Message: In 1 Samuel 6 the Philistines had possession of the ark of the covenant for 7 months. They had moved it from city to city to see if it would be accepted in their land somewhere because they were being tormented with painful tumor-like boils or wounds. The KJV tells us they were “emeroids in their secret parts” and some even died from it. The Philistines decided they needed to give it back but they wanted to make sure they did it properly so they consulted their leaders. The leaders advised them to send it back with a restitution offering. According to the footnotes in my bible a restitution offering was given when something holy had been defiled. Their restitution offering was 2 milk cows that had never been yoked before and they formed gold pieces shaped like the tumors they wanted to be healed from and the mice they wanted to be delivered from. They were pretty sure this was the hand of God against them and they wanted to be smarter than the Egyptians so they prepared all of this very carefully, placed the ark of the covenant on a cart and sent the cows to see if they would go to their land. This would be the sign if it really was God’s hand against them. Not only did the “cows come home” but they didn’t stray one way or the other. They walked directly up the hill and when the Israelites saw it they rejoiced and they chopped up the cart to sacrifice the cows. The Philistine leaders observed all of this and then left to go home. Then God struck down 70 men from the land Beth-she-mesh because they looked inside the ark of the covenant. The people mourned and said “who can stand in the presence of the Lord?”.
What I took from this is that even the Philistines who served other gods recognized the holiness of God enough to fear and treat the ark with reverence. They were very intentional in preparing their restitution offering even though this was not their god. They seemed to know what to do to honor and respect the ark, but it didn’t take long for the men in Israel to treat it with familiarity by looking inside. This was well known in Israel that only a priest who had been consecrated was able to see inside the ark and only Levites were permitted to touch it. Familiarity can be dangerous. It’s good to feel at home, deeply honest and comfortable with God and his ways, but if we allow our familiarity to allow us to treat God with disrespect we are in trouble. There should always be a tension between the God who calls us friend, and the God who requires our respect. I don’t believe that God is offended by the questions we have when they are honest and out of a humble heart desiring to understand. Where we become offensive is when we start to question the heart of God and demand answers. This is a prideful stance that elevates our flesh to assume we have a right to know the mind of God. We saw a touch of this in Job when God answered him “where were you when I formed the earth?”
My challenge to myself today is to ponder the things of God that have become familiar enough that I approach them with disrespect. We read a few days ago that we shouldn’t expect to stand in the presence of God while defiantly holding onto our sin because God is a holy God and his presence consumes everything and burns up that which is impure. If we are deliberately hanging onto impure things we will be scorched right with it. Today I remind myself that the God I serve and worship is holy and to be treated with the highest respect. I take nothing for granted knowing that the promises he gives are gifts I don’t deserve, not rights. I accept them with humility and thanksgiving knowing that I will receive what he has promised because of his faithfulness and not because I demand that he do so.