They Brought Up the Ark

Sermon preached on 1 Kings 8:1-21 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/8/2019 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Kings 8:1-21

They Brought Up the Ark

People tend to recognize big milestones or accomplishments.  Certainly, in the case of say large building projects being completed it is common to have a dedication ceremony and maybe a party associated with that.  Well, here a big milestone had been reached in Scripture.  The long-awaited temple was finally complete.  We alone have gone through several chapters of all the work involved in building this temple.  And the people themselves had to go through 7 years and frankly much more to wait for this temple.  Now it had been completed. And so it makes sense there would be an appropriate ceremony to commemorate its completion.  But here we see it’s not just a dedication ceremony.  They aren’t just committing this building to the LORD.  They are committing the LORD to this building.  They bring the Ark of the Covenant up into the temple to rest permanently in the Holy of Holies within the temple.  The Ark represented the mobile presence of God among the people.  And now it came to rest there in this temple Solomon had built.

Let’s begin then today by observing how and when they dedicated the temple like this.  Begin in verse 1 by noting that Solomon held a huge holy assembly unto the LORD.  This language of assembly is the language of the formal gathering of God’s people, typically used in the sense of gathering the church for worship.  This same word for assembly in the Hebrew typically gets translated into the Greek word ecclesia, the same word used in the New Testament for the church.  But here you will note that this is no ordinary assembly.  Essentially this is the rough equivalent today of our General Assembly.  Here you have a gathering of the elders and heads of all the tribes of Israel.  They gather in this holy assembly to participate in the worship associated with bringing up the Ark of the Covenant into the temple.  So this is a formal gathering and ceremony by the leaders of the people, and it would have been an act of corporate worship.

Notice then when they do this according to verse 2.  It’s during the seventh month of the year, roughly September/October timeframe on our calendar.  And not only that, it says it was during the feast of that month.  It would have been common knowledge to know that this was the big annual Feast of Tabernacles.  That feast commemorated how God brought the people safely through the time of wilderness wandering after the Exodus when they had to live in tabernacles at that time.  But it also served to celebrate the end of the harvest and so was sort of like a harvest festival too and therefore gave opportunity for the people to thank God for his provision for another year.

Recognize that this represents an intentional choice by Solomon.  He chose to bring the Ark up at that time.  This is clear because 1 Kings 6 told us that Solomon finished building the temple in the eighth month.  But this dedication is in the seventh month.  That seems to imply that Solomon did not immediately bring the Ark into the temple upon its completion.  Rather, he waited until the Feast of Tabernacles to bring it in and dedicate the temple.  But that makes sense. I previously made the point in chapter 6 that the completion of the temple really marked the end of the Exodus and its subsequent time of wilderness wandering.  It wasn’t until now that the people were truly settled in peace in the Promised Land.  God’s people had settled into their permanent homes and God have given them peace and rest from all their enemies.  Now, God via the Ark of the Covenant moves out a tabernacle and into a permanent home in the Promised Land.  Since the Feast of Tabernacles represented God bringing the people out of the time of wandering in tents, it makes sense that Solomon would wait for that annual feast to bring the Ark out its tent into the temple.  The symbolism and significance is clear.

Similarly, the imagery of the completion of a harvest during the Feast of Tabernacles is also fitting.  Let me help explain that by noting the interesting contrast with how the covenant was established at Mt. Sinai under Moses.  There is a lot here in this chapter that reminds us of Sinai and the covenant established there by God with his people.  Well, the Sinai occurred in the third month which is when the Feast of Weeks also known as Pentecost is celebrated.  Jews have rightly connected the annual Feast of Weeks holiday with God’s covenanting with them at Sinai and giving them the Torah and subsequently the creation of the Tabernacle.  But the Feast of Weeks holiday is most specifically a celebration of the beginning of harvest.  Being the third month in the Jewish Calendar, roughly May/June in our calendar, it was a different kind of harvest festival – it was at the beginning of the harvest season and so they would give an offering of their first fruits to the Lord.  So, think about that. The covenant with the law is inaugurated essentially at Pentecost and here then in Solomon’s day reaches its typological consummate glory at the Feast of Tabernacles.  In other words, the covenanting at Sinai with the law and the Tabernacle was the beginning of the harvest for God’s people.  This glorious temple now marks the final reaping of the harvest for God’s people.  Again, much symbolism is being employed here.

