Study Notes

1Samuel 5:1-7:17


Israel was at a low point. The priesthood was corrupt, and the Philistines were attacking. When 4,000 men died in a battle, the elders decided that it would be a great idea to bring the ark of the covenant into the battle with them.

Remember that the ark of the covenant was built back in the days that the children of Israel were in the wilderness. God had told Moses,

Exod. 25:10-22 "And they shall construct an ark of acacia wood two and a half cubits long, and one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and you shall make a gold molding around it. And you shall cast four gold rings for it, and fasten them on its four feet, and two rings shall be on one side of it and two rings on the other side of it. And you shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it. And you shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you. And you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. And you shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. And make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim {of one piece} with the mercy seat at its two ends. And the cherubim shall have {their} wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be {turned} toward the mercy seat. And you shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I shall give to you. And there I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.

So the ark was a wooden box covered with gold - about 3 1/2 feet long by 2 1/2 feet wide by 2 1/2 feet high. It had rings on the feet, through which the Levites put poles through to carry it. This was the earthly model of the throne of God. The Lord considered it holy, and they were to treat it with the same reverence that they would the true throne of God. So when Israel, steeped in idolatry and immorality, decided to bring the ark into battle as a good luck charm, God decided to allow it to be stolen from them as a testimony against them.

5:1 The Ark Is Taken To Ashdod

The Philistines had been camped at EH-ben Haw-E-zer. (It was not called that in those days - it will be named that in chapter seven.) They took the ark from there to Ashdod, one of the five capital cities of the Philistines' Empire.

5:2 The Ark Next To Dagon

In Ashdod, there was a temple to the Philstines' god Daw-GOHN. Daw-GOHN looked like a mer-man. Man from the waist up, fish from the waist down.

He was supposed to be the father of Baal, and was worshipped as the god that controlled nature's reproduction.

The Philistines set the ark of the covenant at the side of Daw-GOHN. They weren't just putting the thing in storage or finding any old place to drop it. They were making a statement. If you can picture the scene, there was on the altar a large half-man, half-fish. Next to it, a box that is 2 1/2 feet high, plus the cherubim on top. Certainly, Daw-GOHN must have been the more impressive and intimidating sight. This would say to all who saw it, "our god Dagon has conquered the weaker God of the Israelites."

5:3-5 Dagon's Difficulties

The people of Ashdod whoke up the next morning to a troublesome sight. The statue of Daw-GOHN had fallen down in front of the ark! (I wonder if they said, "Daw-GOHN it! Our idol fell over!")

They lifted the statue up and put it back in its place. But the next day, it had fallen over again! And this time, the head and hands had broken off when it had impacted the threshold, the stone at the bottom of the entryway.

You would think that now they would recognize that the God of Israel was more powerful than their god Daw-GOHN. But sin makes people blind and ignorant. Instead of repenting, the Philistine priests began to step over the threshold in Daw-GOHN's temple in Ashdod out of respect.

Idolatry is idiotic. The book of Isaiah says that a man...

Isa. 44:13-19 ...shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes, and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house. Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak, and raises {it} for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes {something} for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image, and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over {this} half he eats meat as he roasts a roast, and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, "Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire." But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for thou art my god." They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend. And no one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, "I have burned half of it in the fire, and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat {it.} Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!"

It is easy to see the idiocy of idolatry in others. Praying to a statue of Mary, or rubbing the belly of Buddha, is so obviously worthless. But this applies to us more than you may realize. Paul wrote to the Ephesians,

Eph. 5:3-5 But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and {there must be no} filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Ouch! What this tells us is that our covetousness is idolatry. When we desire what we don't have, that thing, that person, that job, whatever, is an idol. We are idolaters.

God wants to be our only desire. Jesus taught us,

Matt. 6:31-33 "Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you."

If God is your only desire, then He will provide you with what is best for you.

Ps. 37:4-5 Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

So here are the priests of Daw-GOHN stepping over the threshold rather than forsaking their false religion. Are we guilty of the same blind idolatry in our coveting?

