Friday of Epiphany 1
January 14, 2022
1 Samuel 5-6
Who Is Able to Stand Before This Holy God?
The Lord is able to take care of Himself. When the Philistines place the ark of the covenant in the temple of their god Dagon, the statue of Dagon falls down on its face before the ark. When the Philistines don’t get it, the next night Dagon falls down and his head and hands break off. After that the Philistines start looking for a new home for the captured ark. But in every city to which the ark comes, the people are struck with tumors. Finally the Philistines remember what happened in Egypt. The Lord struck the Egyptians with plagues until at last they sent the Israelites out of the land. They decide to send the ark out of the land on a cart pulled by cows.
The cows, directed by God, pull the ark straight back to the land of Israel. It is miraculous. The Lord, who has promised to be present at the ark of the covenant to bless Israel, brings Himself back to His people. It is a funny thing, because the Philistines, like the Egyptians, can’t wait to get rid of the Lord. His presence inflicts death on them. But the Israelites in the town of Beth Shemesh rejoice when they see the cart bearing the ark back to them.
Yet even they can’t bear God’s presence among them. [The Lord] struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the Lord…Then the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up away from us?” (1 Samuel 6:19-20)
Now it looks as though the Israelites are going to play hot potato with the ark of the Lord, just as the Philistines did.
No one can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God. He cannot be approached and we can’t stand before Him uncovered, whether we are Jews or Gentiles. Apart from covering, apart from atonement, the Lord’s presence is judgment and death to us because of our sins.
The men of Beth-shemesh were not supposed to look on the ark of the covenant. It was supposed to be behind the veil in the tabernacle. Only the high priest was supposed to approach it once a year, carrying the blood of atonement, with the ark itself (on which the Lord was present) wreathed in the smoke of incense (Leviticus 16:12-14).
But we are permitted to look upon the glory of the Lord, to stand before Him and enter His presence. We approach Him with boldness through the blood of Jesus, through whom all our sins are covered forever.
In the Old Testament God allowed the Philistines, Egyptians, and all the Gentiles to push Him away. He didn’t stay with the Philistines and command them to repent of worshipping Dagon instead of Him. But now in these last days He commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:29-31). He has given us His Son so that not only the people of Israel, but all nations, may stand before this holy God and be His holy people.
Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head. Amen. (LSB 563 st. 1)