Call to Worship April 25 2021

Expository Thoughts on 1 Samuel 6:13-7:1

The Israelites were frightened because the glory of God had departed from Israel (4:13). Yet they had not fully understood the awfulness of their sin against God. They walked in thoughtless opposition to the LORD’s commandments and precepts (6:19). When the Ark of God was returned they did offer a sacrifice unto the LORD, but they did not carefully consider all of their actions before the Ark. Israel had forgotten God’s complete holiness in being head of and over His people.

As the Ark was being handled near Beth-shemesh, the LORD killed 70 men.[1] These men had “gazed” at the Ark of God, inspecting its contents. Moses recorded the importance of how to handle the Ark in its setting and during travel. Great care was to be taken that the Ark not be moved without a covering and that not even the sons of Levi were to stare into it (Number 4:1-20). I Samuel 6 does not explicitly say that the Ark was uncovered. Yet it is likely that the Ark had been mishandled under Philistine occupation and that sparked the curiosity of the Israelites in Beth-shemesh.[2] They looked into it without express permission to inspect the Ark or move it. (Num. 4:4, 15, 20). God instantly killed these men for their unthoughtful disobedience.

The Israelites did not remember the holiness of God in the matter and the deaths of the men snapped them back to reality. “The men of Beth-shemesh said,” according to scripture, “’Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?’ 21 So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, ‘The Philistines have brought back the ark of the LORD; come down and take it up to you.’” (1 Sam. 6:20-21 NAU) All at once they remembered the God of their forefathers. “Death often frightens us,” wrote R.C. Sproul, and “death reminds us that we are creatures. Yet as fearsome as death is, it is nothing compared with meeting a holy God.”[3] Remember God alone is “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

His special presence was known to the Israelites inside the Ark. Although they had forgotten His commands and the Holiness of His being, God restored proper perspective and order in the deaths of those men. Upon recognition of His holiness they called for the Ark to be removed and it was taken to Kiriath –jearim. It must have been handled and moved properly as no other acts of God’s justice due to the Ark were reported until Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6. We must never forget the holiness and justice of God. Those who looked into and gazed at the Ark had been taught from a young age the very nature of God. Also, they had been taught the special presence of God in the Ark. So their deaths were not the impulsive ire of an ogre-like God. It was exacted judgement that had come after much patience and long-suffering. How many times and years had God shown grace to His people for their idolatry? At that moment He did not allow them to treat Him as a curious novelty.

We must remember that God’s grace is revealed from the first sin in the Garden. Sproul wrote, “In creation the penalty for sin was…instant death.”[4] God had a right in His holy justice to immediately execute the death penalty upon Adam and Eve. Yet He did not! He extended grace beyond measure to them. We must remember His holiness, justice, and grace. Who God is makes His grace all the more breath-taking, especially understanding that we have committed “cosmic treason” against Him. We were created as His image bearers and we have fallen into life as glory stealers. May we read this account in Samuel and not think of how unfair God was in that situation. May we think of how Holy He is and how patient He has been with us not to have exacted instant justice according to our sins. Soli Deo Gloria!   

[1] “The traditional Hebrew Text records 50,070 or, literally, ‘seventy men, fifty thousand men.’ However, since the ‘fifty thousand men’ is missing in some Hebrew manuscripts and since the population of the village of Beth-shemesh could not have been so numerous, it is better to read ‘seventy men’ as do most modern versions.” Dale Ralph Davis, I Samuel: Looking on the Heart, (Christian Focus Pub., 2014.), 55. John Gill also has some good thoughts on this issue as well. John Gill, Exposition of the Old & New Testaments, vol. 2, (Baptist Standard Bearer, Paris, AR., 2006.), 444-445.

[2] John Gill, Exposition of the Old & New Testaments, vol. 2, (Baptist Standard Bearer, Paris, AR., 2006.), 444.

[3] R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, (Tyndale, IL., 1985.), 64-65.

[4] Ibid., pg. 149-150.