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)
Yesterday we read about the public worship conducted by the people of Beth-shemesh upon receiving the ark of the Lord back into Israeli territory.
Notice that the five lords (or leaders) of the Philistines were watching. It would have taken quite some time for the Israelites to perform all these sacrifices. These leaders clearly sat and watched for quite a while with no small amount of interest in what the people of Beth-shemesh were doing. Eventually they returned to Ekron, one of their own cities.
The leaders of the Philistines witnessed the great joy the people of Israel had in their God. Then they returned home. I’m sure they told their friends what they saw. And their friends told their friends, and so on. When people see the joy that God’s children have in their God, they will notice. And they will talk about it.
During their celebration the Israelites set the ark of the Lord upon a great stone. And that great stone was a witness to all that took place on that day in the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh. When people saw that stone they were reminded of the events of that day and of God’s grace and love.
We’d be inclined to think that the stone was a reminder to the people of Beth-shemesh, and it certainly was. But Beth-shemesh was a border town. It bordered the land of the Philistines. So its also true that the stone was a reminder to them as well. When the Philistines saw the stone they, too, were reminded of the great joy of the people of Israel when they were in the presence of God.
The Philistines did not worship God. They worshipped Dagon, a non-existent God [1 Samuel 5:2]. He was a god who had to be appeased. In fact, all man-made gods are like this. When human beings invent a god that god is one who is angry and threatening but who can be appeased through our actions. In other words, man is in ultimate control, not the god.
It’s interesting to think this through. When one does it becomes evident that the human race knows it is evil. Otherwise we wouldn’t invent gods who are angry with us for our behavior. And we wouldn’t think we need to atone for that behavior.
So when people who believe in these false gods (or who don’t believe in any god at all) see God’s children filled with joy and so happy to be in His presence they will pay no small amount of attention as such joy goes against their understanding.
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 also apparently displayed the ark for all to see when God commanded that the ark be covered when in public.
Nevertheless, their actions spoke to the Philistine leaders. These leaders didn’t know the Israelites had gotten some things wrong. And the Israelites didn’t worry about getting everything right. They did their best.
If you have willingly joined God’s eternal family by having your sins forgiven through the blood of Jesus [Acts 4:12, 15:11; Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7], then you should be filled with joy. And the most important thing you can do is to outwardly express that joy, even if it isn’t done perfectly, so that those who are not a part of God’s eternal family take notice.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.