In Steven Spielberg’s classic Raiders of the Lost Ark, the ark is THE ark. Although when I saw this movie I had no idea what the ark really was—even given Professor Jones’ on-screen explanation. All I knew was that in the climactic scene when the Nazi’s opened it, a mass of energy escapes and annihilates the Nazis. I thought it pretty ridiculous that some ancient energy was capable of such destruction, though this didn’t impact my love for this film. It was, after all, a movie.
The ark has been in the backdrop of most of the Old Testament thus far—since Moses had it constructed (as per God’s meticulous instructions) and settled it in God’s Tabernacle. It crops up here and there to remind people that they should not touch or look at it too long. But it was such a strong symbol of God’s power that people far and wide—non-Israelites—cowered before it. Which, given the lack of an efficient way to convey information back then, this is pretty impressive.
The events in Samuel 1 illustrate how people trot this ark out like a football and then have it stolen as a trophy by the Philistines. This is such a big deal, when Eli learns of its capture, he drops dead (4:18). Meanwhile, The Philistines are happy about their new acquisition, and when they bring it to Ashod, plagues afflict the people (the usual tumors, etc.) (5:6). So common sense prevails and the Ark is removed to Gath, and when those people endure a tumor outbreak (5:9), they ship the Ark to Ekron. There, upon its entrance, the people freak out—news travels fast, apparently. Those who did not die from panic were afflicted with sores (5:12).
Finally these people figure out that they should probably return the Ark to the Israelites, which they do along with some offerings.
For something that is such a big deal, it’s good that it has all the friendliness of radioactive waste when in the wrong hands, but you’d think God could dial this down when it’s among the people who worship it.
But maybe the issue is that Israel still can’t figure out their worshipping priorities.
Still unhappy without a ruler like every other nation, Israel asks for a king; annoyed that he’s STILL not enough for them, God delivers Samuel.
As a child, Samuel serves under Eli at the Tabernacle. One day, at a time when few received visions from God, Samuel is called. The problem is that Samuel does not know what he hears. Once Eli teaches Samuel how to listen—how hard could it be, really?—Samuel begins his future-ruler-of-Israel journey. When he does assume power, he defeats the Philistines at Mizpah and then commands the Israelites to abandon their other gods (7:3). Israel’s enemies defeated (for now), peace reigns, and like a good politician, Samuel spend a lot of time touring the regions of Israel (7:16). He still is not king, though—he doesn’t want the job.
This poor guy. Never a people to be happy with what they have, they pester Samuel for a king, and after consulting with God—he provides stern warning: tell them to be careful for what they wish—God will grant their wish (8:22).
This recurring story line is enough to drive a reader crazy—we know what’s going to happen, why don’t they? But of course, we’ve gotten so used to the storyline it’s become a cliché. This is just like when the bad guys get a hold of a dangerous weapon and try to use it; then we the audience know that it will destroy them before they learn this fact the hard way. Like when the Nazi open the Ark.
When I was a kid watching Indiana Jones globe trot after the ark for the first time, I realized this but I didn’t yet know why. It would take a few years to understand how the audience anticipated events in a film. People in ancient times were either too busy to study the mistakes of the past or they were just bad students.