Holiness, and Heaviness

The Israelites were mistaken when they thought using the Ark would result in God taking action, they thought they could use it like a remote control to impel God to defeat the Philistines.  Their plan did not work, we cannot force God’s hand.  Nor do we ever have better plans than His.  When we forget Him, He is not likely to succumb to our whims.  The Philistines took the Ark, and our study today begins with what they do with it.

If you are just now joining us, the study began here. The notes seem scattered this week, it was difficult to juggle writing and all else going on in life–I pray these will be a blessing to those who are trying to study the book, and thank you in advance for not critiquing my writing style!

To sum up chapter five, we see the Philistines bring the Ark into the house of one of their gods, Dagon, a very popular god among Canaanites. The god is found the next morning in a posture of worship, and the next day was found with head and hands chopped off–symbolic of defeat at the hand of an enemy.  The LORD is showing the Philistines quickly that they too are unable to control God

Heavy hand

The hand of the LORD was heavy on the Ashdodites, verse 6.  We will see this phrase repeated, as the Philistines feel the burden of having something they ought not, and they know it, “the Ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us…”  They never consider that this God is one worth serving, they never consider that since His power is so much greater, perhaps they ought to know this God.  

Rather, they fear, and plan to get rid of the ark.  Each city that housed the ark suffered severely.  They were weary of the “deadly confusion throughout the city; the hand of God [being] very heavy there.  And the men who did not die were smitten with tumors and the cry of the city went up to heaven.” (verses 11-12)  

The cry was terrific, terrifying, and loud enough to warrant this description, this was a big deal.  Consider for a moment, and remember that God will not be mocked or controlled by His creation.  He will protect His people, even though they have not been faithful–because He is good, and He is faithful.

Giving Back the Ark

6:5  You shall give glory to the God of Israel–perhaps He will lighten His hand.  Once again, the writer harks back to the play of antonyms, kavod/kaved (glory/heavy) and qal (light, worthless).  Glory has been exiled from Israel with the capture of the Ark; now with the restitution of the Ark together with the indemnity payment of golden images, glory will be restored.  This process helps explain the insistence on the term “give back” associated with the guilt offering.  

6:6 harden heart, or–to make your heart heavy, this is another instance of the now familiar play on words with heavy and glory; this time with a link to Exodus, and a call to remember all that He did then.

They decide to use their own custom to make it go away–put it on a cart, with cows that have never been yoked, yoke them together and let them go, hoping they will go where the ark wants to be.

Did they treat Him as holy?

When the ark returned to Israel, some look inside.  This behavior had never been allowed, why did they do it?  And why does anyone grow angry at the LORD for addressing their actions?  There is part of us that wants God to “lighten up” (see what I did there?) and when anyone in our life addresses our sins, don’t we want them to just “lighten up” and “get over it, no one is perfect.”  But God struck down those who looked inside.

As you consider these questions, to whatever degree you struggle to see that Your Heavenly Father is good, and worthy of our adoration and obedience, spend some time here, and in Psalms 24-29, 38, 40, 51; John 21:15-17; and 1 Peter 1.  What do you see in His Word concerning His desire for your heart/inner man?

Who is able to stand?  This slaughter leads to mourning, even though the return of the ark could have brought great joy.  6:20  “stand before” usually signifies a priest, one who stands before Him, serving.  

7:20 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?”

“This holy God” denotes a distancing, not the same as Hannah declaring YHWH holy.  “This” = superficial; a dark time in Israel’s history filled with distancing from YHWH.

Twenty years have passed with the ark in Kiriath-jearim.  They’ve again forgotten God and served baals, but all the house of Israel “lamented after the LORD.”  Samuel appears, twenty years of lamenting and Israel is now at a time/place/readiness in God’s Sovereign timing to hear the same call heard over and over and over in Deuteronomy.  

If with all your heart, repentance, returning–THEN put away the foreign gods and fix your heart on the Lord and serve Him alone.

2 From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord. 3 And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.

Cross references: 1 Kings 8; Is 55:7; Hos 6:1; Joel 2:12; Deut 16:21-22; 30:2-10; 2 Chron 31:1, 2 Kings 18:4;  Gen 35:2; Josh 24:14, 23; Judges 10:16

The same as in all the period of Judges.  God raises up a judge to heal them from apostasy–oppression, they repent and are delivered… But do they turn from God again?

6-12, Samuel, the judge, is also performing priestly duties, praying for them and offering sacrifice.  The LORD responds to him by thundering against the Philistines.  Remember Hannah’s prophetic prayer, 2:10 “Those who contend with the LORD will be shattered; against them He will thunder in the heavens, the LORD will judge the ends of the earth…”  Here, He thunders, and it will not be the last time in redemptive history that He does so.

The people ask Samuel to pray, God delivers them from the Philistines once again.  He brings confusion upon the enemy by speaking through a storm.  

In the Ancient Near East, battles were often described by use of storm language (see page 236), but Scripture shows many times when the LORD has appeared in His use of the natural phenomena that He is Sovereign over!  Israel marched out after YHWH confused the enemy, after God began the battle with His thundering.  How is this different than the battle in which they brought the ark, chapter 4?  

How does this passage lead us to trust God, even in the midst of our battles and the tribulation promised to the church which manifests differently?  

God Sovereign over All Creation

God ensures the victory by thundering–not by being manipulated.  He controls nature to show that He will not be controlled, He is in control, He is not bound by our whims or actions.  Victory over the enemies came not by scheming or might, but when they worshiped and ceased from trying to be in control.  

7:14, Amorites (sin of the ammorites not yet complete Gen 15:16)  ancient Canaanite inhabitants, a general term used here.  The Israelites subdued the Philistines and thus enjoyed peace from all the surrounding people groups. How long had it been since they enjoyed any peace?   

15-16, a beautiful description of the faithful service of Samuel, making rounds through Israel and judging “all the days of his life.” At this point, before moving on to the next week’s topic of kingship, think through all that we know of the man Samuel from the first seven chapters.