1 Samuel
1-2 What Should Happen to the Ark? 3-6 The Ark Must Return with a Guilt Offering 7-12 A New Cart and Milch Cows 13-15 The Ark Arrives in the Land 16-18 The Lords Return Home 19 The Holiness of the Ark 20-21 The ark Is Unwanted
What Should Happen to the Ark?

1Now the ark of the LORD had been in the country of the Philistines seven months. 2And 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.”

After seven months, a complete time, the Philistines seek advice from their brightest minds. Earlier the lords of the Philistines acted. Now their priests and diviners are called. Under no circumstances will the religious, natural man turn to the true God, the only source of light there is. After the political level, now comes the religious level. This combination is also seen in Pilate and the chief priests in the condemnation of the Lord Jesus, of whom the ark is a striking picture.

In any case, they want to get rid of the ark, which means as much as they want to get rid of God. This is what man always wants when he does not want to bow before the Lord Jesus, although he must acknowledge His majesty, for he cannot deny it. Someone can succeed in excluding God for some time, but not forever. The final meeting will take place and then they will be removed and sent to hell.

The Ark Must Return with a Guilt Offering

3They 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.” 4Then 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. 5So 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. 6Why 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?

Although they know nothing of service to God in Israel, they propose to make a guilt-offering. This indicates that something in their conscience has been touched. In their folly they believe that an image is sufficient. Their offense is not a bloody sacrifice either, but consists of statuettes of their plagues. We recognize the use of statues today in roman-catholicism, where these things play a major role. The tangible is always preferred to what is not tangible, but spiritual. The illustrations also concern impurities.

In all respects their offering is an insult and horror to God. The proposal is in keeping with their idolatry, but not with God. They have no awareness of the true guilt offering. The Philistines are more concerned about their suffering bodies than about their sickened souls. They only act with a view to improving their living conditions. Their ‘offering’ goes no further than a memory of their torments.

They determine the offering on one tumor and one mouse per lord. The tumors have affected their bodies and the mice have affected their land. The mice have probably been the plague that has devastated their harvest, for it is harvest time (verse 1313Now [the people of] Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley, and they raised their eyes and saw the ark and were glad to see [it].). They understand that both the tumors and the mice are sent by God. By making a likeness of each of them and sending it along as a guilt offering, they acknowledge that.

What happens to them reminds them of the events of the past in Egypt. However, it does not work their conversion, as it didn’t in the case of Pharaoh at the time. So is the nature of man. Without repentance they want to get rid of the plagues. The Egyptians also wanted to get rid of the Israelites as soon as possible and gave them gifts.

The part of the world in which we live is also ravaged by plagues. New diseases appear again and again. However, it does not make people realize that these plagues are a scourge from God. It is conceivable that the plagues that come over the Christian countries are, among other things, the result of the tainting by the theologians of the Lord Jesus and the Word of God.

A New Cart and Milch Cows

7Now therefore, take and prepare a new cart and two milch cows on which there has never been a yoke; and hitch the cows to the cart and take their calves home, away from them. 8Take 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. 9Watch, 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.” 10Then the men did so, and took two milch cows and hitched them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home. 11They put the ark of the LORD on the cart, and the box with the golden mice and the likenesses of their tumors. 12And 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 now want absolute certainty that they are dealing with God. They don’t want to bring back the ark themselves. They don’t think they can either, because every move has brought them disaster. Their solution suits the natural man who does not possess the light of God.

It seems indecent and inappropriate for them to use something for the worship of God that has previously served a general purpose. Everything in the obeisance to God must be holy, that is to say, separated from general custom and entirely dedicated to the service of God. That’s why they use a new cart. They will not be punished for this, as is David later in the death of Uzzah, when Uzzah touches the ark (2Sam 6:3,6-73They placed the ark of God on a new cart that they might bring it from the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were leading the new cart.6But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset [it].7And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God.). As Israelites, they should have known better.

