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I Kings 14

Chapter 14

v. 21:  The fact that she is an Amonitess is mentioned with emphasis.  (See also v. 31.)  I wonder if this is not a subtle suggestion of why Rehoboam slipped into idolatry.  (See also 11:2.)

v. 26: Shishak “took away everything.”  Is this literal?  How about the Ark?  It seems likely that a statement like “everything” would include the centerpiece of the temple, but if so why does the narrative not point this out (as it does when describing the Ark’s capture by the Philistines in 1st Samuel 4-6)? The disappearance of the Ark from the historical record is a fascinating mystery.  How could the Jews not have written about the ultimate fate of the central relic of their religion?  The scriptures do not even say something like, “The Ark has disappeared, and nobody but God knows its fate.”

Here are some possible scenarios for what might have happened to the Ark.  (See also notes on 2nd Chronicles 13.)

1) The Israelites hid the Ark from Nebuchadnezzar so that everything left in the temple was taken away but not the Ark; in this case, perhaps they did not include this fact in the narrative for fear that the secret would be discovered and exploited by potential future conquerors.

2) Many scholars believe that the Ark was destroyed in Nebuchadnezzar’s 2nd invasion when he burned the temple to the ground.  It seems to me, however, more likely that he would have stolen such a precious centerpiece rather than destroyed it.

3) Shishak captured the original Ark and took it to Egypt, and it never returned to Israel.  This seems unlikely to me because I do not believe that Shishak  actually invaded the city of Jerusalem, but rather that he simply threatened it and that king Rehoboam bought him off.  (The scriptures do not say that Shishak actually invaded and ransacked the city, merely that he “came up against it.”)  According to Graham Hancock, many scholars agree that Shishak never invades Jerusalem because he never lists it among his conquests (371-372), which seems like a rather significant omission.  If Rehoboam did, in fact, buy him off, then the Jewish king could (and most likely would) have chosen not to include the Ark in the ransom payment.

4) The Ethiopians are the only people I am aware of who claim to have the Ark.  Their story for how the Ark came to Ethiopia is in the Kebra Nagast, their holy book.  It claims that the Queen of Sheba was Ethiopian and that she had a son by Solomon.  The book also asserts that this son, Prince Menyelek, returned to Jerusalem years later to meet his father.  In the course of this meeting, Menyelek is supposed to have seen the Ark, been overwhelmed with religious zeal for it, and conceived of the idea of taking it away to Ethiopia.  At first he asked Solomon for the Ark as a gift, but Solomon denied him.  Then the prince plotted to steal it and succeeded, with the approval of God.  Upon learning of its theft, Solomon acquiesced, concluding that it must be the will of God that the Ark should go to Ethiopia since nobody could steal it otherwise.

I tend not to believe this story because I suspect the credibility of the Kebra Nagast as a source.  Note, for instance, the sentiments it attributes to Solomon when Menyelek asks for the Ark: “The children of Israel,” says Solomon, “have no protection against their enemies except the Tabernacle [Ark] of the Covenant of God” (46).  Surely the wisest man on earth, the man who said, “The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (2nd Chronicles 6:18) would not have said something so simple minded and idolatrous.  Besides, he would have known the story of the capture of the Ark by the Philistines (1st Samuel 4), a story which clearly distinguishes between the Ark’s impotence (as a thing in itself) and God’s power.  Nevertheless, I have not read the Kebra Nagast in its entirety and do not claim to be a qualified judge of its merits.

5) If the Ethiopians do have the Ark, Graham Hancock’s theory seems the best explanation for how they came by it.  He points out that, during the reign of the wicked king Manasseh, loyal Levites might have taken it away from the temple to protect its sanctity when Manasseh placed an idol in the Holy of Holies (418-454).  I should point out here that, although there are several points where I disagree with Hancock, I do think he makes a good case for his essential argument: that the original Ark of Moses was carried off from the temple during Manasseh’s reign and eventually came to rest in modern day Axum, Ethiopia.

6) Jehoash might have taken it (2nd Kings 14:12-14).

As I point out in my notes on 2nd Chronicles, however, I believe it is possible that the Ark could have been lost and remade (as were the temple itself and other temple furniture) at this and/or other times in Israel’s history.  True, the contents of the Ark, if lost, would have been irreplaceable, but the Ark itself could have been rebuilt. According to Jeremiah 3:16-17, the idea of remaking the Ark had been entertained and possibly acted on in the past, and I think this passage out of Jeremiah is very relevant for a couple of reasons.  First, it points out that the original Ark was not, by its own nature, significant: the fact that another one could be made means that the object itself, as such, was replaceable.  Humanity typically idolizes objects like the Ark because God chooses to work through them, but the story of Moses’ brass serpent (see Numbers 21:4-9, and 2nd Kings 18:4) is sufficient to demonstrate to me that it is incorrect to attribute special significance to such objects.  They are instruments which God may use or discard at his pleasure. Second, the passage in Jeremiah alludes to the fact that there will come a time beyond Jeremiah’s own time when the Ark (as a physical, religious symbol) will become obsolete.  I wonder if this prophecy could explain why the fate of the Ark is so elusive.  At any rate, the fact that the curtain to the Holy of Holies was torn in two at the death of Christ signifies to me that the era in which the Ark had a valid religious function ended with the death of Jesus, the Messiah, whose era I believe Jeremiah alludes to.

Thus, it is possible that the Ark in Ethiopia (if the Ethiopians do actually have one) may not be the original one, but a copy, made after the original was lost on one or more of these occasions.  Personally, based on Jeremiah’s passage above and 2nd Chronicles 35:3, I believe another Ark was made in the time of Josiah to replace the one that the faithful Levites took earlier, and that 2nd Chronicles refers to the moment of installing the new Ark.

v. 28:  This seems like a good example of secretive behavior.  It seems like he kept these shields hidden when not in use so that Shishak would not take them as well.


2 Responses to “I Kings 14”

  1. […] See notes on 1st Kings 14:26 and 2nd Chronicles […]

  2. […] See notes on 1st Kings 14:26 and 2nd Chronicles […]

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