THE BOOK OF 1 SAMUEL

Ignoring the evidence

1 Samuel 6:1-9 SCC 11/2/14

 

R. C. Sproul makes this insightful observation from Isaiah 6: The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy; the whole earth is full of His glory. Note verse 20. Is there a more important question than that not just in this life, but in the world to come as we face God before the judgment seat of Christ. Who can stand before the holiness of God? It's the gospel question. 3 questions in this chapter reveal its truth to usÖv 2, v 4, and v 20.

 

THE WRATH OF GOD MUST BE PROPITIATED 1-3

1. God had struck city after city of the Philistines with tumors. Some believe that this tumor is a reference to the bubonic plague. The reference here to mice, or perhaps to rats in v 4-5 may be an indicator of such a thing. So there is a problem here, and the Philistines identify it in verse 2. They need to get rid of the Ark of the Covenant. If the Ark is the cause of this plague in which thousands of people have died what to do? So the question is put to the priests and the diviners: What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us, with what shall we send it to its place?

 

2. They realize that they can't just send the ark back v 3. Even in this pagan religion the Philistines worshiped a multiplicity of gods, and having the Ark of the Covenant was just one more deity to add to their pantheon. But they realized that if God had been offended, He needed to be propitiated. They needed to send something back with the ark to appease His wrath. It's insightful on the part of the Philistines. God needs to be propitiated. His wrath has been manifested.

 

NB: Modern man doesn't accept the wrath of God. They find the concept of the wrath of God wholly unacceptable and this passage confronts this head-on. Here is God. Here is the Ark. And these Philistines are very conscious that in sending it away, preferably back to the Israelites, God needs to be at peace. God's wrath has to be acknowledged and appeased. What do you think of that? You might be saying, ĎI really don't want to believe in a God like that, because my God is a God of love and plagues, and death, and tumors is so intolerant.í What drives that thought is the belief in entitlement; that we are entitled to be dealt with in a tolerant way. It's typical of modern man. It's how most people think, that since God is a God of tolerance I expect him to show deference to me. The basic biblical concept consistent throughout the revelation of Godís nature in scripture is sin requires payment not tolerance.

 

ONLY AN ACCEPTABLE PAYMENT WILL PROVIDE FULL FORGIVENESS 4-18

1. Israelís God must be appeased, but how? v 4. The Philistine priests idolize the solution. They counsel the Philistine lords to appease God by making a guilt offering of gold. This is not an attempt to bribe but five golden images of tumors and five of mice or rats v 5. They assure the lords that this will appease God, resulting in the healing of Philistines from the plague. If this action succeeds in stopping the plague, then the Philistines can be assured that they have found the explanation for Godís anger and their suffering.

 

2. The Philistines are well aware of the exodus v 6. They know that Pharaoh and the Egyptians hardened their hearts against God, even though He brought numerous plagues upon them. They do not wish to make this same mistake. Thus, they suggest letting the Ark go back to Israel, along with a guilt offering v 7-8. The Egyptians erred by not letting the Israelites go. They will not err by refusing to let the Ark go.

 

3. While the Philistines are eager to be rid of the Ark, they still want to be cautious. They are willing to admit that the Ark of the God of Israel is the source of their suffering. They devise a plan, which will only work if the Ark is the cause of their suffering, and only if God is able to override the course of nature. The priests advise putting the Ark, along with the guilt offering, on a new ox cart. The cart is to be drawn by two milk cows, both with still nursing calves. The calves are to be locked up and the cows are yoked to the cart and left free to go. If these cows follow the course of nature, they will turn back to their calves. If the plagues are from God, who wants the Ark returned, then the cows will leave their calves behind, drawing the Ark directly to Israel. If that happens it is safe to assume that all of the Philistinesí troubles are from this God and they have made the right choice letting the Ark go. If not, they will be able to keep the Ark, assured that all the plagues are merely a coincidence v 9. The Philistine lords follow from a distance, until they observe the cart and its cargo coming to a halt in Israelite territory v 10-12.

 

NB: This guilt offering is the product of the Philistinesí pagan religion and not the practice of the Jewish faith, as prescribed in the Law of Moses. A guilt offering was a blood sacrifice but no blood is involved in the Philistinesí guilt offering. The reason for a guilt offering is the sin of the one offering the sacrifice to God. There is no acknowledgment of sin by the Philistines but rather an idolization of the instruments of divine judgment: rats and tumors. The Philistines do not realize that their offering is an offense to the God of Israel and not an offering, which will appease His anger. There is a certain human wisdom about the guilt offering--the rats; the tumors are instruments of Godís wrath. There are five lords and five cities, so why not five golden tumors and five golden rodents to appease him. The cessation of the plagues and the healing of the Philistines are not results of their guilt offering but gifts of Godís grace.

 

4. The Israelites of Beth Shemesh who witness the return of the Ark are ecstatic when they realize that the Ark has returned to Israel v 13. Those reaping in the fields are the first to see it, and the Israelites quickly and joyfully offer up a sacrifice to God, using the wood of the cart to fuel the fire and the cows, which drew the cart as the offering v 14-15.

 

THE HOLINESS OF GOD LEADS YOU TO AN AWARENESS OF YOUR SINFULNESS 19-21

1. It is a great and festive occasion, but the spirits of the Israelite worshippers are quickly subdued when a plague breaks out on the people of Beth Shemesh v 19. Some of the people have carelessly and disobediently looked into or upon the Ark of the Lord, so that a significant number of the inhabitants of that place are struck dead.

 

2. The survivors of this slaughter are horrified and shocked v 20. They do not know what to do. Why did God strike so many worshipping Israelites dead? If people die for such reasons as this, how can the Ark remain among them? Who is able to stand in the presence of the Holy God? (3rd Question) And to whom will they send the Ark? The Israelites find themselves in a situation quite similar to the one facing the Philistines, except that the Ark belongs in Israel, not among the Philistines. Like the Philistines, the Israelites of Beth Shemesh seek to send the Ark to some other place, so that the heavy hand of God may be turned away from them v 21. So how will Israel respond? Stay tuned.

 

So What?

1. The holiness of God reveals to you and me our sin and sinfulness in comparison. Nothing like shining a light on something and seeing the defects you had an idea were there. So too with the holiness of God. You may not have the awareness of those sinful defects since you refuse to see God as a holy God. He sees them whether you do or not. Calling God tolerant does not change what has been revealed about your sin. Now you have fashioned God into the idol you wish for Him to be.

2. You can never afford to be soft on sin as a believer. Every time we are soft on sin we change the standard upon which the holiness of God is based to accommodate it. There is a day or reckoning for that. Godís standard is bound to His character so the standard never vacillates. Softening it will only place you in jeopardy with God.

3. The essence of a maturing faith, and one God will reward, is a deep sense of the holiness of God and a corresponding deep sense of confession and repentance. So what is holiness?

(1) To be holy is to be distinct, separate, in a class by oneself. This means that the one who is holy is uniquely holy, with no rivals or competition. (2) To be holy is to be morally pure. (3) For God to be holy is for Him to be holy in relation to every aspect of His nature and character. (4) The holiness of God is the basis and the compelling necessity for our sanctification. The holiness of God is the reason we too are commanded to live holy lives:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all [your] behavior; because it is written, YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY. And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each manís work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay [upon earth]; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, [the blood] of Christ 1 PT 1:14-19.