Reading: 1 Sam. 6:1-21.
In the previous chapter we were speaking of how the Lord is only associated with what is of Christ. The ark is a type of the Lord Jesus, and it is very clear that God is associating Himself with that. Chapters 5 and 6 of this book show how the Lord abides with what is of Christ, no matter what the conditions may be. The conditions in Israel were spiritually very bad; conditions among the Philistines were very evil; and yet we see that the Lord is jealous for what is of His Son. Even though the conditions all around may be very contrary to His mind, the Lord is still jealous over those thoughts of His which are centred in, and bound up with, the Lord Jesus. All the conditions are contrary to God's thoughts, but here that Divine jealousy for what speaks of Christ comes out strongly and clearly, indicating so emphatically that the Lord never abandons what is of His Son; the Lord never gives up His thoughts in Christ.
Now, even when it is a case of the ark getting into wrong hands and into a wrong position, the Lord still very jealously stands by the essentials of Christ. This cart that the Philistines made, as we know from the second book of Samuel and again the sixth chapter, is something that God does not accept as a means by which His interests and His thoughts in Christ are furthered.
The Establishment of the Testimony
The great stone in 1 Samuel 6 is rather interesting. It is mentioned four times, and on the fourth occasion it says, "which stone remaineth unto this day in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite" (v.18). Evidently this history was written some time after the happenings recorded, and "unto this day" would indicate the stability of what the stone represents, and you know in Scripture a stone almost invariably symbolises testimony to something. When they set up a great stone, it was a memorial, a testimony, sometimes a covenant. Here it would suggest that the testimony of the Lord is in the ark, and it is brought to the great stone. That is, it is established; there is something that is established here, a great stone that is established.
We know of the great stones in Great Britain, those massive stones of Stonehenge and such places, going back for many centuries. There they stand, unchanged, unmoved. And in the Bible, a great stone speaks of a testimony established. The testimony of Jesus is represented by the ark, and coming to the great stone seems to suggest the establishment of the testimony of Jesus. That is where God is; He is going to do it, He is to have His testimony established, maintained. It is not going to fail; it is going to abide, but He judges everything that is contrary to it.
The cart was a contradiction. When David sought to bring up the ark, he made a new cart. He got the idea from the Philistines, and that cart was the occasion for a very severe judgment of God, as you know, when Uzzah was smitten before the Lord. This was something associated with the Lord's testimony which was contrary to that testimony, and not acceptable to the Lord. It was a foreign idea, a foreign element.
Inside the ark was the rod of Aaron that budded, and you remember the story of that rod. When God was choosing a high priest over His people, He commanded so many rods to be brought and laid up in the tabernacle, and the rod that lived, budded, and bore fruit, was the one whose owner was God's chosen high priest. It was Aaron's rod that budded, showing that Aaron was chosen of God for the high priestly ministry. That rod was laid up in the ark, so that in the ark there was the symbol of God's chosen priestly ministry. The ark embodied that. It is easy to carry that forward to Christ, with the ark as a type of Christ. We know that He is God's chosen and appointed High Priest, "Having therefore a high priest" (Heb. 10:21).
The Lord Against Every Contradiction
When we come to David making a cart for bringing up the ark and God smiting Uzzah and the whole thing comes under arrest, you find the issue is that the Lord turns David back to His thoughts about advancing His testimony. He said, "None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites" (1 Chron. 15:2), not a cart. It is living priesthood that brings the testimony on. It is by means of priestly ministry that God's thoughts are advanced and carried forward. This cart is a contradiction. Rather than a living, spiritual, priestly ministry, it is something mechanical, something invented, something made by man. It has come from man's mind. It is man's thought of how the interests of God should be carried forward, instead of God's thought. We need not dwell upon the nature of priestly ministry, but let us note that God's thought of carrying His testimony forward to final establishment is by a spiritual people, and not by machines and organisations, contrivances, inventions and ideas of men. Get those things mixed up, and you find that while the Lord remains faithful to His testimony, He is against the foreign ideas.
