1 Samuel 6

The Ark Returns

The ark of the Lord was in the territory of the Philistines for seven months. The people wanted the ark gone but were unsure how to rid themselves of it without suffering further plagues and losses. The Philistines summoned their diviners so that they would return the ark the proper way and avoid more loss of life. The diviners determined that the ark must not return without a guilt offering for reparations and to abate the anger that was unleashed against them. The people are eager to provide the necessary offering and ask what is to be done for the God of the Israelites. They advise the people to offer five golden tumors and five golden mice symbolic of the plague they experienced on behalf of each of the lords of the Philistines. The hope was that God would withdraw his hand from them. These diviners adjured the lords not to act as Pharaoh and the Egyptians who would eventually relent after catastrophic losses. The Philistine example points to the historical reliability of the exodus. The Philistines knew of the harm done to them through the judgment of God. The diviners propose a method to determine whether the tragedy was simply a natural disaster, or whether it was due to the judgment of God. Two cows were separated from their calves, hitched to a new cart that had not been defiled by worldly labor, and the ark was placed on the cart. The Philistines placed a box to the side containing the guilt offering, and then the cows, the cart, the ark, and the offering were to be released to see where they would go. No force was to be used to keep them from returning to their calves; no guidance to be given what road to take and if they headed to Beth-shemesh, they would know that the plague was from God. As the Philistines watched, the cows headed straight for Beth-shemesh rather than turning back to their calves, lowing as they traveled and not turning to the left or right. The lords of the Philistines traveled with the cart as far as the border to ensure that no one tampered with the offering. The people of Beth-shemesh were working as they saw the unmanned cart approach from the distance. As it moved closer, they began to see the contents of the cart. It was the ark of God and the people rejoiced greatly. 


The cart came to rest in a field with a large stone. Beth-shemesh was a city for Levites or priests. The wood from the cart was split, and they offered the cows as a burnt offering. Although this may seem like a good idea, the Levites begin to show their lack of knowledge or disregard of the word of God. The law required that only male animals be used for burnt offerings and this disobedience would soon result in judgment. The Philistines watched from a distance until they were satisfied and then they returned to Ekron. A surprising turn takes place once the Philistine Lords depart. These priests made a fatal error in judgment when they looked into the ark of God. Because of their sin, God struck seventy men. This judgment was swift and decisive. The people are quickly reminded that no one can stand before the holiness of God. This city of Levites wanted to be rid of the ark just like the Philistines, so they sent messengers to Kiriath-jearim and asked them to take it.

Things To Consider:

  • How is faith sometimes confused with superstition?
  • Why do people struggle with guilt?
  • How is guilt removed?
  • What can we learn by the Philistines reference to Pharaoh and Egypt?
  • Where do you see God's sovereignty over creation?
  • How do religious people seek to rationalize God's commands today?
  • How can one be sincere and sincerely wrong?
  • Do you think we fear God's holiness? Why or why not?
  • Do you think we should fear God's holiness today? Why?