The Philistines still calculate with the possibility that everything has happened by chance. Such a thing will not be the case with a true Christian. The Philistines want certainties. And God does according to their thinking and makes it clear that He is at work. Yet it has no effect on their relationship with Him.

By using milch cows to pull the cart, it is humanly unthinkable that the ark will safely leave the country. This is evident from the facts described. It concerns cows that
1. not being used to the yoke,
2. do not know the way to Beth-shemesh,
3. have none to guide them,
4. have the strong instinct of animals to return to their calves – hence their ‘lowing’ when they go – and
5. also have the instinct to go to their own stable.

Yet they go “the straight way in the direction of Beth-shemesh”. This proves that an invisible, strong hand leads them, the irresistible hand of their Creator. The natural motives are overcome by spiritual power.

“The cattle on a thousand hills” belongs to God (Psa 50:10b10“For every beast of the forest is Mine,
The cattle on a thousand hills.
). The animals do what He wants. A fish provides a coin when the Lord Jesus needs it (Mt 17:2727However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”). Similarly, a donkey is ready to carry him (Mk 11:22and *said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find a colt tied [there], on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it [here].). He commands a fish to harbor Jonah for three days and three nights, and a worm to teach him a lesson (Jona 1:1717And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.; 2:1010Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.; 4:77But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered.). He uses a lion to kill a disobedient prophet and forbids this lion from devouring the prophet (1Kgs 13:24,2824Now when he had gone, a lion met him on the way and killed him, and his body was thrown on the road, with the donkey standing beside it; the lion also was standing beside the body.28He went and found his body thrown on the road with the donkey and the lion standing beside the body; the lion had not eaten the body nor torn the donkey.). He also keeps the lion’s mouse closed in the pit where Daniel is (Dan 6:2323Then the king was very pleased and gave orders for Daniel to be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den and no injury whatever was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.).

The city lords, who wanted to rule the ark, can only follow the ark as slaves of service. In that in which they have acted proudly, God has shown Himself as far above them. We can learn from the animals that are used by the lords of the city, but are controlled by God.

Do we have so much spiritual insight that we are guided by God’s Spirit against our natural motives? It is God’s intention to bring the ark back to His people. He still does this spiritually today by letting the Lord Jesus preach, and for this He uses people who are guided by Him.

There may be little insight, but if there is surrender to Him, He will return the Lord Jesus to His people. Thus God has always found people to make His Son the center of the church again. A revival means that His Son will once again be central to the heart of His own. When the Lord Jesus is no longer central, dedication disappears.

The Ark Arrives in the Land

13Now [the people of] Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley, and they raised their eyes and saw the ark and were glad to see [it]. 14The cart came into the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite and stood there where there [was] a large stone; and they split the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD. 15The Levites took down the ark of the LORD and the box that was with it, in which were the articles of gold, and put them on the large stone; and the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices that day to the LORD.

The ark arrives in Beth-shemesh, a Levite city where the Kohathites live. It is precisely those Levites who are appointed by God to carry the ark (Num 3:29-3129The families of the sons of Kohath were to camp on the southward side of the tabernacle,30and the leader of the fathers’ households of the Kohathite families was Elizaphan the son of Uzziel.31Now their duties [involved] the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, and the utensils of the sanctuary with which they minister, and the screen, and all the service concerning them;; Jos 21:10,1610and they were for the sons of Aaron, one of the families of the Kohathites, of the sons of Levi, for the lot was theirs first.16and Ain with its pasture lands and Juttah with its pasture lands [and] Beth-shemesh with its pasture lands; nine cities from these two tribes.). There God brings the ark and not to Shiloh. God knows whom He can entrust the glory of His Son. When the ark arrives in Beth-shemesh, the inhabitants of the city, the Levites, are busy harvesting the wheat.

The Levites work here on land. They are busy with the wheat. Wheat speaks of the result of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Jn 12:2424Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.). This result consists of the believers, who are all who by faith in the Lord Jesus have received Him as their life. The Lord Jesus is the grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died. That is why a lot of fruit has come.

