As Israel began a season of battle on the edge of the Promised Land, and indeed, throughout their struggle to take God's promise as their own, you see something very different on the battlefield. There are armies and commanders, trumpets and weapons, but there's also...the most holy thing.
It's the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark is the container built to hold the tablets that God sent from the mountain with Moses. It rests under the mercy seat, a throne surrounded by cherubim carved to mark the place where God judges His people with love and where He metes out another chance over and over and over again.
This Ark was supposed to be kept inside the Tabernacle. Not only inside the Tabernacle, but in the Most Holy Place - set completely apart to such a degree that even the priests very rarely see it. No one is allowed to touch this Ark. In fact, after it is captured and comes home to Israel, God strikes dead a man who reaches out to keep the Ark from falling to the ground and touches it.
It is most holy.
Strange, then, that we so often see this most holy thing accompanying Israel onto the battlefield. We often see them carrying it in front of them into war. We see them refusing to go to battle at all until the Ark arrives. This most holy thing, set apart in a most holy place, so holy that it cannot be touched, goes right out into the midst of blood and battle.
This is exactly how God works.
We think the most holy things are supposed to be kept away, tucked away. We think they are supposed to live in the halls of our churches, casting shadows through the stained glass and onto what can only be described as "church red" or "church purple" carpets. (If you know, you know.) We think that if we need something holy to encourage us, we have to go into a sanctuary to find it, into a set-apart place, far from the hustle and bustle and struggle of day-to-day life.
But watching Israel in battle reminds us that this is not true. This is not what God intended at all. Rather, God made His holy things - even His most holy things - to fight with us. He made them go to before us, even into the toughest places. God's most holy place is not a retreat, but a surge forward. God's holy things are not tucked away from the world, but marched right out into the middle of it.
God's holy things are made for war.
And we are all in the battle.