1 Samuel 6:1-18
6 The ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory for seven months. 2 The Philistines called for the priests and for those who practice evil magic. They wanted their advice. They said to them, “What should we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.” 3 They answered, “If you return the ark of the god of Israel, don’t send it back to him without a gift. Be sure you send a guilt offering to their god along with it. Then you will be healed. You will find out why his power has continued to be against you.” 4 The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?” Their advisers replied, “There are five Philistine rulers. So send five gold rats. Also send five gold models of the growths in your bodies. Do it because the same plague has struck you and your rulers alike. 5 Make models of the rats and the growths that are destroying the country. Give honor to Israel’s god. Then perhaps his power will no longer be against you, your gods and your land. 6 Why are you stubborn, as Pharaoh and the people of Egypt were? Israel’s god was very hard on them. Only then did they send the Israelites out. Only then did they let them go on their way. 7 “Now then, get a new cart ready. Get two cows that have just had calves. Be sure the cows have never pulled a cart before. Tie the cart to them. But take their calves away and put them in a pen. 8 Then put the ark of the Lord on the cart. Put the gold models in a chest beside the ark. Send them back to the Lord as a guilt offering. Send the cart on its way. 9 But keep an eye on the cart. See if it goes up toward Beth Shemesh to its own territory. If it does, then it’s the Lord who has brought this horrible trouble on us. But if it doesn’t, then we’ll know it wasn’t his hand that struck us. We’ll know it happened to us by chance.” 10 So that’s what they did. They took the two cows and tied the cart to them. They put the calves in a pen. 11 They placed the ark of the Lord on the cart. They put the chest there along with it. The chest held the gold models of the rats and of the growths. 12 Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh. They stayed on the road. They were mooing all the way. They didn’t turn to the right or the left. The Philistine rulers followed them all the way to the border of Beth Shemesh. 13 The people of Beth Shemesh were working in the valley. They were gathering their wheat crop. They looked up and saw the ark. When they saw it, they were filled with joy. 14 The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh. It stopped there beside a large rock. The people chopped up the wood the cart was made out of. They sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. 15 Some Levites had taken the ark of the Lord off the cart. They had also taken off the chest that held the gold models. They placed them on the large rock. On that day the people of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings to the Lord. They also made sacrifices to him. 16 The five Philistine rulers saw everything that happened. On that same day they returned to Ekron. 17 The Philistines sent gold models of growths as a guilt offering to the Lord. There was one each for Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron. 18 They also sent five gold models of rats. There was one for each of the Philistine towns that belonged to the five rulers. Each of those towns had high walls around it. The towns also had country villages around them. The Levites set the ark of the Lord on the large rock. To this day the rock is a witness to what happened there. It’s in the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh.
At the time that this was written, the Ark of the Covenant represented God’s presence on earth. When the Philistines first captured the ark, they thought it was a great victory over the God of Israel. They had “captured God” and felt they had power over him. But then God sent plagues to every city where the ark came to rest, and the Philistines became less smug about their prized possession and eventually decided they didn’t want the ark around anymore.
Interestingly, it took the Philistines about 7 months to decide to send it back. Sometimes our in our stubbornness, it can take us a long time to face up to the truth! In fact, in this instance, the Philistines were still not 100% convinced that the plagues were from God – they still wondered if it was “by chance”.
So the Philistines devised a way to test out their theory by sending the Ark of the Covenant on the backs of cows who had calves. The natural inclination of the cows would be to head back home to their calves, so if the cows headed the other direction it would be an act of God. As it turned out, the cows did go straight to the people of Israel, and in doing so went completely against their natural instincts.
We see here, that the idea of people being able to outsmart God or push God out of your life is not a new concept. At first they tried to tame Him, and when they couldn’t do that, they just wanted to be rid of Him! Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, the Philistines were still not willing to submit to God. Unbelief is generally not a result of lack of evidence – it is a result of stubbornness of heart.
Keeping our hearts soft and humble before God is so important. I cannot “capture” or tame God to make Him do what I want. Anyway, what’s the appeal of having a God who’s that weak? Today I gratefully submit once again to His wisdom, His power and His goodness in my life.
Written by Shelley Witt