1 Samuel Chapter 6

The ark of the covenant was lost to the Philistines during a battle in Eben-ezer. The Philistines had taken it as a spoil of the battle, but when then returned to Ashdod, and placed it next to the idol of their god, Dagon, the idol was destroyed and their people began to be afflicted with a plague and destruction. After this destruction was brought upon three different cities in which they had tried to place the ark, it was decided that they needed to get rid of it to save their people. This account continues with the following:

1 And the ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months.
2 And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, What shall we do to the ark of the Lord? tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place.
3 And they said, If ye send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty; but in any wise return him a trespass offering: then ye shall be healed, and it shall be known to you why his hand is not removed from you.
4 Then said they, What shall be the trespass offering which we shall return to him? They answered, Five golden emerods, and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines: for one plague was on you all, and on your lords.
5 Wherefore ye shall make images of your emerods, and images of your mice that mar the land; and ye shall give glory unto the God of Israel: peradventure he will lighten his hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land.
6 Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed?
7 Now therefore make a new cart, and take two milch kine, on which there hath come no yoke, and tie the kine to the cart, and bring their calves home from them:
8 And take the ark of the Lord, and lay it upon the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which ye return him for a trespass offering, in a coffer by the side thereof; and send it away, that it may go.
9 And see, if it goeth up by the way of his own coast to Beth-shemesh, then he hath done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that smote us; it was a chance that happened to us.

The Philistines moved the ark away from their cities and into the country, where it stayed for seven months. They sought guidance from their priests and diviners to know where they should put the ark. They decided that they should return the ark, but if they were to send it to the Israelites, they needed to do it along with an offering to the Israelite god, so that the Philistine land could be saved of the curse placed upon them. They asked their priests what they should give as an offering, and they were told to give golden images of the plagues that had been placed upon them. This was in hopes that it would be a tribute to God, who would then lighten the curse.

The diviners told them not to be like pharaoh of Egypt, who did not do what was necessary once he saw relief from a curse from the Israelite God. I think that sometimes we can unwisely fall into this trap ourselves. When times are hard, it is easier to remember the Lord and turn to Him. Some of us may even make promises to God that we will make some kind of change to be free of our trials and adversity. Then, when we are blessed with relief from that difficulty, we do not feel the need to follow through on the promises we make, or continue as changed people. The Lord will hold us accountable for those choices and promises we make. We should not be like the pharaoh of Egypt, because once he went against his promise to Moses and the Israelites, God sent another, more difficult plague to afflict his people. Our consequences for breaking promises, or covenants, will be much greater than the trials we may have experienced in the first place.

The diviners and priests told the Philistines to place the ark on a new cart carried by two unburdened milking cows, along with the golden images they were to make. Then they were to let it go and see if it would return into the borders of Israel through Beth-shemesh. If if did not, they would take it as a sign that the plagues had been brought upon them by chance, not by the god of Israel. If it did go directly into the Israelite land, they would know that the god of Israel had brought these things upon them.

10 And the men did so; and took two milch kine, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home:
11 And they laid the ark of the Lord upon the cart, and the coffer with the mice of gold and the images of their emerods.
12 And the kine took the straight way to the way of Beth-shemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them unto the border of Beth-shemesh.
13 And they of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley: and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it.
14 And the cart came into the field of Joshua, a Beth-shemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they clave the wood of the cart, and offered the kine a burnt offering unto the Lord.
15 And the Levites took down the ark of the Lord, and the coffer that was with it, wherein the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone: and the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto the Lord.
16 And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day.
17 And these are the golden emerods which the Philistines returned for a trespass offering unto the Lord; for Ashdod one, for Gaza one, for Askelon one, for Gath one, for Ekron one;
18 And the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fenced cities, and of country villages, even unto the great stone of Abel, whereon they set down the ark of the Lord: which stone remaineth unto this day in the field of Joshua, the Beth-shemite.

The men did as they were told. The cows walked a straight path through the border of the city Beth-shemesh in Israel. A leader of the Philistines followed it as it went. Farmers in Beth-shemesh rejoiced to see the ark as it passed. The cows stopped in the field of a man named Joshua, and the Israelites took the cart and cows, and gave a burnt offering to the Lord. The Levites placed the ark and the gold offerings on a great stone in the field (the stone of Abel), and the people of the city gave offerings and sacrifices to the Lord that day. Once the Philistine lords witnessed this, they returned to Ekron.

19 And he smote the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the Lord, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the Lord had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.
20 And the men of Beth-shemesh said, Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? and to whom shall he go up from us?

The Lord killed 50,070 men of the land of Beth-shemesh, because some had chosen to look into the ark of the Lord. The Israelites should have known better than to do this, because the Lord had established long before, that only those who were Levites, were to have anything to do with the sacred items used in the tabernacle. They had been given the priesthood authority to care for these things, especially the ark of the covenant. Had they been Levites, who knew how to perform their duties and were strict in their obedience, they would have known that no man was to look upon these things, because they represented the glory of the Lord. No man could stand in the presence of the glory of the Lord, and survive it, without becoming changed by the Lord. Without the expressed permission of the Lord, they brought death upon themselves. The people mourned and lamented their loss. They did not know who could stand before the Lord, meaning I think, who could move the ark, and they did not know where the ark was to go.

21 And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjath-jearim, saying, The Philistines have brought again the ark of the Lord; come ye down, and fetch it up to you.

They sent messengers to Kirjath-Jearim, to ask that they come and take the ark from Beth-shemesh.

I feel as though the Lord was reestablishing the sacred nature of the ark of the covenant, to the Israelites and those among other nations who were aware of it. It had been a long time since the Israelites had fled Egypt into the wilderness, and since he had caused that they should make the ark along with all the other sacred parts of the tabernacle of the Lord. They learned early on, that no one was to touch the ark, for fear of death. They learned that the power of the Lord was upon it. But over time, it seems they had forgotten some of these things. It is clear that they felt the Lord would be with them if they had the ark among them, but they had forgotten who they were in relation to the Lord. Moses had learned that man is powerless in comparison to the Lord. In Moses 1:10 we read, “And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” We are the reason for the plan of God, and yet, compared to God, we are nothing. This is a humbling lesson to learn, and I think that it is one of the lessons that this story of the ark is able to teach us if we are willing to recognize it.

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I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I love the scriptures, but I am not a scriptorian. I've been told that I'm too "deep" for some, but if you are willing, I'd love to have others join me in my quest for a greater understanding of the gospel. Please feel free to leave me comments and hopefully we can help each other to learn.
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