Who's Touching the Ark?
Taken from a sermon
By Leonard Ravenhill
In the second book of Samuel, chapter six, we read from verse one:
"Again David gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.
"And David arose, and went with all the people that were with him from Baale of Judah, to bring up from thence the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the Lord of hosts that dwelleth between the cherubims. And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark.
And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and cymbals. And when they came to Nachons threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God."
Israel had never had any covering in the sense of a tabernacle. They had been nomads. They had no priests. They had the heavens for the ceiling of their church. And now, suddenly, they are contracted to a small space that has been called the tabernacle in the wilderness. And God gives specific instructions to this amazing man Moses about the building. Its very interesting that he had no choice in this. He obeyed every commandment God gave to him. He had no more choice in the thing than Noah had the choice of what kind of a rainbow he wanted.
And it says in verse eight of the twenty-fifth chapter of Exodus,
"Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle..."
Come down to verse seventeen:
"Thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold... and the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings. And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will meet with thee."
Thats the first piece of furniture mentioned as regards the tabernacle. This ark was roughly fifty-four inches long, three feet high, and three feet wide. And it was a visible presence of an invisible power. It was a kind of a earthly resting place where God put His power between those awesome cherubims. Remember how often the Psalmist cries, "Oh, Thou that dwellest between the cherubims shine forth"?
Now, here is the ark,its measurements, and verse twenty-two says, "There will I meet with thee."
AND THAT WAS THE SUPREME DESIRE OF GOD.
ITS THE SUPREME DESIRE OF GOD TODAY:
THAT WHEN WE COME TOGETHER,
WE MEET WITH HIM.
As I usually ask people somewhere in a meeting, "Did you come here tonight to meet God or did you come to hear a sermon about Him?"
I talked with somebody today, an internationally known figure, who said,
"You know, Im realizing how little I know of God". And, Ive offered someone a writing, talking about Jesus laying His glory by and being wrapped in our clay, the most profound thing Ive ever heard, and this person said, "I feel as though I dont want to preach anymore." I said, "Well, thats how I felt when I heard it and the depths that this man has." Oh God, pity us. We are so commercialized, so regulated by circumstances. We get up with the clock, the clock runs our lives, we lose sight of eternity. We lose sight of the wonder of Gods salvation.
The whole tabernacle was marvelous. Theres to be a place in it, a holy place, not only a holy place but the Holy of Holiest, and this ark was put in the Holy of Holiest and it had the chief place in the Holy of Holiest. Inside of it you have the rod that budded, and a sample of the manna that fell from heaven, and also the tables of stone. This testimony of God had to be preserved. And the ark was an abiding place for God on earth - that is, He manifested Himself there.
You see, this isnt some little bit of furniture thats tucked away in a corner that has no meaning. Its the abiding place, its a seat, its a dwelling place. You have the ark and on top of the ark you have the mercy seat.
The Salvation Army never used to talk about coming to the altar. I can remember that years ago, sixty, seventy years ago, the Army
used to sing ,
"Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel,
Here bring your wounded heart, here tell your anguish,
Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal."
There is a mercy seat, a blood-sprinkled mercy seat.
Look now in the first book of Samuel chapter five. The Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. When the Philistines took the ark of God they brought it into the temple of Dagon and set it by the image of Dagon. Now, when Ashdod rose up early in the morning the idol Dagon had fallen upon his face on the earth before the ark of God. And they took Dagon and set him on his place again. They rose early in the morning, and he was fallen on his face again, and his head and his hands had broken off. Now you see, here the peril of toying or playing with holy things.
