The people of Kiriath-Jearim got the chest and took it to Abinadab’s house, which was on a hill in their town. They chose his son Eleazar to take care of it, 2 and it stayed there for twenty years.
During this time everyone in Israel was very sad and begged the Lord for help.
I want you to imagine a sacred chest. The Israelites make the chest according to God’s instructions back when they’re wandering around in the desert. And the famous Ten Commandments – symbolizing the presence of God with God’s people – live in the chest.
All of the religious life of Israel back in the day is the responsibility of the Levites. That means only the Levites are allowed to carry the chest – no one else. And they can only carry it around if they’re using special poles. The point of all the rules isn’t to be annoying – it’s to remind the people that the chest is special. To remind them that special things should be treated in special ways – as ‘holy’ or ‘set apart’. It’s supposed to remind the people of God’s presence with them as they go through life.
Eventually the people of Israel stop wandering around in the desert. Eventually they settle down in cities and towns and countryside. But they are a small group of tribes surrounded by lots of other tribes and that means that there are frequent wars and skirmishes and fights with the people around them.
So one day the people are fighting against one of their enemies – the Philistines – and it’s not going well. So the high priest decides on his own to let his two sons carry the sacred chest out onto the battlefield. He hopes that if God is there with them on the battlefield than everything will be okay. Unfortunately it doesn’t go well for the Israelites. They lose the battle and the Philistines capture the sacred chest.
Although the Philistines are triumphant about their victory, they change their minds quite quickly when the chest makes everyone in the town sick. They send it back to Israel, but the men in the first village are arrogant and look inside of the chest, breaking the rules. After 70 men die the townspeople send the chest on to a town called Kiriath-Jearim. There, it is entrusted to a man we know simply as Eleazar, the son of Abinadab, who looks after the chest for the next twenty years.
It’s twenty years of Israel’s life where they are beaten down by the Philistines. Maybe twenty years they are confused about what it means to be God’s people. Certainly twenty years they spend missing out on the kind of connection and presence they were supposed to have with God.
But as long as Eleazar is faithful to the small but important task he is given, there is hope. Hope for the people to remember the God that they serve. Hope for rescue from the Philistines. And hope that one day they will be reunited in worship with the God who had committed to being faithful and present wherever they went.
- What kind of a person do you think Eleazar was to be chosen for this role?
- Do you think he knew when he first said yes that this would be his responsibility for twenty years?
- How do you think this responsibility changed the course of his life?
- What lessons do you think Eleazar might have learned from caring for this sacred chest for so many years?
- What might Eleazar’s life teach us about serving God?
- Sometimes it can feel like we are stuck – that nothing will ever change. What can we learn from Eleazar about being faithful in the midst of hard times?
This summer we are looking at ‘stories you missed’ in the Bible. Feel free to check out the other stories in the series here.