Introduction: In this chapter, both the Philistines and the Jews sinned before God. Both tried to end God’s punishments without changing their behavior or submitting to Him. From this, God reveals seven lessons on both the signs and the consequences of a false repentance.
First, the Philistines delayed seven months before they sought to end God’s plagues. From this, God reveals that a false repentance is frequently manifested by delays in repenting. Second, the Philistines sought to atone for their sins by using idols that God detested. From this, God reveals that a false repentance exhibits sorrow without submitting to God’s Word. Third, the Philistines were warned not to have hardened hearts like Pharaoh. From this, God reveals that a false repentance seeks relief from His punishments without a transformed heart. Fourth, after God lifted the plagues, the Philistines tested God with a series of seemingly impossible tests for returning the ark. They sought to prove that He was not the source of their plagues. From this, God reveals that a false repentance often tests God once His punishment is lifted. Fifth, after recovering the ark, the Levites showed that they were no better than the Philistines when they publicly displayed the ark instead of covering it and opened it to examine its contents. From this, God reveals that a false repentance does not include the fear of God. Sixth, God judged both the Philistines and the Jews for their evil acts. From this, God reveals that a false repentance frequently results in God’s further judgments. Finally, the Jews lamented that they lacked an advocate before God to atone for their sins. From this, God reveals that your many prior false repentances require faith in Jesus to advocate for you before God the Father.
The Philistines’ seven-month delay in acknowledging God’s judgments. Because of the Philistines’ pride, they endured seven long months of plagues before they looked for a way to end God’s punishments: “1 Now the ark of the Lord had been in the country of the Philistines seven months. 2 And 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.’” (1 Sam. 6:1-2). In the Bible, the number seven signifies completeness. The Philistines endured God’s complete judgment while they delayed. God first humiliated their idol Dagon. He then smashed it. He then inflicted plagues on three different Philistine cities as they moved the ark around to avoid His judgments (1 Sam. 5). The Philistines later offered golden rats in an effort to appease God. To many, this suggests that God used rats to carry the bubonic plague to the Philistines. “We know the plague involved tumors (1 Sam. 5:6; 1 Sam. 5:12). We had not been told in 1 Samuel 5:1-12 that the plague involved rats. Some think the tumors were the result of bubonic plague, carried by rats. Others think the rats were part of another plague or calamity mentioned in 1 Samuel 5:11: For there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there. . . ‘Verse 4, by linking tumors, rats, and plague, strengthens the theory that the tumors were symptoms of bubonic plague spread by an infestation of rats, which, like human invaders, were capable of destroying a country.”’ (Youngblood) (quoted by David Guzik on 1 Sam. 6).1
Don’t delay in responding to God’s judgments. The Philistines refused to obey God’s will until they hit rock bottom. As Matthew Henry notes, many sinners do the same: “Seven months the Philistines were punished with the presence of the ark; so long it was a plague to them, because they would not send it home sooner. Sinners lengthen out their own miseries by refusing to part with their sins.” (Matthew Henry on 1 Sam. 6).2 If you have suffered from living in rebellion against God, will you repent without further delay?
The Philistines’ misguided use of diviners. The Philistines compounded their error of delay by turning to “diviners” or sorcerers to determine God’s will. (1 Sam. 6:2). Yet, consulting with diviners was prohibited under God’s Law because it meant that they were really consulting with demons. “10 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord; and because of these detestable things the Lord your God will drive them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do so.” (Dt. 18:10-14; Lev. 19:31). God warns that He will punish those who consult with demons through diviners (Lev. 20:6). For the unsaved, the penalty for this is death: “You shall not allow a sorceress to live.” (Ex. 22:18).