Theres a verse that talks about the iniquity of holy things. Now thats something to really turn over, isnt it? How in the world can you have the iniquity of holy things? These people have captured the ark of God. They thought it would do them good. Instead it did evil. They put it at the side of their god, this monstrous god Dagon. The upper part of his body was a man, and the lower part a fish, something like a mermaid we would say today. And there the idol stood in a temple where people worshipped him... but as soon as they put the ark of God there, without anybody doing anything, Dagon fell down on his face. So they stood him up again. They went in the next morning and he was worse off. See what happened further in the chapter,
"When they rose early in the morning, behold Dagon was fallen upon his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord. And the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off, upon the threshold, only the stump of Dagon was left to him. Therefore, neither the priests of Dagon nor any that came into Dagons house, tread on the threshold of Dagon to this day!"
You see, just that one visitation, that one movement of God, terrified them... in a sense Dagon had to go out of business. Verse six,
"The hand of the Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod and he destroyed them and smote them with emerods... And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us, for his hand is sore upon us and upon Dagon, our god." Going to the end of the eighth verse they carried the ark of the God of Israel to Gath,... "and so after they had carried it out, that the hand of the Lord was against the city."
Now, here you are again, you see the peril!
I want to emphasize this:
The peril of having these holy things and misusing them.
This peril is, obviously, the opposite to the power. If we touch it with
unholy hands it will bring destruction to us.
Remember the children of Israel? In one of their marvelous escapades, they walked round the city of Jericho seven times. What did they do? They carried the ark of God. To them, that was the very presence of God. Can you imagine people on the walls looking down and saying, "Who are these lunatics?" I mean, what were they doing? They walked round in silence. They were not allowed to speak... that must have been tough on some of them. "What do they have there? Is it a coffin? What is it? Its a casket." When Moses was sharing out some of the property of Israel, he gave various things to various people, but the sons of Kohath were not allowed to have any cattle or any of the possessions: They were separated to carrying the ark of God.
Second Samuel six and verse six, "When they came to Nachons threshing floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it for the oxen shook it, and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah."
Why? Because theyd made a new cart for it. God said the ark never had to be on a cart. But they made a new cart. And these people thought they were doing God a favor by modernizing this thing. Now, isnt it really awesome? They didnt decide to paint it another color. They didnt decide to put a second deck on it. They didnt disfigure it in any way. The man didnt go in front of it and start blaspheming. The man somehow thought hed do God a favor... "Oh, look! The ark is going to topple over! Oh Ill hold it."
Somebody once asked Mr. Spurgeon if he would join a society for the
defense of the Bible. He said, "You dont usually walk before a lion with a sword". Why do you need to defend the Bible?
All this man did was to put his hand up to stay the ark and immediately he was smitten! What do you think we are doing with the gospel today? Dressing it up? Painting it up?
Someone told me this week of a Christian group, a rock band. Christian rock band!? But anyhow, whatever they are, they go around. And now theyve got sequins on their coats. Well, why not? All the other guys have them. I mean, if the world could have them, cant we? Glitter? I mean, if weve no other glitter, we might as well stick it on the outside. Its not on the inside anyhow.
We try to steady the ark of God.
We are trying to put some improvement on the ark of God. We try to do that with the translations we make of the Word of God. We try to make some of those words just a little bit easier. We better go back to Bible language and call sin what it really is!... But the anger of the Lord was kindled against this man and not only smote him but killed him!
Come on, in Gods name, what are we doing with the gospel today?
Isnt it getting more emasculated?
Isnt it getting more Hollywood-style?
DONT YOU MISS THE PRESENCE OF THE GLORY OF GOD?
THATS ALL WE NEED!
Theres an old hymn that says, "Gods presence and His very self, an essence all divine". Ill ask you again, Ive asked you before, When did you last go out of the sanctuary on tiptoe because God had revealed His holiness and His majesty? We go out very much as the way we came in. We go out, we say, "Hey, I like your dress!" Or some other trivial thing thats got nothing to do with eternity and nothing to do with God.
