1 Sam 6.1-21 tells us that the Philistines had the Ark “in the field” for seven months, which possibly makes this about the month of Tishri (v 13), and what they did with it, and what Israel did with it once it was back in the land of Israel. The ark sat in the open because they thought this would deliver them from their plagues, and they wanted to send the Ark back with a guilt offering but didn’t know exactly how to do it. The Philistine priests knew enough about Yehovah to know they offended him. Why they kept the Ark that long nobody knows, but it was hard for them to give up such a trophy. So they sent five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the five cities of the Philistines (Ashdod, Gaza, Gath, Ekron and Askelon), and placed them into a box by the side of the Ark. They were wise enough not to look into the Ark, however. It is believed that these were sent because there was some sort of plague caused by the mice. So, they acknowledged God’s power over all the gods of the Philistines and they knew the story of what God did to the Egyptians and didn’t want any part of that (v 16).
They decided to use two cows and a wagon to carry the Ark back. Now, that is not how God instructed the Israelites to carry the Ark (Num 4.15), but they didn’t know any better. They did not know the Torah. Some would say this was not fair, but God can show mercy to whoever he wants. However, this will play a role later when David tries to bring the Ark into Jerusalem (2 Sam 6.3-7). The two cows had never been yoked and had never pulled a cart, and they had calves and if they ignored their instincts to return to the calves to nurse and went to the land of Israel, they would know this plague was from God. So there were two tests to see if this was from God. No need to repent if they didn’t have to, right? But the cows went straight into the direction of Beth-shemesh (“house of the sun” or “east”) which was against their natural instincts, which was a priestly city (Josh 21.13-16; 1 Chr 6.59). The cows should have been resisting the yoke which was upon them because they had never been harnessed.
The cows were “lowing” so they were not particularly happy about this, but the Lord overpowered their instinctive nature and they did the will of God anyway. Ever wonder why there is no sin in the Olam Haba? Learn the lesson of these cows. The people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest (done around Tishri in the fall) and saw the Ark and the cart coming, and rejoiced as it came into the field of Joshua (Yeshua) the Beth-shemite (“house of the sun”) and the cart stopped near a large stone that stood there (for an altar). They split wood from the cart and offered the cows as a Korban Olah. Female cows were not usually offered to the Lord (Lev 1.3, 22.19) and they offered them away from the Mishkan (Deut 12.5-6), but the Lord knew their hearts and this was an unusual case.
So the Levites came from the city and took the Ark (Num 4.1-6, 15) and the box that was with it, and put them on the large stone. Then they offered korbanot, which was not the usual place. When the Philistines saw this they returned to Ekron (“extermination”). The large stone on which the Ark sat served as a witness in the filed of Joshua the Beth-shemite. However, not all went well. Yehovah struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they looked into the Ark, which was forbidden (Num 4.20). They opened it to see if everything was there or if anything had been put into it. The Lord struck down 50,070 men, but the Hebrew seems to indicate that only 70 died out of the 50,000 men that flocked to see it. Josephus says there were only 70 slain, and so do others (Antiquities of the Jews, 6.1.4). Beth-shemesh is a small city, so 50,070 is not a believable number.
The people mourned the slain and the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before Yehovah, this holy God? And to whom shall he go up from us?” The answer is “No one” without the kipporet (Yeshua). They thought the kedusha of the Lord was a problem and they wanted to put some distance between them and God. But, they should have asked the question, “How can we be made right with this God?” They sent word to Kiriath-jearim (“city of woods”) for them to come to take the Ark. This city was further into the land of Israel and lay in the woods (where it got its name), and it will remain there until David brings it to Jerusalem.
We will pick up here in Part 6.