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 read of the Philistines’ convoluted plan to return the ark to Israel. As we study it we see that they really would have preferred to keep the ark and still weren’t 100% sure that it was God’s hand that had struck them.
If the Philistines really wanted to give the ark back they simply could have carried it over to Israel themselves. Or summoned Israel to come get it. They didn’t have to build a new cart, hitch up milking cows to it, and have them deliver it. The entire plan was nothing more than a test. The Philistines were testing God to see if it was really He who had brought all the calamity upon their people.
The Philistines were hoping that the cows would not go to Beth Shemesh, thereby proving that God was not the source of the tumors they had and the rats that infested their land. This would allow them to keep the gold-covered ark – a valuable spoil of war.
I think a lot of us do similar things in our lives. We wonder if God exists so we come up with some scenario that would prove He does. But that scenario is so far fetched that it likely won’t come true. And when it doesn’t, we breath a sigh of relief because we didn’t want to believe in God anyway.
Even those of us who are God’s children can do things like this. Perhaps we feel a tug to do something that we really don’t want to do – like donate a large sum of money to our church or talk to a non-believing friend about Jesus. So we look for some “sign” to occur, thinking that if it does then the tugging we feel is from God. If it doesn’t occur then we breath a sigh of relief because we really didn’t want to donate money or talk to our friend anyway.
According to the Philistines’ plan, if the driverless cart did not go to Beth Shemesh, then they would conclude that the tumors and rats had happened by chance.
But nothing happens by chance. Chance is not a power. Chance is simply probability. If we flip a coin there is a 50% chance that it lands on heads and a 50% chance it lands on tails. But chance is not controlling the outcome. Gravity, friction, and a host of other factors determine how the coin lands.
We live in a cause-and-effect world. Things happen that cause other things to happen. And everything that happens happens because of the things that happened before it. Nothing happens in isolation. There is a cause for everything and an effect of everything.
The Philistines knew this. Yet, they are looking for a reason to deny it. Much the same way as people today still look for reasons not to believe in God. They know God exists. Maybe that knowledge is deep down in their minds, suppressed in favor of alternate theories that allow them to be the gods of their own lives. But its there.
Or the way Christians look for reasons not to obey God and serve Him. They know they should. But they’d rather not. It takes too much time. Or it involves too much risk.
People look for reasons to ignore God. Even worse, we find them; almost always because we’ve stacked the odds in our favor.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.