The National Water Table of Spirituality.

THE NATIONAL WATER TABLE OF SPIRITUALITY.

THE NATIONAL RELIGIOUS SCENARIO AS SAMUEL’S ARRIVAL DREW NEAR  

Religion with discontentment is great loss.

 

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The revelation of God, His commandments and the ritual worship had all been centred by Moses’ orders around the Tabernacle. The worship was silent, intricate, costly and totally dedicated to the one tent, the one altar, the one holy place, and the one and only spot on planet earth where God had said that He would meet formally with Israel, i.e. between the winged  cherubim at the, “blood stained mercy seat.”  We are talking about the small, trunk sized box that God Himself referred to as “the Ark of my covenant.”

The tent that was created to house the Ark and everything that appertained to its ceremony and its ongoing silent liturgy. Was the supposed centre of the life of the camp of the children of Israel all through the forty years desert wandering. It was intended to be the same for generations after, that is, as far into the future as any Israelite could think.

The Ark was the item that was held in the middle of the Jordan while the water stood on end and allowed Israel to cross as on dry ground. It is virtually impossible to express to the secular and atheistic western mind what the tent, and especially the Ark, meant to the tribes of Israel. It was not an overstatement, at that time, to say, “no ark – no Israel.” Once it was made, it assumed a presence that was beyond description for the heart and soul of the nation. Of course, the people would still be living there in the land if the Ark had for any reason disappeared, but the spiritual significance of it all, and the very thought of no Tabernacle, and especially no Ark simply beggared contemplation to the God fearing of the nation. It was no wonder that old Eli dropped dead when he was told that the Philistines had taken the Ark. Eli heard about the thousands lost in battle, and the fact that his two sons had died and was stilled into silence – but was still breathing. Then they told him that the Philistines had taken the Ark. At that piece of news, he fell backwards and, quite literally, dropped dead with shock.

If Israel was created by Yahweh, and if Yahweh delivered Israel from Egypt for His glory and worship, and if the vast bulk of His commandments given at Sinai were instructions of how to approach the tabernacle, how to sacrifice at the tabernacle, how to worship at the tabernacle, how to be purified at the tabernacle, and how to contemplate the presence of God via the ever hidden Ark; what would happen if the tent – or the Ark – was for whatever reason, stolen? How would faith be sustained, if the whole kit and caboodle was just taken away from them? If the people of the United States of America could consider the physical and social removal of the American constitution, and the British could consider the removal of parliament, or democracy, we are just beginning to be one per cent on the way to grasping the priceless loss to Israel as the Ark of the covenant was stolen by those who had developed into their arch enemies, the Philistines.

0001But, the constitution of the USA, and the British houses of parliament are almost passing trivia to the import of the tabernacle and all its accoutrements, above all, the Ark. It was truly part of Israel’s existence.  It would be more than the end of civilisation to them. If it is possible to understand, it would be to the true, God fearing, patriotic Israelite, “The End of the World.” It was the essence of both the reason for their existence, and the motivation of their nation’s existence. This whole set up of tent, sacrifice and Ark was so important at this point of time that one whole tribe, i.e. almost eight per cent of the entire nation of Israel, were ordained by God to do nothing else but look after and maintain everything that there was about the tent and its accompanying pomp and circumstance. With this tribe (i.e. the Levites) in charge of the worship they entered Canaan  immediately after Moses’ death. Because of the logistics of fighting, warring and pillaging, a large camp was set up at a place called Gilgal, allowing Israel a bridgehead and base. As always, wherever the children of Israel camped, the tent over the Ark was raised in the centre of that immense bivouac.

Having conquered a certain part of Southern Canaan, and made headway into the northern territories, Joshua remembered that he had not yet “split” the land up between them all. He wanted the last seven and a half tribes to get their inheritance.  Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Manesseh were given land east of the Jordan by Moses years earlier. Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim had already been given  their allotment earlier by Joshua. This left Asher, Zebulun, Naphtali, Issachar, Dan, Simeon and the remaining half of Manasseh to attain an allotment of land to live in.

Joshua sent out surveyors from a new camp site called Shiloh, to map the land and to identify certain borders and areas. The book of Joshua (18:8) tells us that when the men were ready to go and  inspect, Joshua himself charged them to make a description of the land. Then he told them, “Return to me here, and I shall cast lots for you before the Lord in Shiloh.” This gives the reader of scripture the distinct impression that the “national camp” was at that time transferred and settled into Shiloh. It is generally accepted that the Tabernacle was set up at Shiloh and left to stand there for more than a century (possibly two) at this hill called Shiloh (Joshua 18:1), later described as a city.

According to Judges 21:19, Shiloh is situated ,“On the north side of Bethel, on the eastern side of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem and on the northern side of Lebonah.”  This site has  been currently identified. It is a ruined site on a hill about nine miles north of Beitin (Bethel) and three miles south of El-Lubban (Labonah?). It was excavated by Danish expeditions as recently as 1926-29, and 1932. Their results suggest that Shiloh, as a centre of population, was destroyed circa 1050 B.C.