Notice in verse five now. David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord in all instruments made of fir wood, harps, and psalteries, and timbrels, and cornets, and on cymbals. Now theres his ecstasy! Now come down to verse nine. This same David was afraid of the Lord that day. He said, "How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?" Thats a big switch! Hes excited theyre having the band music and having a whale of a time, and then suddenly God intervenes. And suddenly his whole emotional life does a somersault. He realizes what an awful God he serves. What a God of majesty! What a God of glory!
Do you know the ark was the only thing taken out of the original tabernacle that went into the temple of the most high God? Gods presence. Thats what it matters. What its telling us is that God makes there a place for his habitation. This is awesome. This is breathtaking. You can say,
Gods presence is there.
Hes there in his holiness.
Hes there in his majesty.
Hes there in his glory.
Be careful how you handle this thing.
Well, we dont need an ark. Why? Because it says: "You are the habitation of God." Theres only as much of Gods holiness in this meeting as you and I are filled with the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, of God, the pure Spirit of God. He doesnt dwell in temples - oh, you can make Him a thousand crystal palaces like theyve done on the west coast there, so what? You cant sanctify a building in the Old Testament sense. Even Solomon realized it. I guess he built the most expensive building, the most extravagant building ever made. He used gold more easily than we used cement. He built the altar, and he had the priests. Yet, when he had made his intercession to God, he said, "Look, Ive put up this building, Ive done everything according to Your commandment. Weve got an altar. Weve even got a sacrifice on the altar. Now, whats missing? Nothing, except the fire of God. What good is a house that Ive built, if Gods presence isnt there? Whats the good of making a showpiece and saying weve got the best choir, weve got the most brilliant preacher. Weve got this and that. So what? In Gods name, does it matter?
Dont you think we are putting our hands on so many things? Youve got to start this way and finish that way and do something else. We are getting so mechanical. Since when did the gospel need trimming up?
I had to go to a meeting. Theres a five-piece band there.
Oh, how they swerved and jazzed and whatnot.
Who Is Touching The Ark?
Isnt it incredible that these people who knew God in such an intimate way, these people had gone round a city without a gun? This people, inspite of the mockering, the despising, went round one day, round another day, another day, another day. On the last day, they went round seven times. In total, thirteen times they went round. - Thats pretty unlucky isnt it? - And they kept dumb and they stood all the criticism of the people that were watching. And all they had to do the last day was to "shout with a great shout." Why? Because God was there.
God says, I want a tabernacle and there at the mercy seat will I meet with thee.
God wants me to meet with Him. Its more than me preaching for Him. Its more than me being a missionary for Him. He wants to meet with me. He wants to reveal Himself to me. He wants to talk with me. He wants to come in and work in this being of mine!
A lady called me from the border of Mexico today. She was weeping and said,
"God has called us here. God has really blessed us, but oh, we want to be great soul winners." And she went on. I said, "My dear, look the first commandment. Is not, Thou shalt be a soul winner. The first commandment is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind, and strength." There are lots of missionaries that dont love God. There are lots of missionaries that should have returned
from the field six months after they got there. Theyre doing the thing mechanically. And its hard to endure that kind of burden when they are doing it mechanically. But when they do it under the anointing of God. When they do it with the love of God... Oh, it is so different.
Can you imagine the procession accompanying the ark of the Lord? They had harps, and psalteries, and timbrels , and cornets and theyre having a great time. And suddenly, death came. You wonder that David was afraid? And he said, "How shall the ark of the Lord come unto me?"
Do you ever wonder if youve gotten insensitive to what Gods trying to say to you? Do you ever wonder when a certain thing has happened that somewhere in your nervousness, you put your hand up to steady the ark, and somehow the sensitivity went, and the compassion you had went, and the concern you had went... All this man did was try to steady the ark of God. Oh mercy, how were trying to steady the ark of God these days. We dont just want to steady it. We want to do some new thing.
Wed paint it.
Wed put a musical box inside of it.
Wed put the priest in some new garments.
Wed try to make it more acceptable!
