Is the army that carries the Ark before it invincible? Should Indy have listened to his friends’ warnings about the Ark?
So, Indiana Jones goes on one heck of an adventure to find the lost Ark, but in the Bible the Ark itself participated in some crazy adventures.
When Israel left Sinai and were nomadic in the wilderness, we’re told,
So they set out from the mount of the LORD three days’ journey. And the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them three days’ journey, to seek out a resting place for them. And the cloud of the LORD was over them by day, whenever they set out from the camp. And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.” And when it rested, he said, “Return, O LORD, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.” (Num. 10:33-36)
After Moses’ death, Israel, led by Joshua, set out to conquer Canaan, the Promised Land. Crossing the Jordan was an important milestone as the beginning of their conquest of God’s promised land, so just like God showed Israel a miracle by parting the Red Sea as they fled from the Egyptian Pharaoh, God showed he was with them by drying up the Jordan and allowing Israel to cross on dry ground.
The Ark played a prominent role in this event. As the feet of the priests carrying the Ark entered the Jordan, the water was cut off. The priests stayed within the dry riverbed holding the Ark until all of Israel crossed, and once the priests’ feet exited the river, the water flowed again. (See Joshua 3-4.)
Later, against the famous walled city of Jericho, Israel marched around the city outside its walls for seven days, once a day, led by seven priests with horns before the Ark. Then, after marching around the city seven times on the seventh day – according to the instructions of the LORD – the priests blew the horns, the Israelites let out a great shout, and the walls of Jericho fell and the city was conquered. (Joshua 6.)
But some of the people of Israel disobeyed God and took loot from Jericho, which they were commanded not to do. Thus, later, God allowed them to lose the battle of Ai. When Joshua, in grief and dismay, goes to the LORD in prayer, he “tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening” (Joshua 7:6).
Later, when Joshua renews the covenant between God and Israel, the people stood on opposite sides of the Ark as Joshua read to them all the words of the law given to them through Moses. Then, the Ark with them, Joshua and Israel continued on to conquer Canaan.
In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones’ colleague Marcus Brody tells the U.S. army agents, “The army that carries the Ark before it is invincible.” Brody is both right and wrong.
Yes, Israel is invincible because they have God’s favor and blessing with them represented by the Ark, but when Israel turns away from God’s ways, God turns away from them. Israel was still carrying the Ark with them at the defeat in Ai, yet because God wasn’t with them, they lost.
The Ark has no power within itself; it’s not some magical object like we’d find in a movie with wizards. The power of the Ark is from God. This is a biblical truth Brody overlooks. The Nazis and Indy’s archenemy Belloq make this same mistake in thinking they can use the Ark’s power independently from God, and they pay a horrible price for this at the end of the movie! (more about this in a later post.)
Further, Brody also says, “The Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions.” I found nothing in the Bible about the Ark doing any sort of mass destruction like this, nor anything like “lightning – fire – the power of God” shooting from the Ark at Israel’s enemies as depicted in the drawing in the book Indiana Jones shows to the army intelligence agents.
The Israelites defeated their enemies with standard ancient combat weapons and techniques. The only exception (and the closest example of mass destruction associated with the Ark) is the falling of the walls of Jericho.
But the warnings Indy receives about messing with the Ark do have a biblical basis. Brody says to Indy in a private conversation that his search for the Ark “is not something to be taken lightly.” Indy’s friend in Cairo, Sallah, echoes a similar warning, saying the Ark is “something men were not meant to disturb.” Indy doesn’t appear concerned, but he should be.
In the book of 1 Samuel, Eli served as high priest in the tabernacle in Shiloh where the Ark was housed. Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were wicked and exploited their positions as priests. When Israel lost in a battle against the Philistines, they promptly called for the Ark to be brought to the battlefield.
As soon as Hophni and Phinehas, as priests, brought the Ark into the army’s camp, the Israelites let out a great shout of joy. They knew victory was assured. The Philistines heard the shouts and were afraid and said, “A god has come into the camp… Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness” (1 Sam. 4:7-8).
It wasn’t uncommon for pagan armies to carry idols of their gods into war, but the pagan Philistines are a bit confused here. First, Israel believed in an invisible God, and no idols could be made of him (and even if they tried to make an idol to their invisible God, the making of idols was forbidden by God anyway).