5:6-7 Ashdodites Smitten With Tumors

Not having gotten the clue with the Daw-GOHn incident, the Philistines are now smitten by the hand of the Lord. This Hebrew word is "tekh-ORE," which is from a root word meaning "to burn." And although most of our modern translations translate this word "tumors," the King James gets it most accurately, using the word, "emerods." Yes, the Philistines were afflicted with hemmorhoids!

Hitting them where it hurts makes them realize "the ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us!"

5:8-9 The Ark In Gath

They decide to take the ark from Ashdod to Gath, another of the five capital cities in the land of the Philistines.

The King James says here:

1Sam. 5:9 ...and they had emerods in their secret parts.

That sounds funny, but literally what the Hebrew word says is "to burst out, break out." In other words, hemmorhoids broke out on the men, or, worse yet, burst themselves in the men.

Not only did the Lord smite the inhabitants with hemmorhoids, but also a "very great confusion" broke out in the city. The Hebrew word translated "confusion" here means, tumult, confusion, disturbance, turmoil, destruction, trouble, or vexation. The same word is used in chapter 14 to describe the confusion that broke out in the Philistine camp:

1Sam. 14:20 ...and behold, every man's sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion.

The text of the story indicates that this confusion was leading to many deaths. So things were going crazy in Gath.

5:10-12 The Ark In Ekron

Ek-RONE was another of the Philistines five capitals. As soon as the people saw the ark coming down the road, they cried out that this would surely mean their deaths. Again, confusion and hemmorhoids were the result of the ark being brought to town. The Ek-RONE-ites send for the five lords of the Philistines to tell them to send the ark back to Israel so no more people would die.

6:1-12 The Philistines Return The Ark

After seven months of this, the Philistines knew they had to get rid of the ark and send it back to Israel.

They sent for the priests and diviners to discover the ceremonial process by which the ark should be returned.

They suggested that the ark shouldn't be returned by itself, but with a box containing a guilt offering. They were to make five golden images each of the tumors, and of mice. (This is an indication that part of the curse that the Lord brought upon the Philistines was a plague of mice.)

The way it was to be transported was on a new cart pulled by two milch cows that had never pulled a cart before. (Milch cows are those that have recently given birth and are still feeding their calves with milk.)

The reason for this was to see if the Lord was truly behind it. If these two cows that had never pulled a cart could pull one, and if they were leaving their nursing calves to walk towards Israel, then God must be leading the return of the ark.

They said,

1Sam. 6:9 "And watch, if it goes up by the way of its own territory to Bayth SHEH-mesh, then He has done us this great evil. But if not, then we shall know that it was not His hand that struck us; it happened to us by chance."

Sure enough, the cows walked straight to Bayth SHEH-mesh.

6:13-21 The Ark In Beth-shemesh

Bayth SHEH-mesh was one of the cities that was given to the priestly line of the sons of Aaron back in Joshua 21.

When the Israelite in Bayth SHEH-mesh saw the ark coming down the road, they were ecstatic. The cart stopped near a large stone, and they used it as an altar to offer up the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord on the wood that the cart was made of.

When the lords of the five Philistine capitals, Ashdod, Gaza, Ash-kel-ONE Gath, and Ek-RONE, saw that the ark arrived safely in Israel, they went home.

Now more than fifty thousand of the men of Bayth SHEH-mesh were also killed by the Lord, because they looked into the ark.

Remember that although the Philistines were largely ignorant of the ways of God, the Israelites knew what the God had said about the ark.

Num. 4:18-20 "Do not let the tribe of the families of the Kohathites be cut off from among the Levites. But do this to them that they may live and not die when they approach the most holy {objects:} Aaron and his sons shall go in and assign each of them to his work and to his load; but they shall not go in to see the holy {objects} even for a moment, lest they die."

