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God’s Word for You

1 Chronicles 13:1-4 A good idea

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, December 11, 2023

13:1 David consulted with each of his officers, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. 2 He said to the whole assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you and if it is the will of the LORD our God, we should send word far and wide to the rest of our brothers throughout the whole land of Israel, and also to the priests and Levites in their towns and their pasturelands, to come and join us. 3 We will bring the ark of our God back to us, for we did not seek it during the reign of Saul.” 4 The whole assembly agreed to do this, because it seemed right to all the people.

The ark of the covenant had been lost when Samuel was a boy, long before David was born. The Philistines had captured it in battle against Israel. After a series of miraculous warnings from God, the Philistines sent the ark back to Israel, and it had remained on a hill in Kiriath-Jearim ever since. David didn’t feel right building himself a beautiful house in Jerusalem when the ark of God was parked just inside the Israelite border like an abandoned car in someone’s backyard.

The modern reader might misunderstand David’s motive for getting everyone’s agreement to bring the ark back to the heart of Israel. David was not just covering himself, getting ready to say that it was everyone’s idea to do this in case something went wrong. David’s heart went out to all of Israel, every single heart among the people, every single conscience that was afflicted by sin. David was leading the people to be of one mind about God. Let’s do what God wants us to do, as a nation—that’s what he was trying to do. The ancient church asked, “What must we say about David who received a good report? God said about him: ‘I have found a man after my own heart, David the son of Jesse.’”

David did not only invite the high command, the generals and colonels who commanded their thousands. He also asked the sergeants and captains, the men who commanded hundreds. He wanted to be sure the army was not pressed into the service of the Lord because of a few pious leaders with most of the gold braid.

In the same way, he did not only speak to the priests, but to the Levites, too. And not only the men from the cities and towns, but from the villages and the fields. The pastor of a hundred is every much the theologian as the pastor of a thousand. For “to the high priest have been appointed his proper services, to the priests their own place assigned, upon the Levites their proper duties imposed; and the layman is bound by rules for laymen. Each of us, brothers, in his own rank, must give thanks to God in good conscience.” They all had a say in the spiritual welfare of God’s people.

So David invited his soldiers first, men he knew well, men he had fought with, camped with, slept with, ate with, endured hardship with, and knew the state of their faith. Were they with him? Yes they were. Then he invited the religious leaders, the priests and Levites, Israel’s ministers and teachers. Were they with him? Yes they were. Finally, he asked the whole assembly, representing all of Israel. Were they with him? Yes they were. This was not the work of a man trying to buy himself insurance against later accusations, but the work of a leader, a godly king, leading from the front, spurring the whole nation forward to a great work of faith.

Why do this thing? Wasn’t the ark safe in the home of a devout man? We must remember the purpose of the ark. The ark was both a memorial and also a means of forgiveness. “The annual atonement must be made with the blood of the atoning sin offering for the generations to come. It is most holy to the Lord” (Exodus 30:10). The ark held the tablets of the commandments and the staff of Aaron, and so it was a memorial. But it was also the place, the only place, where atonement could be made for the nation year after year until the Messiah came, and so it was also a means of forgiveness. “It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord, making atonement for your lives” (Exodus 30:16). In these ways, it had some of the same functions as the Lord’s Supper does for the New Testament church, the true Israel today. It is both a memorial (Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me,” Luke 22:19) and a means of forgiveness and grace (“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” Matthew 26:28). While the ark remained in a house in western Judah, it was not serving Israel’s life of worship. David wanted to bring it safely to the center of the nation, to his capital city: to Jerusalem. Wherever it was, if people came to worship there, that was good. But if not? Luther said: “God made it known through Moses where he wanted to be worshiped—not in any attractive spot, under a beautiful tree, in a [beautiful] meadow or field, or on a mountain, but at the place where the Ark of the Covenant rested.”

The teaching surrounding the ark, both its memorial function with the Law and its atoning Gospel function for the nation (that is, for the church) made it one of the marks of the ancient Old Testament church, along with the correct preaching of God’s holy Word. For gathering around the preaching of the Gospel, the word and sacrament, are also the marks of the New Testament church.

There is one other detail to be mentioned here, on account of a commonly held belief in recent times due to an inexact reference in the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). In it, a theory is mentioned that the ark of the covenant was stolen by Shishak, a Pharaoh of Egypt in the days following Solomon’s reign. However, the ark is mentioned in the Bible as late as the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BC), some three hundred years later, a little over twenty years before the Babylonian exile (2 Chronicles 35:3). Perhaps we will have more to say about that when we reach the final chapters of the book.

David said: “I will not enter my house or go to my bed—I will allow no sleep to my eyes, no slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob” (Psalm 132:3-5). And again,he said: “Arise, O LORD, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might” (Psalm 132:8).

The idea was presented: Bringing the ark to Jerusalem was a good idea. It would be good for the nation; it would be good for each individual person. But as we will see, a good idea is only the beginning.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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