The Ark of God – I Samuel 4-6

This passage provides great insight into the significance of the presence of God. There is a huge difference between knowing about God and knowing God personally. The Israelites knew about God. They knew that His presence dwelt between the cherubim, hovering over the mercy seat of the ark of God. They knew that God was powerful. But, they didn’t know God personally. (Later, Samuel would model for the people what it looked like to know God personally). So, when trouble came to the Israelites in the form of attacking Philistines, the Israelites responded like people who know about God, but who don’t truly know Him – they treated the majesty and holiness of God like a trinket – a lucky rabbit’s foot. They thought bringing the presence of God onto the battlefield would ensure a victory. God, however, will never be controlled by people, so instead of bringing victory, He allowed the Israelites to be slaughtered in the battle and the ark to be stolen by their enemies.

Then, God began teaching the Israelites and their enemies some important ideas about His presence. Lesson #1: God is powerful – more powerful than anyone or anything. When the Philistines put the ark in Dagon’s temple, He knocked over their god Dagon two nights in a row and broke off Dagon’s head and hands. There was no question who was more powerful!

Lesson #2 – The presence of God will bring blessing or judgement, depending on one’s heart attitude towards God. Ever since the Israelites had left Egypt, the presence of God had brought protection, guidance and blessing, but now that the ark was in enemy hands, God afflicted one Philistine city after another with a plague of rats and an epidemic of tumors. Wherever the presence of God went, the rats and the tumors followed. God’s judgement broke out on His own people when 70 men, showing that they had no honor for God or for the things of God, cavalierly looked into the ark of God upon its return.

Lesson #3 – The presence of God can overcome any obstacle. The Philistines concocted a most unlikely scenario to test whether the ark was really the place where God’s presence resided. They yoked two cows who had just given birth, penned up the calves and set the cows free. No new mother cow will voluntarily leave behind her calf, and yet these two cows (crying – lowing – all the way!) left their calves behind and headed straight for the Israeli border.

God’s presence is absolutely vital to living the Christian life. It’s always the antidote to any fear or struggle we face. So how can we recognize the difference between those who know about God and those who truly know Him? Those who know about God treat God as the Israelites did – like a magic genie. They pray to Him when they’re in trouble, but they don’t talk to Him on a regular basis. They are concerned about ticking off boxes – completing a list of things that must be done to obtain God’s approval. The list often feels like a burden, and there is often great pride when the list is completed. But, those who truly know God have a heart that fears God, honors Him and desires to obey Him. They delight in God’s presence and talk to Him continuously. There is no pride, just humility, because they see the cavernous difference between Holy God and themselves.  On the outside, these two types can look amazingly similar, but their hearts are completely different. We want to know God, not just know about Him, and we want the same for our kids!

Discussion Activity – Watercolor paints or markers or crayons – Let kids color/paint picture, illustrating the story while you discuss:

  • Does anyone here know Abraham Lincoln? You may get some kids who begin telling you some things they know about Abraham Lincoln. Encourage kids to share some things they know. Then, point out that really no one in the room knows him. There is a difference between knowing about someone and truly knowing that person.
  • What do you think is the difference between knowing about someone and truly knowing someone? Knowing about someone means that you know facts about them – where they live; what their job is; etc. Truly knowing someone means you know how they feel and think; it often means you love that person and that you’re connected at the heart level. Often it will mean that you want to please that person and that you respect them.
  • One of the biggest miracles in this world is that God says it is possible to not just know about Him but to truly know Him. Tell me some things you know about God. Answers will vary. He is powerful. He is compassionate. He died for us. He loves us, etc.
  • What did the Israelites in our story know about God? That God was powerful. That the presence of God dwelled in between the cherubim, hovering over the mercy seat of the ark. That God loved them.
  • How do you know that the Israelites didn’t truly know God? They didn’t seem to love God; they didn’t understand how holy and majestic He was; they treated the ark of God like a magic genie – like a lucky rabbit’s foot; God had to teach them that’s not how He works.
  • One of Jesus’ names is Emmanuel. It means “God is with us.” Why do you think it’s important to know that God is with us? That’s how we can get to truly know God - when He is with us. If someone is far from you, you can’t get to know them.
  • How do we begin to truly know God? 
    • o Jesus said if we know Him, we know God, so first we need to know Jesus. We do that by giving our hearts and lives to Him. 
    • o We must hate our sin and turn from it and turn to Jesus (the Bible calls that repenting). 
    • o We must believe that Jesus paid for our sins by dying on the cross; then, He gives us the Holy Spirit to live in us. (That is truly experiencing God’s presence!) 
    • o We can begin to learn how God thinks and feels by reading the Bible and talking to God about it (that’s prayer). 
    • o We think about God throughout the day (singing songs about God can help us do that). 
    • o We talk to God often throughout the day (that’s prayer – again). 
    • o We grow in our love for God, and we want to please Him, so we obey Him, but we aren’t proud of our obedience because we know how often we fail Him.
    • o As we begin to learn how powerful and holy and majestic God is, we fear Him, but not because we are afraid of Him. We’re not afraid because we know He loves us, but we know what God is capable of and it’s AWESOME! We know what we deserve.
    • What are examples of some people to whom God said, “I will be with you.”
    • o Isaac – Gen 26:24
    • o Jacob – Gen. 28:15
    • o Joshua – Josh. 3:7
    • o Israelites – Isa. 41:10
    • o Jeremiah – Jer. 1:8
    • o The people – Hag. 1:13
    • o Zerubbabel – Hag. 2:4
    • o The disciples – Mt. 28:20
    • o Paul – Acts 18:10

Additional questions:

What did you like about this story?

What didn’t you like?

What did you learn about God?

    • God is a powerful God, who is second to no one and nothing. 
    • God can destroy instantly.
    • God judges sin.
    • God controls everything – even animals.

What did you learn about people?

    • People can pretend they know God when they really don’t.
    • People who truly know God will love Him, obey Him, and honor Him.
    • People have opportunities to repent.

What did you learn about yourself?

    • I want to truly know God.
    • I want to honor God with my life by loving and obeying Him.