The ark comes where people are reaping in the harvest, where they are busy with the blessings God has given in the land. Something similar we see with Gideon (Jdg 6:1111Then the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save [it] from the Midianites.), with the shepherds who keep watch over the flock in the night of the Savior’s birth and to whom the good news is proclaimed (Lk 2:8-108In the same region there were [some] shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.9And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;), and with the disciples who are also busy in their daily work when the Lord calls them (Mt 4:18-2218Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.19And He *said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”20Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.21Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the [son] of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them.22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.). The inhabitants of Beth-shemesh are happy to see the ark (cf. Jn 20:2020And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.). But did they really miss the ark and seek it, like David later (Psa 132:3-53“Surely I will not enter my house,
Nor lie on my bed;
4I will not give sleep to my eyes
Or slumber to my eyelids,
5Until I find a place for the LORD,
A dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”

It is therefore undeserved grace when the presence of the LORD returns. Without having searched for it, without having fought for it, without having paid a ransom, the ark, the symbol of God’s presence, returned to them. They have never seen the ark, but from the description they know and its brilliance they must have known: this is the ark. So it will always be with faith.

The cows are sacrificed as burnt offering. They have been used to put the ark back into the hands of the people and are now sacrificed to God. The Levites have, in picture, offered the Lord Jesus to God as a burnt offering. They have also brought offerings , which is a peace offering and speaks of fellowship. This fellowship may be particularly experienced at the Lord’s Table as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

The wood of the car is split (cf. 1Kgs 19:2121So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave [it] to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.). The means that have been used to bring back the ark are also used to honor God. Now the wood serves to burn the sacrifices, so that they ascend to God as a sweet odor (Lev 1:7-97The sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire.8Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head and the suet over the wood which is on the fire that is on the altar.9Its entrails, however, and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall offer up in smoke all of it on the altar for a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD.).

The Lords Return Home

16When the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned to Ekron that day. 17These are the golden tumors which the Philistines returned for a guilt offering to the LORD: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron; 18and the golden mice, [according] to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fortified cities and of country villages. The large stone on which they set the ark of the LORD [is a witness] to this day in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite.

The expressions of joy and the offering of the animals take place under the watchful eye of the Philistines. We can see in this the image that being together at the Lord’s Table and proclaiming His death is also watched by unbelievers. They have no part in it and turn away from it. They don’t want to be part of it either. Their hearts have not changed, even though they have seen the most clear evidence of God’s work.

Once again the guilt offering is mentioned and what it consists of and on whose behalf it is given. The compensation in the form of this guilt offering is the result of their human wisdom. It will also be a constant testimony of their recognition that God is there, and of their refusal to bow before Him despite such clear evidences.

The Holiness of the Ark

19He struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. He struck down of all the people, 50,070 men, and the people mourned because the LORD had struck the people with a great slaughter.

There is an unexpected turn of events. Joy turns into mourning, for God’s judgment affects them. His people have looked into the ark, something that is strictly forbidden. Here we have the important principle that the more light someone or a community has about the things of God, the greater the judgment of God will be in case of a transgression. They know they are not allowed to look into the ark.

It may well be that the priests, the Levites and the people in their enthusiasm have forgotten the holiness of God and have not thought of His precepts. But an understandable enthusiasm should never tempt us to consider the sacred as ordinary. God maintains His honor toward the Philistines in a way that suits them. Here He does so in the way that suits His people. He sanctifies Himself in those who approach Him (Lev 10:1,3,91Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.3Then Moses said to Aaron, “It is what the LORD spoke, saying,
‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy,
And before all the people I will be honored.’”
So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.9“Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations—

The ark Is Unwanted

20The men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?” 21So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of the LORD; come down and take it up to you.”

The people react in the same way as the Philistines. They also want to get rid of the ark, now that they have come into contact with its holiness. Is it sometimes the case with us also? Does it also make us feel oppressive when we remember that we are in God’s presence continually and that He knows every thought, every word, and sees every action in our lives?

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