(Holman Bible Atlas, Pg 96)
My dad can beat up your dad!
Reading chapter 5 of 1st Samuel reminds me of the schoolyard conversations that many of us had when we were children. These conversations centered on our dad’s or big brother’s feats of heroism. Implicit in these kinds of conversations was the idea that, “while I may not be strong, my daddy is strong—you mess with me, you mess with him!”
What’s sad is that the Philistines understood this principle. After hearing the shouts of Israel’s army, they said to themselves, “Too bad for us! Who can deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all sorts of plagues in the desert! Be strong and act like men, you Philistines” (1 Sam 4:8–9a). Like we said throughout the book of Joshua, what God did to Egypt had spread throughout the region (4:8 & 6:6). Yet, they arrogantly fought the army of the living God…and won.
The Philistines capture the Ark as in the map above, but they soon discovered that was a really bad idea. While God gives people the opportunity to stand for him, he is fully capable of fighting his own battles. He proved this by placing the god of the Philistines, Dagon, in a position of worship before the ark (5:3). The Philistines returned Dagon to his place; but the next day, God lopped off his head and hands (5:4).
I can’t help but think that in God’s grace he often shows us the folly of our worship when it is inappropriately placed. God repeatedly shows us the weakness of our idols, yet when we fail to return to him, he allows us to personally face the consequences of our sin (5:6).
Ignorance v. Stupidity
The Philistines at Ashdod faced severe consequences and they finally did a smart thing, they got the Ark out of town. They sent the Ark to Gath, and they sent it to Ekron. Everywhere it went, God’s judgment followed. Finally, the Philistines decided to send the Ark home, to Israel. What really matters in this story, however, is how they sent it home, and how it was received.
The Philistine “priests and the diviners,” recognized the majesty of the Most High God and when they sent the Ark back to Israel, they did so with a guilt offering (6:3–4). This sounds really good; however, this is NOT how God had revealed that he wants to be worshipped. The Philistines made a bunch of golden images and sent the Ark on a cart pulled by cows back to Israel. While this does not signify salvific repentance, the Philistines acted reverently according to their traditions to esteem Israel’s God. They acted ignorantly because they probably didn’t know any better.
When the Levites at Beth-shemesh received the Ark, they wanted to celebrate—they broke up the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering (6:14). This sounds good, but, again, this is NOT how God had revealed that he wants to be worshipped. The Philistines acted in ignorance, while the Israelites, and especially the Levites (who should’ve known better), acted stupidly. By way of example, Leviticus 1:3 makes clear that burnt offerings should be males from the herd, not female. Also, Numbers 4:5–6 gives instruction that the Ark should remain hidden from view except for the priests preparing it for transport (carried by poles, not carts, which is an important detail). They were certainly not supposed to put it on a large stone for all to see (6:15). Nor were they to elevate to a position of worship the articles of gold, reminiscent of the golden calf that led to the swift judgement of so many Israelites in Exodus 32. All of this heightens the events described in 6:19–21, when God struck down those who looked in the Ark—a big no-no.
God is gracious in our ignorance. However, when people ignore God’s Word and defy God, judgement will follow. Ignorance is not a defense in terms of salvation (cf. Romans 1:20), but God extends grace as we grow in sanctification—moving from ignorance to wisdom. Stupidity, however, is like the young man who looked at me in a conversation and said, “I know what the Bible says, but…” Anything that follows that statement is grade-A stupid. Unfortunately, while most of us would never verbalize those words, we often say the exact same thing through our actions. May God through the Holy Spirit convict us in this area—may we be forgiven for our stupidity and receive grace in our ignorance.
By: Tyler Short