THE ARK RETURNED
Heavenly Father, you are the potter and I am the clay. Give me a supple, responsive soul to your shaping hands.
Read 1 Samuel 6:1 – 7:1
The Ark Returned to Israel
6 When the ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, 2 the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.”
3 They answered, “If you return the ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.”
4 The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?”
They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers. 5 Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land. 6 Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?
7 “Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up. 8 Take the ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, 9 but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.”
10 So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. 11 They placed the ark of the Lord on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. 12 Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh.
13 Now the people of Beth Shemesh were harvesting their wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they rejoiced at the sight. 14 The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and there it stopped beside a large rock. The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. 15 The Levites took down the ark of the Lord, together with the chest containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. On that day the people of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the Lord. 16 The five rulers of the Philistines saw all this and then returned that same day to Ekron.
17 These are the gold tumors the Philistines sent as a guilt offering to the Lord—one each for Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron. 18 And the number of the gold rats was according to the number of Philistine towns belonging to the five rulers—the fortified towns with their country villages. The large rock on which the Levites set the ark of the Lord is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh.
19 But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy[a] of them to death because they looked into the ark of the Lord. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the Lord had dealt them. 20 And the people of Beth Shemesh asked, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?”
21 Then they sent messengers to the people of Kiriath Jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the Lord. Come down and take it up to your town.” 7 1 So the men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord. They brought it to Abinadab’s house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the Lord. 2 The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim a long time—twenty years in all.
Samuel Subdues the Philistines at Mizpah
Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord.
- 1 Samuel 6:19 A few Hebrew manuscripts; most Hebrew manuscripts and Septuagint 50,070
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘Be holy, for I am holy.’1 Reflect on this command as you enter God’s presence.
The hesitation to return the Ark during seven months of dithering was understandable. It would have been seen as an acknowledgement of the power of Israel’s God – not something the Philistines wanted to admit. In the end, they fixed on a way of sending it back without any need for embarrassing human contact, along with a good attempt at reparation: a ‘guilt offering’ featuring the strong link between the tumors and the rats (v 4). Evans describes it as a masterstroke. It was a recognition that God could find his own way back, even overruling the natural desire of the cows to return to their calves, while allowing for the possibility that he wasn’t the cause of their troubles.2
The rejoicing of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh was cut short. Despite offering a sacrifice, they had clearly not yet understood. The Ark was not a trophy of victory. Curiosity killed the cat – and in this case it was those who were curious to see what was inside the Ark who died (v 19). They had ignored the regulations about how to treat the Ark as holy;3 their fundamental attitude was unchanged and they needed to learn something about submitting to God’s ways rather than trying to force him into theirs. So the Ark makes another journey, but this time the people of Kiriath Jearim do the right thing (7:1).
How can we treat the things of God as holy, without being superstitious? Does the answer lie in our inner attitudes, rather than our outward observances? It’s a question to ponder in the light of your own church’s approach to worship.
Lord, may we never forget that you are holy and require holiness in your followers. Help us to get it right.
Lord, I want to respond sensitively to cultural challenges. Help me see your lordship in these difficult matters.
1 See Lev 11:44; 1 Pet 1:15,16 2 Mary Evans, The Message of Samuel, IVP, 2004, p48 3 Exod 40
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