Reading: 1 Sam. 4:17-22.
The passage we have just read focuses our attention and holds it for some time and in a very definite way, on the ark. The wife of Phinehas calls the ark the 'glory' of Israel. In the incident of the capture of the ark, she says, "The glory has departed from Israel." If we keep our eyes upon the ark, we shall see the meaning of spiritual life and spiritual progress. It is always, wherever it is found, related to the matter of the full life of the people of God, and of course, in saying that, we are only saying: 'Christ'. If we are going to understand and know the meaning of spiritual progress, we must have our eyes on Him.
The Place of the Ark
When the ark, the glory, leaves Israel, it betokens the most serious decline of the people of God. That is seen everywhere. When the ark was in its spiritual place - that is, not just occupying a particular position literally, but occupying a place in the life of the people of God so that the ark and the people were spiritually one - progress on the part of the people was always discernible and certain. You remember it earlier in the wilderness. Their progress towards the land, that is, fulness, was always governed by the movements of the ark. Being in spiritual fellowship with what the ark meant - the glory of God - they could go forward; it was always onwards while that relationship was maintained. They came to Jordan, and there again it was the ark that governed the passage of Jordan, and they were in spiritual affinity and oneness with the ark and went through. Again at Jericho it is possessing, it is going up spiritually into the land, into heavenly fulness. Here the ark was once more governing, and they were in perfect adjustment to it.
Heart Union with the Glorified Christ
Transferring the type to the antitype, from the Old Testament to the New, let the Lord Jesus then take the place of the ark, the glory of God, and you notice when there is a right relationship to Christ as the glory of God, it means progress and enlargement. What a tremendous example of that we have on the day of Pentecost and in those first days - wonderful progress, wonderful advance, wonderful enlargement, because they are in true heart oneness with the glorified Christ, with the glory.
The Glory Departs Before Uncrucified Man
It just remains for the moment for us to note what that glory means. We can best understand it by considering first of all the spiritual state of Israel in those days of Samuel, and then the fact that the great menacing force was the Philistines. The Philistines were dominant at that time, and as you know, the Philistines represent the natural uncrucified man. They were called the "uncircumcised Philistines" (1 Sam. 17:26); that is, the cross had no place where they were concerned, the natural man was spreading himself, or the natural life was spreading itself over and interfering with the things of God. Whenever that is so, the glory is menaced; and when that becomes dominant, the glory departs. It is a simple truth, but clear for our perception. The cross, what Paul in his letter to the Colossians speaks of as "the circumcision of Christ" (Col. 2:11), "having been buried with Him in baptism", and so on, is the cross dealing with the natural man, not just the world (as the Egyptians represented), but the natural man coming into touch with and association with the things of God as represented by the Philistines, who are always invading the covenant realm and are always seeking to lay their hand upon the ark. It is some encroachment of the natural life into the realm which is wholly God's prerogative, God's right, God's place, and inasmuch as that is so, the glory departs.
Christ Utterly Separated from all Natural Influences
Turning round and looking at it from the other standpoint, from the standpoint of Christ, how completely, utterly, Christ was separated from all natural influences. Take the days of His life here on the earth, and see it illustrated in natural things. His mother would influence Him on natural grounds of consideration, but He repudiates that: "What have I to do with thee?" (John 2:4). His mother and His brethren stand without, asking for Him. He had probably no time for rest; perhaps this was solicitous for his physical well-being. It may have been that, if you look at the circumstances, but He said, "Who is My mother? And who are My brethren? ...Behold, My mother and My brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother, and sister, and mother" (Matt. 12:46-50). "That is what I have come for - to do the will of My Father", the natural circumstances are set aside, not allowed to interfere. You can trace that in many ways, as you know. Satan will, at the beginning, try to make Him serve Himself on the grounds of natural consideration. "Command that these stones become bread" (Matt. 4:3). From beginning to end, it is all that. "Come down from the cross, that we may see and believe" (Mark 15:32). But He refuses it, and allows the cross to keep the divide between what is of man and what is of God, and in so doing, the glory is preserved and maintained.
The Natural Life Must be Brought to the Cross
There are all those elements of the natural life which have to be brought to the cross if the glory is to be with us. How many things there are! It is left for us to ask the Lord whether this or that is a natural consideration, or even when we are not aware of it, are unconscious of anything definite, to have this understanding with the Lord, even every morning: 'Now, Lord, if today unconsciously, inadvertently, without realising what I am doing, I should be letting natural things come in, things of my own mentality, my own will or feelings, anything that comes up that is of the natural life that would veil the glory, speak to me about that.' The thing that matters is that the glory is present in order that there may be spiritual progress and no hold-up, no arrest.
The Main Features of Glory
The main features of glory are transparency, honesty, truth; nothing whatever that is double; all personal considerations mean that there are secondary motives, secondary considerations. When you come to the end of the Bible you see the end of God reached in the City, the new Jerusalem. It has the glory of God it says, and, "her light was like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal" (Rev. 21:11). Everything is transparent, pure, clear; there is nothing about this that is double. There is no deception, nothing misleading, nothing doubtful. It is right out in the open, perfectly true and honest, and that is the glory in its nature; it is the glory of Christ Who is the truth. You cannot catch Him anywhere with deception or subtlety. He is the truth, and therefore He is the glory.
Travail Over Departed Glory
It was not like that in Israel in the days of Samuel, and because it was not like that, the glory departed. The woman, the wife of Phinehas, was living in a home where everything was a contradiction of the testimony. Her husband was one of the vilest contradictions to the testimony in Israel in that day, and he was a part of a widespread state of things. The very family, even the old father Eli, his two sons, and all the things going on, were all a positive contradiction to the testimony, the ark. But she, in the midst of that, evidently had some very deep concern about the spiritual state of things, and in her last moments she embodied her own sorrow over the spiritual state in the child that was born. She called him Ichabod, for she said, "The glory is departed from Israel." That is travail over departed glory. But you see the conditions, the associations, when the glory departs. Death takes place; death enters in; tragedy is there.
Spiritual progress, a going on, means that there must be correspondence, there must be harmony between Christ and ourselves, between the glory and our own lives. That is the way. It means that everything that is contrary to the glory, to what the Lord Jesus is in nature, has to be brought to the Cross and dealt with, that the way may be kept open for going on. If you keep your eye on the ark, you will learn all the lessons of spiritual advance or spiritual arrest.