Let’s turn now in our second point for today and talk more about the Ark of the Covenant and its significance here.  Its significance is seen in verse 9.  There it references the two stone tablets that were inside the Ark.  We know from Exodus that God wrote the ten commandments on those stones.  They were a summary of the law God gave there that at Sinai.  But more than that, verse 9 tells us that they represented the covenant God had made with them there.  On a side note, it’s often assumed that the two tablets each contained part of the commandments – maybe commands 1-4 on one table and the rest on the other.  While that’s possible, we aren’t told that. In fact, an alternative proposal that is much more compelling to me is that the two stone tablets were identical copies each containing all the laws.  The idea being that when you entered into a covenant, each party would get a copy of the covenant document as a witness to them of the covenant.  Thus, it’s possible that is what was the case here. Well, while we can’t be dogmatic on that point, I mention it because clearly verse 9 sees the tablets in the sense of a witness and a representation of the covenant itself.  Just look at verse 21.  There Solomon specifically says that inside the Ark is the covenant that God had made with his people.  That’s covenantal language – those two tablets are literally identified as the covenant.  The idea is that they represent and summarize the covenant.

Part of the significance of this then is to make sure we have the covenant in mind in this ceremony.  To bring up the Ark is to bring up the Ark of the covenant.  It’s to connect this temple with the covenant.  All what the covenant entailed, all its laws, and statutes, and ordinances, is being connected here with the people and their worship at this temple.  All the blessings and curses in view under that covenant are hereby assigned to what will go on with this nation at this temple. This holy General Assembly then is not only a worship service.  It is a covenant renewal ceremony as the Ark which bears the covenant is brought into this holy temple.  Such will be borne out all the more as we continue to look at this chapter in future sermons.

While this chapter is presented in such positive terms overall, this repeated reference to the covenant should remind us of the danger inherent in this whole situation.  Yes, this was a time of joy and celebration.  But it could have easily gone so wrong. To make my point let me simply say the word Uzzah.  I’m referring to the man God struck dead back in 2 Samuel 6 the first time David tried to move the Ark into Jerusalem.  There, they did not consult the laws of the covenant in terms of how they were to properly move the Ark.  They tried to carry it on a new cart, but in the process of driving the cart the oxen pulling the cart stumbled and the Ark started to fall off the cart.  Uzzah reached out with his hand to save the Ark from falling.  God was angry about that and struck him dead right then and there.  The heart of the issue was that the terms of the covenant said that the Ark was to not be touched because of its holiness.  Instead it was to be transported on poles that were supposed to be kept on the Ark.  I wonder if that’s not part of the emphasis here in mentioning the poles in verses 7-8, but I digress.  Well, Uzzah’s death caused King David both anger and fear concerning the Ark of God and so for a time he left it at the house of Obed-Edom instead of continuing to bring it to Jerusalem.  Yet, when the house of Obed-Edom was so blessed by the Ark being there, David eventually realized he needed to bring it to Jerusalem.  But thankfully, he then consulted the law to see the proper way to carry the Ark.  They did and finally got the Ark into Jerusalem.

This helps explain the reference in verse 5 with all the sacrifices that were offered as they brought up the Ark.  There were so many sacrifices offered as the Ark was being transported that they were beyond count.  This is similar to David’s second attempt to bring up the Ark.  After the first disaster with Uzzah’s death, the second time they brought up the Ark was also with sacrifice upon sacrifice.  It said in 2 Samuel 6:13 that every six steps they offered a sacrifice.  Clearly something similar is going on here. My point is that dealing with this Ark was dangerous not only because of the holiness of God represented through it, but as well because of the terms of the covenant laws that were closely bound up with it.  Deviation from those terms of the covenant proved to bring curse upon the people.  But on the flip side, adherence to it would bring great blessing.

And so, the covenant emphasis here reminds us our problem of sin and the need for it to be resolved.  That’s a theme Solomon himself will be addressing in his grand prayer in this chapter so that the people would know covenant blessing and not covenant cursing.  But this issue ultimately looks forward to Christ and the new covenant who has perfectly fulfilled the law on our behalf so that we can know the blessings of such a covenant-relationship with the Lord.

That leads us to our final point for today to talk about the Ark in regard to the Glory Cloud and the Presence of God in the temple.  Arguably the biggest covenant blessing the people would know is that glorious presence of God among them.  That was at the heart of Moses’ intercession among the people at Sinai.  It’s at the heart of Christ Jesus’ intercession for us in the new covenant.  So, then we see this connected with the Ark.  In verse 10, after the Ark is brought into the Holy of Holies, the priests come out of the temple and then a cloud filled the house of the Lord.  Verse 11 explains this for us.  This cloud was the glory cloud of the LORD.  It was so glorious that the priests couldn’t enter into the temple because of it.  And so clearly the connection is made between the Ark of the Covenant’s entrance into the temple and the glorious presence of God filling the temple.  This was the same Shekinah Glory that was experienced at the dedication of the Tabernacle at Moses’ day.  Exodus 40:34-35 describes such a similar phenomenon.  The cloud covered the Tabernacle and Moses couldn’t enter it because the glory of the LORD settled upon it.

