chapters” in 1 Samuel. Two weeks ago, we saw the ark go into exile as it was captured by the Philistines. Last Sunday we saw God, through the ark, defeat Dagon and the Philistines. This Sunday we will look at the return journey of the ark back to Israel in 1 Samuel 6:1-7:2.
After the ark comes back into Israel, we see that even the people of Israel must learn a hard lesson. We’re told that 70 of the men of Beth-Shemesh are struck by the Lord “because they looked upon the ark of the Lord.” The author does not elaborate on their sin beyond this, but the context suggests that they looked upon the ark in an irreverent manner. In other words, this was a sin of disregarding the Lord’s holiness.
In response to this, the men of Beth-Shemesh ask a crucial question: “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God?” This is a fundamental question for all of humanity. If we really understood the holiness of God, we would tremble to think of coming into His presence. We would immediately sense that we are not able to stand in His holy presence without being struck down.
In Psalm 24, David asks a series of questions similar to that which was asked by the men of Beth-Shemesh:
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
So who bears these qualifications? Only one person in history ever did, and that was God’s own Son, Jesus. Therefore, it is only through Christ that we can come into God’s presence with confidence. It is only with His blood and righteousness applied to us that we have access to God’s throne.
When we encounter shocking descriptions of God’s holiness and power in Scripture, we should slow down and ask ourselves why we so seldom tremble at His Word. But we should also bow in humble gratitude for the grace of the Lord Jesus, who gives us bold access to the very throne of this holy God!