Theme: Our Acceptance before God
In this week’s lessons, we see what God will do for those who, as pilgrims in this life, look to him in faith and obedience.
Scripture: Psalm 132:1-18
The next section of this psalm (vv. 6-9) recounts how the Ark was found in the fields of Jaar” in David’s time and how it was brought to Jerusalem. It is an accurate piece of historical remembrance.
Knowing what the Ark was and what had happened to it is helpful at this point. The Ark was a wooden box about a yard long and eighteen inches high and deep. It was covered with gold. It contained the law of God written on tablets of stone, and it was closed by a solid gold covering called the Mercy Seat, which was where the high priest sprinkled the blood of a sacrifice for the sins of the nation once a year on the Day of Atonement. The Ark was made in the wilderness during the years of the people’s wandering, and it was kept within the Most Holy Place of the portable wilderness tabernacle. It symbolized God’s presence. When the people traveled from place to place the Ark was carefully covered by the priests, for no one was allowed to look at it, and it was carried by them before the advancing hosts of Israel.
When the people came to the Jordan River on the brink of their entry into the promised land, the Ark carried by the priests led the way. When the Ark reached the river the water parted, and the people passed over on dry ground. The Ark was first deposited at Shiloh (Josh. 18:1). After that it was at Bethel (Judges 20:27), then at Mizpah (Judges 21:5), then for twenty years at a place called Keriath-jearim (1 Sam. 7:2).
And that is where we pick up the story in Psalm 132, for Keriath-jearim is the place referred to when the psalm says, “We came upon it in the fields of Jaar.” Jaar means “wood” or “thicket,” and it is the singular form of the plural noun jearim. Jaar is only a shortened form of Keriath-jearim. What is important about this historical remembrance is that the very location of the Ark seems to have been forgotten during the reign of Saul when it was at Keriath-jearim (1 Chron. 13:3), and that it was only found there later (in David’s day) after a time of serious searching.1
What happened then is described in detail in 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 13-16. First, David attempted to transport the Ark to Jerusalem on a cart drawn by oxen, which is not how God had said the Ark was to be moved. It was to be carried by the priests. Besides, when the oxen stumbled, a man named Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the Ark and was immediately struck down for his “irreverent act” (2 Sam. 6:7). This spoiled the celebration, of course. David was angry, and for three months the Ark was left where it was. It was taken aside into the house of a man named Obed-Edom.
However, when David heard that God was blessing Obed-Edom because of the Ark’s presence, he tried again, this time making sure that the Ark was moved in the way God had appointed. So the Ark came to Jerusalem at last.
We have several remembrances of details of how that happened in verses 8 and 9. Verse 9 remembers the role of the priests in that second successful attempt and asks that they might be “clothed with [an actual] righteousness,” as they were symbolically clothed on that occasion. 1 Chronicles 15:12 says that the priests sanctified themselves before the ceremony. Verse 8 of Psalm 132 says that the people also uttered the traditional marching cry of Israel, used when the Ark was made ready to move before them on their journeys. The first record of this traditional marching cry is in Numbers 10:35, 36. When the people were to move, the great Shekinah cloud, which symbolized God’s presence, rose up from over the tabernacle and went before them, and when they reached their destination the cloud settled down once again. The people cried out,
“Arise, O LORD, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.”
Verse 10 marks a break in the psalm, a transition between its first and second halves. In it the reigning king (“your anointed one”), or someone speaking on his behalf, seeks acceptance with God on the grounds of God’s covenant promises to David, his predecessor. The specifics of this prayer are not given. But we remember that God had promised David an everlasting dynasty, swearing that descendants of his would sit upon his throne forever. It is clear that the one speaking in verse 10 seeks the fulfillment of this covenant promise for the current king.
In the same way, we seek admission to God’s presence on the basis of the work of our greater King, Jesus Christ, and of God’s promises to him.
1The first part of verse 6 is notoriously difficult, though it does not affect the meaning of the verse. Ephrathah usually refers to Bethlehem. In Micah 5:2 the names are joined together. But the difficulties are these: 1) there is no record of the Ark ever having been in Bethlehem, though the Hebrew seems to indicate that the people “heard that it was in Bethlehem and that they came upon it” there; and 2) Keriath-jearim is not Bethlehem. One explanation is to regard Ephrathah as a larger area embracing Bethlehem and Jearim, as well as other villages. The reasoning behind this is explained in the major commentaries. Yet the New International Version is probably right in suggesting, as a better explanation, that the search parties heard where the Ark was located when they were in Bethlehem, the home city of David, and that, when they followed up on the report, they found the Ark at Jaar. For one valuable discussion of this problem and the various solutions see J.J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1989), vol. 2, pp. 412-414. Original edition 1878-1879.
Why is it important that the psalm records the Ark’s location in Jaar? Where was it moved?
Explain what verses 8, 9 describe. Why did the people cry out?
What does the psalmist express in verse 10? How can that be applied to us?
Review: Review the history of the Ark of the Covenant and what it represented.
For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Philip Ryken’s message from Exodus 25, “The Ark of the Covenant.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)