And the men of Beth Shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? And to whom shall it go up from us?” (1 Samuel 6:20)
Killed For Looking In The Wrong Box
The Ark of the Covenant was an oblong chest overlaid with gold the size of 51 inches long and 31 inches wide and 31 inches tall. Constructed while Israel camped at Sinai and ordained by God as the vessel to carry the commandments of God, the ark was the place of the covenant between Himself and the nation. There were strict laws concerning its care and purpose. Placed in the Holy of Holies within the Tabernacle, it became the seat of mercy as the Lord communed with the people. Aaron’s rod and a bowl of manna would also be kept with the Ark as the people wandered in the wilderness for forty years. When the priest bore the ark through the River Jordan, the waters parted as they did at the Red Sea allowing Israel to cross into Canaan on dry land. The Ark of the Covenant would eventually be housed in the splendid Temple of Solomon behind the veil until the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Its final disposition is unknown and in all likelihood taken by the Babylonians and destroyed. Contrary to the popular myth, there are no raiders of the lost ark. When Samuel began his ministry as a prophet to Israel, the Philistines captured the ark from Israel in a remarkable turn of events. After a battle where four thousand Israelite’s were killed by the Philistines, the people of God sent to Shiloh for the Ark to deliver them and save them from the hand of their enemies. At first, the Philistines were terrified at the noise of Israel when the ark came into camp as they shouted so loudly the earth shook. So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated in this historical battle killing the sons of Eli the priest and the Lord allowing the Philistines to capture His Ark. Things did not go well with the Philistines for seven months as the Lord plagued the people who possessed the Ark. Finally, the Philistines called for their priests and diviners telling them to send the Ark back to the people of Israel. They made a new cart and hitched two milk cows which had never been yoked and removed their calves away from them. Letting the cows loose the people waited to see where the cows would take the Ark. They headed straight for the road to Beth-Shemesh which was a city of priests in Israel. When the people saw the Ark coming down the road they rejoiced the Lord had returned His glory to Israel. Sacrificing the cows at the place they stood, the people glorified the Lord with a burnt offering of praise. All was well until someone had the mistaken notion to look inside the Ark. As a result, the Lord struck down a great number of men for their sin.
When the men looked into the Ark of the Covenant, they disobeyed a fundamental law of God. The Ark of the Covenant was a holy emblem of God’s presence with the people of Israel. Only the priests were allowed to come in contact with the Ark and that was with certain restrictions. It was to be covered with a veil when transported. The contents were not to be handled or examined by men. This mercy seat was the place of God’s communion with the people and was to be kept as a holy convocation before the Lord. What the men of Beth-Shemesh did was a flagrant disregard for the holiness of God. As a city of priests, these men would know above all others the requirements of the Ark yet they dismissed the law for their own curiosity. A great slaughter came upon the people not through ignorance but willful disobedience of the will of the Lord. God had plagued the Philistines without mercy but they were not as accountable as the people of Israel. Whether Israelite or Philistine, the wrath of God came upon men because He was to be glorified and revered. The men of Beth-Shemesh should have covered the veil immediately upon its arrival because the law prescribed it. Prying open the Ark was a greater evil as men were looking into a forbidden place of the Lord. Joy was turned to sorrow as the Lord struck the city with a deadly plague. The people of Beth-Shemesh realized too late that God is holy and He demanded His people honor Him as Lord. So the people of Beth-Shemesh sent to the inhabitants of Kirjath Jearim to come to take the Ark where it remained for twenty years.
Throughout the history of Israel, God reminds the people that He is holy and He demands the people worship Him as holy. What is remarkable is how easy it comes for man to forget this fundamental yet vital part of the character of God. The Ark of the Covenant had been with Israel for more than half a century and the people had become casual in their respect of the Ark. It would seem that what the men of Beth-Shemesh had done would never be considered by the people that gathered at Sinai or marched through the wilderness. Did anyone think they could walk into the Tabernacle and go behind the veil into the Holy of Holies and look into the Ark? God told Moses to remind the priest what mortal danger they were in if they trifled with the Ark. There were clear warnings and yet the men of Beth-Shemesh looked inside a box they knew they should not touch or disrespect. There is a great lesson of reverence to be gleaned from a story such as a plague at Beth-Shemesh. Time means nothing to the Lord God and what he demanded of Moses at Sinai did not change many years later when a group of men decided to defile the Ark. Worship to the Lord can become a casual matter of disregard without giving the honor due the Lord. In the early days of the New Testament church, apathy had come to the saints at Corinth when they took of the Lord’s Supper with disinterest and dishonor. The apostle Paul uses very strict commands showing the penalty of failing to honor God by looking into the spiritual box of the Lord without giving Him the honor due His name. Jesus died to free men from the bondage of sin and worship must signify that glory. A casual and carefree disregard for worship will endanger the soul. The church is filled with hearts that have no concern for the holiness of the worship of song, prayer, communion, and preaching. It becomes a carefree bring your refreshments and lax attitudes of dress and attitudes to give honor to the Lord God Almighty. He will not accept such worship. Ask the men of Beth-Shemesh for the meaning of true worship and they will tell the story of looking in the wrong box.