Elon, North Carolina
We have been studying I Samuel and we come today to the sixth chapter. It is a strange chapter. It deals with golden rats and golden hemorrhoids or golden tumors. What is that all about? What does this chapter have to do with us today? What does it say to us today?
I Samuel 6 actually runs into the first few verses of I Samuel 7. In I Samuel 6, God comes home. I Samuel 6 deals with the topic of the Ark of the Covenant. It is the third chapter in the book dealing with what we call today the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Let’s review the two chapters before this one.
In I Samuel 4, God judged Israel. The Philistines beat the Jews in battle, so they took the ark into battle and they beat them a second time and stole the ark. The Israelites were wicked, especially the leaders and God judged them. The High Priest was killed. He let them lose in battle, not once but twice and He let the ark be taken out of the country into a pagan land.
In I Samuel 5, God judged the Philistines. They sinned in taking the ark home. Then they to set it up in a pagan temple dedicated to a false god. That was a big mistake. God not only defeated Dagon in his own temple; He humiliated him.
The Philistines found their god decapitated and mitigated, lying face down on the ground before the ark. God judged their god Dagon. He also judged the worshippers of Dagon and this judgement was severe. His hand was heavy upon them. It was heavy on young people and old people. No one escaped.
We saw that it was a great tragedy for the Israelites to lose the ark, but it was a greater tragedy for the Philistines to take it. Whatever city it was it, it led to suffering, disease and death. People were getting these painful tumors spread by rats or mice, just like the Bubonic Plague was spread and they knew what or who was causing it.
In I Samuel 6, they come up with a solution after seven of suffering. Their solution was to send the ark, not just to another city but to another country. They wanted to send it back to Israel. They said. “Get God out of here. We don’t want him. Let’s send him away.” They didn’t want God’s presence among them. In the NT, some did not want Jesus’ presence among them. They begged him to depart from their region (Mark 5:17).
The Philistines realize that they have to get rid of the ark. They took the ark but now they have to admit defeat and send it back. They have to send it home. They sent it to different cities in the country but that did not help, so they finally decided that it was time to send the ark back to Israel. I Samuel 6, the ark finally comes home after seven months.
A New Plan
The chapter begins with a dilemma. The Philistines want to send the ark back and need to send the ark back, but they don’t know how. Who did they ask? They asked their religious leaders. They asked the professional clergy (I Samuel 6:2).
There were not any priests of Yahweh living there, so they had to ask the priests of Dagan. They also asked some diviners (which we would call fortune tellers today). The Bible tells Jews not to practice divination (Leviticus 19:26-31; 20:6). What did they tell them?
They said not to be like the Egyptians. They heard about how God judged the Egyptians with ten plagues. Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way? (I Samuel 6:8 NIV).
They also said, “If you want to be healed, you have to send the ark back with a gift.” Notice I Samuel 6:3. They answered, “If you return the ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a GIFT; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you” (NIV).
Why a guilt offering? Some Bibles read “trespass offering” (KJV) and some read “guilt offering” (NIV, ESV). A trespass offering was required when someone stole something from its rightful owner. The Philistines stole the ark from the Israelites. This required some form of restitution or compensation. The compensation involved gold. This was not just any offering. This offering was costly. That is why they are send it back on a NEW cart and with tumors and rats made of GOLD.
They also came up with a plan that involved a miracle. There is a miracle in this chapter. They not only wanted to send the ark back, but they wanted to know without a shadow of a doubt that God was the one who sent it back. They wanted it to take a real miracle for the ark to return to Israel, so they came up with a test and the test involved some cows.
“Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart but take their calves away and pen them up. 8 Take the ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way (I Samuel 6:7-8 NIV)
These were not ordinary cows. They were miracle cows. We know that because of four things. First, they had never been yoked before. There were yoked for the first time. It takes time for animals to work together. It takes time for two people to work together as well.
Second, these cows had just given birth and they wanted to be with their babies. The Philistines locked their babies up and sent them off on a mission. The mission went against their maternal instinct. It went against their natural instinct.
Third, these cows walked straight all the way to the land of Israel. They did not turn back. That is strange. Cows do not walk in a straight line. They walk in circles. These cows kept walking until they got to their destination. They did not turn back to check on their babies. They did not even turn aside to eat. They kept walking.
Fourth, they walked without any guidance. No one was leading them. No human hand guided them. They had no GPS and yet they got to their destination without getting lost. They were led by a higher power. When they got there and completed their mission, they died. When they got to Israel, the Israelites chopped up the wood from the cart and offered the two cows in sacrifice. It is a picture of complete submission to the will of God.
We are on earth to do whatever God has called us to do and then we are gone. These cows were not completely sanctified. They were mooing. They were crying. They were in distress. They complained the whole way. They were not happy and for good reason. Everything inside them told them to go back and take care of their babies but they kept walking. They did the will of God despite what they wanted to do and, in the end, gave up their life.
