The Ark Is Returned
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The Ark Is Returned

1 Samuel 6:1–21  (ID: 3366)

Weary of plagues and eager to rid themselves of the ark, the Philistines devised a plan to test whether their affliction was truly the result of God’s heavy hand or merely coincidence. Walking us through the twists and turns of this story, Alistair Begg reminds us that God judges those who violate His plans and is not to be tested. Our heritage, offerings, and endeavors can’t save us from His wrath. Only in Christ can we safely and securely stand before the Lord.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 1

The Life of Samuel 1 Samuel 1:1–7:17 Series ID: 109011

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me and follow along as I read from 1 Samuel and chapter 6. And this will be the focus of our study later in our time together, but we’re going to read it now, set it in our minds, hopefully:

“The ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months. And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, ‘What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us with what [shall we] send it to its place.’ They said, ‘If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why his hand does not turn away from you.’ And they said, ‘What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?’ They answered, ‘Five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines, for the same plague was on all of you and on your lords. So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you and your gods and your land. Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away, and they departed? Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. And take the ark of the Lord and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way and watch. If it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth-shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm, but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it happened to us by coincidence.’

“The men did so, and took two milk cows and yoked them to the cart and shut up their calves at home. And they put the ark of the Lord on the cart and the box with the golden mice and the images of their tumors. And the cows went straight in the direction of Beth-shemesh along one highway, lowing as they went. They turned neither to the right nor to the left, and the lords of the Philistines went after them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh. Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. And when they lifted up their eyes and saw the ark, they rejoiced to see it. The cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh and stopped there. A great stone was there. And they split up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. And the Levites took down the ark of the Lord and the box that was beside it, in which were the golden figures, and set them upon the great stone. And the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices on that day to the Lord. And when the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned that day to Ekron.

“These are the golden tumors that the Philistines returned as a guilt offering to the Lord: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron, and the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both fortified cities and unwalled villages. The great stone beside which they set down the ark of the Lord is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh.

“And he struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the Lord. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great blow. Then the men of Beth-shemesh said, ‘Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall he go up away from us?’ So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, ‘The Philistines have returned the ark of the Lord. Come down and take it up to you.’”

Thus ends the reading of God’s Word. Thanks be to God.

Make the Book live to me, O Lord,
Show me yourself within your Word,
Show me myself … show me my Savior,
And make the Book live to me.[1]

For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, we have arrived at the first verse of 1 Samuel 6 in our studies in 1 Samuel. It reads as follows: “The ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months.”

Well, what are we to make of that, if anything? That is what I found myself thinking as I set to study it this week, asking myself, “What does this mean? Why should it matter?” Clearly, it meant something, it mattered greatly, 1050 BC, but this is the twenty-first century, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not aware of having met any Philistines lately. So it is a long way away and far away. And here we are this morning, trying to keep in mind the verse which we said was foundational last time, in Romans 15:4, which, without quoting it, simply says the things that were written in the past—and Paul has just quoted from the Old Testament—the things that were written in the past were written for us, so that “through endurance” and “encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” In other words, all the things that were written here in the Old Testament and were written long ago are meant to teach not only then but also now. And so, when we read of God’s dealings in the past, we are to be encouraged to go on believing and trusting in our own day.

Now, part of the challenge in that, in dealing with the Old Testament, is that the Old Testament is full of sights and sounds and smells which largely are absent when we read the New Testament. The Old Testament is full of liturgies and repetitive ceremonies. In other words, it essentially provides for us, when you walk into it, a kind of multimedia presentation of the revelation of God and of what it means to have a relationship with that God as a result of his grace.

So, at the very beginning, God reveals himself by his name. He says to Moses, “When you go to Pharaoh, say that I am sent you.”[2] We transliterate that “Yahweh” in our English; it’s translated mainly in our Bibles “Lord,” capitalized “Lord.” So he reveals himself as Lord, and he reveals himself as holy, and then he tells his people that that holiness is not only to be found in God but is to be displayed in them. “You shall be holy,” he says, “for I … am holy.”[3]

It is by knowing whose we are, who we are, and what we are for that we’re able to determine how we live.

