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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)
… 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?)
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)
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)
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… :-)
Two Mama Cows and a Cart: Suspicion Confirmed
Beth-Shemesh: Reverence Followed by Presumption (6:13-7:1)
First how they display reverence:
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”
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.
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