In Exodus God gave detailed descriptions about a tent he wanted the Israelites to build so he could meet with them regularly. He gave precise instructions on what to build, and one of these items was the Ark of the Covenant. The ark was a chest covered in gold with rings at the bottom and two angels on top. This chest was the place of the manifestation of the glory of God. After the ark was captured by the Philistines it reaped havoc in every city they placed it. Finally the Philistines put it on a cart, aimed the oxen towards Israel, and let them go. For years the ark sat in a guy’s house just south of Jerusalem, unappreciated by God’s people. In 2 Samuel, King David and his men went to transport it back to Jerusalem. They placed the ark on a cart and began a celebration parade back to the city. It was a party in the street. Then the oxen stumbled, and a man reached out his hand to steady the ark. When he touched the ark he died.
Maybe you’ve been around church world so long you don’t find that weird. God in a chest! Touching it kills you! This seems like crazy talk. This should be on Lost. But think about the predicament of God – how does a being of unending wisdom and glory communicate to limited doubt ridden people? No matter what he does it will seem crazy, whether he speaks through with a thundering voice, through written text, or through a fire. When the creator decides to enter the creation a window is opened. The lock is unlatched and the panes are pulled upward. People can stand at the edge of the natural world and see there is more.
There is no greater window to see the supernatural than the historical reliability resurrection of Jesus. And while I love and have centered my life on the cross and the resurrection, there are moments I think about the idea of God coming to earth as a man and then dying on a cross as crazy talk. This past Easter, as I spent days focused on these events, I began to see the beauty of what God did through the rescue Jesus provides us and the lessons the Old Testament stories teach us.
We learn by symbols and metaphors, thus God speaks by symbols and metaphors. He uses objects to represent truths and guides people to practices that reveal deeper meanings. The guy who touched the ark didn’t really die from touching a chest covered in gold. Wooden chests and shiny gold can’t claim lives. The guy died from the holiness of God coming into contact with the sinfulness of man. The guy was trivial and disobedient around a perfectly holy God – a holiness that is loving and fierce. Just as light consumes darkness, holiness consumes depravity. God instructed the people how to transport the ark and to never touch it. God was beginning a foundation for humanity to understand their rebellion and depravity, his nature and our need for grace from him, undeserved goodness made possible by the sacrifice of another. So sacrifices were made over this ark, a ritual paving the way for Jesus.
In his wisdom he chose to communicate the eternal truths of depravity, holiness, and and grace through the physical, through an ark, sacrifices, and ultimately the cross.
So when you wonder if these stories are true or whether there could’ve been a better way for God to speak to us and give us the fully sufficient grace we need, give him a break, consider who he is trying to love.