When you think of these ceremonies—and part of this made me think very much about it this week—you might be helped, as Sinclair Ferguson points out to us, of regarding them as kind of pop-up books,[4] the kind of books that we read to our children and our grandchildren, so that they’re full of pictures, and they unfold as you hold them up, and they learn not simply by the words that are there but also by the pictures that are provided.

And so it is that when we read from the very beginning of the Bible all the way through, whether it is what we did in Ephesians, where God is blending Jew and gentile and making one people of his own,[5] when we think in terms of the family of God as we’ve sung about it just now, all of this throughout the Old Testament is teaching his people who they are and what he expects of them.

Now, of course, this is important not just, if you like, on a theological basis. Because if we’re honest, we acknowledge the fact that it is by knowing whose we are, who we are, and what we are for that we’re able to determine how we live—that sense of connectedness to someone or to something: “Whose am I? To whom do I belong? Who am I? Am I just a random collection of molecules held in suspension? And what am I here for?”

Now, you don’t have to just go to the Bible for this. You just listen to contemporary music. You say, “You don’t even know any contemporary music. The stuff that you quote is buried about forty years in the past.” Guilty as charged. Here is Supertramp. You say, “Super who?” Remember this: “When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, … beautiful, magical”—you remember that? “But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, … responsible, practical.” And then the refrain:

There are times when all the world’s asleep.
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned?
I know it sounds absurd,
But please, tell me who I am.[6]

It’s the quest for meaning, isn’t it?

I’m reading at the moment Brooks’s latest book The Second Mountain. And just yesterday afternoon as I was reading it, I said, “Well, this fits, so perhaps I should mention it.” He’s writing in chapter 21, headed “A Most Unexpected Turn of Events.” I’m not gonna tell you what they all are. You can buy the book and enjoy it yourself. But he’s talking about the dimension of spiritual life and of meaning. And he’s talking about the fact that we use biblical stories to understand our aliveness and our significance:

“I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’… if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’” If there are no overarching stories, then life is meaningless. Life does not feel meaningless. These stories provide, in their simple yet endlessly complex ways, a living script. They provide the horizon of meaning in which we live our lives—not just our individual lives, but our lives together.[7]

So, you see, when the Bible unfolds in this way, and when we think about what happened—as we will towards the end—what happened to seventy men, what happened to seventy men was significant, but it wasn’t significant just for the seventy men and their families. It was significant for the whole nation of Israel. And not only for the whole nation of Israel; it was significant for everyone who ever lived at any point in time. That’s why the story matters.

Now, “Well,” you say, “please get to the story.” All right, here we are. The ark, which represents the covenant of God is, as we’re told, in the hands of their archenemies. It has been for seven months. It’s a challenge for the Israelites. This has never happened to them before. The ark has never been captured before. It has never been in this situation. Inasmuch as it represented God’s covenant purposes, contained the Ten Commandments, and so on, they knew how significant it was that it had been taken away.

“What Shall We Do with the Ark?”

It was also a matter of great concern, as we saw in chapter 5 and now see again, for the Philistines themselves. And so you will notice that in verse 2, the people are calling beyond the lords of the cities to “the priests and the diviners”—they’re calling Ghostbusters, if you like—and they’re asking quite simply, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us with what [shall we] send it to its place.” In other words, they saw that there was a direct link between the predicament that they had faced with these plagues—the tumors, some horrendous circumstance with being overrun by mice and rats or whatever it was… They had tried, under the leadership of the heads of the five cities, to cope with the problem by just moving the ark around. But it actually compounded the problem, because as they moved it from place to place, the plague followed them. So, “Let’s go beyond the leadership politically, as it were, and let’s try and find counsel somewhere else.” People do that eventually. It’s just a matter of where you seek the counsel.

Now, you will see from the text, if it’s open, that they recognized that they were guilty. They were guilty. And so the people who are giving them advice say to them, “You know, it’s important that you don’t send this ark away empty. If you return it with a guilt offering, then perhaps the God of the Israelites will lighten his hand of you, and also against all of the rest of your land, and your other gods too.” That’s at the end of verse [5].