The power and the presence of God were resting on that tabernacle. And while they were obedient, they had success. Are we steadying the ark of God in the way we are presenting the gospel these days?
The gospel is still the power of God unto salvation to all who believe. I heard somebody say, "Well, you know, theres a different approach today". Is there? Is there really? Is there any difference between the grief of somebody whos heartbroken today and the grief of somebody who lived three thousand years ago? We say, "Human nature is changed". Human nature has not changed! Human nature is still a sinful nature. Human nature still needs God. It seems though, God is trying to check us, but we wont take the checking. We wont take the warning. And again I say to you, the most distressing area, I believe, is the area of the church itself. We are trying to steady the ark.
We dont want God Almighty to govern the whole thing.
We want a little bit of flesh in it.
We want a little bit of humanism in it.
We want a little bit of organization in it.
We want some of our skill in it.
And God holds off.
The word of God says, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God." Oh, Im aching on the inside to see somebody that really, really, really has no confidence in the flesh.
Isnt it horrible when we try and subsidize Gods cause with a few dollars here, in a collection there, and something else. Now, either God is God, or he isnt. As Ive said before, this book is either absolute or its obsolete. There is no middle course. It either has all the answers or it has no answers. Ive got to get to the place where I say, "Lord, you can strip everything else away from me, and, On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand". Im not going to steady the ark. Im convinced God is going to do a new work. Ive talked the last few days with a brother I love very dearly, and hes at a crossroads in his life, and I know others who are men that you think are at the top of the tree. You think they should be satisfied with what theyve got. And theyre not. They are men who dont try to steady the ark by organization and saying you must do it this way and you must do it that way. They are suddenly realizing there is a new dimension that God wants to bring to our generation. A new revelation. A new unfolding of the Word of God.
Before long, you remember, that David went and slew the oxen and they took the fatlings, and they made a sacrifice to God. And then he danced before God. Why? Because he got rid of many of his obstructions. The Lord is very merciful. Do you know how merciful he is? Hes so merciful, Hell strip us right down to the place where we havent a thing to stand where we havent a thing to lean on - the place where we are in nakedness and in despair.
You know the church that was rich and increased with goods? Thats where the church is today. Shes rich, shes increased with goods, shes in need of nothing. Which church was it Jesus spewed out of his mouth?. "I would rather that you were hot or cold so then because thou are neither hot or cold , Ill spew... " (He didnt spew the cold one out of his mouth, it had never been in.) It was His church that He spewed out of His mouth. It wasnt a heathen religion, it was His church. They were neither hot nor cold. They were kind of midstream. And because they were neither one thing nor the other, He vomited them out. He didnt vomit the cold church out. He didnt bother with it. God will not stand for mediocrity.
Some eager, keen, young seminary fellows, were asking after a meeting, "Well, whats the secret, the real secret of abounding in the Christian life ? Whats the secret of not being a failure? Whats the secret of not letting your branch get withered up?"
Some of them call today for prayer. Im sorry for some of the situations they are in, but its the only way theyll grow in grace and in the knowledge of God. Theyve been leaning too much on what they have, and now Gods going to dry up their source so they only have God on whom they can lean. Theyve had so much flesh, theyve had so much ability, theyve had so much organization, theyve had so much security that God says, "Well, let me pull it all away". Doesnt the word say, "Trust ye in the Lord forever, for in the Lord is everlasting strength?"
I think one of the shocks in eternity will be to discover how little weve ever used of the available power of God. Not for our own mean, silly self! Theres a world out there thats dying. Does God have resources to meet this generation? Come on! I learned to my horror while I was just in Brooklyn from a man who is a professional in his realm, a very fine Christian man, he said that last year the churches in America spent close to two billion dollars on radio and TV preaching. Two billion! Do you know how many people theyve reached? Less than 4% of the national family! Less than 4% of Americans listen to the gospel. Can you imagine how many mission stations that would have built? How many churches that would have built in some other country? I think we are putting our hands on the ark.
