1 Samuel 6

I Samuel 6 Devotional
by Pastor Mark Hudson

            In I Samuel, we can divide the book into these three subjects:

Samuel chapters 1-8

Saul      chapters 9-15

David   chapters 16-31

We find a fascinating chapter with paganism and disobedient Israelites together.  Hannah’s prayer in chapter 2 is often called an introduction to the themes of Samuel’s book, we will discover those themes in this chapter.  In this chapter we find:

Heavy Hand of God 6:1-9     

Highway of God  6:10-12

Holiness of God 6:13-21

          The ark has been in the “hands” of the Philistines.  They have had the ark for 7 months and in the previous chapter, the Philistines experienced heavy hand of God.  Everywhere the ark went, tumors followed.  So finally, the lords of the Philistines decided to send it back,  but they were not convinced their problems were from God.  So, they begin by asking the priests what they should do.

          The priest and diviners come up with this unusual plan.  Get a brand-new cart, find cows that have never pulled a cart, find cows (not bulls) who have calves (v. 7) and fill the cart with the ark and gold copies of the tumors and mice. 

          The priests suggest they do all this to give glory to God.  They are to provide guilt offerings that are costly (v. 3 “do not send it (the ark) back empty”).  They also refer to the Exodus as if this is a reconquest of the land.  In fact, Israel plunders the Philistines, they come to the field of Joshua, and the Philistines are told to not harden their hearts as the Egyptians did. 

          What they are doing is making it nigh impossible for the cows to go to the land of Israel.  First, the cows would never want to leave their calves.  Second, having never pulled a cart, they would be unaccustomed to pulling a cart.  Finally, if they haven’t expressed their milk, they would be truly uncomfortable.  So, if they stay in Philistia, all this trouble is unexplainable or at least not from the God of Israel.  But if, somehow, miraculously, they leave their calves and plod along to Israel, the priests’ reason, we know Yahweh had done this.

          The cows take off straight to Beth-Shemesh, not turning to the right or to the left.  They are lowing, almost complaining as they go, as if a silent and invisible driver is leading them away from their calves.  The lords of the Philistines follow as far as the border town of Beth-Shemesh.  The cows stop in the field of Joshua. 

          I can’t help but think about a liberal “preacher” coming to a town like this and attempting to peddle a God of no wrath.  While these cities did not experience conversion, they were taught a theological lesson they would not forget.  They knew God was a God of judgment. 

          So that is the heavy hand of God, the highway of God, and one would think all is well, the story is over, and everything is fine.  The Philistines have gone home, the ark is in Israel, the priests care for the ark (v. 15) and the sacrifices have begun. 

          In v. 19, we see again the holiness of God.  Only bulls (male cattle were to be sacrificed and the ark was not a novelty item to stare at or into.  Whatever the case, 70 people died for their disobedience and irreverence.  They knew the rules God had given them and especially the Levites already mentioned knew. 
          Now the Israelites act like the pagans wondering what they should do.  How about remembering what God told you about the ark?  God gave explicit directions about the ark.  Instead, they pawn it off to Kiriath-jearim who hold it for 20 years. 

          Sometimes, I imagine the first readers of Biblical accounts laughing out loud at Biblical accounts.  I think the entire tumor incident must have caused a few snickers at least.  The lowing cattle had to illicit some head shaking.  But other times, the readers of these accounts must have felt fear.  Seventy people dying for their casual approach to God and His Word. 

          We see a gracious God allowing the Philistines to give glory to God in the way that seemed right to them.  They feel guilt and realize their offering must be costly.  They seem to cry “Uncle” after thinking Yahweh was merely a localized deity they could add to the many other gods in their arsenal. 

          We see God leading and directing those cows to do exactly what He wanted even stopping at the very place God willed.  What seemed impossible with man, God does without issue.

          Yet, God keeps telling His people there is a right and a wrong way to worship Me.  His will must be followed.  For deliberate disobedience, there are consequences.  Although they express shock, God’s people were not ignorant and should not be shocked at His refusal to be toyed with. 

          This last section does not portend well for God’s people.  And sure enough, the stories that follow are twisted and tainted by sin.  Yet, we find God can accomplish His will in spite of my sin.

          Father, I can find so many reasons that Your will cannot be accomplished.  Sometimes pagans look better in their reasoning than Your own people. I admit to You that my approach to You is distorted by my own reasoning. I deserve Your judgment yet I keep appealing to Christ who bore my sin.  He allows me to approach You by His blood.  Your Holy Spirit assures me that I am Yours.  In the name of Him who suffered for me.  Amen.