Hebrew In Israel | 1Samuel and the Ark – Learn Torah

"The Ark was a symbol of YHWH’s presence"

Hebrew In Israel | 1Samuel and the Ark – Learn Torah

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As in many cases, the stories we get in the Tanakh were chosen to reflect important or selected items for future generations.  We can learn something from each story, and even though they are accounts of something from the past, one can find ideas which will fit our times.

While doing an analysis of the battle in 1Sam 4 we read of the capturing of the ark and the fall of Shilo.  When reading this story, we can recognize that the Ark was a symbol of YHWH’s presence.  The bringing of the Ark to the field was understood as YHWH actually showing up for war, and created much fear in the hearts of the Philistines.

“And the Philistines were afraid, for they said: ‘God is come into the camp.’ And they said: ‘Woe unto us! for there was not such a thing yesterday and the day before.” (1Sam 4:7)

However, the Ark falls into the hands of the Philistines and only comes back after 7 months.  There are several points which came to mind while reading:

Exile of the Ark

The removal of the Ark from Shilo reminds me of the leaving of YHWH’s presence from the temple as described in Ezekiel 10.  The verses show that YHWH leaves the temple, leaving it and abandoning the structure.  This act symbolizes that YHWH no longer protects his temple.  This idea of gods abandoning temples can be found in inscriptions from the ANE, and reflect a common belief that temples are destroyed due to the anger of the god at his people.  The leaving of the presence opens the temple to an attack, which leads to destruction.  It is clear that the chapters preceding this story already represent an overall displeasure of YHWH of his servants, and though the decision to remove the ark was of Israel without asking YHWH, it was an instrument of YHWH to bring His plan into the world.


The Ark is kept in the land of Philistines for 7 months without Israel attempting to bring it back.  In ANE thought the capture of the symbol of a god by an enemy reflected the defeat of that god.  This practice known as “godnapping” is recorded in different places, and very commonly a statue or statues of defeated nations were given as tribute to the temple of the victorious god.  Tiglat-Pileser I, for example, gave 25 statues of defeated gods of different lands to the goddess Ninlil.

“With the mighty power of the god Ashur, my lord, I marched to the land of Sugu of the land of Habhu, insubmissive to the god Ashur…I brought 25 of their gods…At that time I donated the 25 gods of those lands, my own booty which I had taken, to adorn the temple of the goddess Ninlil…”  (Assyrian Royal Inscription 2.28:11-12).

We find this same idea in the case of the Ark, however with a twist.  Unlike the defeated gods, YHWH hurts the Philistines in a very symbolic manner by desecrating the statue of Dagon, and brings down their gods and people.  By this YHWH is showing that it was His will for the Ark to be taken, and that His power is still in full force.  The argument that God no longer has power is argued even today, but it is only an illusion which will be destroyed when He wills it.

By His Will

The Ark was kept away from Israel until YHWH chose to bring it back.  This makes me wonder about the attempts to bring the Ark back in our days.  Several attempts have been done by people searching for the Ark, and it has reached a point where some scholars have doubted it actually existed.  However, some assume it vanished early on such as the raid of Shishaq on Jerusalem (1Kings 14:25-26), or its capture during the Babylonian attacks on Jerusalem.  Whatever the case maybe, the Ark has been gone for a very long time.  This makes me wonder if it is the will of YHWH to keep it hidden until He is willing to rebuild His house.  The same way the Ark came back and surprised Israel the first time, it will come back and surprise us again.

As can be seen, different ideas are presented in this story line, and we have only looked at three.  It is my belief that many more ideas can be found when reading the first cycle of stories in 1Sam, and I hope to bring more in the future.

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