1 Samuel 6:1-12 God Remains Faithful Even When Man is Not
1 Samuel 6:1-12
Now the ark of the Lord had been in the country of the Philistines seven months. 2 And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we shall send it to its place.” 3 They said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty; but you shall surely return to Him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed and it will be known to you why His hand is not removed from you.” 4 Then they said, “What shall be the guilt offering which we shall return to Him?” And they said, “Five golden tumors and five golden mice according to the number of the lords of the Philistines, for one plague was on all of you and on your lords. 5 So you shall make likenesses of your tumors and likenesses of your mice that ravage the land, and you shall give glory to the God of Israel; perhaps He will ease His hand from you, your gods, and your land. 6 Why then do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? When He had severely dealt with them, did they not allow the people to go, and they departed? 7 Now therefore, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never been a yoke; and hitch the cows to the cart and take their calves home, away from them. 8 Take the ark of the Lord and place it on the cart; and put the articles of gold which you return to Him as a guilt offering in a box by its side. Then send it away that it may go. 9 Watch, if it goes up by the way of its own territory to Beth- shemesh, then He has done us this great evil. But if not, then we will know that it was not His hand that struck us; it happened to us by chance.” 10 Then the men did so, and took two milch cows and hitched them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home. 11 They put the ark of the Lord on the cart, and the box with the golden mice and the likenesses of their tumors. 12 And the cows took the straight way in the direction of Beth- shemesh; they went along the highway, lowing as they went, and did not turn aside to the right or to the left. And the lords of the Philistines followed them to the border of Beth- shemesh.
The Philistines supposed they have subdued the God of Israel by defeating Israel brought the Ark into their temple only to realize the havoc that would ensue in the next seven months. After coming to terms with the fact that they may never be able contain or manipulate God through the Ark, they decided to send it back to Israel accompanied by a guilt offering. Their custom of appeasing God with a guilt offering resonates with today’s idolatrous mindset among churchgoers in their attitude towards God. In this episode, God directs the Ark back into the land of Israel. It shows us that God is ever faithful towards His people despite their rebellion and sin. Even though man becomes unfaithful, but God remains faithful; for He is calling all to repent and to return to His Kingdom.
If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty; but you shall surely return to Him a guilt offering – The Philistines supposed that by giving a guilt offering, the God of Israel will be appeased. In their understanding, God could have been angry because they have removed Him from His land and people. They do not have the concept of sin and the holiness of God; they supposed that gods are like mortal men who can be appeased or manipulated through offerings of gold. Thus, they offered gold fashioned in the image of tumors and mice in their attempt to quench God’s wrath incurred by their offensive action. The Philistines perceive their gods as self-serving, devoid of love and holiness.
Why then do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts – It seemed that the lords of the Philistines harbored an initial intention to contain the God and Israel in order to use His power for their military exploits. However, the priests and diviners are attempting to persuade the lords to release the Ark back to Israel. Their mention of Egypt reveals their knowledge of the episode in Egypt and hence the consequences of keeping the Ark from returning to the Promised Land. They seemed to think that the plagues are a sign from God for the Ark to be returned to the land of Israel. That assumption bodes well in Israel’s favor and prevented the Philistines from taking further military campaigns against Israel, as destroying Israel completely would again incur the wrath of God!
Watch, if it goes up by the way of its own territory to Beth-shemesh, then He has done us this great evil – The priests and diviners persuaded the lords that govern Philistine to give a guilt offering that consists of images of tumor and mice made of gold intending to appease the God of Israel. They would place the Ark on a cart driven by two cows towards the direction of Israel. They postulated that if the Ark would head by way of Beth-shemesh until it reaches the territory, then it was indeed the God of Israel that brought the plague upon them. The Ark driven by the cows on a cart indeed headed towards Beth-shemesh. When it reached the field and stopped there, the people rejoiced to see it. There, they sacrificed to God in the presence of the Ark and the five lords of the Philistines having seen what happened returned to their place.
- All sins committed against fellowmen, regardless of its nature and severity incurs the judgment of God. Idol worshipers in general do not consider wrongdoings against fellowmen as sin or offences against their gods. Hence, the practice of sending the Ark back to Israel with a guilt offering carries no repentance or reverence towards God; they were devices intended to appease and quench His wrath. Many churchgoers, unfortunately harbor similar attitudes; they attend worship services in order to pay homage to God hoping that He would remember their needs and desires. But their hearts are far from His values systems being ensnared by greed, lust and pride. Their acts of worship without repentance are what Paul rightly termed as salvation by works and not by faith. However, true faith is expressed not by a guilt offering but by the offering of our bodies as a living sacrifice to do His will. Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2.
- It is clear by the diviner’s postulation that indeed God’s desire is for the Ark to be returned to Israel. The return of the Ark is evidence that God’s loyalty and faithfulness is firmly with His people. Though the people rejected Him and were unfaithful, but God’s love is constant regardless of man’s response towards Him. The Ark’s return and God’s faithfulness towards Israel probably etched deeply into the minds of the Philistine lords. They might even question why the God of Israel who is supreme in power wouldn’t have saved Israel from defeat in the first place? God is in fact using the Philistines to discipline the people He loves. God said to Israel who have rebelled against Him, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Jeremiah 31:3. Therefore, as God is faithful to Israel under the Old Covenant, God is faithful to believers today who are filled with His Spirit under the New Covenant. God for whatever reason may seem far away and life filled with insurmountable challenges, but our God who is faithful will deliver and save us from our troubles. Paul says, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24.
- Are your offerings to God purposed to appease Him or is it an expression of unreserved devotion towards Him? An offering of total devotion is one that flows out of a heart of joy and gratitude because of His forgiveness.
- Do you feel that God is far away from you and did not take an active role in your life? Perhaps, it is a mismatch of God’s expectations and yours. God do not intend to remove all of your problems, but He will certainly empower you through His Spirit to overcome them.
Dear Lord, I am grateful for the sacrifice of your life on the cross. I express my gratitude by dedicating my body as a living sacrifice for your purposes. I believe that you are present and actively working to overcome the hindrances along the way. Strengthen me as I wait for your salvation. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.