The Ark, The Philistines, and Easter

One of the best ways to see Jesus in the Old Testament is to recognize how he fulfills and completes and great themes of the Bible: the presence of God, the kingdom of God, and the people of God. The theme of God’s presence– seen in Eden, the tabernacle, the ark, the temple, and the promised Land– is fulfilled in Jesus, who is Immanuel, “God with us.” The theme of God’s kingdom– seen in Adam and Eve’s image bearing and David’s dynasty– is fulfilled in Jesus, the perfect Man and Son of David. And the theme of the people of God– the woman’s seed, Abraham’s offspring, the people of Israel– is fulfilled in Jesus, who is Abraham’s singular offspring, standing as Israel’s representative, fulfilling the covenant on our behalf.

Once you see these themes, details in many stories explode with significance, nowhere more so than the book of 1-2 Samuel, which traces the rise of God’s kingdom and sets up these themes for the rest of the Bible. 1-2 Samuel is full of God’s ironic and unexpected victories, many of which prefigure Christ (think, for example, of David and Goliath; God’s King defeats the enemy, and his victory counts for all of God’s people). A few days ago, another one of these little stories full of Christological significance was pointed out to me: the exciting episode of the ark of the covenant being captured by the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4-6. Today, I happened to arrive at that very story in my “through the Bible in a year” reading plan, and now saw the story in a whole new light. Read the story for yourself (it’s great!), but here are the highlights:

  • The ark of God is mistreated by Israel’s leaders, surrendered to the enemy, and swallowed up into the enemy’s stronghold.
  • The ark is placed in the temple of the Philistine god, Dagon, for three days. Dagon’s priests come into the temple on the third day to find the great statue of Dagon thrown down and shattered before the ark. Meanwhile, God pours out destruction on the Philistine cities.
  • Having plundered the enemy and broken their power, the ark is released by the Philistines and returns triumphantly to Israel, having turned the curse of its capture into treasure, blessing, and praise for God’s people.

That’s the summary of the story. Now, consider its Christological implications: Jesus is the true ark of God. He is the resting place of God’s presence, the pillar of fire and the shekinah glory, the fulfillment of the covenant. He’s the ark. Once you see this, the story’s significance cracks wide open: this is a foreshadowing of Easter. Consider:

  • Jesus, the true ark of God, was mistreated by Israel’s leaders, surrendered to the enemy, and swallowed up by Death into the enemy’s stronghold.
  • Jesus was held by Death for three days. But Death was thrown down and shattered before him.
  • Having plundered Death and broken its power, Jesus was released from its hold and rose triumphantly, having turned the curse of death into treasure, blessing, and praise for God’s people.

Isn’t it amazing how God tells the story of his Son? From cover to cover, the Bible is telling one great story in the midst of all the lesser ones. The lone Hero of the book, the unexpected Messiah from Nazareth, fulfills and completes all the stories. The light cast backwards through history by his great victory recasts every Old Testament narrative as a foreshadowing of his triumph.

And so here, in the unlikeliest of places– 1 Samuel– we see Death thrown down and shattered, and our resurrection hope emerging in a victorious march out of the grave. The outlines of Easter, a thousand years beforehand. What a story, and what a Savior!

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