1 Samuel 6

1 Samuel 6

The Ark Returned to Israel

The ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months. And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us with what we shall send it to its place.” They said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why his hand does not turn away from you.” And they said, “What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?” They answered, “Five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines, for the same plague was on all of you and on your lords. So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you and your gods and your land. Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away, and they departed? Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. And take the ark of the LORD and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way and watch. If it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth-shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm, but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it happened to us by coincidence.”

The men did so, and took two milk cows and yoked them to the cart and shut up their calves at home. And they put the ark of the LORD on the cart and the box with the golden mice and the images of their tumors. And the cows went straight in the direction of Beth-shemesh along one highway, lowing as they went. They turned neither to the right nor to the left, and the lords of the Philistines went after them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh. Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. And when they lifted up their eyes and saw the ark, they rejoiced to see it. The cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh and stopped there. A great stone was there. And they split up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD. And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD and the box that was beside it, in which were the golden figures, and set them upon the great stone. And the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices on that day to the LORD. And when the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned that day to Ekron.

These are the golden tumors that the Philistines returned as a guilt offering to the LORD: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron, and the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both fortified cities and unwalled villages. The great stone beside which they set down the ark of the LORD is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh.

And he struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the LORD. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the LORD had struck the people with a great blow. Then the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God? And to whom shall he go up away from us?” So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the LORD. Come down and take it up to you.”


1 Samuel 6 Commentary

by Brad Boyles

7 months.

7 months of terror, suffering, and death. The Philistines experienced the white-hot flame of God’s fiery judgment. This was their encounter with the Living God because He will not share His glory. In a land of false religion, where men were clinging desperately to their own human creations of Him, His presence could not be constrained. Storming out of the gate like a gladiator entering the Coliseum, God confidently drew His sword against everything false in the land of the Philistines.

It is a travesty that some only know God in this way. For many, their experience with God is one of constant upheaval. He battles their sin as they clinch their hands and strain their muscles to hang on with every last ounce of energy. In the end, it comes down to a choice – let go of your sin or let go of the One True God. The Philistines chose the latter.

For the people of Israel who were mourning their choice to take the ark into battle, 1 Samuel 6 now brought grace. How could two cows who had never been yoked together walk in a straight line back to the Israelites? How could two nursing cows be eager to walk in the opposite direction of their calves? This is God’s grace. It is a place where we see the collision of our free will and His sovereignty. The cows were mooing for their young as they were being divinely led toward God’s glorious revelation.

The cows started off on the road to Beth Shemesh and headed straight toward it, without turning off the road. They were mooing as they went. The five Philistine kings followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh.

1 Samuel 6:12 GNB

Did the people of Israel deserve to have the ark back? Did they do anything to produce such a change? We cannot overlook the unmatched grace of God that never fails to meet us in our sorrow and drive us forward toward His greater plan of redemption. He is an unchanging God who ventures beyond time and space into the impossible realm that contradicts the physics of His own creation. He woos us back with His unmatched grace.

But there are some who try and venture into the impossible realm along with Him. After the ark had returned, some wondered about the hidden glory of God. Their prying eyes searched through God’s hidden place.

The LORD killed seventy of the men of Beth Shemesh because they looked inside the Covenant Box. And the people mourned because the LORD had caused such a great slaughter among them.

1 Samuel 6:19 GNB

What does this look like today? Many zealous Christians arrogantly venture into theological topics with opinions on God’s sovereignty, election, free will, heaven, and hell. It is a covenant box that, on some levels, exceeds the human mind, yet, many will waste no time opening up its contents and haphazardly regurgitating their human discoveries. There are places reserved for God alone. We must believe we can worship Him and appreciate His gifts without knowing everything He knows.

“…God has shown reserve in what He has revealed about them, so men ought to show a holy modesty in their manner of treating them. And even in the handling of sacred things generally, in the way of theological discussion, a want of reverence has very often been shown. It becomes us all most carefully to beware of abusing the gracious condescension which God has shown in His revelation, and in the use which He designs us to make of it. It was an excellent rule a foreign theologian laid down for himself, to keep up the spirit of reverence—never to speak of God without speaking to God.”

William Garden Blaikie

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