Learn from the mistakes of others. The Jews failed to learn from the Philistines’ mistakes. Years later, Saul tested God by turning to a medium: “Then Saul said to his servants, ‘Seek for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.’ And his servants said to him, ‘Behold, there is a woman who is a medium at En-dor.’ Then Saul disguised himself by putting on other clothes, and went, he and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night; and he said, ‘Conjure up for me, please, and bring up for me whom I shall name to you.’” (1 Sam. 28:7-8). God responded by making an example out of Saul and killing him: “So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it,” (1 Chron. 10:13). Through Isaiah, God would also later condemn Israel for turning to the Philistines’ sorcerers instead of Him: “For You have abandoned Your people, the house of Jacob, because they are filled with influences from the east, and they are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they strike bargains with the children of foreigners.” (Is. 2:6).
Don’t do things that place you in fellowship with demons. Believers are not to turn to horoscopes, mediums, astrologers, tarot card readers, hand readers, or Ouija boards. All these things place a believer in communion with demons (1 Cor. 10:19-20). Moreover, this prohibition is not limited to people who practice the occult. As another example, drug abuse is a type of idolatry that will also place you into both communion with and bondage to demons. In fact, Paul directly links drug abuse to sorcery. In listing the works of the flesh, he used the Greek word “pharmakeia” for sorcery (Gal. 5:20). From part of this word, we have the modern word “pharmacy” where drugs are sold. Paul was not suggesting that medicines are bad. Rather, the misuse of drugs can place you into communion with demonic forces. God will never leave or forsake a believer (Heb. 13:5; Dt. 31:6). But He cannot stop you if you choose to listen to the demons over the Holy Spirit. He may eventually hand a believer over to his or her addictions if the person chooses bondage over freedom (Ro. 1:24; Ps. 81:12; Eph. 4:19). Are doing things that might one day enslave you to demons?
Don’t abandon God when the enemy appears to be winning. The Philistines’ decision to give the ark back to Israel was also a condemnation of God’s people. Matthew Henry observes that the Jews made no effort to recover the ark: “The Israelites made no effort to recover the ark. Alas! where shall we find concern for religion prevail above all other matters? In times of public calamity we fear for ourselves, for our families, and for our country; but who cares for the ark of God?” (Matthew Henry on 1 Sam. 6).3 Without an ark, some might see little relevance in this error today. Yet, at the center of the ark were the tablets of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 25:16; Heb. 9:4). Today, the Church has stayed silent while the enemy has stolen the Covenant of the Ten Commandments as a standard of morality in civil society. It might be tempting to give up and assume that the enemy has won. But that is the same mistake that the Jews made. God is sovereign and will win the war. Will you fight for His causes, even when the battle seems lost?
Seek God’s will through the Word and the Holy Spirit. Unlike the Philistines, you should seek the Lord through the Word and prayer. If you do, He will guide you with the wisdom to handle any situation: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Jam. 1:5). “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.” (Ps. 51:6). “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:6). “But it is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding.” (Job 32:8). Are you seeking God’s wisdom only in times of crisis? Or, are you seeking His direction in all that you do?
The Philistines’ acknowledgement of their sins without turning to God. The Philistines compounded the errors of their delays and consulting sorcerers by offering a guilt offering that was offensive to God: “3 They 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.’ 4 Then 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. 5 So 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.” (1 Sam. 6:3-5). By offering to make a “guilt” offering, the Philistines knew that they had offended Yahweh. “‘What shall be the guilt offering which we shall return to Him?’” (1 Sam. 6:4). But they failed to consult His Word before making an offering.
The Philistines’ improper guilt offering. A guilt or trespass offering was a special offering for offenses against God. For multiple reasons, the Philistines’ guilt or trespass offering violated God’s Law. First, a guilt or trespass offering required the sacrifice of a male ram without defect, not a golden statue of a rat: “If a person acts unfaithfully and sins unintentionally against the LORD’S holy things, then he shall bring his guilt offering to the LORD: a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation in silver by shekels, in terms of the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering.” (Lev. 5:15, 18; 6:6). Second, even if they had selected the right animal, idols of any kind are expressly prohibited under the Second Commandment (Ex. 20:4; Dt. 5:8). Third, even if idols were allowed, the Philistines’ chosen idol was offensive because it was an unclean rat. ‘“Now these are to you the unclean among the swarming things which swarm on the earth: the mole, and the mouse, and the great lizard in its kinds,”’ (Lev. 11:29, 44). Fourth, they transported the ark using a cart, which was expressly prohibited. The ark was to be carried with poles by God’s appointed priests (Nu. 7:7-9; cf., 2 Sam. 6:3-13). The Philistines were like the people who espouse moral relativism today. Both ignore God’s Word and believe that there are many ways to be reconciled with God.
