“When the army came back to the camp, the elders of Israel said, ‘Why did the Lord let us be defeated today by the Philistines?’” (1 Samuel 4:3a) The answer, of course, was their covenant failures. So what was their response? They said “Let’s take with us the ark of the covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. When it is with us, it will save us from the hand of our enemies” (4:3b). Effectively, they believed that they possessed “the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord,” so no harm could come to them. This is evidenced by what one can go on to read, which is “So the army sent to Shiloh, and they took from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts Who sits between the cherubim… When the ark of the covenant of the Lord arrived at the camp, all Israel shouted so loudly that the ground shook” (4:4a,5). A repetition of “the Temple of the Lord” indeed.
Naturally, just as Israel was mistaken about the preserving power of the presence of the that which represented their God in the times of both Jesus and Jeremiah, so too was Israel mistaken in this case. As Israel was routed by both Babylon and Rome, with the Temple destroyed on both occasions, the ark of the covenant was captured by the Philistines and Israel was defeated.
What was it that lead to these events? Surely, it was something that would have resonated with both Jeremiah and the people of Israel (Judah) to which Jeremiah spoke. Proving that there is nothing new under the sun, while also demonstrating the historical congruence of the message of the Creator God, through and by which He reveals the plans and purposes of His kingdom and its denizens, the issue was the priests and the people. In the second chapter the author reports that “The sons of Eli,” Eli being the High Priest, whose sons officiated alongside him in the tabernacle, “were wicked men. They did not recognize the Lord’s authority… They treated the Lord’s offering with contempt… They used to have sex with the women who were stationed at the entrance to the tent of meeting” (2:12,17,22b).
Though not quite as explicit as the condemnation from Jeremiah, it does have its resonances. Clearly, they were not rightly worshiping the God of Israel, so they might as well have been worshiping some other god. Complicity, even if it is a grudging acceptance of this behavior on behalf of the people, is implied. Jeremiah could have easily recognized this, and one can easily be led to believe that this was in mind and designed to be called to mind when he speaks of the Temple in his prophecy. The presence of the ark was as helpful to the people in that day as was the presence of the Temple in Jeremiah’s day or in Jesus’ day.
In addition, and just so the covenant God might get His point across, so that Jeremiah might get his point across, and so Jesus might get His point across as well, when the elders of Israel sent for the ark, it was accompanied by these sons of Eli who were killed in the ensuing battle during which the ark was also taken. Those responsible for the house of the Creator God, who mocked their responsibility, perished as the ark was taken. As the ark represented the glory of the Creator God, a tabernacle or Temple with no ark is also devoid of that God’s glory and is therefore no tabernacle or Temple at all. This rings loudly and clearly through to the days of Jesus and the events that followed not too long thereafter. Let it be said that, from the time of Samuel, to Jeremiah, and on to Jesus, the Creator God’s ways and that which He intends for His people can be clearly detected.