1 Samuel 6


‘When the ark of the LORD had been in Philistine territory seven months, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, ‘What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.’ 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.’ The Philistines asked, ‘What guilt offering should we send to him?’ They replied, ‘Five gold tumours and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers. Make models of the tumours and of the rats that are destroying the country and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land. 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? ‘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. 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 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.’ 1 Samuel 6:1-9

The Ark Returned To Israel

Every religion in the world, even those pagan religions have their ‘go to’ people. The Philistines were no exception, their ‘go to’ people were the priest and the diviners who served and worshipped Dagon who was an idol of the Philistines, 1 Samuel 5:1-5.

The priests basically worked in the capacity of serving the religious rites and ceremonies of the religion of the Philistines. The diviners were basically magicians who took advantage of people’s imaginations. They decided that if they send Ark of the Covenant back to the Israelites, then they should also send a gift.

But notice this was a ‘guilt offering’, this isn’t a ‘guilt offering’ as the Israelites understood it to mean because the Philistines were practising some form of magic.

Although the previous chapter makes no mention of ‘rats’ we can easily make the connection between the plague and the rats, this would probably be like the bubonic plague, which, according to all the evidence, was the particular plague that struck Philistia. The number ‘five’ in these verses and the mention of all five cities in 1 Samuel 6:17, indicates that the plague had involved all Philistia.

Notice again the reference to the Egyptians and Pharaoh, 1 Samuel 4:8. Even these magicians and diviners were well aware of what God did 400 years after Israel left Egypt.

Notice also that they understood the truth that Pharaoh hardened his own heart against God, Exodus 8:15 / Exodus 8:32 / Exodus 9:34. God didn’t harden Pharaoh’s heart, God gave him the opportunity to exercise his own free will and Pharaoh chose to harden his own heart against the will of God.

Coffman says the following about what the Philistines were trying to do here. He says

‘the device of the Philistines in sending back the ark was clearly experimental; and they had no certain knowledge as to the way it would turn out. Therefore, we should understand the statement in 1 Samuel 6:3, that they, would be healed as a conditional, promise. This indicates that they were still uncertain as to whether or not God was responsible for their plagues’.

This was basically a test by the Philistines, and the test was this, if the cows smashed the cart in order to return to their calves, then the presence of the Israelite God was not with the ark of the covenant. Normally, cows wouldn’t have left their calves and cows that had never been yoked wouldn’t have taken a cart anywhere, much less on a 17-mile trip down a dusty road.

Beth Shemesh was an ancient Canaanite city, the name means ‘house of the sun god’, this tells us that the Canaanites had shrines and temples throughout Canaan.

‘So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. They placed the ark of the LORD on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumours. Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh. 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. 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. The Levites took down the ark of the LORD, together with the chest containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. On that day the people of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the LORD. The five rulers of the Philistines saw all this and then returned that same day to Ekron.’ 1 Samuel 6:10-16

Since the Philistines weren’t aware how to carry the ark, that is, it was to be carried on poles resting upon the shoulders of priests, Deuteronomy 31:9, they put them on a cart which was being pulled along by the cows. Against their nature, the cows progressed on the designated route while lowing for their calves that they left behind.

The men of Beth Shemesh were Levites, that city having been designated as a city of the Levites ever since the days of Joshua, Joshua 21:16. Whilst the Philistines looked on, the Levites took charge of the ark.

The Philistines come to the conclusion that there was a God relating to the ark and although they didn’t fully understand, they knew that the ark was back where it belonged, with the Israelites.

‘These are the gold tumours the Philistines sent as a guilt offering to the LORD—one each for Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron. And the number of the gold rats was according to the number of Philistine towns belonging to the five rulers—the fortified towns with their country villages. The large rock on which the Levites set the ark of the LORD is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh. 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. 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?’ Then they sent messengers to the people of Kiriath Jearim, saying, ‘The Philistines have returned the ark of the LORD. Come down and take it up to your town.’ 1 Samuel 6:17-21

The five gold tumours were a guilt offering from to the Lord from the Philistines, along with the five gold rats from the five rulers. Notice the Lord struck down 70 people because they looked into the ark, as a result the people mourned.

It’s clear that the people were terrified and quickly realised that they couldn’t just handle the ark however they wanted, it must be handled according to God’s instructions, that is, it was to be carried on poles resting upon the shoulders of priests, Deuteronomy 31:9.

The men of Beth Shemesh couldn’t bear the presence of the ark and so the men of Kirjath Jearim came and took it. In the next chapter we see that they placed it in Abinadab’s house, and consecrated Eleazar his son, to guard it, 1 Samuel 7:1. The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim for twenty years in all, 1 Samuel 7:2, but this wasn’t where it was supposed to be, it was supposed to be placed inside the holy of holies.

Go To 1 Samuel 7


"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

Hebrews 11:6