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1 Samuel 6:1-16, The Ark Returned

Wednesday, October 18

A Return to God

Narrative Lectionary Daily Devotions written by Kace Leetch from Clergy Stuff.

Adapted by Marsyas - Gill/Gillerman slides collection (Yale), Public Domain

Adapted by Marsyas - Gill/Gillerman slides collection (Yale), Public Domain

The ark of the Lord was not good to the Philistines. When they finally realized it was God that was behind the plagues and infestations, they returned the ark of the covenant to the Israelites. They included gold tumors and gold mice as a guilt offering. The gold tumors were likely representations of the plague God had sent them, maybe the bubonic plague or bites from camel spiders. The gold mice were likely representations of a rat infestation sent by God. 

So, do we read this story from the perspective of the Philistines, who suffered until they recognized the power of God? Or do we read it from the perspective of the Israelites, who suffered until they remembered the power of God? Either way, it seems God has caused a great deal of suffering.

But is it God's fault, really? The Philistines suffered because they stole God from the Israelites. The Israelites suffered because they were disobedient to God. It's easy to blame God for the suffering, but when we take a step back, we can see it is the people's actions, not God's, that set in motion the events that led to suffering. God's role in all this was to work to be reunited with God's people. God fought to mend the relationship.

God is not the cause of the suffering. God may be the deliverer of consequences, but the consequences are ours because we are the actors of the sin. We have earned them. God works hard to mend our relationship, and it is often the suffering that helps us to return to God. God does not cause suffering. God fights to relieve it. We can surrender to the peace and healing God offers.

Narrative Lectionary Text: 1 Samuel 6:1-16

The ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months. Then the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us what we should send with it to its place.” They said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed and will be ransomed; will not his hand then turn from you?” And they said, “What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?” They answered, “Five gold tumors and five gold mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines; for the same plague was upon all of you and upon your lords. So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel; perhaps he will lighten his hand on you and your gods and your land. Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had made fools of them, did they not let the people go, and they departed? Now then, get ready a new cart and two milch cows that have never borne a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. Take the ark of the Lord and place it on the cart, and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off, and let it go its way. And watch; if it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth-shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm; but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it happened to us by chance.”

The men did so; they took two milch cows and yoked them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home. They put the ark of the Lord on the cart, and the box with the gold mice and the images of their tumors. The cows went straight in the direction of Beth-shemesh along one highway, lowing as they went; they turned neither to the right nor to the left, and the lords of the Philistines went after them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh. Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. When they looked up and saw the ark, they went with rejoicing to meet it. The cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh, and stopped there. A large stone was there; so they split up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord.The Levites took down the ark of the Lord and the box that was beside it, in which were the gold objects, and set them upon the large stone. Then the people of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and presented sacrifices on that day to the Lord. When the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned that day to Ekron.