Atonement requires a proper blood sacrifice. Like many today, the Philistines saw no need to make a proper blood sacrifice to obtain atonement. Many today ask why would God choose blood as His symbol of atonement? He chose blood for several reasons. First, it is gross to look at. It lets us know how gross our sins are before God. Second, blood is the agent of life for all the organs in the body. It brings life giving oxygen. Third, blood is also a cleansing agent. It carries impurities from the body to the kidneys where the impurities are filtered and removed from the body. “[T]he life of every creature is its blood.” (Lev. 17:14). “[You must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” (Gen. 9:4). Fourth, the shedding of the blood symbolized the exchange one life for another life: ‘“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.”’ (Lev. 17:11). The rule requiring that the blood or life of one be used to pay the price of another still applies in the New Testament: “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Heb. 9:22). Besides the shedding of blood, God does not leave any other way in either the Old Testament or the New Testament to remove the barrier of sin between man and God. If you say that you are sorry to God for your sins but fail to offer a blood sacrifice to atone for your sins (as Jews do today), this does not comply with God’s law. Some might be tempted to protest that there must be a better way to pay for our sins. But what do you have to offer God to pay for your sins? God will not accept money, silver, or gold to pay for your sins (1 Pet. 1:17-19). He created the universe. You have nothing that He needs. Moreover, your money is worthless in heaven.
Jesus is the only recognized sacrifice today to atone for your guilt before God. Today, there is only one sacrifice that will atone for your guilt before God. That is the blood of Jesus Christ. He is your guilt offering. The first time a ram was offered was when Abraham was about to offer Isaac. God then provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice: “Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son.” (Gen. 22:13). The ram caught in the thicket of thorns foreshadowed Jesus. He wore a crown of thorns. He was offered as our substitute “guilt” or trespass offering against God. “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.” (Is. 53:10-11). If you are grateful for what Jesus did for you, you are called upon to worship Him in a holy way: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come before Him; worship the LORD in holy array.” (1 Chr. 16:29). “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name; worship the LORD in holy array.” (Ps. 29:2). “Worship the LORD in holy attire; tremble before Him, all the earth.” (Ps. 96:9). “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.” (Ps. 95:6). Are you expressing your praise for Jesus in a holy and reverent way?
God values Spirit-led obedience over sacrifice. The Philistines’ improper attempt at a guilt or trespass offering fits within a larger theme of the book of 1st Samuel and the Bible. Throughout the books of Judges, Samuel, and Kings, the Jews failed to break the cycle of sin because they lacked Spirit-led obedience. Samuel later exhorted the people that obedience was more important than the physical act of a sacrifice. “Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22). “To do righteousness and justice is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice.” (Prov. 21:3). Obedience was a common Old Testament theme (e.g., Dt. 6:3-4; 9:1; 20:3; Josh. 1:7). The Philistines made no attempt to follow God’s prescribed methods for sacrifice. This is also a problem that many struggle with when they try to get right with God on their own turns without going through Jesus’ sacrifice of the cross.
It is not enough to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, He must be your Savior as well. The Philistines went through their own rituals of atonement without ever really repenting. They recognized that Yahweh was more powerful than their god Dagon without ever submitting to Yahweh as their Savior. God will bring judgment upon those who refuse to submit to Him: “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Lk. 11:20). His finger has the power to both create and destroy: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained;” (Ps. 8:3). You must acknowledge and submit to Him in all things: “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.” (Dt. 4:39). “There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like Yours.” (Ps. 86:8). “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,” (Is. 46:9(b)). Is there any part of your life where you have not fully submitted to His will?