Secondly, Israel only had one God, but you can understand why the pagans would have their facts mixed up, thinking Israel had “gods.” After all, the Israelites were the weirdoes of the Near Middle East, claiming there was only one God – and an invisible one at that! Yet, notice what the Philistines got right: they fear Israel’s God because they know what he did to Egypt during the exodus. If you really want to see the wrath of God, read Exodus.
But all that fear may have served the Philistines well because, after all of the shouting and woe, they actually win the battle! Hophni and Phinehas – the corrupt priests – are killed. The Ark is captured. Upon hearing this news, the wife of Hophni lamented, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured” (1 Sam.4:22). The thing is, because of the corruption of the priesthood, God’s favor had already left Israel before the Ark was captured; this is the exact reason why the Ark was captured! Hophni’s wife makes the similar theological mistake as Hitler, the Nazis, and Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Again, the Ark is not a source of power itself, but the source of the power of the Ark is God.
Now, this is where the fun begins.
The Philistines take the Ark to Ashdod and set it in the temple of their god Dagon, beside Dagon’s idol. This was nothing unusual. They had defeated their enemy and "captured their God," so they would place their enemy’s God in subjugation to Dagon as a gift for their victory. But when they enter the temple the next day, Dagon is lying facedown before God’s Ark! So, the Philistines stand Dagon up again. The next morning, Dagon is not only prostrate before God’s Ark again, but his head and hands have been broken off! (This reminds me of a small scene I love in Raiders when the Ark is alone in a room of a cargo ship and the Nazi swastika on the crate containing the Ark mysteriously burns off.)
Then, God turns a heavy hand against the people of Ashdod and they are afflicted with tumors. So, they panic and move the Ark to Gath, and the people of Gath are now inflicted with tumors. So, they sent it to Ekron, but the people of Ekron weren’t messing with it; they gathered all of the lords of the Philistines and said, Send it back to Israel!
The Philistine priests and diviners said to send it back with guilt offerings, hoping God’s wrath would turn from them. They also told them to put the Ark on a cart led by two milk cows that have never been yoked before. If the cows carried the Ark back to Israel, then they would know Israel’s God had done these things to them – it wasn’t a coincidence.
The cows straight-away carried the Ark back to the Israelites in Beth-shemesh, but even there some Israelite men were struck down in the presence of the Ark because of their sin. (See 1 Samuel 4-7.)
Indy should heed his friends’ warnings.
MOVING THE ARK AIN’T EASY
After the Ark’s return from the Philistines, it stayed in Kiriath-jearim in the house of Abinadab for 20 years (1 Sam.7:1-2). When David was king of Israel, he wanted to move it into his city, Jerusalem, so he had a tent made for it. But they ran into a problem transporting the Ark.
They chose to move the Ark on a cart, celebrating along the way, but the celebration was brought to an abrupt end. A man named Uzzah had reached out to steady the Ark on the cart, and he was immediately struck dead! Understandably, David was afraid but also angry and dismayed. So, David abandoned his mission and moved the Ark to the house of Obed-Edom. After three months of no incidences with the Ark, and actually the house of Obed-Edom reported they were blessed during those three months, David decided to try to bring the Ark to Jerusalem again.
Again, David transported the Ark, along with all of Israel celebrating, David himself dancing “with all his might” (2 Sam. 6:14), but this time accompanied with some sacrifices and peace offerings. And David brought the Ark successfully into his city.
The record of this in 2 Samuel 6 gives no insight into why Uzzah was killed for touching the Ark. Considering what we know from Scripture about God and the Ark, we can make some informed guesses. If the Ark represents being in the presence of the one and only most holy God, death due to our sin should be expected when encountering God. Or perhaps the Israelites were sinning by not giving the Ark (and, thus, God) its proper reverence; maybe they were taking what they were doing lightly (like Indiana Jones). When we turn to the parallel account of this event in 1 Chronicles 15, we find our answer; we get details we don’t find in the account in 2 Samuel. Before trying to move the Ark a second time, David gathered priests and Levites, the only people who are allowed to handle the Tabernacle, Ark, and other religious objects according to God’s commands, given way back in the day to Moses (and recorded in Exodus).
David says to them,
“You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. Because you did not carry it the first time, the Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule.” So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel. And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord. (1 Chronicles 15:12-15)
Exodus 25:12-14 says,
You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them.
So, in David’s second attempt, he brought the Ark into Jerusalem with proper reverence and in obedience to God’s directions, and the city celebrated as the Ark was brought into their presence.
NEXT: So, where did the Ark go??