We are rather afraid that we might go a bit overboard, you know. Doctrinally, someone comes up and says, "Well, steady a minute" and he hardly knows hes putting his hand on the ark. Were just afraid, it seems, of some new revelation, some new demand that God will make upon us, not just individually, but collectively. Again, I was shocked to realize that this man, Uzzah, did not smash up the ark, he didnt tell all the people to rebel, he didnt tell the priest to do it . All he did was steady the ark thinking he was doing God a favor. All he did was disobey. Is that all? Well, thats all that Adam did in the garden; all he did was disobey. He didnt curse God. And it seems the hardest thing that we have to learn in our lives is to learn how to obey in the very, very, very simple things that God challenges us with.
I still say, you know, if I were a kind of a Protestant pope, Id close every church down for a month. Were preached to death. Why do we keep going to conferences? You cant handle the lot youve got, why do you want some more? The next conference you go, whether its this weekend, or next week... youll have more light!... and therefore more to answer for at the judgment seat. Havent you got enough to answer for? Arent there areas in your life where you still have not obeyed?
"Its a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God," the Word of God says. Robert Louis Stevenson said, "I only know one thing worse, and thats when you fall out of the hands of the living God". And that happens. There comes a time when God says to a nation, "All right, youve been putting your hand on my truth. Youve been withholding my truth". You say, "Well, weve given money to missions". So we have. But you know, we had a National Day of Prayer last week. No. We didnt have a National Day of Prayer. We had a national suggestion! If we would have had a National Day of Prayer, the president would have said, "Every factory is closed down. Every school is closed down. Every shopping mall is closed down,. Everything is going to stop. Its time we listened to God. Its time we humbled ourselves before God." But when God wants it that way, which He does, we put our hand on the ark, and say, "Well steady it and make it a little bit more convenient". Dear God. There was a time they were so concerned about revival they even put sackcloth on the animals. If you wore a sackcloth they would think you were a crackpot! If you dont think so, get a potato sack and cut a hole in the top, pull it over your head, get your wife to cut some holes so you can put your arms in and go to church like that. And say, "This is an outward sign of an inward sorrow I have. I dont care about the style of my clothes".
I dont care what you think or anybody else thinks. Weve got to have revival. Weve got to have a move of God. And we havent had it after all our financial efforts and all our genius of evangelism and all the other things. We get so far that we put our hands on the ark. Theres going to be a conference shortly and Im not in any way troubled that I wasnt invited. Theyre going to meet and go through a rigmarole again. Workshops, workshops, workshops. Theres a workshop for this and theres a workshop for that. The hardest work in the whole world is prayer! And therere no workshops on prayer!
The ark is falling. Were going to steady it. Weve got a new idea. Every magazine I pick up now, Christian magazine, is how to make your church grow. Im looking for one that says how to take your church deeper! Somebody said to a preacher, "Youve the biggest church in... How big is your church?" He answered, "Three miles wide and an inch deep". I think thats true of a lot of them. Three miles wide and an inch deep. And while its humorous, its tragic! Are we going to change the style? Are we going to keep steadying the ark? Are we going to say, "No, no, no. We are not going any further like this. We are not going with this cart youve got it on. We are going to do it Gods way". And it looks silly to carry it on your shoulders. It looks silly to walk around when you could mechanize the thing, or organize the thing, or make it more attractive.
How can you make Gods presence more attractive?! Thats about the height of insanity! ISNT GOD HIMSELF AND HIS HOLINESS ATTRACTIVE?
Do you know what we need to do? We need to do what David did. We need to take all the implements. We need to take the cart and break it up and we need to get hold of the bullocks and chop them up and have one big Holy Ghost bonfire and say,
"Lord God, I am going to live on the stretch for You from now until I die. Whether I die tomorrow or ten years from now, Im going to meet with You as Ive never met with You before. Im going on the stretch for You as Ive never been on the stretch before."
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