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(2 Samuel Vi.)
Samson was the last hero stirred up to deliver Israel from oppressors. After his death, the civil government devolved on the high-priest, and Eli, therefore, may be considered his successor.
It has been seen, in a foregoing article,* that Samson only partially delivered Israel from the yoke of Philistia. At his death, indeed, he swept away the flower of that nation; but, within forty years, the Philistines had recruited their strength; and observing it with fear, the Israelites, without consulting their Divine King, rashly embarked in a war with them. In their first engagement the Israelites were defeated, with the loss of four thousand men; and, astounded by it, they sent to Shiloh for the ark of the covenant, feeling assured that under its protection they should prove victorious. But no! They went out to war without the consent of their Divine Leader, and hence they had forfeited all claim to His protection. The armies again met; the Israelites were again defeated, with great slaughter; and the ark of God fell into the hands of the uncircumcised.
Great was the grief which the Israelites felt on hearing this disastrous news. It was the death of Eli the high-priest, and of the wife of his son Phinehas, who was slain in the battle: the one fell backward from his seat on hearing the tidings, and his neck brake; and the other perished as she gave birth to a child, whom she named Ichabod, or " Inglorious;" for she said, " The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken."
In proportion as the Israelites were cast down by the capture of the ark, the Philistines were elated. But they soon found that they had small cause to rejoice in the possession of the glorious trophy. They deposited it in the temple of their Dagon, at Azotus, by way of insult to Jehovah; but twice they found their idol overthrown, and the second time shivered to pieces. Nor was this all. Further to demonstrate his glorious power, the Lord smote the people of the place with hemorrhoids, or the piles, and that mortally, while a swarm of mice, or jerboas, were commissioned to consume the products of their fields. * See "Samson in Captivity."
Justly attributing these calamities to the presence of the ark, the Philistines sent it to Gath; and the same inflictions following its removal, it was taken to Ekron. The ark was received by the Ekronites with terror, and, in an assembly of "the lords of the Philistines," it was proposed that it should be sent back to its own place in the land of Israel. This was determined; nor was the determination made too soon. Already was the hand of God heavy upon Ekron, so that " the cry of the city went up to heaven."
The ark was sent back, after it had been seven months in the land of the Philistines. It was accompanied by votive offerings. Five golden hemorrhoids and five golden mice, one from each of the Philistine states, were deposited in a coffer beside the ark, as a trespass-offering; and the whole was placed in a new car, to which were yoked two kine, whose necks had never before been subjected to the yoke. The kine were left free to take their own course, and, guided by an unseen power, they took the road towards the town of Bethshemesh, in Judah, which was the nearest city of the Levites towards the Philistine frontier.
It was in the time of wheat harvest when the ark reached Bethshemesh. Its inhabitants were in the valley reaping the fruits of their fields, and they beheld it advancing with great gladness; and when the kine stopped of their own accord near a great stone, in a field belonging to one Joshua, the Levites who were present detached them from the car, and offered them up in sacrifice upon that stone before the ark. Then, the stone being thus consecrated, the ark was removed from the car, and deposited thereon.
How long the ark remained on the stone in the field of Joshua the sacred historian does not relate. Its constant exposure to their sight, however? begat in the Bethshemites an undue familiarity towards it, which was repressed by a judgment from the Lord. Consternation seized the inhabitants, and the people of Kirjath-jearim were invited to take the ark away. They did so, and it was placed in the house of Abinadab, who set apart his son, Eleazar, to take charge of the sacred deposit.
The ark remained in the house of Abinadab till the days of David. That pious king, when he was established upon the throne of Israel, gathered together all the chosen men of the nation, to bring it up from thence to Jerusalem. Contrary to the requirements of the law, it was placed upon a new cart, and, as it proceeded along, the multitude exhibited their gladness by vocal and instrumental music. On that day, however, an effectual damp was thrown upon the joy of the solemnity. The cart at one place being much shaken by the oxen, Uzzah put forth his hand to stay it from falling, and he paid the penalty of his rashness by death.* This event struck David and the people with such consternation, that the design of taking the ark to Jerusalem was relinquished, and it was left in the house of a Levite named Obed-edom.
The pious design of David was soon renewed. Hearing that the blessing of Jehovah rested on the house of Obed-edom, he hastened to complete the design he had formed. Once again he gathered the chiefs of the nation together; and, lest such an accident should again occur, David directed that the priests should now bear the ark upon their shoulders, as the law required.
This was a memorable event in the annals of the Hebrews, and great were their rejoicings. Nothing was omitted by which the occasion could receive the highest honour. Before the sacred symbol of the Divine Ruler, David laid aside his robes of royalty, and assumed the garb of the Levites. With them he mingled, and as they sang and played the triumphant song, which he had composed for the occasion, he swept the chords of his celebrated harp, and danced to its harmonious notes.
In paintings of this great event, David is usually attired in the costume of a Koman general, having a starry crown on his head, and a modern harp in his arms, to the music of which he dances in an irreverend manner; while behind him, and immediately in front of the ark, a rabblement of musicians are made to follow his example. That this is fallacious is proved by the sacred narrative, and by the piety which no doubt must have pervaded the breasts of the monarch and his people on this glad occasion. The bringing of the ark to Zion was an event calculated to take the hearts of the Hebrews captive. Their reconciled Father, their Divine Leader, was once more, by this symbol of his presence, visibly in the midst of them, and although they may have rejoiced with all their might, yet surely it was not after the manner of idolatrous and licentious bacchanals. Rather, it was in the spirit of the sons of Korah, when they sang of Jehovah's favour to the land, and their deliverance from the fierceness of his anger: it was in deep, heartfelt devotion.
* The law forbade any but priests to touch the ark, under pain of death.