The Need of a People in Oneness with God's Mind
Our whole object in these meditations is to note the nature and basis of spiritual progress. Here the progress of the Lord's interests among His people demands that the Lord's people are in perfect accord with God's thoughts about His Son, and God's thoughts are that there shall be men and women who are spiritual people, not just parts of an organisation, a system, a man-made contrivance for carrying on Christianity. How much there is of that today, to make Christianity 'successful', to get it established by all means imaginable by men! Think of what men will go to in inventing, in making up, in projecting, in organising - all the contrivances of men to get God's interests furthered, the work of God advanced. God is with His Son, and He is only with people in so far as they are in perfect accord with Divine thoughts; that is, in so far as they are spiritual people, according to Christ.
So here we find that there is trouble everywhere when the ark of the testimony is being furthered by means other than God's own method of spiritually-minded people whose thoughts are in accordance with God's thoughts about Christ. That comes out very clearly in David's case in the second book. Try to further the Lord's interests by any other means than real spiritual life, which is the expression of Christ, and sooner or later the thing comes to a standstill or it proceeds very slowly. It begins to show signs of arrest and difficulty, and you have to do something more to get it going, and still something more. Any little bit of progress is the result of a tremendous amount of human effort, whereas the Holy Spirit, when He has the people in accordance with the thought of God, just carries things on wonderfully. The thing goes on in spite of opposition. There were plenty of opposing elements in the days of the apostles. There were the carnal elements, Philistine elements, but the apostles were in oneness with the mind of God, and so the testimony went on; there was progress. God saw to it that, having people wholly in oneness with His mind about Christ, the testimony proceeded marvellously against all opposition.
The Spiritual Taking Ascendancy over the Natural
If you want an illustration of what that means, you have it in these two milk cows. You are familiar, no doubt, with the idea that is bound up with these two milk cows. There they are with their calves. Have you ever tried to take a calf away from its mother? You know quite well that you are working contrary to nature, and when you work contrary to nature, you are up against some very strong forces. They took the calves away from their mothers and tied them up, and then hitched these milk cows to the cart, and turned their heads in exactly the opposite direction from where their calves were, and it says nothing about having to get them to start, they just went on, it says, by the highway "lowing as they went", meaning that they were naturally longing for those calves, but they were going absolutely contrary to their own instincts and natures. They went on, contrary to nature; conscious of the pull of nature, but going against it.
This is a magnificent illustration of this very thing, that God is so concerned for the interests of His Son that He can cause that to happen in us. Let us put ourselves on the level of animals, if you like. On that level naturally, just as natural people, our whole gravitation and instincts would lie in certain directions. We should want that, seek that, go after that, and yet, when it is a matter of the Lord's interests, the Lord can so work in us that we just go the opposite way to our own natures. When it is a matter of the Lord concerned for the interests of His Son in our lives, the spiritual takes ascendancy over the natural. We find that we have another pull contrary to all our natural instincts. That is a principle of the progress and growth of the life of the Lord in us. It is that something is happening by God's doing, a power is at work in us that is all the time making us do what naturally we would not do, go the way we naturally would not go, choose what we naturally would not choose, desire what we naturally would not desire. That is a very simple, elementary fact of the new life. We all know that whereas naturally our lives would move in certain directions, after certain interests, because the Lord has purchased us, we find that, while we are conscious of the natural pull, while we are not altogether oblivious of what we would like, what we would choose if we were to come down onto that level, yet there is a greater law working within us which makes us move contrary to ourselves, like these milk cows. And that is a basis of progress. The Lord, by that means, is going to bring His testimony to its place.
These diviners discerned that that ark belonged to a certain place, and they sent it to its place, and everything proved that that was the place for it. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ works in us to bring the interests of God in our lives to the place where God desires and appoints, to which Christ belongs. Where does Christ belong in our thoughts, in our desires, in our choices - to our own natural thoughts or to the Lord's? That is an issue that arises every day. Where do the interests of the Lord lie? Well, do I have a stronger power at work within me to make sure that the place where the Lord's interests are reached and served most is my place, or is it where I want to be, where I would choose and like? It is the two laws at work. Here the law of the Spirit overcomes the law of nature, and that is the secret of spiritual growth, of progress. It is all a matter of our coming into harmony with God's thoughts in Christ where there is no contradiction, nothing contrary to God's mind, no foreign idea, no Philistine cart principle, but something that is purely of the Spirit, making us spiritual men and women, in harmony with God. That is the way of spiritual growth and spiritual progress.