Reading in 1 Samuel the other day I read the story in chapters 4 through 7 where the ark was taken from Israel by the Philistines.
3 And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies. 4 So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. 5 And when the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again. 6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of the Lord was come into the camp. 7 And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore. 8 Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods? these are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness. 9 Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight.
—1 Samuel 4:3-9
The presence of the ark represented the presence of God. However, in this passage it seems that the focus is on the ark itself and not on the God of the ark.
In the next chapter the baby named Ichabod was born. His name means “the glory is departed.” His mother was the daughter-in-law of Eli, the priest who raised Samuel. When the baby’s mother learned that the ark was taken and that her husband and father-in-law were dead, she also died in childbirth. Spiritually and emotionally this was a tough time for Israel.
We don’t need to depend on a physical object that can be taken away from us to have God’s power and glory in our lives. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we have the presence of God with us at all times. It is a matter of acknowledging God’s presence and allowing Him to work in and through us.
Through the course of the story the Philistines were punished by the presence of the ark. They even gifted the ark to one of their enemies as a way of bringing God’s judgment on that nation as well. The enemy understood the awesome power of God even if the Israelites occasionally took God’s power for granted.