For seven months the Ark sat in Philistine territory as the people of Ekron were terrified to death. The consequences of moving the Ark had been dire in the past and the whole city of Ekron was being tormented by rats and tumors since the Ark had arrived.
The Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the LORD?1 Samuel 6:2
Fear Not Love is What Dictates Us
The priests warned them that they must not simply return the Ark but offer guilt offerings for the sin that had been committed against the God of Israel. Israel’s law had provisions for guilt offerings and perhaps the priests knew about it and thought of it as a way to pacify the God of Israel. They were to give five golden rats and five golden tumors that represented the plague that had struck their land. Having full knowledge of the destruction that fell upon the Egyptians because of their stubbornness, they did not want to take any chances and even the carriage that carried the Ark was pulled by the choicest cows. However, they wanted to test the God of Israel one more time to be sure that what had happened to them over the last one year was not a coincidence but the works of the King of Israel.
Send it on its way, 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.”1 Samuel 6:8-9
The cows carried the cart straight up towards Beth Shemesh with the Philistines following at a safe distance behind. It halted besides a large rock in the wheat fields. When the people of Beth Shemesh saw the Ark back in their territory, they rejoiced. The Levites carried the Ark and placed it on the large rock while the people offered the cows as a burnt offering. But on that day God struck down some of the people of Beth Shemesh who in the party mood let their curiosity take over them when they dared to look inside the Ark of the Lord.
We cannot come into the presence of God on our own. Only God can sanctify us and make us worthy to approach Him. That’s why He had sanctified a tribe of people to handle the Ark. Even for coming in His presence, we need God to sanctify us. We do not understand that there is nothing we can do to sanctify ourselves and neither did the people of Beth Shemesh thinking that God had killed in a random act of terror.
Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?”1 Samuel 6:20
Having committed an outrageous sin, the people blame God or their destiny for their misfortune. Similarly the people of Beth Shemesh could not see the fault in their actions but did not want to correct themselves. They did not want any part of the Ark in their town and they summoned people of Kiriath Jearim to come and carry the Ark away from their land. In essence there was difference in how the people of Philistines and the Israelites living in Beth Shemesh treated the Ark of the Lord.
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. The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim a long time—twenty years in all.1 Samuel 7:1-2
Looking back at the turmoil of the past year, the Israelites knew for sure that it was God who had miraculously brought their Ark back home. They turned back to the Lord as a result and committed their hearts to Him. The turmoils of our lives are what makes us even think of coming back to God. When problems come we run to Him with our tail between our legs promising to walk in His ways forever, but like Israel as soon as we find rest and comfort, we scheme of new ways to betray our Father. The Israelites put away all their gods and gave their loyalty to Yahweh, but a plot to overthrow their eternal king was soon to enter their minds.
The Israelites had gathered at Mizpah to offer burnt sacrifices when the Philistines attacked them again. The Lord intervened with a loud thunder throwing the enemy in a great panic. As a result the men of Israel were able to overpower the philistines and slaughtered them. God gave them an active demonstration of His protection over them. Throughout the life of Samuel God’s protection was over them as Israel did not need a king or an army to protect them but still choose to betray God.
However, when Samuel Grew old the people took this as an opportunity to try stage coup against both Samuel and God. Seeing that the sons of Samuel did not walk in the ways of the Lord, the elders of Israel approached Samuel to ask for a king so that they could have something common between them and their neighbors. God Himself did not punish Samuel for fathering corrupt children as He knew the heart of Samuel and his desire to wall in the way of the Lord. But the people saw this as an opportunity to betray God again as they were adamant in their demand for a Monarchy. Even after Samuel warned them of all the ills of having a mortal man rule over them, the Israelites continued to demand for a king.
When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”1 Samuel 8:21-22
And it happened just the way God had warned them that every ruler became more corrupt than his predecessor to the point that Israelites starting feeling like slaves in their own country (1 Kings 12). Israel had it good with God being their constant protector and their eternal king. But the desire to sin makes us abandon our walks with God in attempting to carve out our own paths.
- Why did God kill the people of Israel and not Philistines for the way they handled the Ark?
- Why did Israel want to be like other nations?
- Why did God give into their demands?