Understanding the Old Testament

God vs. the Philistines

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

The Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant in the battle at Ebenezer. They would keep it for about seven months. (1 Samuel 6:1)

First they brought it to Ashdod, where they placed it beside a statue of their god, Dagon. The next morning, Dagon’s statue had fallen over. The Philistines uprighted the statue. But the next morning the statue had fallen over again, and this time it had been decapitated and the palms of its hands cut off. (1 Samuel 5:4) In addition, the Lord plagued the people of the city with tumors—possibly hemorrhoids—and mice. (1 Samuel 6:4-5)

The leaders of Ashdod realized they needed to rid themselves of the Ark. So they consulted with the leaders of the other four major Philistine cities—Gath, Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron—and decided to send the Ark to Gath.

The people of Gath suffered the same plagues as Ashdod had experienced, so they sent the Ark to Ekron, whose people panicked at the prospect of having the Ark in their midst. (1 Samuel 5:9)

The Philistine leaders, after consultation with their religious leaders, decided to send the Ark back to Israel with a “guilt offering” of five golden tumors and five golden mice. (1 Samuel 6:3-5) They put the Ark and the guilt offering on a cart pulled by two cows that were still producing milk—and thus, had recently given birth—and had never been yoked. (1 Samuel 6:7-8) If the cows pulled the cart toward Israel, that would prove that God had been the cause of the Philistines’ misfortune, for cows would naturally try to return to their nursing calves.

The cows headed straight for the town of Beth-shemesh, in Israel. (1 Samuel 6:12) There the people acted foolishly.

They killed the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. Such offerings were supposed to be made at the Tabernacle. Worse, they looked inside the Ark. No one except the priests were allowed to touch the holy objects inside the Tabernacle, including the Ark, much less look inside it. See Numbers 4:15-20.

As a result, the Lord killed 50,070 1 men of Beth-shemesh. (1 Samuel 6:19) After that, the men of Kiriath-jearim took custody of the Ark, and it remained there for 28 years. (1 Samuel 6:21-7:2)

Questions to ponder or discuss: The story of God’s treatment of the people of Beth-shemesh provides another example of the Lord punishing people for their insolence and lack of reverence—just as He did with the rebellious followers of Korah and the Israelites who complained about manna. How is this similar to what Paul said about the Corinthians’ disrespect for the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34? Why does the Lord punish people who display such an attitude toward Him?

1 Some ancient manuscripts say 70 men died, rather than 50,070.

Copyright 2018 by Don Davidson

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Beyond Blind Faith: Reasons for the Hope We Have (1 Peter 3:15):

Why Reasonable People Should Consider Christianity

Stories of the Faithful (with some church history)

Christmas Stories

Understanding the Old Testament

The Truth About America Star Books


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