Saturday, March 26, 2005

1 Samuel 6

After seven months, the Philistines send the ark back to the Israelis with a guilt offering of one gold rat and one gold tumor (or bubo) per Philistine ruler or city. The Philistine diviners liken the captive ark to the Israelites captive in Egypt and the Philistines to Pharaoh and urge the people to send the ark on its way. Using freshly calved cows whose calves have been separated from them, the cart (which is specified to be new) is drawn straight to Israelite territory in the Amorite city of Beth Shemesh, where the cows are used as a sacrificial offering of thanks. The stone on which the ark was placed, in Joshua's field, was made a witness stone.

But all is not well. Because seventy Israelites looked into the ark, they were struck dead. The bereaved people of Beth Shemesh call on the people of the more easily-defensible Kiriath Jearim (south and a little west of Jerusalem) to take possession of the ark. There the ark will sit until David has it brought up to Jerusalem (2 Chron. 1:4)

The image of the ark as a representation of the Israelites captive in Egypt is quaint, reducing the grand tale of the Exodus to a much smaller scale. Cows were, indeed, a symbol of Egypt.

Beth Shemesh was a pagan place. It was a site for worship of the sun. It could not be fully conquered by the tribe of Dan, although they reduced the inhabitants to servitude (Judges 1:33). It was reconquered by the Philistines (2 Chron 28:18). This lack of belief in the Lord led the men of Beth Shemesh to examine the ark.


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