The Poles of the Ark and the Philistines

1 Samuel 4 through 6 tells the story of the Philistines capturing the Ark of the Covenant. For them to even put it on a cart they had to use the poles that were part of the Ark. In my other post, I explain why I think those poles represent the Holy Spirit. God allowing His Ark to be captured has always puzzled me and my study of the Poles really stirred a lot of questions. (Please read 1 Samuel 4-6 as I am not trying to tell the whole story.)

The first time the Ark was moved in this story. The army of Israel had been beaten by the Philistines. The elders decided to bring the Ark into the battle. Yes, Joshua marched it around Jericho, but God had told him to do it. I am not sure God liked being used as a good luck charm; it is bad luck to be superstitious. The idea may sound like a good one, but God had not told them to take His Ark into battle. Since Eli had sent Hophni and Phinehas with the Ark let us assume that Levities of the Kohath clan moved it on their shoulders and that the cover was over it.

Points to think about.

  1. This seems to be God’s plan to rid Israel of Eli and his sons.
  2. The High Priesthood changed hands that day because Eli’s grandsons were too young for service.
  3. Samuel was a prophet not a priest, he was not a son of Aaron. I have never found an adoption cause for being a Levitical priest.
  4. There were other Sons of Aaron who served. We see both families during David’s reign. As the number of men grew certain tasks were chosen by lot. Remember Zechariah, John’s father.
  5. Shiloh was still important, but the Ark did not return there.

The Ark was moved by the Philistines. Israel lost; the battle, two corrupt priests, and God. The Philistines had God and they were not going to give Him back; it took seven months and a lot of misery for them to change their minds. Two cities were hit hard by a plague and the third city did not want the Ark. See my post on rats for a possible tumor that may have cause agony.

From the battle field to Dagon’s temple and to other cities the Philistines probably used a cart, any cart. But someone still had to pick it up and take it off that cart. They had to use the Poles, that was the only part of the Ark that non-priest could touch and they were not Kohaths. (Hold this thought.)

What happened to the three layers of covers for the Ark when it was being moved? The covers are never mentioned. You would think that they were over it in Israel. Had some of the rules gone by the wayside? (It seems that Samuel slept close to the Ark. That should not have been allowed. David and his team did not know how to move it.) I cannot imagine the Philistines not wanting to take a look at the God they had captured. So, between no cover and touching the Poles, no wonder the Philistines started dying. If Israel had disrespected the Ark by not having it covered that may be another reason they lost the battle.

Numbers 4 tells of God’s concern for the Kohaths and what Aaron and sons had to do to protect them. We know that Uzzah disrespected the Ark by touching it when the ox stumbled-2 Samuel 6:6 and 1 Chronicles 13:9. So, why did God not “break out” against every Philistine that touched the Ark? How about one big teachable moment for two nations. I think this psalm says it well – Psalm 74:22 Arise, O God, plead thine own cause: remember how the foolish man reproacheth thee daily. (KJV) Plead could be replaced with defend, and reproacheth could be talks about. The Philistines still attacked Israel, but I am sure they wanted nothing to do with God or the Ark. Israel had to learn to take the promises of God with them into battle and not a good luck charm. Jesus, Peter, and Paul experienced God rising against those who disrespected God’s cause-the soldiers fell down, Ananias and Sapphira died, and Elymas was blinded for a time.

From the Philistines to Jerusalem – Chapter 5 was a bad time for the Philistines, by #6 they were thinking that the God of Israel was very powerful. Not wanting to accept that they constructed a test and a peace offering. I knew the “new cart” was a sign of respect, but it makes more sense if they had been moving it on any cart they had or carrying it by the Poles. The cows added a level beyond their natural world, those cows would not have been contented walking away from the calves. The leaders were happy and they could get back to making the Israelites miserable as long as they left their God out of it.

The sad story is that the Levities had to learn a hard lesson about respecting their God and the rules that applied to them and their life. Beth Shemesh was a Levite town, they should have known better than to look in the Ark of God. Why did they do it? Maybe they thought that the Philistines had gotten away with peeking, or Shiloh had farther-reaching fingers than we thought, (Eli had not taken care of business and things happened.) or they just had to check that nothing was taken. Seventy men died, that may have been the majority of men in that town.    

Kiriath Jearim was called, they were a town of priests. Even though priests are from the clan of Kohath, I am not sure they should carry the Ark. But if it was covered and the Poles were on their shoulders it had to be better than a cart.    

Towns with all Levities and all priest was part of the agreement with God for being chosen to serve the Tabernacle and the Ark. So, to extend that idea Eleazar was a priest and he now had Eli’s job. (Eleazar was a “priestly” name.) It seems the Ark stayed there a long time-twenty-plus years before Saul became king, all of Saul’s reign, and however long David let it stay in Kiriath Jearim/Baalah of Judah. (Just because-No, I do not think the Ark sat outside on a hill.)

Just because their story is not told, where did the Table and the Lampstand go? Were they left in Shiloh or moved away? David got bread from the Table at Nob, but there was no mention of the Ark in that story. You hope the articles of the Tent were united in Solomon’s Temple.

In 2 Samuel 6 David is on a mission to bring the Presence of God to him in Jerusalem. It seems that the knowledge of the proper way of moving the Ark was lost or ignored. Instead of using the Poles and having Levities carry the Ark, David copies the Philistines and puts them on a cart. Someone died. You have to know there were committee meetings and scroll searches but David finally got it right and he moved the Ark to Jerusalem. Again, there is no mention of the rest of the Tabernacle. It seems that David moved the sacrifices away from the Ark. (So many questions and few answers, sorry.)

My purpose was to explore why the Philistines could move the Ark. Another question soon appeared. What happened to Israel and the Ark?

Israel – These are just some musings.

  • Your thoughts and plans may not be God’s plans and desires. The elders had a “thought’ but they did not ask God or the High Priest.
  • The Book of Judges ended with a dark tale of doing what you think is right. This is an extension of that.
  • The Father holds His children to a higher standard than the Philistines. We should not act like them.
  • You can follow rules and not have your heart right with God. The Levities had forgotten the rules.
  • I believe there was a remnant, a “seven thousand” who still wanted God.


  • God will use whom he needs to for His plan to work. Their “victory” did not mean they were right.
  • Their pride brought their downfall. Would you have given back the Ark after the second time Dagon fell?
  • They treated Jehovah as they did their idols. God did not strike them dead immediately, like Uzzah, but rats, plague, and panic came and did their jobs.
  • The Philistines touched the Poles (the Holy Spirit) and disrespected the Ark of the Covenant of God. He took His vengeance.

Wow. My study spread out into areas I did not expect. Israel proved herself from the beginning to the end of this tale. Then it took twenty years for Samuel to spark a renewal. The Philistines were being Philistines, they hated God’s children before, during, and after touching the Poles of the Ark, the Father gave them a chance and they did not take it.

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