It surprised me. I stopped my vehicle, staring at the unforgettable sign. This was my introduction to Covington County, Alabama, which is about an hour north of the Gulf Coast. Immediately, I called my friend Jenny.
“Buy – Sell – Crack,” I said, reading the sign aloud. Jenny represents juvenile drug dealers who sell crack cocaine.
“They’re going to get into trouble,” she said.
“You don’t understand, Jenny. This isn’t a little ad.” I kept driving, staring at the next Buy-Sell-Crack sign and the next. “They’re everywhere. Here’s one that’s billboard size.”
“They’re really in trouble!”
“Jenny, have you seen the news. Maybe crack has a medicinal use.”
“No it doesn’t!”
“Then how do you account for these signs everywhere?”
“They’re all going to jail. Are you in a ghetto?”
“Not exactly.” I stared at the beautiful churches and rolling green acres—a picture-perfect pastoral setting.
“Maybe it’s for cancer patients.” I scratched my head. “Like marijuana. Maybe it helps with pain.” Still, why hadn’t I known this?
“Get out of there!” she said.
I thought again about the news, realizing I also hadn’t seen it that morning.
“This has just been decided,” I thought, then frowned. The signs didn’t look new.
About that time, I passed a business named “Covington Pecan” and read their sign: “We buy, sell, and crack pecans.”
As it turns out, every ten feet of Covington County, Alabama, has a pecan tree.
Jenny will tell you her juvenile drug dealers are devoted entrepreneurs. They’d have spotted the first sign and jumped onto the next street corner, waving their crack packets, shouting, “Buy, sell, crack. Right HERE!”
In short order, the Covington County sheriff would have had them in the back of a cruiser. They’d scream at their lawyer, “Innocent misunderstanding!” Jenny hears that a lot.
No doubt, some 3,000 years ago, a nation of people shouted those same words at God. They were just as guilty.
It seems the Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant—a gold-covered, wooden chest holding Moses’ stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Two angels of gold rested on top of the chest, facing one another.
The Ark was so holy that God’s people couldn’t touch it. Instead, they slid two poles through rings along each side of the Ark and carried it that way. This was Israel’s most holy possession, and the situation was so devastating that when God’s priest learns of the loss, it kills him.
Initially, the Philistines are pleased as punch, as happy as any drug dealer wandering through Covington County, spotting crack signs. But the mighty Philistines are in big trouble.
They place the Ark beside their god Dagon and awaken to find Dagon lying flat on his face before the Ark. Immediately they right their god. The next day, they awaken to find Dagon not only lying in the dust, but with his head and hands severed.
Sort of gives you the shivers!
But the Philistines don’t get it—they ignore these warnings. After seven months of plagues, the Philistines recall the Egyptian plagues and put two and two together. Their priests warn the people, “Why should you harden your hearts... as the Egyptians hardened theirs?”
The Philistines promptly send the Ark back with a box of gold to make amends. Like I said, you know they were shouting “Innocent misunderstanding!”
At that time the Philistines were more powerful than the Hebrews, and God’s people had no hope of regaining their sacred treasure. Not until God stepped in, and that made all the difference. 1Samuel 4-7
If you’re facing something that feels overwhelming, reach out to God. As surely as God fought for his people thousands of years ago, He can fight for you.
But be forewarned—why did Israel lose the Ark in the first place?
When Israel marched into battle against the Philistines, the Hebrews weren’t right with God. They lost the Ark because they refused to honor Him. 1Samuel 7:3-4
Don’t make that mistake. Words can have different meanings, but there is no misunderstanding the Ten Commandments. Honor them, and God will be there for you as He's been for the faithful all across the pages of the Bible.
Copyright ©2017-2019 R. A. Mathews The Rev. R. A. Mathews is a national freelance faith columnist, attorney, and the author of “Reaching to God.” She can be reached at letters@RAMathews.com