The Ark of the Covenant Is Captured and Returned

1 Samuel 6:1-7:2

After the Israelites were defeated in battle by the Philistines between Aphek and Ebenezer, the elders of Israel chose to bring the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh to the battle to ensure victory. But the Philistines defeated them again and captured the Ark. They carried it to Ashdod and placed it in the temple of Dagon. But while the Ark was there, the Lord destroyed the idol of Dagon and afflicted the people with tumors, so they sent the Ark to Gath. Again the Lord afflicted the people of Gath with tumors, so they sent the Ark to Ekron, where the same thing happened again. After seven months with the Ark, the Philistines returned the Ark along with a guilt offering of five gold tumors and five gold rats in the hopes that the afflictions would cease. They placed the Ark on a new cart hitched to two milk cows, which pulled the cart to the town of Beth-shemesh. Then Israelites came and took the Ark to Kiriath-jearim, where the Ark stayed for twenty years.

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Tribal Allotments of the Promised Land

After the Israelites had conquered portions of the Promised Land and Joshua had grown old, the Lord directed him to divide the rest of the land among the tribes of Israel as their inheritance (Joshua 13-20). The eastern tribes had already been allotted their land under Moses’ leadership (Numbers 32), but they continued to help the other tribes drive out the Canaanites from land west of the Jordan River. The Lord also instructed the Israelites to designate several cities of refuge, where someone could flee for protection from an avenger if they accidentally killed someone (Numbers 35; Joshua 20).

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Herod’s Building Projects

Many people are aware that Herod the Great, who ruled over Palestine in the decades leading up to Jesus’ birth, was a very wicked ruler. Over time he grew extremely paranoid that people were seeking to overthrow him (which was probably often true), and eventually he killed his wife and three of his sons. He also tried to kill the newborn Jesus after hearing that a rival king had been born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2). At the same time, however, Herod was arguably the most prolific builder of anyone who has ever ruled over the region. It is likely that the primary reason for Herod’s ambitious agenda was twofold: 1) to ingratiate himself to the Romans, to whom he dedicated many of his projects, and 2) to promote stability in the region and protect himself against rebellion. Herod built numerous structures in Jerusalem, in many towns throughout his kingdom, and even in cities far beyond Palestine, such as Antioch of Syria. In Jerusalem he completely renovated and expanded the Temple of the Lord, built a lavish palace for himself, and built various pools, public buildings, and citadels (including the Antonia Fortress). Elsewhere he built Roman administrative buildings, aqueducts, and pagan temples, and he fortified several desert refuges for himself, including the fortress of Masada.

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Macedonia

Though the region of Macedonia in northern Greece was located nearly a thousand miles from Jerusalem, it had an indirect impact on the events of the New Testament and the ministry of the apostle Paul. Macedonia is never directly mentioned in the Old Testament, which came to a close with nearly the entire world of the Bible–including Macedonia and Israel–under the rule of the vast Persian Empire. But about a hundred years later (in 356 B.C.) Alexander the Great was born in the Macedonian town of Pella, and within 33 years he conquered virtually the entire Persian Empire. Over time, however, much of Alexander’s empire, including Macedonia, came under the rule of Rome. The Romans built many reliable roads throughout their empire to greatly improve long-distance travel. One of these roads was called the Egnatian Way, and it passed through several towns in Macedonia visited by the apostle Paul in the New Testament as he established churches in Philippi and Thessalonica (Acts 16-17).

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Mahanaim and Peniel

One of the most significant biblical locations that few Bible readers would recognize is the site of the twin fortresses of Mahanaim and Peniel. During the Old Testament these fortresses stood on opposite sides of the Jabbok River and guarded an important road leading from southern Gilead to the roads of the Jordan River valley. They are first mentioned as the place where Jacob camped and wrestled with the man of God as Jacob anxiously prepared to meet his brother Esau (Genesis 32). Gideon tore down a tower at Peniel after the people there refused to help him while he was pursuing the Midianites (Judges 8). Later Mahanaim is mentioned as the headquarters of Saul’s son Ish-bosheth as he competed with David for control over the kingdom of Israel (2 Samuel 2). David eventually gained control over all Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-5; 1 Chronicles 11:1-3), but he himself had to flee to Mahanaim after his son Absalom staged a rebellion in Hebron and Jerusalem (2 Samuel 13-18). Finally, Peniel became one of the first capitals of the northern kingdom of Israel after the northern tribes rebelled against the southern tribe of Judah (1 Kings 12:1-25). Later the northern kingdom moved their capital to Samaria (1 Kings 16:24).

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