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)
The other day we read about the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Israel from the Philistines. In today’s passage we read how the Israelites dealt with the return of the ark.
When the cart came into the field of a certain man named Joshua of Beth-shemesh, it stopped. The people of the town split up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering (sacrifice) to the Lord. The men of Beth-shemesh offered other burnt offerings and sacrifices to the Lord on that day.
Notice that the Levites took down the ark of the Lord from the cart. Only Levites were to handle the ark [Numbers 4:1-15] and the people of Beth-shemesh apparently knew this. This isn’t too surprising since Beth-shemesh was a Levitical town [Joshua 21:13-16;1 Chronicles 6:57-59] and Levites were there to do this. Despite the times the people were living in – when they weren’t very close to God – they got this right.
But also notice that the people of Beth-shemesh made some mistakes. They sacrificed female cows when God commanded only male cows be sacrificed [Leviticus 1:3; 22:19]. They made a burnt offering to the Lord away from the tabernacle [Deuteronomy 12:5-6]. They also apparently displayed the ark for all to see when God commanded that the ark be covered when in public [Numbers 4:5].
In yesterday’s passage we learned that those of us who are God’s adopted children through faith in Jesus [John 1:12-13], should be filled with joy because of God’s grace and love for us. When we are internally joyous, despite our troubles, life will be better.
But that joy should also be expressed. In fact, God commands us to be joyous because of His love for us [John 15:11; Romans 15:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Peter 1:8 et. al]. So we should express that joy through public worship, as the people of Beth-shemesh did in today’s passage.
The leaders of the Philistines were watching the people and their celebration [1 Samuel 6:16]. No mention is made as to whether the people knew this or not, but it doesn’t matter if they did or didn’t. Their public worship was the correct response, even though they made some mistakes.
God calls on us to be public witnesses to Him in our unbelieving world. Sometimes we do that intentionally when we talk to someone else about Jesus. Mostly we do that simply in living out our daily lives; we worship Him by living in a way that is consistent with His design for life.
People might be watching us. Or maybe not. It doesn’t matter. Regardless of whether they are or aren’t, our worship should be like that of the people of Beth-shemesh – from the heart.
We should not worry about whether we get things right nor not. Too often we stop short of full worship of God because we’re afraid we don’t know enough or can’t do enough. We don’t sing with all our heart in church because we don’t know the words to the song or we don’t think we have a good voice. We don’t talk to someone about Jesus because we’re afraid they’ll ask us a question we don’t know the answer to. None of this matters.
Now, obviously, when talking to someone about Jesus we must know the proper foundational truth: that we are sinners who need to be forgiven and that forgiveness can only be found in Jesus [John 3:16; Acts 4:12 et. al]. But we don’t have to know everything. And we shouldn’t let our worry about making a mistake stop us.
We should do our best to live right and not say something we aren’t sure of. But even if we mess up, God can handle it; He can correct our mistakes. God isn’t expecting us to be perfect. His primary goal for us is to have our focus on Him, even if we get some things wrong along the way (and we will).
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.