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)
Today we conclude the story of the ark of the covenant being returned to Israel after having been captured by the Philistines in battle some seven months prior. In yesterday’s passage we saw how God’s holiness was not respected by some of the people of Beth-shemesh resulting in God killing seventy men for violating the command not to touch or look into the ark itself.
The response by the men of Beth-shemesh is sad. They had just seen an example of God’s holiness and His desire to maintain that holiness. As such, they did recognize that God was holy.
God is holy because He is separate – He is above all He created, including us. God is not our servant. God is not our peer. He is our superior.
But instead of letting that knowledge draw them closer to God, the people of Beth-shemesh decide to send God (as symbolized by the ark) away. Rather than recognizing their own mistakes, humbling themselves and repenting (changing their attitude and behavior), they blamed God for being too strict with them.
The people of Beth-shemesh knew they were in the wrong and that God was right. But instead of encouraging themselves to raise their behavior to God’s standard they in-effect lowered the standard by removing God from their lives. Without God in their lives, they were the standard and, hence, they didn’t have to find any fault in themselves.
So rather than accept God’s holiness, they decided to distance themselves from Him. Just a few hours before they were delighted to have God back. Now they want nothing to do with Him
This, however, is not the proper reaction to God’s holiness. The holiness of God should draw us closer to Him. Although, admittedly it can be quite startling to encounter it.
God holiness is a double-edged sword. It is simultaneously exciting and frightening.
God’s holiness reveals the evilness and sinfulness of the world. It should, therefore, invite us to leave the world behind in exchange for being a part of God’s family.
But at the same time, God’s holiness is daunting. When we are exposed to it we are made woefully aware that we are a part of the evilness and sinfulness in the world because we are evil and sinful ourselves [Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23].
It is man’s natural reaction to want to be removed from the presence from a holy God [Genesis 3:8; Luke 5:8]. But God does not want us to be frightened of Him. He wants us to draw closer to Him so that we too can be holy [Leviticus 20:26; 1 Peter 1:16]. While many people think God is talking about moral purity here, there is much more too it than that.
God’s standard is too high for us. That is a fact that God Himself admits [Isaiah 55:8-9]. We know that none of us can keep God’s laws; we all sin. But keeping the laws was never God’s intention. God’s laws exists for one reason: to reveal our sinfulness [Romans 3:20].
God’s call to holiness is about relationship. God calls us to be like Him – separate from the world. While this does have moral ramifications, it must precede any morality-based behavior change.
God’s holiness is a beacon of light in a dark world. It is a light at the end a dark tunnel. It is not the light of an oncoming train. It is not something to run from, but towards.
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