“When the ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, 2 the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.”3 They answered, “If you return the ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.” 4 The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?” They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers.5 Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land. 6 Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way? 7 “Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up.8 Take the ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, 9 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 6.1-9
“Send the ark back to the Israelites. This was a hug mistake!” These essentially were the meaning of the discussion by the Philistine leaders to send back the ark of Israel’s god. The devastation upon the people from tumors and rat, ooh gross, was horrid. People were dying, getting sick, being terrorized by rats. The philistines stole the ark of God and now were paying the price. It was time to give it back,
The instructions are very thorough in how they are to return to ark. These instructions were given by their own priests and diviner’s who apparently understood something about sacrifice, offering and paying retribution. Tumor and rats formed out of gold were made and put on a cart in a box next to the ark. The ark was to be led by two cow who had never been yoked and pointed in the direction of Beth Shemesh. If the cart went back to Beth Shemesh then this punishment was from Israel’s god, if not, it was by chance.
Although the Philistines did the wrong thing in stealing the ark, they did the right thing in returning it. The curse of having the ark in their towns, and not knowing and obeying God, was too much to handle. It was time to return it to it’s rightful owner.
This is only the first half of the story of the ark’s return. Tomorrow we will read how the ark went back to the Israelites who themselves did not handle it correctly. Think of putting junior high boys on defusing a nuclear warhead. Not a good idea. Neither the philistines nor the common Israelites understood the respect and holiness of God. Know one fully understood His power to strike down, heal or restore his people.
This passage suggests the reverence with which we should treat the Lord and the honor due his name. God no longer requires animal sacrifice to appease his anger or for the remission of our sins. Today it is a matter of the heart and the spirit. The Lord is with us today and he watches every move we make. Every sin, every breath, every action good or bad. And we will be judged for what we do.
Why not draw close to the Lord, give your life to Jesus, obey the God who loves you deeply? Confess your past mistakes, return the ark to the Lord, repent of the old ways and allow the newness of His Spirit to wash over you and restore you to favor.
“O Lord God, you are good. It’s another Sunday during Covid season. A time when our world is suffering, hundreds of thousands if not a million have died from this sickness, disease and disaster. I don’t believe this Covid is punishment upon the earth, but in light of reading about the ark of God, I am not so sure it isn’t. Our nation, Lord, has strayed so far from you. Our sin has caused chaos. Our disobedience has consequences. Heal our land! Return today Lord Jesus! Come again soon. Help us turn back to you and make an offering of our hearts and lives to your service. I love you Lord and praise you name. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen