The ark of the Lord was captured from Israel by the Philistines and remained with them for seven months. God smote many the Ashdodites, and those who did not die received painful tumors on their bodies. The Philistine priests of Dagon said the ark should be returned with a guilt offering to heal their tumors and gain knowledge why God was killing them. The guilt offering contained five golden tumors and five golden mice as representative images of the tumors and mice that ravaged the land. They hoped to give glory to God and lessen His judgment upon them because of hardness of heart similar to Pharaoh in Egypt (1 Sam. 6:1-6). Pragmatism and human strategies in approaching God reveal hardness of heart.
The priests instructed the Philistines to prepare a new cart pulled by two unyoked cows, which would hold the golden guilt offerings. If the cart went through its own territory to Beth-shemesh, this would be a sign that God judged the Philistines with death. If the cart didn't go this way, then His hand struck them by chance. They hitched the two cows to the carts leaving their calves at home. The box containing the golden likeness of mice and tumors along with the ark of the Lord was placed on the cart. The cows headed straight to Beth-shemesh without turning aside to the right or left (1 Sam. 6:7-12). God is able to reveal His will using natural means.
People in Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest and glad to see the ark. When it came to Joshua the Beth-shemite's field, he offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. The Levites made a burnt offering with the materials from the cart and box containing the gold articles. They set the ark on a large stone. When the five Philistine lords saw the sacrifice, they returned to Ekron. God killed 50,070 men because they looked into the ark (1 Sam. 6:13-19a). A mixture of truth with error plus disobedience to God lead to devastating consequences for a society.
The men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before Lord, his holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us.” They sent messengers to Kiriath-jearim asking them to come and bring the ark up to them (1 Sam. 6:19b-21). God reveals His power and holiness in unmistakable ways to humble people so they take Him seriously and come to Him.
People can’t approach God any way they want. He is very particular about the way men approach Him. The song, “I did it my way,” illustrates man’s way, not God’s. In the Old Testament, God set up the tabernacle, priesthood and sacrifices. Today, men approach God through the person and work of Jesus Christ as the sacrificial lamb who died for your sins. His death is exclusive as the only way to God when He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).
Have you placed your trust in Christ for eternal life or are you relying on something else (good works, other religion, nature, etc.)? Boast in nothing but the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14).