Now, we might just pause there and acknowledge something, and see if you agree with this: whenever people think of God, a god or God, to whom they are accountable—because usually, if they’re prepared to entertain the notion of God, of divinity, they immediately assume that divinity will be good in a way that they, that we, are not good—and so they will be aware of the fact that somehow or another we need to close the gap between who and what we are and who and what God is by way of his revelation. And so, routinely, what we try and do is manage this gap, try and fix the situation, by our own efforts and by our own offerings.

Now, as I was reading the newspaper this week, there was an article on sherpas reaching the ascent of Everest. Perhaps you saw it. And it focused on one particular sherpa, a man by the name of Kami Rita, a forty-nine-year-old Nepalese man who has taken people to the top of Everest twenty-three times. And I wondered to myself, I said, “I wonder what makes this man tick.” Well, part of what makes him tick was then described in the article. This is quoting the man. He says, “In every mountain there is a goddess. It’s our responsibility to keep the goddess happy. [And so] months before I start my ascent I start worshipping and ask[ing] for forgiveness because I will have to put my feet on her body.”[8] If you’ve ever wondered about those Nepalese prayer flags, this is the kind of thing that underlies that. Fascinating, isn’t it? “I have to start asking for forgiveness.” Forgiveness for what?

You say, “Well, people don’t do that now.” Steady, steady! “Recognizing that I am what I am and God is who he is, I think what I’ll do is I’ll give that furniture to Habitat for Humanity. I could sell it and go out for dinner, but I think God would like it if I did this with it. And perhaps I can close the gap by my own efforts and by my ingenuity.” You may be here this morning, and essentially, you’re asking this same question: “What do I do with God? What do I do with God?” Because that’s what they’re saying: “What are we gonna do with the ark of God?”

“What Guilt Offering Should We Give?”

Now, the second question that comes in the text is in verse 4: “They said, ‘What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?’” And they recognized that they were guilty. Woodhouse has a wonderful sentence when he says, “[Well,] how do you [pay] a debt you cannot assess to a God you do not know?”[9] And that’s what they were going to have to do. And so they’re told, “Well, this is what we suggest you do.”

The answer comes there, and now we’re in a world that is very different from our own: “Five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to … the lords of the Philistines,” and so on. “And we suggest that you make them in gold, because it’s not wise in these circumstances to appear to be stingy. We don’t want little plastic mice or little papier-mâché mice; we want to do nice golden mice. Because after all, we’re trying to explain, we’re trying to, by our own efforts, deal with the predicament. How are we gonna deal with God? What will I offer God if I’m indebted to God? What would I possibly produce?” It’s pathetic, isn’t it? But it’s understandable in the time frame.

What they were doing—and this was standard pro forma—they would take that which represented the predicament, which in this case was plagues, and expressly tumors, and then they would make forms of those tumors, and then they would present them to the deity. In this way they were providing an image of what their problem was, and they were also pleading for the removal of their problem. That’s why they’re doing what they’re doing: “Here, we know what our problem is, and we made these in the hope that you’ll fix this for us.”

It’s pathetic, actually. I mean, who modeled for the tumors, you know? Like I’m trying to do the database, you know: “So, we’re having on Monday, if you’ll all come and show your tumors, we’re looking for some nice tumors that we can…” It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? And who knows where the tumors were? But we’ll leave that to the medical people.

Notice that there is no indication—there’s no indication—that they thought that this was going to be foolproof. “Perhaps,” they said. “Perhaps. Perhaps. No guarantee, but it’s worth a try. What do we have to lose?”

“Why Should You Harden Your Hearts?”

And then the next question, verse 6: “Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts?”

Now, in the background to this story here, both in chapter 5 and chapter 6—in fact, all the way into chapter 4—the background picture, if you like, if there was a movie running in the background as this unfolds in real time, it would be the picture of the exodus from Egypt, and it would be the picture of the people of God being set free from Egypt as a result of the plagues that were brought upon the nation and so on. And that is the background to it. And there are echoes of that all the way through. The defiance of Pharaoh and the people had brought the judgment of God, and only when God’s judgment was executed were the people then free to go. And in the same way now, “We’re going to return the ark to its own place; it’s only sensible to do this.” So just as you have the picture of the people being exited from Egypt, so now we’re anticipating the ark being removed from the cities of the Philistines.

