Scripture Reading: 1 Samuel 5:1-12, 1 Samuel 6:1-21, Exodus 10:1-2, Leviticus 5:14-17
I imagine the cassette tape is the kind of thing that will make my grandchildren’s eyes grow wide. They will giggle at these long gone, barely imaginable pieces of technology that have been replaced by something that is faster, smarter, and better. It will be to them what my own grandparents’ stories of their first radios and 45 records were to me.
I could tell them how my brother and I used to make recordings of our favorite songs when they came on the radio, one of us pressing play on our tape recorder at exactly the right moment while we sat there, silent and completely still, for the entirety of the song. Despite our best efforts, these recordings always seemed to consist of muffled versions of our favorite tunes, featuring the sounds of our breathing and restless fidgeting.
Our most beloved cassette tape not only included the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark, but also the static of the television we recorded it from. We could never seem to get it right, but at the time, it was worth it for the chance to carry our favorite tunes with us, playing them over and over again.
I can’t read about the Philistines carrying the ark with them without getting that same theme song stuck in my head. Of course, I could now easily pull the song up online to hear the track clearly and without distraction, but I like my crackly, static version just fine.
If I’m honest, I’m still easily persuaded that I can break God and His glory down into “good enough” pieces of religious comfort—pieces I can carry with me. The Philistines seemed to think this, too. The problem is, we’re not the ones in charge of the carrying.
The ark, roughly four feet long, was gold-plated and carried on poles that hung through rings on its sides. It was holy, created to house the tablets of the Ten Commandments and serve as a representation of God’s covenant with His people. As we read these passages together, we can all agree that things get pretty weird, right? Dagon, Ashdod’s idol-god, falls onto the ark, and then the city is afflicted with tumors (1 Samuel 5:6). Somewhere along the way, the Philistines began to believe they could move the ark however they pleased, that all of God’s goodness could be contained in a four-foot-long box.
I wonder what kind of boxes we carry with us today. Maybe it’s containing God to a specific place or restricting His character to the confines of our own small experiences. Perhaps the problem is that we’re stuffing the box with selfish pride and hopeful gain but still calling it God’s will.
Regardless, our boxes are all our own cheap versions of the one true Father, muffled by our sin and covered in the static of our humanity. Let us not mistake them for the substance of the Spirit. If we choose to carry anything with us let it be the full arc of the gospel story. Even better, let’s remember that we are the ones who need to be carried.
That’s what Jesus does for us. He carries us into the very presence of our God, in all His holiness. When the question is asked, “Who is able to stand in the presence of the Lord this holy God?” (1 Samuel 6:20), we can trust that Jesus has made a way for us to do just that. He stood in our place and died the death we deserved so that we could approach our holy God with confidence (Ephesians 3:12).