The Philistines hardened their hearts despite knowing the truth. The Philistines’ refusal to submit to Yahweh is even more remarkable because they knew what Yahweh did to the Egyptians and Pharaoh when they resisted Him: “6 Why 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?” (1 Sam. 6:6). To demonstrate His sovereignty, God twice promised that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3). But He did not harden Pharaoh’s heart until the sixth plague (Ex. 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10). During the first five plagues, Pharaoh was responsible for his own actions. “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” (e.g., Ex. 8:15). In the same way, the Philistines chose to harden their hearts by refusing to repent of their sins.
The Philistines removed the ark, but they failed to repent and accept Yahweh as Lord4
Obedience must also be done with the right motives. Although obedience is an important theme in both the book of 1st Samuel and the rest of the Bible, it is not enough to simply do what you are told to do. Obedience must also be done with the right motives. Thus, Samuel later called the people to obedience by first purifying their hearts of their wickedness. “Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, ‘If you return to the LORD with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the LORD and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.”’ (1 Sam. 7:3; 12:20, 24, 25).
Humble yourself so that you will accept God’s corrections. Instead of hardening their hearts, the Jews were told to circumcise their hearts so that they would accept correction. “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.” (Dt. 10:16; 30:6; Ro. 2:28-29; Col. 2:10-11). When you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you, He will also circumcise your heart: “in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;” (Col. 2:11). When you soften or circumcise your heart, God will reward you with a heart to know Him: “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.” (Jer. 24:7). “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Jer. 31:33; Col. 2:11). Where are you stiff necked in your walk with God?
The Philistines’ use of superstition to test God’s will. After God lifted His punishments, the Philistines set up a series of superstitious tests in the hope that they could disprove God’s hand in the plagues. They hoped that their relief established they did not need to submit to Him: “7 Now 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. 8 Take 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. 9 Watch, 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.’ 10 Then the men did so, and took two milch cows and hitched them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home. 11 They put the ark of the Lord on the cart, and the box with the golden mice and the likenesses of their tumors. 12 And 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.” (1 Sam. 6:7-12). The Philistines made a test that could only prove Yahweh’s involvement if He supernaturally intervened. Two cows that had never been yoked together would not likely have worked well together. Moreover, they selected cows that were still nursing and left their caves at home. Under natural circumstances, the cows would have returned to their caves. The cows were further expected to march 10 miles without a human guiding them to a city that they had never been to. Thus, by every means possible, the test should have failed. But God would not allow His glory to be undermined by the Philistines. He supernaturally intervened to glorify His name. He also showed that the Philistines were without excuse in failing to submit to Him.
The Philistines tried to test God with His ark5
Do not test God. The Philistines’ act of testing God was a sin that believers should not follow: “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.” (Dt. 6:16; Matt. 4:7; Lk. 4:12). “Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water that we may drink.’ And Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?”’ (Ex. 17:2). If you are sinning and expect God not to remove His hedge of protection, you are testing Him.
Do not rely upon ability or chance. Believers also should never rely upon chance to determine how to act: “I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all.” (Ecc. 9:11). Nor should believers boast in their own will: “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches;”’ (Jer. 9:26). God’s will is glorified in your humility and faith in Him. “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Cor. 12:9). Are you submitting to Him in meekness so that He can guide you for His glory?
Even cows know their Master. In this account, “[T]he cows took the straight way” and “did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” Yet, their heads were “lowing as they went. . .” (1 Sam. 6:12). This means that they never questioned God’s direction even though they were filled with sadness about leaving their calves behind. God later lamented that animals know their true Master, but His people do not: “An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand.” (Is. 1:3). “Even the stork in the sky knows her seasons; and the turtledove and the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration; but My people do not know the ordinance of the LORD.” (Jer. 8:7). Sadly, the cows were the only ones in this account who acted in faith, and the cows ended up being sacrificed. Everyone else, including the Jews, acted without obedience.
