13 Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. And when they lifted up their eyes and saw the ark, they rejoiced to see it. 14 The cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh and stopped there. A great stone was there. And they split up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. 15 And the Levites took down the ark of the Lord and the box that was beside it, in which were the golden figures, and set them upon the great stone. And the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices on that day to the Lord. 16 And when the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned that day to Ekron. 17 These are the golden tumors that the Philistines returned as a guilt offering to the Lord: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron, 18 and the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both fortified cities and unwalled villages. The great stone beside which they set down the ark of the Lord is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh. 19 And he struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the Lord. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great blow. 20 Then the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall he go up away from us?” 21 So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the Lord. Come down and take it up to you.”
(1 Samuel 6:13-21)
After the Philistines captured the ark, they kept it for seven months [1 Samuel 6:1-2]. After enduring all kinds of problems from God for taking it in the first place they sent the ark back to Israel via a convoluted plan [1 Samuel 6:7-9].
When the ark, carried on a cart by two milk cows, crossed the border into the town of Beth-shemesh, the people were busy reaping their wheat harvest. This places these events around May or June – the usual time to reap wheat in Israel.
Notice that even though God had brought a serious judgment upon Israel by allowing the Philistines to kill 34,000 of their soldiers and to capture the ark, He still provided for His people. He still blessed them with a fertile harvest.
God does discipline people, especially those who are His adopted children as Israel was and as those today who have been born again are [John 1:12-13, 3:3]. But God’s discipline has a purpose. His goal in disciplining us is not to get back at us but to win us back to Him.
Israel had fallen far away from God. Very far. At this time in their history the people were not communicating with God or honoring Him with their lives [Judges 21:25]. So God had to get their attention. He had to prod them to return to Him.
But God never removed His presence from Israel, even though some had thought He had [1 Samuel 4:19-22]. God continued to demonstrate His love for Israel by providing for them – like giving them a continuing wheat harvest.
God is a God of grace. God loves people and loves to provide for them. He is a generous giver, the source of all good things [Psalm 84:11; John 3:16; Romans 8:32; James 1:17 et. al].
Sadly, though, too many people misunderstand God’s discipline just as Israel did. They think that just because God brings some trouble upon our lives that He must be out to get us. Or worse, they think such things are proof that God does not exist.
God is not out to get us. He is out to draw us back to Him for it is only in His presence that we can have true joy. Just like parents discipline their children because they love them, so too does God [Hebrews 12:6].
Notice the Israelites reaction when saw the ark: they rejoiced to see it. They were glad. They had been living their lives for seven months apart from God (or so they thought) but when He “returned” to them, they couldn’t have been happier.
This reminds me of the disciples after Jesus was crucified. Jesus – who was God in human flesh – was taken from them. And they thought He was no longer with them. But three days later He returned. And they were ecstatic [John 20:19-20].
The reason why so many people – including some Christians who are part of God’s eternal family – don’t live lives of joy is because they misunderstand the problems in their lives. They see their problems not for what they are – a calling by God to change and mature – but as a punishment.
In order to see God in our lives we must look to Him, just as the Israelites lifted up their eyes and took their focus off of their work.
As we learned in our study of Ecclesiastes, life is filled with problems and each day seems to be more difficult than the one before. When we look at life this way – as if this is all there is – we will be unfulfilled; we will not be filled with joy.
But when we accept God’s discipline in the manner in which He intends, we can become better people, which is exactly God’s goal for us. And when our eyes are on God, not our problems, we can see Him for who He is and we will be filled with joy.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.