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The Lord's Heavy Hand

1 Samuel: A Heart for God  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  51:16
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The hand of the Lord is indeed heavy against all irreverence toward him. We must tear down every irreverent presumption in our hearts and replace arrogant ignorance with intimate awe for God.

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The Lord's Heavy Hand - 1 Samuel 5&6

So far in 1 Samuel, we seem to fluctuate back and forth between negative examples and positive examples (that pattern continues in our chapters today, as they serve to us as a negative example, followed by positive in ch. 7, and 8 back to negative)
What do you learn from these negative examples, and from negative reinforcement? (How does negative reinforcement benefit us?) - Negative examples remind us that there are consequences for not listening to God, and painful discipline provides the reinforcement we need to make the truth sink in and guard our souls from much worse in the future.
So we’re continuing on in this book of Samuel, and the Philistines have just laid a couple major defeats on the Israelites. Eli and his two sons are dead, and the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant of God. They’re feeling pretty good about themselves and intend to gloat, but we know something they don’t seem to: This isn’t just the Hebrews’ God. This is the one true God. So we’re already thinking, “Oh boy, This is NOT going to end well for these guys.” (The ark of the covenant of God is present in the book of Revelation in your Bible.)
I’d be rich if I had a nickel for every time God embarrassed his enemies. Oh wait, I AM wealthy because that God has claimed me as his own. Even if I face negative reinforcement to keep me on the right path, I know whose side I’m on bc I know the God in whom I trust and that he holds me securely in his hand.
The hand of the Lord is indeed heavy against all irreverence toward him.
Nobody lord’s it over God.
Sometimes God directly deals with the irreverence of men. (impudence, disrespect) But even when we or others seem to be getting away with our irreverence toward God, it will not last.
Therefore even we who swim in Christian circles, we dare not presume upon God and assume ourselves safe simply by virtue of proximity.
We must tear down every irreverent presumption in our hearts and replace arrogant ignorance with intimate awe for God.
I’ll get back to that part later. First, let’s see how the Philistines learn a hard lesson:

No Contest: Yahweh vs Dagon (5:1-5)

1 Samuel 5:1–5 ESV
When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.
… from Ebenezer to Ashdod [map]
their house worship of Dagon - the supreme deity of the Philistines, adopted from this region of Mesopotamia when they came in and conquered the coastal area of Canaan.
Why bring it there? To show the superiority of their god to the God of Israel, and as proof that their foes were completely conquered: “we have their gods in our hands”
While the Philistines treated the ark as their victory trophy, it was soon to become the symbol of their humiliation.
After all, who is God over the philistines?!
In what symbolic way does God prove his point about the powerlessness of this idol?
Dagon couldn’t even pick himself up off his face… they had to do it for him.
What happens again the following day, now not only prostrate before the ark but also with head and arms cut off, is symbolic of what God does with his enemies: (remember Hannah’s song?)
1 Samuel 2:10 ESV
The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
Humiliation is the assured eventuality of those who remain arrogant toward God.
Humiliation Turns Painful and Fatal, next

Share the Wealth… Or a Plague (5:6-12)

1 Samuel 5:6–12 ESV
The hand of the Lord was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory. And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for his hand is hard against us and against Dagon our god.” So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” They answered, “Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought around to Gath.” So they brought the ark of the God of Israel there. But after they had brought it around, the hand of the Lord was against the city, causing a very great panic, and he afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them. So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. But as soon as the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people.” They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.” For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there. The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.
The section begins and ends with the Lord’s hand being “heavy” - The first sentence in fact begins emphatically with this heaviness, weightiness, and thus in the context to be burdensome.
The true God is a real nuisance to those who don’t rightly fear Him.
- inconvenience, irritation, burden
All Ashdod and it’s territory God terrorizes with tumors (boils, absesses) - because of the connection to mice or rats and the fact that this disease even kills, has led some to believe that this would be similar to something like the bubonic plague (which we now believe is caused by fleas carried on rats - the flea bite gives access into the body and the bacteria particularly impacts lymph vessels and lymph nodes, swelling to the point of large tumors) - painful and deadly (a bubonic plague swept through Europe, Asia, and Africa in the 14th century and killed some 50 million and become known as the black death)
The point? NOT pretty. - So you get when they decide, “the ark of the God of Israel must NOT remain with us” - BUT...
Passing around the ark also meant sharing the plague. The generous sharing of the ark among the philistines - the Philistines share… the plague :-)
By the time the ark of God gets around from Gath to Ekron, the people of Ekron see the pattern and gather the rulers of the five cities of the Philistines. - Let’s get rid of this thing! (for the deadliness had already begun to spread in their city too) - What else is said? “The hand of God was very heavy there!” - Reminder: Whose hands were cut off? And whose hands were heavy with righteous judgment? :-)
This purchase has been more of a problem than it’s worth. They want a return shipping label!