The Jews’ misguided decision to break God’s Law while worshiping Him. After first expressing joy, the Jews showed that they were no better than the Philistines in how they treated God’s holy ark. “13 Now 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. 14 The 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. 15 The 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.” (1 Sam. 6:13-15). The Levities first displayed and then opened the ark out of curiosity because they did not fear God, the beginning of all wisdom (Prov. 9:10; Ps. 111:10).
The Jews celebrate the return of the ark, but failed to keep the ark holy6
The Levities’ disobedience in keeping the ark holy. God sent the ark to the city of Beth-shemesh (1 Sam. 6:13-15) because this was a city run by the Kohath clam of the Levites (Josh. 21:16). This clan had responsibility for caring for the ark (Nu. 4:4, 15). This was also the designated home for Aaron’s descendants (Josh. 21:13-16). The Levities had already damaged their reputation when a Levite created a counterfeit religion for the tribe of Dan (Jdgs. 17:7-18:31). It was also a Levite who started Israel’s first civil war. After his second wife was gang raped, he cut up his second wife and sent her parts all over Israel (Jdgs. 19:1-20:10). Eli and his sons had also corrupted the priesthood (1 Sam. 2). It was also their misuse of the ark that caused it to be captured in the first place. They tried to force God to defeat the Philistines by pulling the ark out when they knew that God was upset with them (1 Sam. 4:3-4). Here, the Levites again proved themselves to be unworthy priests. First, they sacrificed two female cows when God’s Law required the use of male bulls without defect. “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD.” (Lev. 1:3). A female red heifer could only be sacrificed under special occasions and only if it had never been “yoked”: “This is the statute of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel that they bring you an unblemished red heifer in which is no defect and on which a yoke has never been placed.”’ (Nu. 19:2; Dt. 21:3-4). Second, the sacrifice had to be in the doorway of the tent of meeting, not in a random field (Lev. 1:3). Third, although it was the duty of the clan of Kohath to protect the ark by covering it. Under the Law, merely touching it would bring death: “When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy objects and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is to set out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them, so that they will not touch the holy objects and die. These are the things in the tent of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry.” (Nu. 4:15). “but they shall not go in to see the holy objects even for a moment, or they will die.” (Nu. 4:20). “So when the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle encamps, the Levites shall set it up. But the layman who comes near shall be put to death.” (Nu. 1:51). Finally, even worse than failing to cover it, they opened it and publicly examined its contents. Even the Philistines did not do this. The Levites proved that they were no better in following God’s Law. They also showed that they did not fear God any more than the Philistines.
Learn from your mistakes. The Jews also failed to learn from this discipline. Like the Philistines, the Jews would later transport the ark by donkey. Like the Levites at Beth Shemesh, Uzzah would later be killed when he touched the ark in an effort to keep it from falling from the cart: “But 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. And 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.” (2 Sam. 6:6-7).
Fear God by hating evil. The Bible’s warning to fear God is perhaps the most misunderstood in the Bible (Prov. 9:10; Ps. 111:10). It does not mean that you should live in fear of God’s wrath. Instead, the Bible defines fearing God as hating evil. “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; . . .” (Prov. 8:13(a)). If you tolerate or embrace things that the Bible defines as evil or unholy, you do not have a fear of God.
God’s judgment upon the sinful Philistines and Jews. God recorded that He judged each of the five Philistine lords for their sins: “16 When the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned to Ekron that day. 17 These 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; 18 and 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.” (1 Sam. 6:16-18). Without proper repentant hearts or a proper means for atonement, God judged each one of their wicked leaders. The gold idols did not become symbols of worship. Instead, they remembered God’s judgments.