And how is it to be done? Well, this is where it gets exciting. I mean, this is some wonderful stuff to read with your children. Here we have the record of “a new cart and two milk cows.” They had prepared the gold contents for the box, which the cart was going to carry, and the cows were going to pull it. Is it significant that it was a new cart? Well, surely; otherwise, it wouldn’t be described as a new cart—that they didn’t simply go and bring out one of their old claptrap vehicles in order to get rid of this thing. No!

If you think about that, it may make you think forward. And Jesus said, “And if you go, you will find the foal of a donkey on which no one has ever ridden. It’s a brand-new donkey.”[10] And the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, in which they laid Jesus, was a tomb in which no one had ever been laid.[11] These people are clever enough to realize that it is at least a matter of respect to do as they’ve done. But it was more than that, as you see; I hope as you read it you picked this up. They were setting this up as a test to see whether the events that had just unfolded in chapter 5, whether in those events they were really dealing with the heavy hand of the God of Israel or whether they were dealing with coincidence. They were trying to determine, was this providence, or was this coincidence?

And the test that they’ve set up is pretty straightforward, and it is stacked against it showing that God is in charge. It’s a bit like 1 Kings 18, in the encounter with the prophets of Baal. Remember when God says, he says to Elijah—they’re gonna light a fire now. “We’ll see if the prophets of Baal can light it or if God will light it.” And God says, “Cover the whole thing with water. Drench it in water. Make it such that there is no possible way of this turning into flame unless I am God.”

That’s what they’re doing here: “We’ll take a new cart, and we’ll take two milk cows—cows that have never been yoked and cows that have an understandable maternal instinct to look after their calves.” The calves now have been sequestered, and the cows are yoked up to the front of the cart. The test is very simple. The greater the difficulty, the greater the clarity, the greater the certainty. They thought that the God of Israel was responsible, but they weren’t certain, so why admit it without checking?

Well, what are the chances, then, of this happening? That’s the question that you have to ask yourself. You may not know a lot about cows, and neither do I, but I understand what I’m told here: that cows… Actually, I spent a month, I spent three weeks one summer as a boy on a farm on the Isle of Bute. It was a dairy farm. We spent three weeks instead of four, because it rained for every single day, and eventually we decided, “We’ve had enough. Let’s go home.” But I remember the sound of those cows. Twice a day, they were making what is described as the lowing noise, the “mooooo.” It’s like nothing else. That wasn’t a very good rendition. I understand. So, they make those noises because they’re saying, “Take care of this. Relieve me of this burden. I have produced all of this milk, and I need to get to the calves here, who will then be fed by this milk.” So, “Let’s take two that are in a situation that they almost inevitably would want to turn around and go back. And let’s take two that have never, ever led a cart anywhere at all.” And so they do. And the question is, “If they go straight, then we’ll know. And if they don’t, then we’ll know this was just coincidence, a chance universe.”

Verse 10: “The men did so, … took [the] two milk cows … yoked them to the cart … shut up [the] calves … put the ark … on the cart,” the box in the thing, and look at this: “And the cows went straight in the direction of Beth-shemesh along one highway, lowing as they went.” And then to make the point, they turn “neither to the right nor to the left.” Can you imagine when they sent them off? As the guy said to his friend, he says, “This is going to be amazing. Wait till you see this! They will turn around—I guarantee you they will turn around—within fifty feet.” And then he watches. “Well, I’ll tell you, they will not make it a hundred… There’s something going on here that I don’t quite get.”

And what I find quite wonderful is that “they turned neither to the right nor to the left, and the lords of the Philistines went after them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh.” Now, this is a seven-mile journey. They will eventually get to the foothills of the central mountain range, and the lords of the Philistines have the ignominy of having to walk behind this procession. Two calves, a new cart, an ark, their tumors, and off they go. “What are you doing?” “Well, we’re—we think it’s coincidence. We’re not sure, but I mean, we’ll find out eventually.” Well, they found out, didn’t they? Because look what happened. Straight as a die it went. Like the exodus, like the people coming out of Egypt, the ark emerges from the lands of the Philistines.

