Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 6:19-20; 2 Samuel 6:3-7)

The following quotes are taken from

"God Kills the Curious - "And he smote of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of Jehovah, he smote of the people seventy men, `and' fifty thousand men; and the people mourned, because Jehovah had smitten the people with a great slaughter.  And the men of Beth-shemesh said, 'Who is able to stand before Jehovah, this holy God? and to whom shall he go up from us?'" (1 Samuel 6:19-20 ASV)

"Killing the Good Samaritan - "The ark of God was placed on a new cart and taken away from the house of Abinadab on the hill.  Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab guided the cart, with Ahio walking before it, while David and all the Israelites made merry before the Lord with all their strength, with singing and with citharas, harps, tambourines, sistrums, and cymbals.
            When they came to the threshing floor of Nodan, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God to steady it, for the oxen were making it tip.  But the Lord was angry with Uzzah; God struck him on that spot, and he died there before God."  (2 Samuel 6:3-7 NAB)

            In order to better understand these passages, it would help to examine them in their entirety.  You can read the full chapters here:

            First of all, what was the Ark of the Covenant of God?  The Ark was constructed by Moses and the Israelites at God's command, while they were in the wilderness after God freed them from slavery in Egypt.  It was a chest made of acacia wood overlaid with gold, with a lid containing the "mercy seat" between the figures of two cherubim.  Inside the Ark was placed the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written (Exodus 25:10-22).  The Ark was housed in the innermost place of the Tabernacle while the Israelites were in the wilderness.  Once King Solomon constructed the Temple in Jerusalem, the Ark was moved there (1 Kings 8:1-21).
            There were very specific laws detailing who could approach the Ark, who could carry it and so forth.  The Ark was a physical representation of God's presence and of his holiness.  Only the high priest could approach it, and only once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:2), or he would die.  Only the Levites could carry it, and it had to be carried on their shoulders using poles so that they would not touch it, because anyone who touched the Ark would die (Numbers 4:15-20, 7:9; Deuteronomy 10:8). 
            Why was this commandment given?  Why was it such a serious offense to touch the Ark or look inside of it?  It is important to remember the holiness of God (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8).  No sinful mortal can approach God, because of the sinful and fallen state of humanity; there is a gap between us and God (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23).  This is why God sent Jesus to die for us and bridge the gap, to provide atonement for our sins and make us right with God, able to approach him once more (John 3:36; Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:14-16).
            In these two instances, the people involved were aware of the commandment against touching or looking into the Ark of God, but they disobeyed and did it anyway.  In the case of Uzzah, they disregarded the command to carry the Ark on poles to eliminate the danger of touching it (Exodus 25:12-14; Numbers 7:9), and carried it on a cart instead.  Even though Uzzah's intentions may have been good, he disobeyed the commandment not to touch the Ark, and this irreverence brought about his death.  "The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God" (2 Samuel 6:7, NIV).  These two instances were clear warnings to anyone who would not take God's commandments, and his holiness, seriously.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Elisha and the Youths (2 Kings 2:23-24)

The following quote is taken from

"Kill Brats - "From there Elisha went up to Bethel.  While he was on his way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him.  "Go up baldhead," they shouted, "go up baldhead!"  The prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord.  Then two shebears came out of the woods and tore forty two of the children to pieces."  (2 Kings 2:23-24 NAB)

Let us examine the story of Elisha's journey to Bethel.  You can read the full chapter here:

            Before examining this particular story, it would be helpful to get an overview of the events that preceded it.  Elisha was a prophet who lived during the time of the split monarchies of Judah and Israel.  He was the successor to Elijah, one of the great prophets of God (1 Kings 19:19-21).  After the death of King Ahaziah of Israel, Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, and Elisha witnessed it (2 Kings 2:1-12).  After that event, Elisha became God's prophet for 60 years (circa 892-832 BCE), and did many miracles.
            In this passage, Elisha was confronted by a large group of young men while he was on his way to Bethel.  It is important to understand that there have been many mistranslations in this passage: the Hebrew root word used is na'ar, which is most often used to describe a young man between the age of 12 and 30 [1][2] (see also Genesis 34:19, 41:12; 1 Kings 20:14-15).  The youths involved were not small boys; they were young men in their teens or twenties.
            The taunting that the young men gave Elisha was not just teasing.  It was a threatening act, designed to intimidate him.  The fact that 42 of them were killed by bears demonstrates how many of them there were; most likely a crowd of more than 50 ganging up on Elisha.  When they said, "Go up, you baldhead!", they were mocking him in two ways.  First, they were mocking the miracle of Elijah being taken up to heaven in a whirlwind not long before.  They were challenging Elisha to "go up" as Elijah had done, suggesting that they did not believe in the miracle of Elijah's disappearance, and daring Elisha to go up in the same way that Elijah had.  Second, their taunt "baldhead" was a slur against Elisha - there are several suggested meanings, that a prophet of that time signified his/her separation to God by shaving their head, that a leper in that time period had a shaved head and was considered a despised outcast [2], or used as a general term of contempt.  In any case, their verbal attack was designed to mock Elisha and his status as God's prophet.
            Essentially, the youths were challenging Elisha's authority as a prophet, and in insulting Elisha, were insulting the God who anointed him.  Had there not been immediate and swift action against the youths, the people would have had justifiable reason to question Elisha's call to prophecy and his status as God's messenger.  God saw the youths' rebellion, disrespect and utter contempt for him, and he responded by taking their lives.  In doing so, he was issuing a clear warning to anyone who would dare mock their Creator and King, and the prophets that he sent.       
[1]  Gesenius's Lexicon, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius (translated by Samuel P. Tregelles), 1847
[2] The Case For Faith, Lee Strobel, 2000.  Pgs. 122-124.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-17)

