1 Samuel 6
-For seven months the Ark had been with the Philistines, when they wisely decided to send it back and away from their regions. They called for priests and diviners asking what the proper method might be to send it to its place and away from them. These individuals informed them if they were to send away the Ark of the God of Israel, not to send it empty, but rather put a guilt offering in it. This would ensure healing, and they would have the knowledge as to why His Hand had not been removed from them. The guilt offering consisted of five golden tumors representing the five lords of the Philistines from Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron. The guilt offering also was to include five golden mice that ravaged their land. They were also instructed to give glory to the God of Israel with the hopeful expectation that perhaps He would ease His Hand from them, their gods, and their land (1 Samuel 6:1-5, 17). They were then warned not to harden their hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh had done when God severely dealt with them and released the captives that were His covenant people (1 Samuel 6:6).
-Instructions were further given by the priests and diviners to make a new cart and attach to this cart two milch cows who had never before had a yoke placed on them. The cows’ calves were to be separated and sent back home away from them. Then, they were to put the articles of gold, the guilt offering, in a box by the Ark’s side, which was to be placed on the new cart. When that was all set up, they were to send it away that it may go from them. The Philistines were told to “Watch, if it goes up by the way of its own territory to Beth-shemesh, then He (the LORD) has done this great evil. But if not, then we will know that it was not His Hand that struck us; it happened to us by chance (1 Samuel 6:7-9).” The natural thing for the cows to do would be to instinctively go towards their calves back home. It would be supernatural, an act of the Almighty, for them to go towards Beth-shemesh. The men of Philistia did everything prescribed, and released the cows with the cart, which held the Ark and the guilt offering. Ironically, they went straightway towards Beth-shemesh along the highway lowing as they went. They did not turn aside to the left or the right. The lords of the Philistines followed them with watchful eyes all the way to the border of Beth-shemesh now fully knowing this evil had come directly from a mighty God, the LORD of Israel (1 Samuel 6:10-12).
-Now when the people of Beth-shemesh, who were busy reaping their wheat harvest in the fields of the valley area, saw the Ark of the LORD coming back to them, they were extremely glad to see it. The cart came into the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite, and the cows stood there where there was a large stone. The Israelites broke down the cart and quickly made a burnt offering of the cows to the LORD as they rejoiced. The Levites took down the Ark of the LORD and the box that was with it, which held the articles of gold. These articles where placed on the large stone and more burnt offerings and sacrifices were made before the LORD that day. The lords of the Philistines observed all of this taking place, and returned to Ekron that very same day (1 Samuel 6:13-18).
-However, not all the news from this occurrence was positive in the land of Israel. God struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had illegally looked into the Ark of the LORD. God had clearly warned them in His Law not to ever do this (Numbers 4:20), but they presumed upon Yahweh to their detriment in their curiosity. 50,070 men were struck down by the LORD, which turned the rejoicing into mourning within the land. It was a great slaughter of magnitude proportions. This caused the men who were left in Beth-shemesh to declare, “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?” They decided to send messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, which was the closest major town north, to inform them that the Philistines had brought back the Ark of the LORD, and that they should come down and take it up to their city (1 Samuel 6:19-21).
-*Application* It is a dangerous thing to presume upon the LORD as we see in this instance. We should always take heed to His clear warnings. We cannot abuse the grace of God. Nothing happens by chance. This is another thing that we should glean from this episode. He is always in clear control, even of the animal kingdom, when He needs to make a point in fulfilling His appointed will.
Verse to Memorize: 1 Samuel 6:5