This Sunday we will be continuing our sermon series in the book of 1 Samuel, looking at chapter 7. Since we will not be preaching sermons on chapters 4-6, this week, we’ve asked a few church members to post some brief studies on these chapters for your benefit. “All Scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16)!
Today, Jason Mead shares some thoughts on 1 Samuel 6:
In chapter 4, we saw the Israelites try to use the Ark of the Covenant as a good luck charm and God allows them to be defeated. In chapter 5, we saw God humiliate the idol Dagon and the Philistines get struck with disease and death to show how much more powerful our God is than their false god. Now, in chapter 6, the Philistines send the ark back to Israel.
The general theme of this section is the authority and power of the holy God of Israel. It appears both when the ark is with the Philistines and when it is with the Israelites.
The Philistines, as a pagan people who worship many gods, still know that their sin requires propitiation (verse 3 – sending a guilt offering with the ark). Despite the lack of specific knowledge of God’s revelation to Israel, they know that a god (or in this case, the true God) will not be appeased without offering or sacrifice. They also have heard of God’s great power as shown in the Exodus from Egypt (verse 6) and do not want to repeat that mistake. So, they send some golden tumors and mice, which cost them to try to appease God. They are made of gold because they know their guilt offering must cost them something – any offering must have a cost.
God also showed providence over the situation with the cows (verses 7-13). It should have been obvious that God was in control of the tumors and death due to Dagon laying prostrate before the ark with his extremities broken off to show how powerless he is before God, but the Philistines wanted more confirmation and God directed the cows that naturally would not walk toward Israel like they did without divine help.
After the ark returns to Israel at Beth-shemesh, a city where Levite priests lived, the people rejoice to see the visible sign of God’s holy presence (verse 13). They offered the cows as sacrifice in celebration of its return. But, it did not take long before God strikes about 70 of them to death for treating God’s ark flippantly or without the reverence it deserves by looking upon it or into it (verse 19 – see Numbers 4:17-20). The people of Beth-shemesh then fear the holiness of the Lord and do the same as the Philistines, shipping the ark to the city of Kiriath-jearim.
So how does this apply to us? The people of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God?” If God is this holy, where he cannot tolerate sin in any fashion, how do we respond?
First, if we believe in the God of the Bible, we must believe that this God is the true and living God. We cannot dismiss the holiness, justice, and wrath of God like our culture does. Just because these facets of God’s character are not pleasing to postmodern westerners does not make them any less true.
Second, we must understand that even the ancient pagans and the Israelites realized the need for this God to have a sacrifice to atone for sin and violation of respecting his holiness. But their attempts (golden tumors and sacrificed cows) did not truly appease God. As we stand on this side of the cross in human history, we know that only the death of Jesus could satisfy the holy wrath of God. The only way anyone “is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God” is through what the New Testament describes as the message of the gospel – turn from our sin and trust only in Jesus, the gracious gift of God.