These cows had a very important job. They had a big responsibility. These cows were not Levites but God used them anyway. If God can use two cows in His service to do His will, He can use us. God used these two cows to transport the ark, carrying the two tablets of stone for miles. They cows transported the ark all the way to Israel. It made its way to the field of a man named Joshua (I Samuel 6:18). Some workers in the field see it returning to Israel.
Now the people of Beth Shemesh were harvesting their wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they rejoiced at the sight. (I Samuel 6:13 NIV)
Now this may not seem like a big deal to us but to the Israelites, this was huge. The ark was a national treasure. It had some sacred relics in it. It has the Ten Commandments in it. It also symbolized the presence of God. God’s presence and glory filled this box.
It was not a magical box but it was a supernatural box. It was a holy box. It was so holy that it could never be touched with human hands, not even by the priests. It was so holy that you could not even look at the box. Levites could not look at it either. When the priest carried the box on poles, it was to be covered, so no one saw it.
An Unexpected Ending
Now after seventh months, the glory of God is returning to Israel. God was coming back. It is the reversal of Ichabod. Some have called this the Second Exodus. This time, God’s people were not in captivity. The ark was and now the ark has an exodus. The chapter ends with a surprise ending. It does not have a Hallmark ending.
The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and there it stopped beside a large rock. The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. (I Samuel 6:14 NIV)
But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they looked into the ark of the Lord. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the Lord had dealt them. 20 And the people of Beth Shemesh asked, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?” (I Samuel 6:19-20 NIV)
Now this is a little strange. Everything looked great. The ark was back in the land of Israel after seven months. It was safe. The people sacrificed to God. They were rejoicing. They were celebrating. Then seventy people suddenly drop dead. Their rejoicing turns to morning. The party is over.
Some Bibles say fifty thousand were killed (KJV, NASB) but that is almost certainly a scribal error. First century Jewish historian Josephus says only seventy died (so NIV, ESV). Beth Shemesh was a small farming community. It was an agricultural community, not a big city. It didn’t even have fifty thousand people in it. It may have had a few thousand. The people were so terrified, when this happened, they did what the Philistines did. They shipped it off to another city.
They asked two questions. The first question was “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?” That is one of the main questions of the Bible. How can sinners stand before a holy God? The second question was, “To whom will the ark go up from here?” In other words, How can we get rid of this thing? (I Samuel 6:20).
Message for Today
This is an interesting story but does it apply to us today? What does it say to us today?
1. God is sovereign over everything
Some preachers do not like the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. One thing is clear from these chapters and it is that God is completely sovereign. God is sovereign over rats. He is sovereign over mice. He is sovereign over cows.
He is sovereign over disease. He is sovereign over sickness. He is sovereign over tumors. He is sovereign over hemorrhoids. He is sovereign over bad things that happen in your life. He was sovereign over Joseph being sold into slavery, falsely accused of a sex crime and sent to prison.
He is sovereign over corrupt religious leaders (Hophni and Phinehas). He can take them out at any time. He is sovereign over corrupt political leaders. He is sovereign over war. He is sovereign over national tragedies (ark being stolen by pagans). If that is true, He is sovereign over EVERYTHING that happens in your life. That is rarely preached today.
2. God alone decides how He is to be worshipped
People think that they can worship God any way they want. They think that all religions worship the same God but it is a lie. Cain brought God one sacrifice. Abel brought him another sacrifice. One was accepted and one was rejected.
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. (Leviticus 10:1 NASB)
God must be worshipped in spirit and in truth. There are two offering in this chapter. The Philistines offer a guilt offering. The Israelites offer a burnt offering. Neither offering was biblical. The Philistines worshipped God with IMAGES. They had some golden mice and golden tumors in their guilt offering.
We do not come before God today with golden mice or with golden tumors. We do not need to worship God with images. False religion and cults do some stupid things, like make some golden hemorrhoids as an offering to God. They have some absolutely crazy beliefs.
Rats and mice were unclean animals (Leviticus 11:29). The Bible says that it is NOT golden tumors or golden mice but BLOOD (sacrificial blood) that atones for the sin of people. God required an offering of blood, not an offering of gold. In fact, the Bible says, “Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).
The Israelites also worshipped God incorrectly and they should have known better. They sacrificed a cow. They sacrificed two cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. Leviticus 1:3 says if you offer a burnt offering, you have to offer a male without defect. They offered two females. Are we worshipping God correctly? Is our worship biblical? Do we worship God in spirit and in truth?
3. God judges human hearts
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7 NIV)
“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve” (Jeremiah 17:11 NIV)
That is good and it is bad. It is good because God is the only one who really understands you. When no one else understands you, God does. He understands you perfectly. It is bad because God can see the things that no other person can see. He knows your every thought.
The Philistines sent the ark back on a brand-new cart that has never been used before. The put some golden tumors and golden rats on the cart. Some Bible say “golden hemorrhoids.” The Philistines were pagans. They were not saved. They didn’t worship the true God. They were idol-worshippers.