God’s judgment upon the men of Beth-shemesh. Just as God judged the Philistines for their misuse of the ark, He also judged the Jews for this sin as well. Yet, because they knew the Law, He judged them more severely: “19 He 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.” Due to possible transcription changes over time, Bible scholars disagree on the exact number of Jews that God killed. The NASB, the King James and the New King James list the number as “50,070” men. By contrast, the New International Version, the English Standard Version, and the New Living Translation list the number as 70. The NIV and some other translations use the number 70 because that number appears in some early Hebrew manuscripts and the Greek Septuagint, which is represented by the Latin number “LXX” for the 70 persons who wrote it. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus also recorded the number as 70 (Ant. 6.1.4). Either number conveys a theological truth about God’s universal judgment. If the number is 70, it corresponds to the original 70 nations that came from Noah (Gen. 10). The larger number also highlights God’s universal judgment of sin: “Accepting the larger number results in a theological truth consistent with the teachings of the book retained: Israel must respect the Lord more than the Philistines. Although the Philistines with their military prowess could kill thirty thousand Israelites (4:10), God in His holiness could kill more than fifty thousand. For Israel, life could be found only in fear of Yahweh that issued forth in obedience to His Torah and His prophet.” (Robert Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, The New American Commentary, Vol. 7, B&H Publishing Group (1996) p. 103).
The Jews bring judgment upon themselves7
Sin has also separated us from God. The Jews needed a barrier between themselves and the ark because their sins had separated them from God. Without Jesus, everyone has this problem: “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God . . .” (Is. 59:2(a)). God has looked down from heaven and observed that not one person is holy and without sin: “[I]t is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”’ (Ro. 3:10-11). “[T]here is no one who does good.” (Ps. 14:1; 53:1; 143:2). “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jo. 1:8). If you say that you are going to heaven because you are a good person, the truth is not within you. Likewise, if you are going to heaven because of your good works, Christ’s death on the cross was unnecessary.
The penalty for your sins is death. The Jews died when their sins were exposed to God’s holiness. God warned Moses that he would die if he saw God’s holy face: “But He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”’ (Ex. 33:20). Thus, the prophet Isaiah feared that he would die when he was transported to be in God’s presence: “Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Is. 6:5). Peter likewise feared being in Jesus’ holy presence. (Lk. 5:8). Without Jesus, every person would also die in God’s holy presence: “For the wages of sin is death, . .” (Ro. 6:23). How are you thanking Jesus for the price He paid for you? (Ro. 12:1-2).
The men of Beth-shemesh mourn the lack of an advocate before God. In a prelude to the appearance of Samuel the prophet, the men of Beth Shemesh grieved because they had no advocate before God: “20 The 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?’ 21 So 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.’” (1 Sam. 6:19-21). Like the Philistines, the Jews failed to repent of their actions. They also tried to avoid God’s further judgment by sending the ark to another city. Also like the Philistines, the men at Beth Shemesh did not understand God’s will. While the Philistines turned to their sorcerers, they simply gave up and consulted no one. The ark would remain in Kiriath-jearim 20 years until David brought it to Jerusalem (1 Sam. 7:1-2; 2 Sam. 6:1-23).
Jesus your advocate has reconciled you to be in God the Father’s presence. Unlike the Jews who suffered in the presence of God’s holiness at Beth Shemesh, believers have an advocate before God the Father: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;” (1 Jo. 2:1). He has reconciled you to the Father through His blood: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Ro. 5:10; 8:34).
Use the holiness that Jesus has given you, to live a holy life. As an added benefit to being reconciled to God the Father, Jesus has given you some of His holiness. You are in turn called to walk in His holiness: “and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Eph. 4:24). “For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” (Heb. 12:10). This included answering God’s call to live a holy life (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7; 1 Pet. 1:16). Being made holy, you are also called upon to stay on His holy path: “A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for him who walks that way, and fools will not wander on it.” (Is. 35:8). Are you living a life worthy of the holiness that Jesus has entrusted you with?
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