1 SAMUEL CHAPTER 6
Return of the Ark to Israel.
THE ARK SENT BACK TO BETH-SHEMESH. — V. 1. And the ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months, in the three cities of the Philistine territory which were named in the preceding chapter. V. 2. And the Philistines, as represented by their five lords, called for the priests and the diviners, all of whom were supposed to possess soothsaying power to reveal the counsel of the deity, saying, What shall we do to the ark of the Lord? What form of procedure was advisable in the circumstances? Tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place. They were especially anxious to find out what gifts of atonement must accompany the ark on its return in order that the plague might be stopped. V. 3. And they, the soothsayers, said, If ye send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty, without some expiatory gift; but in any wise return Him a trespass-offering, a sacrifice or gift to atone for their offense, to wipe out their debt; then ye shall be healed, and it shall be known to you why His hand is not removed from you; by the cure which the soothsayers expected to follow this course the people would learn that it was actually God's hand which was smiting them, a matter which the priests themselves were not yet quite ready to concede. V. 4. Then said they, What shall be the trespass-offering which we shalt return to Him? They answered, Five golden emerods and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines, which, in turn, agreed with that of the city-states in the federation; for one plague was on you all and on your lords. In suggesting five golden boils and five golden mice the soothsayers followed the ancient custom by which likenesses of the diseased parts were dedicated to the deity to whom the sickness was ascribed. V. 5. Wherefore ye shall make images, carved or engraved likenesses, of your emerods and images of your mice that mar the land; and ye shall give glory unto the God of Israel, confessing that the plagues with which they had been smitten had been laid upon them in justice; peradventure He will lighten His hand from off you, by causing the punishment to stop, and from off your gods, and from off your land, the burden of the chastisement thus being taken from their entire nation. Still they are careful to speak conditionally, in order to have an excuse if their plan should fail. V. 6. Wherefore, then, do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts, Ex. 7, 13? When He had wrought wonderfully among them, carried out His avenging purpose upon them, did they not let the people go and they departed? Cp. Ex. 12, 31 ff. The Philistines were urged to profit by the example of the Egyptians, not as a matter of conviction or of confession of the true God, but of expediency, the God of Israel apparently being the stronger God, who therefore had to be humored. V. 7. Now, therefore, make a new cart, take and prepare in the proper manner, and take two milch kine on which there hath come no yoke, cp. Deut. 21, 3, and tie the kine to the cart, hitching them before the cart to draw it, and bring their calves home from them, holding them back in the barn; v. 8. and take the ark of the Lord, and lay it upon the cart; and put the jewels of gold which ye return Him for a trespass-offering, the five golden boils and the five golden mice, in a coffer, a small chest, by the side thereof; and send it away that it may go, giving the strange draft-animals their head. Only such things were to be used as had not been desecrated by profane use, in order to show proper honor to the dreaded God of Israel. V. 9. And see, if it, the cart as thus prepared, goeth up by the way of his own coast to Beth-shemesh, within the territory of Israel, then He, the God of Israel, hath done us this great evil; but if not, then we shall know that it is not His hand that smote us; it was a chance that happened to us. The crafty priests of Dagon, who feared for their prestige, had purposely specified cows with calves, since it was probable that their instinct, their natural impulse, would tend to make them turn back to their stalls, unless a higher power restrained them, compelling them to take the road to Beth-shemesh and hold it. V. 10. And the men did so; and took two milch kine, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home; v. 11. and they laid the ark of the Lord upon the cart and the coffer with the mice of gold and the images of their emerods. V. 12. And the kine took the straight way to the way of Beth-shemesh, headed directly for the highway leading to the nearest city of Israel, just beyond the boundary, and went along the highway, keeping to the road, lowing as they went, because they wanted their calves, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left, made no attempt to go back to their stalls; and the lords of the Philistines went after them unto the border of Beth-shemesh, to find out where the animals would take the ark. It was evident that the living God directed the course of the cart, and that it was He who had sent the punishment upon the Philistines. It may well be that this realization caused at least some of the Philistines to turn to the true God. Thus many a national calamity has, in the hands of God, been a means of making people realize their sinfulness and turn to the living God for their salvation.
THE ARK ACCEPTED, BUT THE PEOPLE SLAIN. — V. 13. And they of Beth-shemesh, which was a city set aside for priests on the boundary between Judah and Dan, Josh. 15, 10; 21, 16, were reaping their wheat-harvest in the valley, about the beginning of June; and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it, very much pleased to know that it had been returned to Israel. V. 14. And the cart came into the field of Joshua, a Beth-shemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone, the cows came to a halt there of their own free will; and they, the inhabitants of the city, clave the wood of the cart and offered the kine a burnt offering unto the Lord. V. 15. And the Levites, who also were living in the city, took down the ark of the Lord, had taken it down as soon as they received news of the joyful happening, and the coffer that was with it, wherein the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone; and the men of Beth-shemesh, in a second sacrificial act, offered burnt offerings, thus consecrating themselves anew to the service of the Lord, and sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto the Lord, the sacrificial meals being intended to renew their fellowship with Jehovah, who had proved Himself such a mighty God, the only true Lord. V. 16. And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, being witnesses of this revelation of the God of Israel, they returned to Ekron the same day, having followed the instructions of their priests. V. 17. And these are the golden emerods which the Philistines returned for a trespass-offering unto the Lord, as expiatory gifts: for Ashdod one, for Gaza one, for Askelon one, for Gath one, for Ekron one, these being the five city-states of the Philistines; v. 18. and the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fenced cities and of country villages, every city and town in the five states thus being represented by a figure, evidently because the plague of the mice had extended over the entire country, even unto the great stone of Abel, that mighty attar like ledge in the field of Joshua, whereon they set the ark of the Lord; which stone remaineth unto this day in the field of Joshua, the Beth-shemite, a mute witness and monument of the event as here recorded. V. 19. And he, God, smote the men of Beth-shemesh, because they, overcome by a blasphemous curiosity, had looked into the ark of the Lord, in a manner which did not agree with the holiness of Jehovah, to whom the ark was dedicated, even He smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men. And the people lamented because the Lord had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter 2) Apparently the presence of the ark attracted a great many sightseers from the entire surrounding country, who came with anything but a reverent mind and were therefore punished by Jehovah. V. 20. And the men of Beth-shemesh said, Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? And to whom shall He go up from us? They were afraid to keep the ark in their own midst after the great tragedy had occurred. V. 21. And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjath-jearim, a city of Judah somewhat farther to the east, saying, The Philistines have brought again the ark of the Lord; come ye down and fetch it up to you. The Beth-shemites felt that they were no better than the men who had been killed, and they dreaded a recurrence of the tragedy. All those who dare to draw near to the means of grace, the Word and the Sacrament, with fleshly minds, with sacrilegious hearts, will receive no blessing, but only God's judgment and condemnation.