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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
General…

THE DEFEAT OF THE ISRAELITES AT APHEK; – THE ARK OF COVENANT IN FILTHY HANDS

REFLECTING ON THE DEFEAT of the people of Israel from the time of the battle of Aphek, when the Ark of Covenant was taken away from them, to the time of its return to Israel, I drew a parallel between stories that surrounded the Ark of the Covenant in the Old testament and how today, we manage the realities of the new Ark of the Covenant, personified in our mother Mary. Before delving into substance of my observations, it is fitting to hit a salient point, which justifies Mary being referred to as the Ark of the Covenant. To go on this journey, we need, first, to stand with St Augustine, who said, “the Old Testament is the New concealed, but the New Testament is the Old revealed”. As the new Covenant people, we need to see beyond the epic story of the Old Testament, and begin to connect it to the realities of our daily lives. Just like God prepared the people of old for their eternal salvation, he also prepared and keeps reminding us of his Covenant with us. As Africans, we may not have the terrific and documented stories of journey to the Promised Land, but we, like every nation and people have our stories, preparing us for salvation.

God was not going to fall for human design of the Ark that will bore His Covenant. There were many trees that grows in the stretch of the wilderness, just like we had many virgins in the Jewish towns and cities, but God chose Acacia; a tree known to be resistant to corruption and decay. He was specific on the choice of wood that will house His Covenant with his people, just like He did not select a random girl to bear His Son, Jesus, and the incarnate Word. Inside the Old Ark of the Covenant, there were tablets of stone of God’s Word as being delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai, the budding rod of Aaron, and the golden jar of Manna. For people that only love to gloss over stories without spiritual attention to details, these were just articles without specific messages. For them, it could have been anything. For us, the new Covenant people, we can draw a parallel between the tablet of stone and the Incarnate Word that was made flesh; we can connect Aaron’s budding rod to a rod only carried by the High Priest, which is personified in Jesus; and finally, the golden jar of Manna mirrors the bread of Heaven, an unmerited gift of life in our wilderness, a respite to our souls. The facts are never controversial. Mary checks all the boxes for the New Ark of the new Covenant being promised after the fall of man. Having highlighted that point, let’s go straight to the subject matter of this piece – how do we handle the new Ark of the Covenant?

To appreciate what we are coming against at the mention of Philistines, a quick introduction will be handy for us. The Philistines are men of war. They are well known for their military prowess and advanced armaments. When the Israelites were still using bronze to forge their weapons, the Philistines had gone ahead with the use of Iron. They were not the people you want to encounter when your flocks and land are flourishing. They are people rented by envy at your success. Isaac encountered their envy when his flocks were flourishing. Though their land possess shorter path to your promised land, the Philistines are the very people God will want to avoid in fulfilling His destiny in our lives. God did not allow the people of Israel to pass through the land of Philistine to the Promised Land even though it offers a shorter route. The Philistines are enemies you do not want to leave half conquered because their remnant will never lie and die; they will come back to haunt you.  Joshua destroyed everything as being commanded by Moses, but left a few “Anakims” who escaped to Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. These were 3 cities of the 5 cities of the Philistines. This few will soon come back to haunt Israel in Delilah and Goliath.  They are unrepentant evil! The Philistines are sworn enemy of the people of God! My Enemies! Your Enemies!

Now you know the Philistines. Can we say the same for the elders of Israel who camped at Ebenezer, in preparation for the battle of Aphek? These are elders who personify Christians, Catholics who are in possession of the Ark of the Covenant in their amoury, yet got slain by the sword of the Philistines. It reminds me of the quote of a popular musician in the South Western part of Nigeria, Late Orlando Owo, “ a wise man, who died at the backyard of a foolish man, e get as e be”. Rather than hold their end of the Covenant, they, in deeds, held the Ark in disdain. They are the lukewarm Christians who adorn their homes with the images of the new Ark of the Covenant, but will never do “whatever he (Jesus) tells” them. That was Mary speaking to us at the wedding at Canaan at our moment of difficulties; periods when shame looms. We shun what he tells us and do our bidding like the elders of Israel that goofed at the battle of Aphek. After having 4000 men slain, the elders were shocked. They asked, “Why did the Lord allow us to see defeat at the hands of the Philistines?” Good question. It is a question that requires soul-searching answer; a search to see where we got it wrong in our battles of life. Rather than answering the question, like even the pagan people of Nineveh in penance, the elders rushed to Shiloh to jack the Ark of the Covenant. They left the question in the air. That was careless and was going to hurt them badly. In lieu of an answer, which will lead them to a spiritual solution, the Israelites chose to idolize the Ark, trivializing the Covenant. In times when hope seem to be deem, rather than retreat into our innermost mind, we rush to hide behind the images of the new Ark of the Covenant without tracing back our fall to our infidelity to the Covenant we swore at Baptism.

Just like our enemies, they have background information about us. The Philistines knew the Israelites. They knew that they have  “mighty gods”, who rained down plagues on the Egyptians. They knew that anywhere the Ark goes, the gods of Israel follows. I have seen people possessed with contrary spirits holding Rosary in awe. They see doom at the sight of images and Sacramental. The Philistines were afraid of the Ark, but they were not ready to become subjects of the Israelites, they will rather fight and die like men than to slave for us. So, they fought, and are still fighting!

30,000 men died due to the indiscretion of a few spiritual leaders. The leaders did not perish alone even though we look at them for spiritual guidance. Gullible and even, maybe, innocent people fell to the sword of the enemies. The Ark of the Covenant was taken away from them. The Ark, which brings Shekinah Glory was taken captive and sent to a foreign land. For people, who saw the Ark as some sort of talisman, it was the end of their lives. On hearing of the capture of the Ark, Eli saw no reason to stay alive anymore. He sank into his chair, broke his neck, and died.

To fail to do “whatever he tells us”; trying to idolize the Ark rather than seeing it as God presence in our midst; to drag God into our mess unrepentantly – situations that are our doing or undoing in the land of sin, are ways we fight the battles of life with complacency. Fighting our spiritual battles have been made easy with the presence of the new Ark of the Covenant, our Mother Mary, but how we hold her will be reflected in our results. I hope to continue this piece in the next article.

 


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