Mercy Above Law

19 But the Lord killed seventy men from Beth-shemesh because they looked into the Ark of the Lord. And the people mourned greatly because of what the Lord had done.
1 Samuel 6:19 (NLT)

We shall continue with the story from the previous article. After realizing that keeping the Ark was more trouble than good, the Philistines decided to send it back to the Israelites. Not only that they had even put in some gold offerings in hope that the plague of tumors would stop.

3 “Send the Ark of the God of Israel back with a gift,” they were told. “Send a guilt offering so the plague will stop. Then, if you are healed, you will know it was his hand that caused the plague.”
4 “What sort of guilt offering should we send?” they asked.
And they were told, “Since the plague has struck both you and your five rulers, make five gold tumors and five gold rats, just like those that have ravaged your land.
5 Make these things to show honor to the God of Israel. Perhaps then he will stop afflicting you, your gods, and your land.
6 Don’t be stubborn and rebellious as Pharaoh and the Egyptians were. By the time God was finished with them, they were eager to let Israel go.
1 Samuel 6:3-6 (NLT)

So, the Israelites not only got back the Ark, they had some gold as compensation. The Philistines put the Ark in a cart driven by cows. The cows pulled the cart to the nearest Israelites settlement, which happened to be a border town called Beth-shemesh.

When the people of Beth-shemesh, they rejoiced and had a party. They sacrificed the cows that pulled the cart for the Lord and took the gold. Meanwhile, the Philistine rulers were watching the entire process and were satisfied that the Ark had arrived safely to the Israelites. They learnt a valuable lesson on that day. Never mess with the God of Israel.

When the people of Beth-shemesh were still celebrating, they did something unthinkable. They opened the Ark to see what was inside. The result was disastrous.

19 But the Lord killed seventy men from Beth-shemesh because they looked into the Ark of the Lord. And the people mourned greatly because of what the Lord had done.
1 Samuel 6:19 (NLT)

The disaster was even worst than what happened to the Philistines. The Philistines got tumor as the result of their abuse of the Ark but there was still hope for recovery. They were still around the neighborhood for quite a long time after the event. However for the 70 folks, they got an immediate death sentence. The question is, what is so bad about seeing what is inside the Ark?

A theologian will probably give a simplistic answer: It is the will of God. It was a punishment for disobeying God’s decree on not opening the Ark.

Does that help? Do you think God will kill anyone who disobeys him? If that were the case, the human race would have been extinct a long time ago. Let me make this clear. God did not design the Ark as a weapon of mass destruction nor was it meant to deliver biological weapons that caused tumors. The death and the tumors were the result of the abuse or misuse of the Ark. Another example for this is road accident. The roads and the cars were not designed to kill people. They were meant for transport. Yet, those who abuse it like driving recklessly can cause accidents.

So, what exactly killed the 70 people? Imagine yourself as the paranormal investigator from the X-Files sent to investigate this incident. What will you do? I hope you will not try to open the Ark yourself or you too will be killed. The first thing you should do is to search the historical records on the construction of the Ark to find out what were the contents. Let us do that now.

16 When the Ark is finished, place inside it the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you.
17 “Then make the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—from pure gold. It must be 45 inches long and 27 inches wide.
18 Then make two cherubim from hammered gold, and place them on the two ends of the atonement cover. 19 Mold the cherubim on each end of the atonement cover, making it all of one piece of gold.
20 The cherubim will face each other and look down on the atonement cover. With their wings spread above it, they will protect it.
21 Place inside the Ark the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you. Then put the atonement cover on top of the Ark.
22 I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel.
Exodus 25:16-22 (NLT)

We got the answer. The stone tablets containing the Law. In other words, the 10 Commandments were inside the Ark. On those days, they did not display the 10 Commandments like the way we display paintings and framed family photographs. They kept it inside the Ark. No one had ever seen the 10 Commandments after the Ark was constructed. What I mean is, no one alive. The 70 people in Beth-shemesh saw it and were killed immediately.

Unfortunately, there are Christians who had unashamedly display the 10 Commandments openly as though it is something to be proud of. There are Christian bookshops that sell them openly. There are even churches that arrogantly display the 10 Commandments at their pulpit. Don’t they know that they are committing blasphemy? When God gave the Law, he expected his people to put it in the Ark, cover it and never open it again. The 70 people disobeyed and were instantly killed.

The Law kills. Plain and simple. Why is that so? The Law represents the perfection of God. Human beings are imperfect. We are in no position to face the Law, not because the Law is evil but our imperfection is incompatible with the perfection of the Law. The 70 people tried that by looking directly at the Law and died.

This was the reason, God told his people to construct the Ark. The Ark is a box that kept the Law away form the people. The Ark was to be covered at all times. What is that cover?

17 “Then make the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—from pure gold. It must be 45 inches long and 27 inches wide.
Exodus 25:17 (NLT)

The cover is called the place of atonement. Other translations called it “mercy seat”. It represents mercy. The Law was covered by mercy. Even in those days where the Israelites were under the Covenant of Law, they did not face the Law directly. When they looked at the Ark, which represents the presence of God, they did not see the Law. They could only see the top cover, the Mercy Seat. They saw mercy.

This is how God wants us to see him. He wants us to see him as someone who is full of mercy. There is always a second, third and fourth chance. It does not matter how many mistakes you have made or the sins you have committed. God still loves you. God is for us against our sins. He is not against us for our sins.

How I wish I knew this truth when I first became a Christian. Unfortunately I was in a religious church. I never knew on how much God loves me. The only things I learned from that church were rules and regulations like going for missions, getting confirmed and giving money for the church building fund. Finally, God had opened my eyes to see his truth. He delights in his mercy, not the Law. It is the will of God to place the Law in the Ark and cover it with mercy forever.

If you happen to have any form of decorations with the 10 Commandments in them, I suggest you take them down, put them in a box, sealed the box completely and write the word “mercy” on it. Don’t ever allow the Law to see the light of the day ever again.

One Response to “Mercy Above Law”

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