Time to Send it Back… Probably (6:1-12)

1 Samuel 6:1–6 ESV
The ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months. And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us with what we shall send it to its place.” They said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why his hand does not turn away from you.” And they said, “What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?” They answered, “Five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines, for the same plague was on all of you and on your lords. So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you and your gods and your land. Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away, and they departed?
Their own priest and diviners: religious professionals
Good-ish Advice:
Send along a guilt offering (6:3)
which end up being golden images of their affliction (gross)
Give glory to the God of Israel (6:5)
“perhaps he will lighten his hand” - don’t harden your hearts like the Egyptians
The old two milk cows and a cart trick… :-)
1 Samuel 6:7–12 ESV
Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. And take the ark of the Lord and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way and watch. If it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth-shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm, but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it happened to us by coincidence.” The men did so, and took two milk cows and yoked them to the cart and shut up their calves at home. And they put the ark of the Lord on the cart and the box with the golden mice and the images of their tumors. And the cows went straight in the direction of Beth-shemesh along one highway, lowing as they went. They turned neither to the right nor to the left, and the lords of the Philistines went after them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh.
Two Mama Cows and a Cart: Suspicion Confirmed

Beth-Shemesh: Reverence Followed by Presumption (6:13-7:1)

First how they display reverence:
1 Samuel 6:13–18 ESV
Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. And when they lifted up their eyes and saw the ark, they rejoiced to see it. The cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh and stopped there. A great stone was there. And they split up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. And the Levites took down the ark of the Lord and the box that was beside it, in which were the golden figures, and set them upon the great stone. And the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices on that day to the Lord. And when the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned that day to Ekron. These are the golden tumors that the Philistines returned as a guilt offering to the Lord: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron, and the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both fortified cities and unwalled villages. The great stone beside which they set down the ark of the Lord is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh.
They rejoice - that’s the right reaction. They use the cart and cows as an offering to the Lord - and that’s an excellent way for them to show respect to God, knowing that he brought about the ark’s return.
The location of the great stone served as a reminder to later generations of this occurence… both the good (return of the ark), plus the bad (what follows - the danger of not being careful and diligent with fearing the Lord)
Before reading their specific failure, first let me define presumption: “behavior perceived as arrogant, disrespectful, and transgressing the limits of what is permitted or appropriate”
1 Samuel 6:19–7:1 ESV
And he struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the Lord. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great blow. Then the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall he go up away from us?” So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the Lord. Come down and take it up to you.” And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord and brought it to the house of Abinadab on the hill. And they consecrated his son Eleazar to have charge of the ark of the Lord.
Even a Levitical city (which Beth-Shemesh was) sounds like the pagans to pass off the ark after their presumptuous sin.
Painful reminder: We dare not presume on God’s grace (his favor). Arrogance has no place among the people of God. He is a God to be feared and honored, trusted and loved—in awe.
Finally the ark rests at Kiriath-jearim, where it will remain for quite some time.

Tearing Down Our Irreverence

We must tear down every irreverent presumption in our hearts and replace arrogant ignorance with intimate awe for God.
The safest and wisest place to be is as close as you can get to the God who both lovingly disciplines you and also holds you securely in his arms.
Psalm 31:23–24 ESV
Love the Lord, all you his saints! The Lord preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!
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