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 the Philistines consult their priests and diviners about what to do with the ark of the Lord. The priests and diviners mistakenly thought they needed to appease God with golden trinkets. They were wrong about this, as we learned. However, in today’s passage we see that they got something right.
The Philistines had heard how Israel’s God dealt harshly with the Egyptians who had hardened their hearts towards Him. Eventually they (the Egyptians) sent the Israelites out of their land.
This, of course, refers back to the ten plagues which God sent upon Egypt after Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites leave that country to go to their new homeland, which God had set aside for them [Exodus 7:14-11:10]. Pharaoh was exceedingly stubborn, allowing he and his country to be devastated by trouble after trouble until he finally relented, finally realizing that he could not defeat God.
The Philistines looked at their situation and realized that it was similar to that of Egypt. Their spiritual leaders, for all their faults and misunderstandings, wisely advised the people not to repeat Egypt’s mistakes.
It is always a good idea to learn from other people’s experiences rather than from your own. But to do that, we have to know some history.
Certainly people do this all the time. We learn about good or bad experiences our friends have at restaurants. We see news reports of people getting arrested for various crimes and (hopefully) we realize that we should not engage in similar behavior.
In the world of sports, teams use scouts to learn about another players’ tendencies by studying what that player did in the past. So when they find themselves on the other side of the field from him, they have an idea of what to expect and can plan accordingly.
Likewise, if we want to understand God we can look at His history. That history is found in the Bible.
We can learn all we need to know about God – but not all there is not know about Him – from the Bible. That is one of the reasons why God gave us the Bible: so we could learn about Him and use that knowledge to guide our lives.
By studying the Bible – which is what this blog is all about – we can see the attitudes and behaviors that will make our lives go well. We can also see which attitudes and behaviors will make our lives go poorly.
For example, God tells us to honor our father and mother so that it may go well with you. If we honor our parents God will honor us [Ephesians 6:2-3]. Just a few days ago, we learned that God will also honor those who honor Him [1 Samuel 2:30].
These are specific verses that tell us how we should live. To be sure, there are a lot of “do” and “don’t” verses in the Bible that tell us exactly what do to or not to do.
But there are also a lot of stories in the Bible from which we can learn. By studying the story of Joseph, for example, we can learn (among other things) how to conduct ourselves when confronted by a tempting, sinful situation [Genesis 39]. Although not a real-life story, by studying the various characters in the parable of the prodigal son we can learn how not to live [Luke 15:11-30].
The lives of people like Moses, David, and Jonah teach us a lot. Earlier in our study of 1 Samuel we saw a great example of a godly mother in Hannah that should teach us how to raise and love our children. There are dozens of such stories in the Bible.
And, of course, by studying the life of Jesus in the four gospels, we can learn the exact kind of humble, servant-oriented life God wants all His children to live.
God gave us the Bible so we could learn from it. If we study it – and the Bible should be studied, not simply read – we can live lives that avoid trouble and instead result in the joy that God wants for us.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.