Chapters 5-6 THE RETURN OF THE ARK
2) The ark returned to Israel (6.1-21)
There are ten direct references to the ark in this chapter. On one occasion it is called "the ark of the God of Israel" (v.3). On eight occasions it is called "the ark of the Lord" (vv.1,2,8,11,15,18,19,21). On one occasion it is called simply, "the ark" (v.13). The Philistines called it, again, "the ark of the God of Israel (v.3), but they also called it "the ark of the Lord" (vv.2,8). Now that is interesting! They used the covenant name.
a) How the ark was returned (6.1-12)
i) The trespass offering (vv.1-6)
After seven months of misery, the Philistines "called for the priests and the diviners, saying, What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place". The "priests and the diviners" recommended that a "trespass offering" should accompany the ark. On each occasion, the expression "trespass offering" translates asham, which is the word used (Lev 6.6; Num 5.7, etc.) for payment of compensation where property had been misappropriated. The "trespass offering" was "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". We now learn that the Philistines had to contend with mice as well as emerods. "Wherefore ye shall make images of your emerods, and images of your mice that mar the land." The presentation of the golden emerods and golden mice was evidently an acknowledgement that the God of Israel had inflicted them with the plagues. Hence the words, "And ye shall give glory to the God of Israel: peradventure he will lighten his hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land". The Philistines actually sent back far more than five golden mice (see v.18). Notice that their desire for deliverance was accompanied by the danger of delay. "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?"
A McShane is worth quoting at length here. "Is it not strange that they were conscious of their trespass, and confessed it clearly. Yet the people, who professed to know the Lord and were linked with His name, made no confession when disaster befell them at the battle of Aphek. Can it be that the uncircumcised heathen knew more of the claims of God than the enlightened Israelites?" Like so many people today, the Philistines did not understand that sin could only be dealt with by shed blood. But Israel offered no trespass offering at all! We should also notice that the Philistines "called for the priests and the diviners" to give them guidance, but Israel did not seek the counsel of "the living and true God" before the battle of Aphek.
On a technical note, the words, "then ye shall be healed, and it shall be known to you why his hand is not removed from you" (v.3), simply mean that if, as a result of returning the ark plus the trespass offerings, they were healed, there would then be no doubt as to why they had suffered so much with the emerods and mice.
ii) The transportation (vv.7-9)
"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." Something like a hundred years later, David decided to remove the ark from "the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah" and carry it to Jerusalem (compare 1 Sam 7.1 and 2 Sam 6.1-3). It was transported, not by the "the sons of Kohath" who were to carry the ark personally "upon their shoulders" (Num 7.9), but on "a new cart"! It seems almost incredible that Gods people should set aside His instructions for the carriage of the ark in favour of a Philistine expedient! They remembered what the Philistines did, but failed to remember the word of God. Sadly, Christendom is full of Philistine expedients. It is often anything but the word of God. Note that people who know what the Bible teaches are especially responsible to God. That is why God did not smite the Philistines when they put the ark on their "new cart".
iii) The test (vv.10-12)
These verses are quite self-explanatory. Contrary to their natural instincts, the two cows ignored their calves, and, without any human compulsion, "took the straight way to the way of Beth-shemesh, and went along the highway, lowing [as if protesting] 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". Beth-shemesh was about twenty miles from Ekron "as the crow flies". There was now no doubt that God had inflicted the plagues on the Philistines. The two milch kine were driven by divine power. It was the same power that turned the colt "whereon never man sat" into the placid animal on which the Lord Jesus rode into Jerusalem.
b) How the ark was received (6.13-21)
i) The worship (vv.13-18)
a) There was rejoicing. "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." So the ark returned to Israel at harvest time, which reminds us that the Lord Jesus, who is "the firstfruits of them that slept", will come again to gather all His people, whether dead ("asleep") or alive at the time. What a harvest that will be! The people were busy when the ark returned, reminding us of Luke 19.13: "Occupy till I come." In the meantime, we can rejoice with the disciples in the upper room who were "glad, when they saw the Lord". The men of Beth-shemesh "saw...and rejoiced". At the moment, we "see him not", but we "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Pet 1.8).
b) There was reverence. "And the Levites took down the ark of the Lord" (see Num 4.15; 7.9; 2 Sam 15.24, etc). Only sanctified men could carry the ark. Holy things must be handled by holy people. Beth-shemesh was a Levitical city (Josh 21.16).
c) There was sacrifice. "They clave the wood of the cart, and offered the kine a burnt offering unto the Lord...and the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt-offerings and sacrificed sacrifices (zebach) the same day unto the Lord." The two sacrifices named were voluntary sweet-savour offerings. The burnt offering was wholly for God, reminding us of the complete devotion of the Lord Jesus to God. It was offered in worship. The word zebach is used in connection with the peace offering, which stresses fellowship with God through Christ.
d) There was no delay. "The men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt-offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto the Lord." Do we worship as willingly and enthusiastically?
All this was observed by the "five lords of the Philistines" (v.16). What kind of impression do we give to other people? Do they see whole-hearted devotion to Christ?
ii) The wrath (vv.19-21)
"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" (v.19). In order to look into the ark, the mercy seat had to be removed! That is a sobering thought for a start. A McShane writes: "The due reverence observed at its arrival was soon discarded, and the men of Beth-Shemesh, who should have known better, ventured to lift its lid. Their curiosity cost them their lives...Irreverence has never been, and will never be tolerated by God...No cloud of glory or outward evidence of the Lords presence was seen at Beth-shemesh, but the dead bodies around the ark testified that He had not vacated his throne, nor reduced the standard of his holiness". There are many people today, religious leaders included, who think they can say what they like and do what they like about Christ. Their fate will be no less than the men of Beth-shemesh. However, we must all beware of over-familiarity in our fellowship with God.
The chapter concludes with the appeal to Kirjath-jearim. "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? 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." Whilst "the men of Beth-Shemesh...looked into the ark", Eleazar was "sanctified to keep the ark of the Lord" at Kirjath-jearim.
To be continued.