Even the tabernacle's workers, the Kohathites, were never to see the ark of the covenant. It is possible that God made an allowance for the fact that the inhabitants of the town were sons of Aaron, but when a number of them actually looked INSIDE it, that was not kosher. This was not treating the Lord's earthly throne with reverence.

After so many had died, the ark was a hot potato once again. The Bayth-Shemites call down to Keer-YATH Yeh-aw-REEM and say, "Hey! The ark is back! Why don't you come get it and take it there?"

7:1-2 The Ark At Kiriath-jearim

Keer-YATH Yeh-aw-REEM was also in the territory of the tribe of Judah, and was the nearest city of any size. The men of the city came and took the ark up on the hill into the house of a man named Ab-ee-naw-DAWB. It will stay here until twenty years later when King David attempts to bring it home to Jerusalem in 2Samuel 6.

Ab-ee-naw-DAWB consecrates his son El-aw-ZAWR to care for the ark. Remember that El-aw-ZAWR was also the name of Aaron's son, the second high priest.

7:3-6 Samuel Calls Israel To Repentance

Now Samuel makes a national plea for Israel to return to the Lord and rid themselves of the idolatry that they have been practicing. Samuel promises that if they do this, God will deliver them from the terrible oppression of the Philistines.

The people actually listened! They removed their idols and served the Lord!

Samuel has everyone gather at Mits-PEH to pray for them. There they spent a day fasting and confessing their sins.

The Lord is good. He is..

2Pet. 3:9 ...not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

The Lord would always rather forgive you than judge you. That's His divine nature. But for forgiveness to take place, there has to be repentance. There has to be confession. There has to be brokenness. This is why it is so important to continually confess our sins before the Lord and repent.

1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Israel did this. They fasted, they prayed, they confessed, they repented. And God forgave them.

7:7-11 The Philistines Attack

The Israelites were in the will of God for the first time in a long time. Notice that when they had gathered together to fast, confess, and repent, that their enemies used this as an opportunity to attack.

Often, you will find yourself in the same boat. You've been distant from the Lord for a while, and now you've begun to turn back to Him. But immediately an attack comes, that the enemy wants to convince you is judgment from God. If you have turned to the Lord in brokenness and repentance, I can assure you, this is not the judgment of God. That's not His way. It's a lie of the enemy. This is an opportunity for you to rely on the Lord and allow Him to demonstrate that He is on your side.

When the Israelites were facing the Egyptian army barreling down on them, with their backs to the Red Sea, Moses said,

Exod. 14:13-14 But Moses said to the people, "Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent."

If you are in a similar situation, will you silently watch the Lord fight for you today? If you are out of the will of God, repent. And if you have repented then rest assured that God is on your side.

Though the enemy attacked, God thundered and brought another great confusion upon them. They were defeated and struck down by the Israelites as far as below Bayth Kar.

7:12-14 The Lord Has Helped Us

After the Philistines were defeated, Samuel set up as stone of remembrance between Mits-PEH and Shane. He named it EH-ben Haw-E-zer, which means "stone of help," and said, "Thus far the Lord has helped us."

Moses was always telling the Israelites,

Exod. 13:3 ..."Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the LORD brought you out from this place..."

Deut. 5:15 "And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm..."

They were to remember the times of deliverance in the past, to encourage their faith for difficulties in the future.

It is good to have items of remembrance of the Lord's deliverance and goodness. A journal in which you write God's blessings. A plaque to hang on the wall that tells of God's deliverence in a matter. A piece of paper on your bulletin board with a list of the prayers that God has answered.

My favorite stone of remembrance is the Scripture,

Phil. 1:6 Confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Whenever I wonder if God's coming through for today, I remember this verse that reminds me that God started working with many many years ago, and is not going to quit now.

7:15-17 Samuel's Circuit

These last few verses should probably have been the first three verses of chapter 8. Because they introduce to us the fact that Samuel had a regular circuit of travel from Bayth-ALE, to Ghil-GAWL, then to Mits-PAW.

In chapter 8, Israel will demand a king, and in chapter 9, that king will come across Samuel while he is visting a certain city.

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