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)
During the celebration upon the return of the ark of the Lord to Beth-shemesh apparently some of the men looked upon (within) the ark. As a result, God struck down (killed) these men.
The ark was the most holy object in all of Israel. It was so holy that no one in the country ever saw it except for the high priest. And even then he only saw it once a year on the day of atonement when he went into the innermost part of the tabernacle, where the ark was placed, to sprinkle blood of a sacrificed animal on it to receive forgiveness for the people’s sins.
The lid of the ark, known as the mercy seat, was where God met with the high priest annually to receive the sacrifice. Inside the ark were the two tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments along with a jar of manna and Aaron’s rod [Hebrews 9:4].
The ark itself was only to be handled by the Levties, specifically those of the family of Kohath. But even they were commanded not to touch the ark itself – the ark was always to be carried via poles [Exodus 25:10-16].
The men of Beth-shemesh looked into the ark. But to look into it, they had to touch it to lift the lid. These seventy men treated the ark like a curiosity or possibly as entertainment. Human beings are naturally curious. Sometimes that curiosity can get us into trouble.
Man wants what God has forbidden. Such has been the case since the beginning. God gave everything in the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil [Genesis 2:17, 3:6]. Yet Adam and Eve weren’t satisfied. They wanted to know what it was like to be like God – to know good and evil. So they ate the forbidden fruit.
The men of Beth-shemesh wanted to know what was in the ark so they looked into it even though they knew they weren’t supposed to. Unlike the mistake the people made in yesterday’s passage, their actions today were intentional. No one accidentally lifts a lid of a box and looks inside.
The ark was holy. The word “holy” means “separate”. God, too, is holy. He is separate from us; He is not like us.
We should not treat Him like our servant. He is not beneath us. Nor should we treat Him like our friend. He is not our equal. God is greater than we are and should, therefore, be treated as greater.
We need to keep this in mind. If we treat God as beneath us or as our equal we will lose our reverence for Him. We will raise ourselves up to be the authority in our lives. And this is clearly not true.
This also means that we should treat the things of God likewise. We should take them seriously and honor and revere them without trying to understand more about them than we are able.
While God has shared much knowledge with us, there are many subjects that exceed the capacity of the human mind: free-will, election, hell, just to name a few. We cannot understand these things in their entirety. Therefore, we should not try.
Just like Adam and Eve and the men of Beth-shemesh found out, trying to be like God and looking into the things reserved for Him will only bring trouble.
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