“Now the people of Beth Shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley; and they lifted their eyes and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it. Then the cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and stood there; a large stone was there. So they split the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord.” 1 Samuel 6:13–14
The cities of the Philistines had been grievously afflicted for more than half a year because they had dared to take captive the Ark of the Covenant. Now they’ve decided to return it, but how should they do it? For advice in answering this question they called together their priests and diviners.
The first piece of advice they were given was that they shouldn’t send back the Ark without gifts. They were advised to send gifts of gold. Five golden rats and five golden tumors. The tumors were made to look like the tumors God had sent to afflict the Philistines.
At this point the priests and diviners sagely recommended that they not do what the Egyptians had done, hardening their hearts against God when he sent his plagues upon them to compel Pharaoh to let his people go.
After this they advised that a new cart be made and the Ark placed upon it. To this cart two milk cows should be hitched, and their calves taken from them. A chest containing the golden rats and tumors should be placed upon the cart and the cows then released.
All this was done and as soon as the cows were released they began pulling the Ark, without any visible guide, back toward Israel.
The Philistine lords followed the Ark as far as the border of Beth-Shemesh and when they had seen the people of Beth-Shemesh take the Ark and place it upon a large rock and cut up the cart and sacrifice the cows in praise to God for the return of the Ark they returned to the city of Ekron.
It might have been understandable if the Philistines had, in their curiosity about the Ark, opened it and explored its contents but so great was their fear of God that they did not. The people of Beth-Shemesh, including the Levites who were said to have been there, did not have the Philistines ignorance of God’s instructions to excuse them, and still Samuel records that they opened the Ark.
For their presumption and sacrilege God struck to people of Beth-Shemesh and slew fifty thousand and seventy men.
You may had heard the saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” In this case it can definitely be said that familiarity with God, his power and his ways did not beget the reverence and respect he was due.
Too often we’re not any better. We know God is Holy and that is house is sacred and still we’re careless about how we treat it and him. To many of us show up late when we come to worship and while we’re there talk about anything and everything in his house during the time set aside for worship.
Our knowing God should lead us to love and reverence him more, serve him better, and worship him more faithfully. O God Help us love you better.