The Ark of the Lord’s Covenant was absent from the land of Israel from November or December of 1122 BC, to May or June of 1121. For seven long months, the Philistines were punished with the presence of the Ark. During that long period of time, it was a plague to them, because they would not send it home sooner! In the same way, hardened sinners lengthen out their own miseries by refusing to part with their sins. Alas! Unregenerated persons are very willing to shake off their convictions of sin; and when they are in trouble, they choose to believe that it is only “bad luck” that happened to them, instead of hearing and heeding the voice of the Lord’s rod.
It seems that during those seven months, the Israelites made no effort whatsoever to recover the Ark of God. Alas! How little do we find concern for the Lord’s cause prevailing above all other matters! In times of public calamity, we fear for ourselves, our families, and our country; but who takes special thought for the Ark of the Lord? We are favored with the Gospel, but it is often treated with neglect or contempt. We ought not wonder if it should be taken away from us; for although it would be the heaviest of calamities, it would not be the cause of any grief for many persons. There are multitudes who would be pleased by any other “religion,” just as well as Christianity. But thanks be to God that there are still those who value the house, the Word, and the ministry of God above their richest possessions; and who dread the loss of these blessings more than death itself!
After seven months, by the advice of the priests and diviners of the Philistines, the Ark of the Covenant was placed on a new cart. The Ark was accompanied by a voluntary offering from the five lords of the Philistines. This offering consisted of five golden mice (probably field-mice, which were likely plaguing the Philistines by being unusually numerous and destructive among their stored-up crops), as well as five golden representations of the tumors from which the Philistines had been suffering. The cart, with its precious cargo, was drawn by a pair of milk cows; and it was sent away eastward toward the highlands of Judah. The Philistine priests declared that if the animals – of their own accord – took the road toward Bethshemesh, then that would be an evidence that the plagues had indeed been inflicted by the God of the Hebrews, for detaining the Ark which should have remained in their own land. Of course, Divine Providence caused the two cows immediately took the road leading to Bethshemesh, with the five lords of the Philistines following in person. These two cows knew their great Owner, whom the Israelites themselves had forsaken.
As the cart bearing the Ark of God approached the town of Bethshemesh, the inhabitants who were out reaping in their wheat-fields received the sacred object with marks of the utmost joy! The return of the Ark, and the revival of the Lord’s holy ordinances after months of restraint and trouble, were matters of great rejoicing. The priestly Levites who resided there took the Ark off the cart and placed it – together with the box of golden models – on a slab of rock which was close at hand. Then they took the cows which had brought back the Ark and offered them in sacrifice, using the wood of the cart as fuel.
But the rejoicing of the Bethshemites was not accompanied by the reverence that was due to the Ark of Jehovah, and some of them daringly presumed to pry into its interior. For this, a whole host of people was struck dead; and the rest, fearing that the judgment would be repeated, sent a message to the citizens of Kirjath-jearim, inviting them to fetch the Ark away from them. It is a great affront to God for vain men to pry into and meddle with the secret things which do not belong to them (Deut. 29:29). Those who ignore God’s goodness, and who irreverently use the tokens of His grace, shall be made to feel His justice.
Blessed Jesus, You Yourself are the very throne of grace – the very Ark and Mercy-seat; in Whom, Jehovah is accessible to all the humble requests of our souls. We thank You that in Your blood and righteousness, we find the removal of our guilt; and in Your dear Person, we have all we need – both for security and comfort. Amen.
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illustration by Gustave Doré | Wikimedia Commons