When the people have returned to the camp, the elders wonder why the LORD has made them suffer the defeat. The question is a pious expression, but without any working of conscience. They are not waiting for an answer, but they themselves give the answer. Therefore this answer is not from the LORD, but comes from their own heart. They accept that the defeat is from the LORD, possibly because they realize that He did not go with them. A fair conclusion, but followed by a wrong reaction.
The effect of the defeat should have been general humiliation (cf. Jos 7:6-86Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, [both] he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads.7Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord GOD, why did You ever bring this people over the Jordan, [only] to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan!8O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned [their] back before their enemies?). Then they would have known that it is by their sin, their unfaithfulness to the LORD. However, they resort to a foolish act. Now they want to force the LORD to go with them. They want to take the ark with them, that it may redeem them.
The leaders have some knowledge. However, a little knowledge is life-threatening if you imagine that you know everything. They remember that the ark was once with them and then gave them the victory. That was when they were at Jericho and the walls fell (Jos 6:3-203You shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days.4Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets.5It shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people will go up every man straight ahead.”6So Joshua the son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant, and let seven priests carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the LORD.”7Then he said to the people, “Go forward, and march around the city, and let the armed men go on before the ark of the LORD.”8And it was [so], that when Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the LORD went forward and blew the trumpets; and the ark of the covenant of the LORD followed them.9The armed men went before the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard came after the ark, while they continued to blow the trumpets.10But Joshua commanded the people, saying, “You shall not shout nor let your voice be heard nor let a word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I tell you, ‘Shout!’ Then you shall shout!”11So he had the ark of the LORD taken around the city, circling [it] once; then they came into the camp and spent the night in the camp.12Now Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the LORD.13The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the LORD went on continually, and blew the trumpets; and the armed men went before them and the rear guard came after the ark of the LORD, while they continued to blow the trumpets.14Thus the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp; they did so for six days.15Then on the seventh day they rose early at the dawning of the day and marched around the city in the same manner seven times; only on that day they marched around the city seven times.16At the seventh time, when the priests blew the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city.17The city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the LORD; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in the house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent.18But as for you, only keep yourselves from the things under the ban, so that you do not covet [them] and take some of the things under the ban, and make the camp of Israel accursed and bring trouble on it.19But all the silver and gold and articles of bronze and iron are holy to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD.”20So the people shouted, and [priests] blew the trumpets; and when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city.). Only they forget that the walls of Jericho fell “by faith” (Heb 11:3030By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.). Here the faith is lacking. This is an act of superstition that the ark wants to use as a mascot. God has not given any command to do so. What they want, borders on magic.
The same happens in Christianity with statutes such as baptism and supper. These symbols, when used independently of faith, are attributed a magical effect in their mere use. As soon as external customs are separated from a living relationship with God and Christ, they become idolatry. In this way, the cross becomes a sign of victory, while it means defamation.
Prayer and Bible reading can also become inanimate habits, as well as visiting a Christian meeting. This happens when these things happen from a thought that God will be happy with them and not from an inner desire to have fellowship with Him. There can only be fellowship with Him if the whole life is subjected to His will. Otherwise it is a fetching of the ark of the covenant, while the heart is not directed toward the God of the covenant.
God’s presence is only where there is obedience to His Word. This is why Moses was able to count on God’s presence when he let the ark go ahead (Num 10:35-3635Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said,
“Rise up, O LORD!
And let Your enemies be scattered,
And let those who hate You flee before You.”
36When it came to rest, he said,
“Return, O LORD,
[To] the myriad thousands of Israel.”; cf. Jos 3:10-1110Joshua said, “By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite.11Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over ahead of you into the Jordan.). Perhaps Hophni and Phinehas remembered that event when they let the ark come.
It is easy for man’s corrupt heart to invoke examples from Scripture to justify wrong practices. Therefore these examples are then taken out of their context. Once the ark has arrived in the land, there is no indication that it can be removed from its resting place when certain events happen. All the time the people must go to the ark as the place of God’s presence (Deu 12:5-145But you shall seek [the LORD] at the place which the LORD your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come.6There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock.7There also you and your households shall eat before the LORD your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the LORD your God has blessed you.8“You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man [doing] whatever is right in his own eyes;9for you have not as yet come to the resting place and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you.10When you cross the Jordan and live in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies around [you] so that you live in security,11then it shall come about that the place in which the LORD your God will choose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution of your hand, and all your choice votive offerings which you will vow to the LORD.12And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.13“Be careful that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every [cultic] place you see,14but in the place which the LORD chooses in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you.). Never may they pick up the ark to come to them.
It is customary for all peoples of the earth to take their gods and sacred materials with them in the war. This is what the Persians, Romans and Greeks do, for example. In our modern age we find remnants of this ancient superstition in the dedication and blessing of crosses and the sanctification of national colors and flags.
The ark is taken to be used in battle. At that moment the Holy Spirit gives a detailed description of the ark. The ark is “the ark of the covenant of the LORD”. This indicates the connection between God and His people. It is also “the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts” (cf. 1Sam 1:33Now this man would go up from his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice to the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests to the LORD there.). That is His Name as the Prince of His hosts. Finally, it is mentioned that He “sits [above] the cherubim”, indicating that He rules in righteousness.
According to God’s thoughts this is all connected to the ark. For faith the ark is the glory and honor of Israel (verse 2222She said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God was taken.”). However, there is no faith with the people and even less with the two sons of Eli who are with the ark. The connection of the ark with the two wicked sons of Eli is a connection that God cannot accept.
It is not the priests who let the ark be taken, but the people who send to take the ark. The people rule and do what is good in their own eyes. The whole people cheers, but it is a hollow, vain cheering without any real reason. So much they have been misled. Their cheers prove their religious error. Seeing a symbol enraptures them while they deny its truth. Cheering is always easier than fighting. It is easier in mass meetings to become enthusiastic under the influence of the mass than in daily life to live devoted to the Lord. A high degree of religious excitement is no proof of God’s favor and blessing.