“So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves.11 They placed the ark of the Lord on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. 12 Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh. 13 Now the people of Beth Shemesh were harvesting their wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they rejoiced at the sight. 14 The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and there it stopped beside a large rock. The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. 15 The Levites took down the ark of the Lord, together with the chest containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. On that day the people of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the Lord. 16 The five rulers of the Philistines saw all this and then returned that same day to Ekron. 17 These are the gold tumors the Philistines sent as a guilt offering to the Lord—one each for Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron. 18 And the number of the gold rats was according to the number of Philistine towns belonging to the five rulers—the fortified towns with their country villages. The large rock on which the Levites set the ark of the Lord is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh. 19 But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy[a] of them to death because they looked into the ark of the Lord. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the Lord had dealt them. 20 And the people of Beth Shemesh asked, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?” 21 Then they sent messengers to the people of Kiriath Jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the Lord. Come down and take it up to your town.” 1 Samuel 6.10-21
The reading for today is somewhat tedious and confusing. The ark of God was returned to the Israelites, who with their priests did everything in there power to honor the Lord. They used the wood from the cart for the fire and sacrificed the cows to the Lord. But seventy of the Israelites looked into the ark of the Covenant and were killed there on the spot. The text tells us “the people mourned because of the heavy blow the Lord had dealt them.” And so the people of Beth Shemesh asked the people of Kiriath Jearim to come and take the ark.
All that work, all that effort, all that sacrifice and people still die. How could they be so foolish? Wouldn’t the priests know not to allow the people to look into the ark? And who would look anyway? Prideful men and women, curious children, greedy leaders? I imagine some who looked were innocent while others were looking for their own gain, position or power.
But God is not a God to be trifled with. He is majestic. He rules the earth and the seas. He is not a person that he can be dealt with as a human. He is God. And reverence must be showed to the Lord. What happened at Beth Shemesh was painful, but who is to blame? Is it the Lord who has instructed his people for millennia or the people who by natural impulse do stupid things in his presence?
I remembered one day when I was working in Nashville at a publishing company during a summer internship during Baylor. I was working for Wolgemuth and Hyatt as a lowly assistant, learning about publishing and living it up in the music city. One day at work my cousin instructed me to do a task and said I could use Mike Hyatt’s office, the co-owner of the company and the CFO. You know where this is heading! I went in and was working in his office, at his desk, when Mr. Hyatt comes through the door. His questioning gaze was all I need to pack my things and vacate the bosses’ office. I was where I did not belong and we both knew it. I was embarrassed to say the least.
The Israelites who looked inside the ark had no authority to do so. This was not their place. In Exodus 33.20, God tells Moses says, “But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” The Lord’s Presence was going to pass by but the Lord hid Moses in the clef of the rock so he would live. Why would commoners think they could look upon God’s Presence in the ark and live? It makes no sense.
This brings me to the point of this message — revere the Lord, know your place, honor Him as holy and sovereign. We who are sinful people can only approach the “throne of grace” through the blood and covering of Jesus. When we approach God in prayer, we do so in Jesus name. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we receive this gift because of the sacrifice of Jesus who made God accessible to all.
Let us live by honoring the Lord, showing him proper respect and reverence. Let us remember that He is the Lord and He is God over all things.
“O Lord God, it was a tragic day for the Israelites in Beth Shemesh. It was a solid lesson for all of us coming after. Today we are not in danger of looking into the ark of the Covenant, but we are to be cautious that we do not blasphemy the Holy Spirit or take the Lord’s name in vain. You are the Creator, Sustainer, Life-giver and Savior of the World. We must treat you with respect and adore your holy name. Come now, Holy Spirit, I give myself to your work and your will. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen