May 27, 2023
“The Philistines summoned the priests and the diviners and pleaded, 'What should we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we can send it back to its place.'”
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“The Philistines summoned the priests and the diviners and pleaded, ‘What should we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we can send it back to its place.’ They replied, ‘If you send the ark of Israel’s God away, you must not send it without an offering. You must send back a restitution offering to Him, and you will be healed. Then the reason His hand hasn’t been removed from you will be revealed.’” 1 Samuel 6:2-3 (HCSB)
Israel was in a season of its history where personal relationships with the Lord had been replaced with rote devotional elements, offering sacrifices at the appointed times and in the prescribed ways. As a result, their understanding of the Lord (and His national relationship with Israel) had become distorted. This led to Israel’s defeat by the Philistines and resulted in the Philistines capturing the Ark of the Covenant.
With the Ark in “captivity,” the Philistines became aware that the Lord was stronger than all their gods. In the narrative is a glint of God’s great plan of salvation, for the God of Israel stooped to reveal Himself to the enemies of Israel, to non-Hebrew people. He gave a pre-Messianic glimpse of His willingness to bring the nations to repentance. In this account (like that of Jonah), God was inferring that He would someday bring near many who are far off through the blood of Messiah Jesus. (Ephesians 2:13)
This is a moment of truth for the Philistines. Would they surrender their gods and worship the Lord alone? That was, no doubt, God’s desire. No, they decided to send Him away. Instead of tapping into His power, they sought to distance themselves from it.
Much later, in the New Testament, the Gerasenes will try the same solution. They will be afraid of the power of Jesus that restored people and destroyed pigs. The only option they will see is to beg Jesus to leave. (Mark 5:1-20) No self-examination. No searching of hearts. The Lord – and His power – must be removed.
By the end of chapter 6, Israel isn’t faring much better than the Philistines with the Ark’s return. Some of the men of Israel rejoiced while others were indifferent. These were those who sought the Lord’s proximity purely for what it could do for them. Once Israel had been defeated and the Ark captured, God ceased to be of use to them. For their attitude and lack of repentance, they were stricken. **Some translations may vary, so read the fine print notes.
“God struck down the men of Beth-shemesh because they looked inside the ark of the Lord. He struck down 70 men out of 50,000 men. The people mourned because the Lord struck them with a great slaughter. The men of Beth-shemesh asked, ‘Who is able to stand in the presence of this holy Lord God? Who should the ark go to from here?” I Samuel 6:19-20 (HCSB)
The absence of ‘Godly fear’ signifies an absence of the knowledge of God. We read the Bible to KNOW the Lord, so that we are neither indifferent, nor too afraid to draw close to Him. (Hebrews 4:16)
©Steve Wiggins 2021