We love the mercy and grace of God, but they cannot exist apart from the justice and discipline of God. We must learn to value both, and properly fear and love God.
Sometimes it is hard for us to balance the mercy of God and the justice of God, or the love of God and the discipline of God. But there is a balance.
We do not love if we do not discipline.
Hebrews 12:6 || 6 For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” [NLT]
There is no need for mercy if there is no concept of justice.
In the passages we are about to read, I want us to take note of a certain phrase or concept: the hand of the Lord or the hand of God. This phrase, according to the Bible Knowledge Commentary appears almost 190 times in the Old Testament and refers to God’s power or authority.
We came across this phrase in the wilderness, after the exodus from Egypt. The people scouted out the promised land and failed to trust God and believed the bad report. So, what did God do to the people? He punished them and let them all die off in the wilderness – except Joshua and Caleb.
Deuteronomy 2:15 || Indeed, the Lord’s hand was against them, to eliminate them from the camp until they had all perished. [CSB]
In this case it showed the power of God in punishment and judgement.
There are certain themes that carry through the Bible, and the hand of God is one of them. It gives us important understanding into the character of God. Since many of you are spending time studying the Bible on your own and are involved in small groups, I wanted to help you see this character of God so you can recognize it as you continue your studies.
We will spend most of our time reading together. When you see the power of God, or the hand of the Lord, mark it in your bible or write down the verse.
Quick Back Story:
1 Samuel 3:19–4:1a || 19 Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and he fulfilled everything Samuel prophesied. 20 All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear in Shiloh, because there he revealed himself to Samuel by his word. 1 And Samuel’s words came to all Israel... [CSB]
So, while the story of Samuel is a positive one, the moral and spiritual decline in Israel is still very obvious. The story now shifts from Samuel to the people.
1 Samuel 4:1b–11 || 1 Israel went out to meet the Philistines in battle and camped at Ebenezer while the Philistines camped at Aphek. 2 The Philistines lined up in battle formation against Israel, and as the battle intensified, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who struck down about four thousand men on the battlefield. 3 When the troops returned to the camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord defeat us today before the Philistines? Let’s bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh. Then it will go with us and save us from our enemies.” 4 So the people sent men to Shiloh to bring back the ark of the covenant of the Lord of Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. 5 When the ark of the covenant of the Lord entered the camp, all the Israelites raised such a loud shout that the ground shook. 6 The Philistines heard the sound of the war cry and asked, “What’s this loud shout in the Hebrews’ camp?” When the Philistines discovered that the ark of the Lord had entered the camp, 7 they panicked. “A god has entered their camp!” they said. “Woe to us, nothing like this has happened before. 8 Woe to us, who will rescue us from these magnificent gods? These are the gods that slaughtered the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. 9 Show some courage and be men, Philistines! Otherwise, you’ll serve the Hebrews just as they served you. Now be men and fight!” 10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and each man fled to his tent. The slaughter was severe—thirty thousand of the Israelite foot soldiers fell. 11 The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died. [CSB]
Someone tell me what is wrong with this picture?
The Israelites had placed their faith in an object, not in a person. They figured if they had the ark they could win. But God was not with them because they were not with God. They treated the ark like a lucky charm or a magic wand.
Notice, it is the ark of the Lord’s covenant. That covenant was “if you follow me, I will bless you. If you turn to other idols, I will destroy you”. The second problem is that they wanted the blessing of God without the discipline of God. They wanted God to make them successful regardless of whether or not they were doing what God wanted them to do.
We see both truths magnified as we see who went with the ark, from the tent of meeting. It was NOT Eli (the priest) nor Samuel (whom God was speaking with) but Hophni and Phinehas – the glutenous sons that perverted worship and sacrifices.
1 Samuel 4:12–22 || 12 That same day, a Benjaminite man ran from the battle and came to Shiloh. His clothes were torn, and there was dirt on his head. 13 When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair beside the road watching, because he was anxious about the ark of God. When the man entered the city to give a report, the entire city cried out. 14 Eli heard the outcry and asked, “Why this commotion?” The man quickly came and reported to Eli. 15 At that time Eli was ninety-eight years old, and his eyes didn’t move because he couldn’t see. 16 The man said to Eli, “I’m the one who came from the battle. I fled from there today.” “What happened, my son?” Eli asked. 17 The messenger answered, “Israel has fled from the Philistines, and also there was a great slaughter among the people. Your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are both dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” 18 When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off the chair by the city gate, and since he was old and heavy, his neck broke and he died. Eli had judged Israel forty years.
