Summary: Do the things that happen in our lives happen by chance, or is it God working His eternal and unchangable plans and will?
Just before we read this portion together I just want to put you in the picture of what has happened just before this that we are going to read about takes place. I’m not going to spend too much time with regards to the background of this portion of Scripture, but it is important for us to know what precedes this particular meeting we’re going to read about.
Israel was at war with the Philistines, and they were been hammered on the battlefield, they lost 4000 men in battle, so the Israelites then go to the judge who is ruling Israel at that time, and his name is Eli. To cut a long story short, they take the Ark of the Covenant, which is basically the earthly throne of God, and they take the Ark into battle because they think that that will guarantee them the victory.
What happens then is that 30,000 of the Israelites are killed in the battle that pursues, and the worst of it all is that the Ark of the Covenant is captured by the Philistines. (just to tell you how important Israel considered the ark, when Israel was defeated Phinehas, the son of Eli was also killed, and when they told his wife who was pregnant she went into labour and dies shortly after giving birth, but just before she died, she named her child Ichabod (ikebahd), which means: “the glory ‘of the Lord’ has departed”.)
Ok, so now the Philistines have the Ark which is the presence, the throne of God, and all of a sudden terrible things start happening to these people. First of all their god, Dagon falls down before the ark, and they find their god lying prostrate before the throne of God, so they pick Dagon up, and the next day when they return, he has fallen over again, except this time he is shattered into a thousand pieces. After this there is an outbreak of tumours, which is followed by a plague of rats, and no matter what the Philistines do, the tumours and the rats follow the Ark as they move it around in their territory.
So eventually all the kings of the Philistines, 5 of them, call together a meeting with all their priests and diviners, and they try to figure out what to do with the Ark of the Covenant.
Right, so now let’s read together from 1 Samuel 6, verses 1-9 (stop there for a moment)
Now, what is important for us this morning is that final question they are posing; and the question is simply: is this as a result of the hand of God, or is it by chance?
Basically they were not sure as to the exact causes of their misery; they weren’t sure if it was God, or if it was coincidence or just plain bad luck. (Maybe I should rather say that they didn’t like the fact that God was causing these things to happen to them, so they try to disprove the fact that God is in control)
So they devise this plan, and in doing so they kind of help the odds a bit in favour of proving that it was not God by keeping the calves back home and sending the cows, who have never been yoked, off into the distance. Now if you think about it, what are the odds? Two cows, milk cows that have just given birth, and have never been yoked?
The natural inclination will be firstly for them to stay with their calves at almost all costs, and secondly, they would not be able to pull straight and in the same direction because they had never been yoked!
You see, they had a opinion, otherwise they would never have even considered or devised this plan, but at the same time they didn’t like what they were thinking, because that would mean that there was a Higher Power (other than their god who was Dagon), which would of course ultimately mean that there was indeed someone up there, and that that someone had the power to influence their lives in a very real and substantive way!
Ok, so anyway, the Philistines develop this method, this test, this experiment, and it is all designed to determine who, or what is the cause of their trouble. Is it God, or is it chance, coincidence or bad luck?
There’s one thing about this question they had back then, and that is the sad reality that the question has never really changed. Even over the thousands of years that have gone between this event and today, people still write many things, especially bad things, off to chance, coincidence and bad luck, and the one thing people seem to regard as unthinkable is the possibility that it is indeed God who has caused these things to happen.