The philistines send the ark back to Israel. They know all about Israel’s God, how they escaped from Egypt, Jericho. They get spiritual advice and put it on a cart with gold offerings.
It arrives in Israel during harvest with great celebration. But some of the men take the opportunity to look inside it and die. So the celebration with offerings turns into a slaughter (the number is very uncertain, between 50000 and 70. But even 70 is a terrible tragedy).
They organise for people for the temple to take it away.
This is the story of the ark, it is old testament in the stereotypical way: judgement and wrath. The ark is the powerful author of life God, who as I said yesterday, cannot be tamed. CS Lewis envisioned him as a lion, such a great image.
The people here tested God. The philistines knew of his reputation, but they thought they’d find out what happened if they took the ark.
The Israelites have lost their religion and sent it into battle as a sort of superstition. Celebrating its return thought they’d find out what happens is you look inside, despite knowing full well that the old religions rules were that only the high priest was able to even enter its presence once per year.
Don’t pick a fight with God. Don’t challenge him to see how strong he really is. We coast along on the doctrine of grace, letting our personal religion be hollowed out as society treats God as a joke.
What is this chapter? Game of thrones… 9 kings form 2 alliances over a disputed plain. The alliance including Sodom loses. That is where Lot lives, so he loses everything.
Abram hears and rescuse him with 300 men, he will not see his relative enslaved. This also does a service to the king of Sodom.
Another king, Melchizedek turns up a bit like a fairy godmother. He is also a priest (of what, there is no temple yet, or even tabernacle?). I wonder what the religion of the isralite nation was at this time? And what nation was Melchizedek’s Salem? Anyway, he declares God’s hand in it all. He declares Abram blessed, and God as the one who delivered his enemies to Abram.
As a thank you for returning the goods and people that had been captured, the king of Sodom offers Abram the goods. But Abram won’t keep any of them for himself. He made a vow not to be enriched by the King of Sodom “not even a thread or the strap of a sandal”.
So the theme of separateness is retained. Lot chose probably the wiser political move, but it had risks, as he found out. But Abram stayed faithful to God’s promise. He can’t found a nation if he mingles, merges with and is beholden to with the nation already there.
PS: turns out Salem is a pre-name for Jesrusalem, duh. Melchizedek’s priestly duties would have been there. So God is already marking out the place he will be. He is used as a messiah figure, the sense of a priesthood, a person who brings God, that has always been before the Jewish system.
Advice to elders, setting out model church leaders. It’s an extension of Jesus’ good shepherd metaphor, which (assuming Peter did in fact write this book) he probably heard first hand.
Do it from the heart is the message. Being a shepherd means doing it willingly, eagerly, it’s not just a job. Have a sense of service, lead by example.
The hard thing would be to keep up doing that long term. Just about every job turns into more duty than enthusiasm, a way of getting money rather than a mission. As you come to terms with the limits of you own personal ability to change, you lead by force will rather than example.
I am probably going to start a new job soon. It’s a great moment to step back and look at this biblical model for work and leadership.
Then advice for the non elders: submit to the elders. I remember being young and the feeling that the people in charge have no idea what they are doing can be very intense. Peter is clearly sympathetic to it and takes some time to argue the case, reminding them that scriptures see humility as a virtue and telling them to take thier concern directly to god, reminding them that they have spiritual autonomy to get wise before god themselves. Also, slyly perhaps, reminding them of the ultimate advantage of youth: their time will come.
I feel young/old as I have not been wise in many ways in life, I feel I still have protential to realise and something to prove. Keeps me young…. Pray that I too will remain centred on gods will