19 Eli’s daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and about to give birth. When she heard the news about the capture of God’s ark and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband, she collapsed and gave birth because her labor pains came on her. 20 As she was dying, the women taking care of her said, “Don’t be afraid. You’ve given birth to a son!” But she did not respond or pay attention. 21 She named the boy Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel,” referring to the capture of the ark of God and to the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 “The glory has departed from Israel,” she said, “because the ark of God has been captured.” [CSB]
Though not stated this way, you can see that the hand of the Lord was against Eli for not taking care of his sons. Go back and read chapter 2 and you will see that!
We have a new level of despair among the people. Their priest, Eli, is dead. The ark is gone. I want to focus on verse 22 just for a minute:
The glory of Israel was that is reflected the glory of God – that God’s power was displayed through them to the world around them. The glory did not depart because the ark was gone. The glory departed because the people followed other gods and abandoned the God who called them out of slavery and into the promised land.
I LOVE what God does next:
1 Samuel 5:1–4 || 1 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod, 2 brought it into the temple of Dagon and placed it next to his statue. 3 When the people of Ashdod got up early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen with his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and returned him to his place. 4 But when they got up early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen with his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. This time, Dagon’s head and both of his hands were broken off and lying on the threshold. Only Dagon’s torso remained. [CSB]
This is a trophy moment for the Philistines. The take the ark and put it in the temple to their god, Dagon, to signify that it was by the power of Dagon that they defeated Israel and to demonstrate the superiority of their god, Dagon, over Yahweh.
DAGON: is the chief deity of the Philistines. Some ancient Canaanite texts refer to him as the father of Baal, and thus it is likely that he, too, was a storm god.
The first morning, Dagon is face down on the ground before the ark. This is a posture of worship.
The next day, the torso is still in worship and the head and hands are cut off. Head is leadership, hands are power. God is stating that Dagon has no authority or power of Yahweh.
1 Samuel 5:6–12 || 6 The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod. He terrified the people of Ashdod and its territory and afflicted them with tumors. 7 When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of Israel’s God must not stay here with us, because his hand is strongly against us and our god Dagon.” 8 So they called all the Philistine rulers together and asked, “What should we do with the ark of Israel’s God?” “The ark of Israel’s God should be moved to Gath,” they replied. So they moved the ark of Israel’s God. 9 After they had moved it, the Lord’s hand was against the city of Gath, causing a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, from the youngest to the oldest, with an outbreak of tumors. 10 The people of Gath then sent the ark of God to Ekron, but when it got there, the Ekronites cried out, “They’ve moved the ark of Israel’s God to us to kill us and our people!” 11 The Ekronites called all the Philistine rulers together. They said, “Send the ark of Israel’s God away. Let it return to its place so it won’t kill us and our people!” For the fear of death pervaded the city; God’s hand was oppressing them. 12 Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven. [CSB]
Each place that the ark went to was struck by the hand of God.
1 Samuel 6:1–6 || 1 When the ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory for seven months, 2 the Philistines summoned the priests and the diviners and pleaded, “What should we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we can send it back to its place.” 3 They replied, “If you send the ark of Israel’s God away, do not send it without an offering. Send back a guilt offering to him, and you will be healed. Then the reason his hand hasn’t been removed from you will be revealed.” 4 They asked, “What guilt offering should we send back to him?” And they answered, “Five gold tumors and five gold mice corresponding to the number of Philistine rulers, since there was one plague for both you and your rulers. 5 Make images of your tumors and of your mice that are destroying the land. Give glory to Israel’s God, and perhaps he will stop oppressing you, your gods, and your land. 6 Why harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened theirs? When he afflicted them, didn’t they send Israel away, and Israel left? [CSB]
I am amazed as I think that the pagan priests and mystics had more sense than Israel – they at least understood that they needed to offer a sacrifice to God – a guilt offering at that!
There are 5 cities, with 5 rulers, and each city and ruler was affected, so the solution is to make 5 rats and 5 tumors of gold and send them with the ark, back to Israel.
1 Samuel 6:7–9 || 7 “Now then, prepare one new cart and two milk cows that have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up. 8 Take the ark of the Lord, place it on the cart, and put the gold objects that you’re sending him as a guilt offering in a box beside the ark. Send it off and let it go its way. 9 Then watch: If it goes up the road to its homeland toward Beth-shemesh, it is the Lord who has made this terrible trouble for us. However, if it doesn’t, we will know that it was not his hand that punished us—it was just something that happened to us by chance.” [CSB]
So, this is silly. They really want this to fail. Cows that have never been yoked do not generally know how to work together. If they just had claves, the first thing they would do is turn and head for the calves. Finally, they last place they would head is away from their home to a place they had never been.
WHY: if it fails, they can try to claim some dignity for their god and put the people at ease – because they were all terrified!
