The last couple of studies have taken a look at a significant section of 1st Samuel in which God brings judgment upon Israel and dethrones the house of Eli.
God used the Philistines to accomplish this judgment, and placed Himself in a self-imposed exile by allowing them to capture the Ark when it was foolishly brought into battle by Israel.
Though the Philistines “think” they have captured Israel’s God, they were sorely mistaken as the LORD brings havoc upon them by destroying their religious system and causing an outbreak of severe plagues to come upon all the people.
This time, we see how the Philistines attempt to return the Ark.
What is striking in this section of Scripture is how the Philistines attempt to explain away the hand of God in humbling their nation.
I) The Inquiry (6:1,2)
After 7 months of plagues and judgment, the Philistines inquired of their diviners to find out how they should go about returning the Ark back to its place.
These “diviners” were like religious brokers, individuals who were suppose to know how to appease specific deities. Balaam was something of a “diviner.” Their job was based upon superstitious ideas, because they didn’t want to provoke Israel’s God inappropriately.
II) The Scheme (6:3-12)
These verses comprise the longest recorded speech in Scripture by the Philistines. In order to devise a proper way to deal with the Ark, they cooked up a scheme, based upon superstition, in order to deal with it.
First, they were not going to return it empty. The diviners claimed it must contain a trespass offering.
Two items were included as a “trespass offering:”
– Five gold tumors, which is sort of unknown what that was. Some suggest it may had been phallic images representing the diseased anatomy.
– Five gold mice (rats), quite possibly understood by the Philistines as the source of the plagues, or one of the many plagues they experienced.
The “five” of each item was meant to represent the total number of the Philistine lords who ruled the main cities.
It is interesting to note that the Philistines had knowledge of the Egyptian plagues and Israel’s plundering of that nation that happened a few hundred years previously. Oddly, they recognized the sovereign power of God; they just refused to submit.
Second, the diviners directed the Philistines to build a new cart and to load the Ark and the “trespass offerings” on to it.
Then they were directed to find two unique animals to pull it:
– Two milk cows, not cart oxen. Cows usually don’t pull carts.
– Two new mother cows. They would want to be with their calves.
– Cows that had never been yoked. The didn’t know how to pull a cart, but they also didn’t know how to pull together as a team.
It is as if the Philistines are setting this all up so as to fail. If the cows wander all over the place and the Ark doesn’t go back to Israel, then it was a chance occurrence that Dagon’s statue fell over and thousands of people were plagued.
III) The Return (6:13-19)
In spite of their best efforts to rig the return of the Ark, it was led back to a Levitical town called Beth Shemesh. Not only was it a Levitical town, it was also designated as a Kohathite town (1 Chronicles 6:54-59). The Kohathites were the family selected to maintain the holy furniture, which would include the Ark.
But even though there was great rejoicing at the return of the Ark, the people of Beth Shemesh were setting themselves up for judgment.
– Offered female cattle up as a sacrifice (they were only suppose to offer males (Leviticus 1:3).
– Celebrated with Festivities
– Looked into the Ark. No one was to look at the exterior of the Ark, let alone the interior.
The text says the Lord struck down 50,070 people, an unusually high number for this part of Israel. Commentators dispute the number to the point that many historic translations render the number in a variety of different ways.
The unusual figure of 50,070 could be explained as possibly two numbers. 50,000 people who died by the Ark during it’s sojourn for 7 months among the Philistines, and the 70 could be the number of people who died at Beth Shemesh for looking into the Ark. Also, the idea of the “LORD struck” may mean the people were hurt or plagued by God, not that they physically died.
IV) The Proclamation (6:20, 21)
Verse 20 sums up the dealing of God from Chapters 4-6, “Who is able to stand before this Holy God?” The obvious answer is that no one can.