And “the cart came into the field of Joshua.” That’s verse 14. Joshua’s a famous name. Joshua, remember, led the people into the land after the exodus. And “a great stone was there”— obviously significant, because that’s mentioned again later on. And then look at what they did: “They split up the wood of the cart” and they “offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord.” Who are these people? Well, they’re the people in verse 13. They were “reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. And when they lifted up their eyes,” they “saw the ark,” and “they rejoiced to see it.” Because, you see, seven months previously, Phinehas’s widow had declared that the glory of God was gone: “Ichabod. It’s over!” You can see that at the end of chapter 4, verse 22: “The glory has departed from Israel, … the ark of God has been captured.” “We’re finished!”

Sometimes when you move around Christian people, they’ve got a kind of Ichabodian mentality. You’ll meet them. They’re always “Oh, you should have been around in the ’50s. Oh, you should have read the such-and-such an era. The whole thing is over. Look at us. Look at our predicament. We’re so small, we’re so ineffective,” and so on. “The glory of God is…”

Listen! God may just take two milk cows and a brand-new cart and do something significant. That’s the kind of God he is. He’s able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all we can ask or even imagine.[12]

And the cart stopped. How did it stop? This isn’t GPS. It just stopped! How’d the cows know when to stop? They stopped: “I guess we’re here.” Yes! Sacrifice.

The reapers rejoiced. Of course they rejoiced! And actually, we’re talking about it looking back to Egypt; it also looks forward to after the exile, remember, when they had been taken away in the Babylonian captivity, and all the people of God sat down, and they said, “You know, there’s no point in singing or doing any rejoicing, ’cause we’re in a foreign land.[13] It looks like the glory has gone. Everything is finished.” And then in the Psalms of Ascent, you have that wonderful 126th Psalm:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
 we were like those who dream[ed].
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
 and our tongue with shouts of joy.[14]

“The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the [people].”[15]

There’s only one way in which we escape the judgment of God, and that is because he has poured his judgment out on his dearly beloved Son.

And so, verse 16: “The five lords of the Philistines saw it,” and “they returned that day to Ekron.” Unlike Ruth, remember, the Moabitess, who didn’t return? You remember Naomi said to her, “Go back. Go back to the land where you came from. You’re not from here. You’ve had enough sadness in your life.” “No,” she said, “I won’t go back. I’ll go on with you. Your God will be my God. Your people will be my people. Where you die, I will die.”[16] But the five lords of the Philistines returned.

I wonder, did they talk on the way? They had to have talked on the way. One said to the other, “We captured the ark, we destroyed Shiloh, but we haven’t conquered God. Maybe there’s something in this.” You may be here today, and that’s exactly what you’re saying: “I haven’t resolved this, but maybe there’s something in this.”

“Who Is Able to Stand before the Lord?”

One final question. Incidentally, verses 17 and 18 give to us the details of the tumors and so on. And then in verse 19, it just comes right out of the blue, doesn’t it? Just when, if we were writing this story, we would say, “And the reapers all rejoiced, and then they had a big celebration party, and all the Israelites said sorry to God and lived happily ever after.” No. Verse 19: “And he”—that is, God—“struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the Lord.” You see, you don’t escape the judgment of God because you’re an Israelite. You don’t escape the judgment of God because of your heritage. There’s only one way in which we escape the judgment of God, and that is because he has poured his judgment out on his dearly beloved Son.

Now, at this point people get very concerned. We have the same conversation as last time: “Well, I don’t like the Old Testament God; I like the New Testament God,” to which we have to say, “It is the same God. It’s the same holiness. It’s the same law. It’s the same pattern.” We don’t know just in what way these characters looked at this ark. Commentators spend a long time on it, but they don’t really get you anywhere at all. Was it simply arrogance, indifference, irreverence? We don’t know. But the consequences are clear: and “seventy men of them” were struck down, and “the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great blow.” And then they said, “[Well,] who is able to stand before the Lord, [the] holy God?” and, you know, “To whom shall he go up away from us?”