Recognize that this is theophany.  Theophany is some sort of physical appearance or manifestation of God on earth.  This is inherently condescension on God’s part, because, as the Scriptures say, God is invisible (1 Tim 1:17).  For God’s presence in anyway to be seen is God condescending to our fleshly level to make himself known to us.  Let me say it another way. The glory cloud was meant to communicate visibly what was the invisible truth – God’s blessed presence was there dwelling with them at that Ark in the temple in the Holy of Holies.  There, God was placing his name on earth among them his people.

All of this should remind us here that this was God’s plan from Sinai all along.  God’s intention was to dwell with them in the Promised Land in a central place.  Deuteronomy records several times that there would come a time when they were settled in the land that God would choose a place to put his name.  This was an issue reminded to us as recently as back in 1 Kings 3.  The Ark had ended up in Jerusalem when David had moved it there.  But the Tabernacle had not been moved too.  At that time the Tabernacle had been in Gibeon.  So, we are thankful to see here in verses 3 and 4 that all of it was gathered up and relocated to the temple.  Presumably the tent and other vessels that had been replaced with new versions were somewhere stored in the temple.  1 Kings 3 had reminded us that God’s plan was for his people to have a single central place of worship where God the sacrifices were to be carried out before his presence.  Now that was finally coming together.

In terms of our new covenant experience of the glorious presence of God, we remember the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.  That too marked the coming of God’s presence among his people via visible phenomenon.  There was the sound of the mighty rushing wind and there were the divided tongues of fire that rested on each of the disciples.  That again was visible phenomenon to communicate the invisible truth: that God’s people would now be the dwelling place of God by the Holy Spirit.  And yet I would suggest as dwelling places we are more like tent’s right now than permanent homes.  Like the beginning of the Sinai covenant and the Tabernacle which happened during the month for Pentecost, so too for us with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  King Jesus obviously waited until that feast to send the Spirit to dwell within us.  That it was Pentecost and not say the Feast of Tabernacles was intentional.  For like Sinai, the pouring out of the Spirit in Acts 2 was just the beginning of the harvest and the glory that awaits God’s people in Jesus.  It was just the first fruits of us knowing God’s presence!  When Christ returns coming in the clouds then our time of pilgrimage and wilderness wandering will come to and end.  Then God will usher us into a place where his presence will dwell us all the more gloriously for all eternity.  That will be the end of the harvest.  Right now, we are somewhere in between.  But Solomon’s dedication of the temple here at the Feast of the Tabernacles is the typology for where we are headed.  Right now, the Spirit dwells within each true believer.  But in the future when Christ returns the glory of God’s presence will be all the more known to us.  And when the fullness of times comes and that consummate glory arrives for us, like here with Solomon, that will again be a time for a party and a celebration and a time of great worship.  Scripture elsewhere calls that time the “marriage supper of the lamb” (Rev 19:9).

In conclusion brothers and sisters, I have wanted us to see the connection here today between God’s presence and his covenant with us.  The Ark represented the glorious presence of God among the people.  But it also contained the covenant as represented by the tablets within it.  There is a close connection here between God’s presence and his covenant with his people.

And this is typical for our relationship with God.  I love how the Westminster Confession of Faith describes this truth in chapter 7.1.  It says:

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

This is how God interacts with us.  He facilitates his relationship with us via covenant.  How we interact with him, how we know him, how we experience his presence, it’s done in the context and governance of his covenant with us.

Therefore, may we be reminded today of our covenantal enjoyment of his presence.  May we be reminded to approach our fellowship with God in such a way – covenantally.  That means many things but let me mention a few.  It means that the basis for our covenant relationship with God is the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross – not our own works or worthiness.  It means that the terms of the covenant and therefore our access to God is through our putting our faith and trust in Jesus for salvation – not by something we do to earn a part in this covenant.  It means that God gives us covenantal ordinances such as the Word, sacraments, and prayer, for how we are to especially experience and enjoy his presence.  And it means that the law that God is writing on our hearts under the new covenant is our guide for how we are to strive to live and act as those who are the holy temple of God.

It is good to have not only the presence of God in our lives, but to have that presence expressed by way of covenant.  May we rejoice again today at the presence of God which is ours as those who are members of God’s covenant of grace.  Amen. 

Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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