The following quote is taken from

"Kill People For Working on the Sabbath - "The LORD then gave these further instructions to Moses: 'Tell the people of Israel to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you forever.  It helps you to remember that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.  Yes, keep the Sabbath day, for it is holy.  Anyone who desecrates it must die; anyone who works on that day will be cut off from the community.  Work six days only, but the seventh day must be a day of total rest.  I repeat: Because the LORD considers it a holy day, anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death.'"  (Exodus 31:12-15 NLT)

            The Sabbath was God's gift to the Israelites, and part of his lasting covenant with them.  It was a reminder to the people that God was in their midst.  Just as he created the earth in six days and then rested (Genesis 2:2-3), the Israelites were commanded to work six days in the week and then rest on the seventh day (Exodus 20:8-11).  The Sabbath was also instituted to remind them of the Lord saving them from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15).
            So why was capital punishment prescribed for breaking the Sabbath?  Since God made the Sabbath a holy day, to break his commandment of resting on the Sabbath was a serious offence.  Working on the Sabbath was considered an act of blatant defiance and rebellion, as grave as an act of high treason.  It was a deliberate denial of God's sovereignty, his leadership and his authority.  Worse than that, it showed utter contempt to the one who saved the Israelites from perpetual slavery in Egypt.  It was considered an act of rebellion and ingratitude.
             Again, it is important to note that capital punishment commands such as these were given specifically to the nation of Israel during the time period and culture of the Ancient Near East.  The capital punishments prescribed do not apply in our time period and culture (Romans 6:14; Galatians 3:24-26).

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Rules Concerning The Tabernacle (Numbers 1:48-51)

The following quote is taken from

"Kill Anyone Who Approaches The Tabernacle - "For the LORD had said to Moses, 'Exempt the tribe of Levi from the census; do not include them when you count the rest of the Israelites.  You must put the Levites in charge of the Tabernacle of the Covenant, along with its furnishings and equipment.  They must carry the Tabernacle and its equipment as you travel, and they must care for it and camp around it.  Whenever the Tabernacle is moved, the Levites will take it down and set it up again.  Anyone else who goes too near the Tabernacle will be executed.'"  (Numbers 1:48-51 NLT)

            Why would capital punishment be prescribed for a non-Levite person who went near the Tabernacle?  The Tabernacle was constructed as the literal dwelling place of God while he was in the desert with the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land of Canaan (Exodus 25:8, 22; 40:34-38; Numbers 7:89; 9:15-23).  As such, it was considered the holiest of places.  When the glory of the Lord initially filled the Tabernacle, not even Moses could approach it (Exodus 40:35).
            The presence of God is extremely powerful.  God told Moses, "'I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence...But,' he said, 'you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live'" (Exodus 33:19-20, NIV).  The powerful and holy presence of God is too much for any mortal creature to withstand.
            God set the people of the tribe of Levi apart to serve as his priests and those who served at the Tabernacle (Numbers 18; Deuteronomy 18:1-8).  However, even the Levites who were not descendants of Aaron could not go into the inner sanctuary, or they would die (Numbers 18:1-7).  Also, only the high priest had access to the place called the Most Holy Place inside the sanctuary, where the Ark of the Covenant was located, and even then he could only enter once a year during the Day of Atonement, and had to make careful preparations beforehand (Exodus 26:33-34; Leviticus 16). 
            In light of all this, the command not to approach the Tabernacle was a very serious one.  This is why those who disobeyed the commandment were ordered to be executed.  In this day and age, we are able to come into the presence of God because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Hebrews chapter 9).