In other words, they’re doing what we saw three weeks ago when Terry preached about the demoniac in the land of the Gerasenes. And remember they said, after Jesus had displayed his power and put the man all the way back together again in the dramatic evidence of his grace and goodness, they said, “Get Jesus outa here. Get him out of here.”[17] That’s exactly what they’re saying. Now they’re going to do with the ark what the Philistines were doing with the ark. They said, “We’ve got to get the ark out of here. Move it to Gath.”[18] “Move it! Send for the Kiriath-jearim people. Let them come down and get it.”

Well, you see, we can’t violate God’s plans and patterns without dealing with his judgments. The reason that we stumble with this, as many of us do, is because we have a wrong view of God. We have a God of our own invention, a domesticated God, an easygoing God, tolerant God, helpful, more interested in our happiness than our holiness. A God who likes us— people always say, “He likes me just the way I am.” Well, that’s not strictly true. He doesn’t love us as we are. He loves us despite what we are. Despite what we are. Says Matthew Henry, they “that will not fear his goodness, and reverently use the tokens of his grace, shall be made to feel his justice, and sink under the tokens of his displeasure.”[19]

Well, our time is gone. But what is the answer to this immense dilemma that is set up? Well, this is a wonderful opportunity for us to remind ourselves again that the Bible is a book about Jesus, that we lose our way around the Bible when we take our eyes off Jesus. How can we, as sinful men and women, as these were, end up in the eternal presence of the God who has made us for a relationship with himself? Answer: not on the strength of our being able to try and close the gap by our endeavors. Well then, how? How could you ever be “safe in the arms of Jesus”?[20]

Well, how about the man on the cross next to Jesus? By his own testimony a mess, guilty, deserving of all that came his way, and yet he said, “This man on the middle cross apparently does not deserve any of this. We’re getting what our sins deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.” And the hands that should discard him hold wounds that bid him come.[21] And so he says, “Lord, would you remember me when you come into your kingdom?” And he says, “Yeah. Not only then, but today you will be with me in paradise.”[22]

There is no refuge from God except the refuge that is found in God: that refuge which is provided in his dearly beloved Son to all who come to him in penitence and in faith.

“What shall we do?” “Why harden your hearts?” “Who can stand before a holy God?” The answer—all the answer—is wrapped up in Jesus.

Gracious God, write your Word on our hearts. Grant that that which is helpful may be retained; anything that is unclear, that it would be forgotten. May the words of my mouth, the meditation of our hearts, be found acceptable in your sight.[23] May we take refuge in your dearly beloved Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.

[1] R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Language modernized.

[2] Exodus 3:14 (paraphrased).

[3] Leviticus 19:2 (ESV).

[4] See, e.g., “Interview with Sinclair Ferguson, author of Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification,” interview by Fred Zaspel, Books at a Glance, October 25, 2016,

[5] See Ephesians 2:11–22.

[6] Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, “The Logical Song” (1979).

[7] David Brooks, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life (New York: Random House, 2019), 213. The opening quotation comes from Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 201.

[8] “Sherpa Climbs Everest Twice in a Week, Setting Record 24 Ascents,” BBC News, May 21, 2019,

[9] John Woodhouse, 1 Samuel: Looking for a Leader, Preaching the Word, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 114.

[10] Mark 11:2; Luke 19:30 (paraphrased). See also Matthew 21:2; John 12:14.

[11] See Matthew 27:59–60; Luke 23:53; John 19:41–42.

[12] See Ephesians 3:20.

[13] See Psalm 137:4.

[14] Psalm 126:1–2 (ESV).

[15] Psalm 33:10 (ESV).

[16] Ruth 1:11–13, 15–17 (paraphrased).

[17] See Matthew 8:34; Mark 5:17; Luke 8:37.

[18] See 1 Samuel 5:8.

[19] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (1706),

[20] Fanny Crosby, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” (1868).

[21] Keith and Kristyn Getty, “Beneath the Cross” (2005).

[22] Luke 23:39–43 (paraphrased).

[23] See Psalm 19:14.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.