They didn’t have a Bible. They did not have any theological training. They were ignorant and superstitious, but they did some things right. They responded correctly to the revelation they had. They responded correctly to what God did to the Egyptians. They did not want to be like Pharaoh with his hard heart. They also got four things right.
One, they knew that they were sinners. They knew that they did something wrong. They knew that they did something to incur God’s wrath. They acknowledged their guilt. They knew that they needed a guilt offering (I Samuel 6:3).
Two, they knew that God’s wrath was real. They knew that God judges sin. They experienced it firsthand for seven straight months. They knew what it was like to have the hand of God heavy upon them (I Samuel 5).
Three, they knew that this wrath needed to be appeased. They know that they have sinned against God. They have offended him. He is mad at them and have to give him an offering to satisfy His wrath Before they thought they conquered God. Now they know that they need to appease him. They didn’t have to appease Dagon. They had to appease the God of the Jews.
Four, they knew that Yahweh was greater than Dagon. They offered him by a trespass offering. You don’t offer a trespass offering to someone who is inferior to you. They had to offer him some kind of sacrifice. They knew that they needed a trespass offering and they were not giving this offering to Dagon but the God of the Jews.
When the ark came into the land of Israel, they disobeyed Him, He struck the dead. Seventy Jews dropped dead. It is not that God has two sets of standards, one for Israelites and one for Philistines but He judges people based on the light they have and how they respond to it. God is harder on believers than on unbelievers. The Bible says that “to much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). The Israelites had a Bible. They knew what God expected and chose to disobey Him.
The Bible talks about the goodness and severity of God. The severity of God is on full display in this chapter. This is a chapter about divine judgment. This time He is judging His own people. People do not like to hear about the judgment of God. It is not popular. Many preachers do not talk about this topic but it comes right out of the Bible.
But THE LORD KILLED seventy men from Beth-shemesh because they looked into the Ark of the LORD. And the people mourned greatly BECAUSE OF WHAT THE LORD HAD DONE. (I Samuel 6:19 NLT)
4. God takes disrespect very seriously
Disrespect is a big deal to God. It is not a big deal to people today. It is very common in society. Kids disrespect their parents. Students disrespect their teachers. Young people disrespect old people. Citizens disrespect their country and their flag. They disrespect law enforcement officers (police officers). They disrespect their President. Comedians disrespect God. They think it is a good thing to be irreverent.
Some in the modern church have abused the concept of reverence but reverence just means respect and respect is biblical. In fact, it is in one of the Ten Commandments. The truth is that reverence is a big deal to God.
Seventy people in this chapter died because of a lack of reverence. Seventy people died because one man lifted up the lid on a box and looked inside it. The Jews wanted the ark. The Philistines didn’t want it. The Jews just got it back and as soon as they got it, it killed seventy people, not seventy Philistines but seventy Israelites.
They may have looked out of curiosity. They may have looked to see if the tablets of Moses were still there and the rod and jar was still there. They may have just looked to see if the Philistines stole anything out of the ark.
Not all curiosity is wrong but the law prohibited on penalty of death looking at the ark. They were not to look in the ark or they would die. They were not to touch it, or they would die. The priests were not allowed to see it.
God is not dwelling on earth in a theocracy today. He is not in a building. We do not have a sacred piece of furniture but we should still obey God. We should still have a reverence God. We should not only have a reverence; we should have a fear of God. These Israelites had no fear of God. Do we?
5. God alone one can open a human heart
We can’t just argue someone into the kingdom. We cannot just present all kinds of facts and expect them to believe. Josh McDowell wrote a book on Christian apologetics called Evidence that Demands a Verdict. It is a good book on apologetics, but that book alone will not convict people.
Jesus went around healing the sick, raising the dead and casting out demons but everyone did not follow Him. In fact, some people hated Jesus and wanted to kill him. God’s Spirit must work to convict and draw people to Jesus. We see this in I Samuel 6.
Anyone who is completely open-minded, and objective could see that Yahweh was greater than Dagon. He kept beating him up. He not only defeated him; He humiliated him but they never came to the conclusion that Yahweh was the true God. They continued to worship the god Dagon.
In I Samuel 7, they came up with a plan. The plan was completely impossible. There was no way it should have worked. It was a crazy plan to take two cows who have just given birth, separate them from their babies, yoke them for the first time to another cow they have never worked with and expected them to go all of the way to Israel on their own without any direction.
Why did they come up with such a crazy plan? It was a scientific experiment. It was a test to determine one thing. Was God working or was chance working?
Take the ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, 9 but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then THE LORD has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us BY CHANCE.” (I Samuel 6:8-9 NIV).
The amazing thing is that the plan worked and it proved conclusively that this was a God thing. God was involved in the judgment of the Philistines. God was involved in the judgment of their god Dagon. God was involved in leading the cows back to Israel. Despite all of this, there is no evidence that any of these Philistines became worshippers of the one true God. God is the only one who came change the human heart.