0003 Nebi-SamuelIn the process of time this Tabernacle location evolved, to be referred to as, “The Temple.” The word used in scripture (hekal) infers that it was a permanent item, even though it was still a tent. Because of a large, “Temple-like,” ruin excavated on the site, it is thought by some that a permanent building could have been erected around the sacred tent, if not over it, explaining to the satisfaction of several scholars, why it is in 1 Samuel 1 referred to as “The Temple.” The change of words to do with the temple door, and doorposts, however, do not intimidate me, nor prevent me from suggesting that  it was still the Tabernacle, as instituted by Moses, that was being utilised for worship. This writer holds to the opinion that the tent was left for a century or two and became conceived of as a permanent structure by succeeding generations, and was therefore referred to as “The Temple.”

Even though there was overwhelming godlessness and idolatry in the days of the book of Judges, chapter 18:31 informs us how, although it should have been the only worship centre for the nation of Israel, it was reduced to the principle sanctuary during this era.

In the fearful tension and violence of this epoch, the observances of the rituals enjoined upon the people by Moses, had fallen greatly into misuse, abuse, and even disuse. When faith disappears from the hearts of the people, superstition runs rampant. What ensued was a religious mishmash that caused some of the population to perceive Jehovah as actually living inside the Ark – that is, if they believed He lived at all. It was deduced by the short sighted, of whom there were many, that Yahweh was “obviously” only a god who was on par to any other named god of the locality. It was this concept of a worldview and paradigm that was to be their complete downfall. Who said, “Theology doesn’t matter”?

0007 PhilistinesIf God lived in the Ark, as some supposed, there  was no way in heaven, or on earth that they could lose a battle – if only the Ark was present. There was, consequently, absolutely no possibility of them actually ever losing the Ark. Or so they thought! Their own scriptures and historical writings could have straightened them out on these issues, if only they had been consulted.

The following decades of religious syncretism and debauchery, therefore, did not cause the Tabernacle and the Ark to lose its  high profile, superstitious, “magical” appeal  to the majority of the nation. To those that still feared God, it was the holy place that it had always been, even if concepts of holiness held by the masses was something alien to the mind and statement of Yahweh Himself. But to the weak minded, superstitious, and religious people, they could take Yahweh and His Ark – or leave Him. “Bring Him in when there is social and/or emotional pressure. Otherwise it doesn’t really matter who, what, or how one worships; does it?”

This, “fool’s philosophy,” had even infected and infested the minds of the, “men of the cloth.” The conduct of the priests, after the crescendo of the sacrifices at the Tabernacle were visual points of contact to set the tone of spirituality for all the attendant worshippers. As the book of Samuel commences, God fearing Eli, acting as the High Priest, is “full of years,” and becoming enfeebled, and his adult sons were utterly out of his control. They were living publicly and openly in licentiousness and lewdness. They were a talking point for all the nation.

Outraged, enraged and disgraced by the crimes of its ministers, in the climactic days of the birth and development of, ”the last Judge,” worship of Jehovah sank into Israelite public contempt, and was almost, mortally “wounded in the house of its friends,” and seemed, humanly speaking, almost ready to expire. Hophni and Phinehas, Eli’s two sons, committed crimes that had such an effect of imbibed and continuous wickedness throughout the nation, that the scripture actually says, “The Lord wanted to kill them.” Is there any statement more horrific in the whole of the Bible?

Chuck Swindoll's take on an outline of 1 Samuel. Good stuff!

Chuck Swindoll’s take on an outline of 1 Samuel. Good stuff!

How Eli came to be High Priest at this time is a complete mystery. Moses had given orders that the High Priestly role could only be continued as a lineal descendancy from his brother Aaron, down through Eleazar. Eli’s family tree was in the wrong garden. He was indeed descended from Aaron, but through Ithamar as opposed to Eleazar. Somehow, through the years that were post-Joshua and pre-Eli, the Aaronic priestly descendancy had lost its power, impact and function. It is not known what actually happened. Had the Aaronic line died out? Not at all! When Solomon appointed Zadok, he reverted to the true line. So why Eli? Was some descendant of Aaron, debauched as Hophni and Phinehas, “expelled” from the priesthood? Indeed, a stronger question would be; “Could anybody be expelled from a lineally descended priestly family?” All resolutions to this query are pure conjecture. The public and/or the priesthood made an alternative choice for this most important position in the spiritual life of the nation of Israel (at least in this generation to which we are referring).

A picture says more than a thousand words. The family tree we are now discussing grew something like this:

ELI

 

Obviously Eli was not in the correct side of the family to be High Priest.

The book of Samuel commences with two young men, the offspring of elderly Eli, officiating at the sacred tent and abusing the God ordained system and their office to such a degree that God told Eli twice, in considerable detail the awful fate that was to overcome them. The impact of this fate was to be the end of poor old Eli. He knew he was responsible for his lack of parental control. For this reason the names, “Hophni” and “Phinehas” are an infamous biblical byword for godlessness and corruption.

And this is the atmosphere into which the chosen vessel Samuel was placed and reared?

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