The Israelites were battling the Philistines and decided to use the Ark as a magical artefact. They brought it to the battle front to “save them.” This plan encouraged the Hebrew troops but it also motivated the Philistines to fight for their lives. Israel lost 30,000 foot soldiers that day and the Ark was captured. Eli’s two wicked sons Hophni and Phinehas were killed as well and when Eli heard this triumvirate of bad news he fell backward off his chair and died “for he was an old man, and he was heavy” (4:18). Phinehas’ wife also died that day; giving birth to Ichabod, “the glory has departed from Israel.” The Philistines took the Ark home with them and placed it in their temple to Dagon. Unfortunately for Dagon, he was forced to bow down to the Ark resulting in his hands and head breaking off. The presence of the Ark also caused much trouble for the Philistine people in the form of tumours and rats. They moved it from town to town but the plague moved with it. They knew the history of the Ark and saw its power first hand and realised that it was too powerful for Dagon. Their reaction was not to worship Yahweh but to remove his presence so that they could continue worshipping in their traditional way. Therefore, they planned to return it to the Hebrews. They did this according to the recommendation of their own priests and diviners and put it on a cart with five each of golden tumours and rats. They also chose two cows that had just calved and had never been yoked to draw the cart. They knew that if these two mothers left their babies and accepted the yoke and took the cart back to Israel it could only be of God.
The cows immediately carted the Ark to Beth Shemesh where it was greeted with joy. However, some of the people there did not take God’s footstool seriously and decided to take a look inside out of curiosity. Its power killed seventy of them as a result. They were fearful and transferred the Ark to Kiriath Jearim where it would remain for twenty years.
Are we like these Philistines and Hebrews? Do we want God’s power and presence to help us out but we want to be able to control it? Then once we discover that God is uncontrollable we try to either get away from his presence so that life will return to normal or we stubbornly try again to control him and reap the consequences. How much is written about and against God as a result of these two viewpoints?