While the Philistines have unlawful possession of the ark, God strikes them with plagues. As each successive town connects their troubles with the presence of the ark, they pass its care into another town’s hands – until they finally realize that they need to just send it back to where it belongs. Which they do.
Israel receives the ark back with joy and celebration. But they also stumble by not treating the ark with the honor and reverence that they should. Back in chapter 4 they had put their trust in it; now they failed to consider its sacredness. As punishment, God struck them, and so Israel followed the example of the Philistines and sent it on to another town.
I was a little unsure about what I could get out of these chapters, until I came to the last verses of chapter 6 and read, “And the men of Beth Shemesh said, ‘Who is able to stand before this holy LORD God? And to whom shall it go from us?’ So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjath Jearim, saying, ‘The Philistines have brought back the ark of the LORD; come down and take it up with you.'”
Back in chapter 4, after being defeated in battle, Israel had asked a question without taking time to find the answer. Now once again, Israel asks a question, and once again, they don’t wait for an answer. Once again, they take matters in their own hands.
Like their Philistine neighbors, they recognized God’s hand in the disasters they experienced. But their response was to push Him away. It was too risky to have His Presence so close. Rather than respond in humility, recognizing their error and accepting the consequences, they tried to escape the situation. They failed to take on true humility, and they failed to return the ark back to the tabernacle in Shiloh. Instead they sent it to a city about one-third of the way between the ark’s then-current location (Beth Shemesh) and its proper location in Shiloh.
I don’t know why they didn’t return the ark to Shiloh. Maybe after 7 months, Shiloh was still in upheaval over the deaths of three of its priests. Maybe they figured whoever was left in Shiloh wasn’t holy enough to take care of the ark. So maybe their intentions weren’t all bad. But whatever the case, they didn’t consult the LORD about where He wanted the ark, and they didn’t properly grieve over their own sins. I guess they weren’t too far removed from the days of the Judges, after all, when “men did what was right in their own eyes.”
They asked a good question. Too bad they didn’t let God answer it.
“Who is able to stand before this holy LORD God?”
The answer: no one.
But in His grace, He has made a way for us to stand before Him.
So do we?
Or must others stand in the gap for us?
14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.