When Devils Carry the Ark (The Sons of Eli)

When Devils Carry the Ark
Robert Wurtz II

“Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.” (1 Samuel 2:12 KJV)

Regardless of the fact that God had placed strict regulations on whom priests could marry, “bad seeds” still found their way into the priesthood. Long before John the Baptist denounced the notion of heriditary righteousness, we face this sobering verse, “Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.” (1 Samuel 2:12 KJV) Here were young men, born of Eli’s seed, raised to know the Lord, and yet they were devils. Making matters worse, Eli, who was supposed to stand before the Lord, was not doing his job. In fact, while Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were killed for offering strange fire, and Aaron was forbidden from mourning their death; here is Eli and his wicked sons making a mockery of the priesthood as if it were business as usual. 

The old timers used to say that “God’s presence withdrawn means judgment has been delayed.” Actually, God’s presence withdrawn is judgment in itself. Eli was more concerned about keeping his sons happy than obeying God. He was completely ignorant of the danger he, and his family were in. Even though God had specifically warned him, he kept honoring his sons above God. In fact, his sons became his gods. He served them instead of God. He falsely accused a woman of drunkenness while refusing to deal with his perverse — adulterous sons. He is the type of man who would cast out a prophet and allow a fornicator to go on ministering. Sound like modern times? The Eli’s of today have tolerated sin to the point that entire generations need to be re-taught the concept of holiness.

High Handedness 

The Ark of God was lost to the Philistines through the gross negligence and presumption of Eli’s wicked sons Hophni and Phinehas. Eli, who honored his sons more than he honored the LORD, refused to put an end to their high-handed gluttony and adultery. In time, their evil reached its apex as these sons of Belial shouldered the ark of God and ran presumptively into battle with no word from the LORD. Imagine that! Devils running down the hill with the ark over their shoulder. These were supposed to be ministers before the Lord; instead they carried the presence of God out of His own camp. As a consequence, they were killed and the ark was seized by the enemies of God. When Eli heard the news, his concern for the things of God finally surpassed his love for his sons, and in a moment of terror fell backwards and broke his neck. His daughter in law, struck by the horrific ramifications of her wicked husbands’ reckless evil, fell into labor and died; not before delivering their son and naming him Ichabod; a name that captured the reality of that day, “for the glory of Jehovah is departed.” 

In the midst of the rebellion and compromise, God raised up Samuel, who was after God’s own heart, to get the nation back on track. “After God’s own heart” is a way of saying that a person agrees with God and seeks to honor His will. After God judged the Philistines with rats and hemorrhoids, they decided it was best to give the ark back to Israel. They sent it on an ox-drawn cart with some golden hemorrhoid shaped offerings hoping their plan would put an end to their plagues. 

When it arrived at Beth-Shemesh, the children of Israel sat it on a flat stone, broke up the cart, started a fire, and cooked the oxen. They were happy and celebrating the ark’s return; for it symbolized the very Throne of God and His unique presence. Nevertheless, their party got out of hand. This is what happens when holiness is not taught and modeled. People do things they ought to know better than to do. Soon some decided to look inside the ark — while others stared at it; both of which were capital offenses (Numbers 4:20). It is important to note, that God did not spend the entire Old Covenant teaching us about His holiness just to void it all with grace. God is still as holy as He was when He struck down no less than 70 people for staring at and looking into the ark — rather than covering it up (Numbers 4:5).

Such recklessness and irreverence for the things of God are a direct consequence of not giving heed to what God has said about holy things. Moreover, evil associations corrupt good manners. When one person is reckless and irreverent, others are emboldened to behave likewise– especially if the ringleader is of reputation or position. Pretty soon the few who are left who are behaving reverently are shunned as old fashioned or some other cynical adjective. What happens? The voices that speak out against ungodly behavior are ridiculed until the masses are embolden in their evil. In fact, though God had successfully judged the Philistines so that Israel could recover the ark, it would take Samuel some twenty years, going around from town to town preaching repentance and correcting the people’s errors, to get the people right with God so the LORD could return in His unique presence. This is an important lesson for all times.

And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:6-7)

During this twenty years the ark of God stayed with a Levite and his family. Incredibly, though they had known the ark of God for twenty years, they had no concept of how it was supposed to be handled. In fact, when David got ready to bring the ark up they put it on a cart just like the Philistines did. Their close proximity to the things of God, while refusing to educate themselves as to how they are to be handled, proved to be Uzzah, the son of the Levite’s, cause of death. Ignorance proved to be no excuse when he reached out and touched the ark. He may have had the impression that he was an expert on the ark, simply because he grew up around it. History has proven time and time again, that the opposite is often true. 

A Story for all Times

The entire story of the loss and recovery of the ark of the covenant is filled with examples of the consequences of disregarding God’s standards of holiness and righteousness. We have in our text in 2 Samuel 6:6-7 a demonstration of God’s estimate of presumption in the things of God. If He never smote another person down again, the example of Eli, his sons, the people who “gazed” into the ark, and finally Uzzah gives God’s perspective on the behavior. What is presumption? It is the blatant disregard of God’s clearly defined protocol or rules. It is to act independent of God’s counsel in innovating measures in the kingdom of God. This behavior could range anywhere from willful ignorance to highhanded rebellion. 

In the Kingdom of God, as the name suggests, God is the King. This seems simple enough, but we must understand that the word kingdom implies strict subservience. We are told in scripture that we are servants to whatever we yield our members to. This tells us what kingdom we are in. What king are we obeying? That’s the kingdom we have chosen to be subservient to. 

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