1 When the ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, 2 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.” 3 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.” 4 The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?” They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers. 5 Make models of the tumors 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. 6 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? 7 “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. 8 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, 9 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.” 10 So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. 11 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 tumors. 12 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.
(1 Samuel 6:1-12)
Yesterday we saw that the Philistines had grown tired of all the problems having the ark of the covenant in their land had brought. So they consulted their priests and diviners to determine how to return the ark to Israel. The priests and diviners were two different groups of people.
The priests were knowledgeable about static religious practices, including religions other than their own. Diviners, on the other hand, were less practical. They based their decisions on consultations with the “gods” through astrology, teraphim (sculpted figurines), and other methods.
Notice that there was apparently some hesitation about sending the ark back as the priests’ advice was prefaced by “if you return the ark of the god of Israel“. We’ll see more evidence that the people weren’t totally sold on the idea as we continue to study this passage over the next few days.
As was consistent with ancient pagan religions, the Philistines decide to appease God with gifts, thinking that is the only way to be healed. It seems the people had been wondering why their maladies had not been lifted.
Apparently they had tried various remedies over the preceding seven months including, most likely, praying to their god, and could not understand why nothing had worked. They had expected to be cured but had not been. Their “final hope” was to offer gifts to the true God – the God of Israel.
In ancient times, it was customary for offerings to the gods to depict the trouble the people had been saved from. To that end, the priests recommend that the people make five gold tumors and five gold rats. We know the people were afflicted with tumors [1 Samuel 5:6] but this is the first we’ve heard of rats.
It’s possible that the tumors were the actually the bubonic plague, which is known to be carried by rodents. Or, its possible that in addition to the tumors God also sent rats to devastate the agriculture of the Philistines during this time. The bottom line is we don’t know exactly where the rats came from or how they were involved in the Philistine’s problems. But apparently they were.
In any case the people were hopeful, but not 100% sure (perhaps) God would lift His hand from their gods and their land. Notice how the Philistines knew it was the God of Israel who was destroying their country. Notice also their admission that the God of Israel was more powerful than their own gods.
The Philistines were trying to do the right thing. They did not know the God of the Bible well enough though, and they got some things wrong here. Most importantly, they mistakenly believed that God needs to be appeased with sacrifices.
Many ancient religions such as those of Rome or Greece teach that their gods needed to be appeased. Appeasing God is still very prevalent today in religions like Islam. Muslims believe that they must earn their way into Allah’s good graces by performing certain acts here on earth. Those acts are often violent, such as killing Christians or Jews.
Even some Bible-based religions like Catholicism have fallen into this trap with, for example, their ritual of candle lighting in order to get their prayer requests fulfilled or with their belief that one must be baptized with water to go to heaven.
All this amounts to one thing: people thinking they can obligate God through their own actions. They think they can control God. This, of course, is not true [Romans 8:8].
Moreover, there is no reason to control God. The whole idea of controlling God is based on a misunderstanding of God Himself. Many people – too many people – think God is an angry tyrant who needs to be, and can be, appeased (i.e. controlled) through our actions. But this is an inaccurate picture of God. And an inaccurate understanding of man.
The concept of appeasement puts man in control of his own god. When man can appease his god, then the god is no longer the god; man is. And, of course, we are not gods. And God cannot be controlled.
True, sin has separated us from God. But no man can close that gap on his own by making an offering to God. Only Jesus can reconcile God and man. This is precisely what Jesus did on the cross – He took on the penalty for sin so we don’t have to [2 Corinthians 5:18]. Therefore, none of us have to do anything to reconcile ourselves to God.
God is not angry with you. He does not need to be appeased. He loves you and desires to spend eternity with you regardless of the mistakes you’ve made with your life [John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10 et. al]. That is why He created you in the first place.
He doesn’t want gifts from you. He simply wants you.
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