1 Samuel 6:10–16 || 10 The men did this: They took two milk cows, hitched them to the cart, and confined their calves in the pen. 11 Then they put the ark of the Lord on the cart, along with the box containing the gold mice and the images of their tumors. 12 The cows went straight up the road to Beth-shemesh. They stayed on that one highway, lowing as they went; they never strayed to the right or to the left. The Philistine rulers were walking behind them to the territory of Beth-shemesh. 13 The people of Beth-shemesh were harvesting wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they were overjoyed to see it. 14 The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh and stopped there near a large rock. The people of the city chopped up the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. 15 The Levites removed the ark of the Lord, along with the box containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. That day the people of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the Lord. 16 When the five Philistine rulers observed this, they returned to Ekron that same day. [CSB]
So, God demonstrated his power and authority to the enemies of the Jews. He proved through the humiliation of Dagon, the tumors and even rats and death, that he is God and he will not be the trophy or lucky charm of anyone. He also proved that his decision NOT to give Israel victory does not mean that he is powerless or weak. He is just and as such he must keep his promises and punish the nation of Israel for turning their back on him.
The people that see the ark, immediately celebrate and make an offering to God. A happy ending, right?!
1 Samuel 6:19–7:1 || 19 God struck down the people of Beth-shemesh because they looked inside the ark of the Lord. He struck down seventy persons. The people mourned because the Lord struck them with a great slaughter. 20 The people of Beth-shemesh asked, “Who is able to stand in the presence of the Lord this holy God? To whom should the ark go from here?” 21 They sent messengers to the residents of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the Lord. Come down and get it.” 1 So the people of Kiriath-jearim came for the ark of the Lord and took it to Abinadab’s house on the hill. They consecrated his son Eleazar to take care of it. [CSB]
They violated God’s rules again. And now, they are afraid of the ark, just like the Philistines were. They were no closer to God than the pagans.
God’s holiness and God’s justice cannot be separated.
Interestingly, the ark does NOT go back to Shiloh. I am not sure if this is because they were afraid of what might happen after their experience and that of the Philistines, or if they felt it was unclean and could not go back to the holy place immediately. The text is not clear as to why, but the fact that it is NOT in Shiloh is significant. God is near, but certainly NOT at the center of the nation yet.
This entire plot comes to a conclusion in chapter 7:
1 Samuel 7:2–13 || 2 Time went by until twenty years had passed since the ark had been taken to Kiriath-jearim. Then the whole house of Israel longed for the Lord.
3 Samuel told them, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, get rid of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths that are among you, dedicate yourselves to the Lord, and worship only him. Then he will rescue you from the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites removed the Baals and the Ashtoreths and only worshiped the Lord.
5 Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord on your behalf.” 6 When they gathered at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out in the Lord’s presence. They fasted that day, and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the Israelites at Mizpah.
7 When the Philistines heard that the Israelites had gathered at Mizpah, their rulers marched up toward Israel. When the Israelites heard about it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. 8 The Israelites said to Samuel, “Don’t stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, so that he will save us from the Philistines.” 9 Then Samuel took a young lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. He cried out to the Lord on behalf of Israel, and the Lord answered him. 10 Samuel was offering the burnt offering as the Philistines approached to fight against Israel. The Lord thundered loudly against the Philistines that day and threw them into such confusion that they were defeated by Israel. 11 Then the men of Israel charged out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines striking them down all the way to a place below Beth-car. 12 Afterward, Samuel took a stone and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, explaining, “The Lord has helped us to this point.” 13 So the Philistines were subdued and did not invade Israel’s territory again. The Lord’s hand was against the Philistines all of Samuel’s life. [CSB]
They gave up their images and renewed their relationship. And this time, when the battle was upon them, they did not seek the ark as a lucky charm, they cried out to Yahweh to deliver them.
And God THUNDERED against the people who worshipped the god of storms ? And they were defeated. And God’s hand was against the Philistines.
In Judges, the people rebelled against God and he “handed them over” to the Philistines. He made the Israelites powerless and gave power and authority to the Philistines.
Judges 13:1 || 1 The Israelites again did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord handed them over to the Philistines forty years. [CSB]
Now that the people have returned to God, he handed the Philistines over to the Israelites. God’s hand was against the Philistines and his power and authority was with the Jews.
While most times we are drawn to the actions of repentance in this passage: the people confessed, fasted, worshipped God and sacrificed to him. While these are all very important and significant even to us today.
However, the bigger thread that ties all of these stories together from Eli, Hophni & Phinehas, The Israelites losing in battle, the plagues on the Philistines, the death of the people who looked at the ark and the subduing of the Philistines for a season, are all direct actions of the “hand of God” – God displaying his authority and power in combination with his justice.
Deuteronomy 10:12 || 12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all his ways, to love him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul? [CSB]