Monday, November 19, 2012

LXXXVIII - I Samual 6-7 - The Ark Returns to Israel

Chapter 6 - The Ark Returns to Israel

This chapter begins by telling us that the Ark has been with the Philistines for seven months.  It became general knowledge that the Ark was the cause of all the illness in their cities because the affliction took place wherever the Ark was taken, as we saw in the previous chapter.  {Evidently there were many rodents in each of these five cities that the plague had occurred.  Rodents were the carriers of the bubonic plague that afflicted Europe centuries later.  The bubonic plague placed boils and tumors near lymph nodes.  Most people who contracted bubonic died from it.}  These Philistines knew their History well, as they recounted what the Lord of Israel had done to the Egyptians, and the plague of tumors and boils was well documented as one of the plagues that God had inflicted on the Egyptians.  These early verses in this chapter make it very clear that the Philistines were scared and desparate.  So they came up with a plan.  Firstly they wanted to prove to themselves that the Ark was indeed the cause of their troubles.  And secondly, if that was proven, they wanted to not only get rid of it, but appease the Lord of Israel in hopes that He would withdraw the plague from their cities. 
So this was their plan:

*Take two cows away from their calves, cows that have never been yoked
*Yoke the two cows to a cart
*Place the Ark into the cart
*Melt down enough gold to make five golden tumors and five golden mice (this was to be a guilt offering)
*Place them into the cart beside the Ark
*Before letting the cows leave with the cart, they penned up the calves in plain sight
*Then they pointed the cows toward Beth Shemesh, an Israelited city, and let them go

If the cows turned back toward their calves, that was to be considered a sign that the Ark was not the cause of the plague.  If the cows ignored that calves and pulled the cart toward Israel, then that would be confirmation that the Ark was indeed the cause and they had made the right decision.  This turned out to be a good plan.  The cows marched steadily towards the Hebrew city of Beth Shemesh.  This was a delight to the five Philistine kings and their elders.  {I don't think they had a plan-B}  They followed the cows at a distance to make sure they would know if the cows altered their course.  In vss 13--> the people of Beth Shemesh celebrated getting the Ark back.  They chopped up the cart and used the wood to make a fire to burn the two cows as a sacrifice to God.  In the remaining verses in chapter 6, we see that the rules concerning the Ark of the Covenant were not to be comprimised.  God struck down some of the non-Levite members of that city as punishment for looking in (and probably handling) the Ark.  The people mourned, but God's point was made.  {We compromise and water down values all the time, but God does not.}

Chapter 7  -   Samual Is Israel's New Leader

We've seen in the first six chapters of I Samual that Israel has become an ungodly nation.  The priesthood has become corrupt, the Levites have placed themselves up for sale, they are welcoming pagan dieties into their homes, their sons and daughters are marrying outside the tribes of Israel.  They have lost their moral compass and have consciously disregarded God and His Laws.  In the first six verses of chapter 7, we see that Samual blames Israel's troubles on their devotion to pagan deities.  Samual mentions by name Ashteroth (the supreme female deity of the Canaanites and was always associated with Baal).  Also mentioned, of course, is the pagan god Baal.  Baal was the god of fertility and was the supreme deity of the Phoenicians and the Canaanites.  Being the god of fertility meant that Baal must be happy in order for the women to bear children, livestock to multiply, and the crops to be successful.  As I mentioned before, they would stop at nothing to satisfy Baal, including child sacrifice.  Ever since the book of Genesis, we have seen God time and time again admonish His people to stay away from worshiping other gods.  He also warned them against doing things that would lead to the temptation to do so.  This was extremely important to God, and still is.  Remember the very first of the Ten Commandments.  Samual in this passages tells the people of Israel to "get rid of these strange gods".  {These idols that were in possession of the Israelites had become precious items in their households.  Asking them to get rid of them was no small thing.}  One would think that Samual's demand to get rid of their idols would have made many or most of the people to disregard Samual as some religious nut that was asking unreasonable things.  But surprisingly they did as Samula told them as it says in vss 5-6 that Samual led them in a worship service in which they fasted and confessed their sins.  {I think these people had become so miserable and desparate for spiritual guidance that they were drawn to Samual and hung on his every word.}

There is much in the remaining 11 verses of chapter 7.  Remember Samual gathered "all of Israel" to Mispah and had a worship service that included repentance.  But the Philistines heard about this gathering and of course assumed that Israel was gathering an army with which to deal with the Philistines.  {Remember our comments about how the Philistines were military minded and they thought every gathering would have been for no other purpose than to wage war.}  But the Philistines were correct that their hold on the Israelites was being challenged.  So the Philistines did what they do best:  They attacked Israel.  Then something important happened {please be aware of how much time has passed}.  They asked Samual to intercede to God in their behalf and protect them (vs 8).  This was a huge step, and a necessary one for them to return to God.  Then in verse 9 Samual sacrificed a young lamb as a burnt offering unto God as he cried out to God for Israel's protection.   As Samual was sacrificing and worshiping, the Philitines approached Mizpah to attack.  God created loud claps of thunder and frightened the Philistine soldiers so badly that they went into a panic and lost control of themselves.  This allowed the scantly armed Israelites to defeat the large Philistine army, so much that it goes on to say that the Philistines never bothered the Israelites again during Samual's lifetime.  In addition, they gave the towns from Ekron to Gath back to Israel as a gesture of peace.  There was also peace with the dreaded Amorites during Samual's leadership.
So, Samual was established as Israel's leader and God's prophet.  News had spread throughout the Promised Land of Samual, and all twelve tribes respected everything about Samual.  Finaly there was real peace with real spiritual revival.

But we all know that the nation Israel is not going to tolerate but so much peace and prosperity.  In the next post, we'll see something new:  Israel wants a king.

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