Summary: Samuel saw a mighty revival in his day, but we will never see a mighty revival in our day until we understand the ways of God. Our nation, our state, and our community are in serious spiritual crisis!
The Long Road to Revival
1 Samuel 6:13-15; 7:2-17
During the days of the prophet Samuel, the people of Israel had gone through a difficult time. The Ark of the Covenant, which was the symbol of the presence of God, had been captured by a foreign army.
It was a crushing blow by their bitter enemy. While the Philistines held the Ark of the Covenant, God poured out His wrath upon the Philistines. He afflicted them with a plague of tumors.
The Philistines were so plagued by the tumors that they decided to return the Ark of the Covenant to the Israelites. They hoped that God would then remove His Holy Hand of Judgement.
And so we come to 1 Samuel 6:13-15.
It seems like the Israelites were doing the right thing. It seems like the people joyfully sacrificed the cows and the cart to God as a celebration of the return of the Ark of the Covenant. But there is a problem brewing.
Look back at I Samuel 6:7. This verse says that the Philistines used two cows (heifers, female cows) that have given birth and had never been yoked. It says that the Philistines took away the calves from the heifers and put them into a pen. Look at Leviticus 1:3. Through Moses, God commanded the Israelites when they brought a burnt offering, they were to bring a male animal.
This may seem like a little detail, but listen: it is a terrible thing to treat the Holy things of God in an unholy manner! There is no room for careless and casual worship of God. God is Holy! And we must worship Him in Holiness!
The carelessness of the people did not stop there.1 Samuel 6:15. “The large rock, on which they set the ark of the Lord, is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh.”
“Beth Shemesh was a Levitical city set aside for the clan of Kohath, the Levitical family charged with the responsibility of caring for the ark of the covenant” (NAC, 102).
This was the place where the ark was to be protected. These were the people who were supposed to care for the ark. But notice what happens.
1. 1 Samuel 1:15 – They displayed the ark on a rock.
2. 1 Samuel 1:19—They opened the top of the ark of the covenant
Listen to Numbers 4:4-6, 20. “This is the work of the Kohathites in the Tent of Meeting: the care of the most holy things. When the camp is to move, Aaron and his sons are to go in and take down the shielding curtain and cover the ark of the Testimony with it. Then they are to cover this with hides of sea cows, spread a cloth of blue over that and put the poles in place. But the Kohathites must not go in and look at the holy things, even for a moment or they will die.”
The Kohathites were forbidden from even looking at the Ark, yet they displayed it upon a rock.
They were forbidden from touching the ark, yet 1 Samuel 6:19 says, “God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the Lord.”
Now there is a discrepancy in the various translations over how many people the Lord struck down. Some versions say 70, and some say 50,070. I will not spend a great deal of time on this, but scholars such as Gleason Archer in his book Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties has argued persuasively that the number was probably 70 not 50,070. (p. 169). Beth Shemesh was a small village with less than 50,000, and it is unlikely that 50,000 people were involved in lifting off the top of the ark. Although I believe that God is powerful enough to strike down 50,000 and a whole lot more if he so chooses, I believe the number of men struck down that day was 70.
The point is not how many God struck down, but that God did strike down men who were careless and casual with the law of God. The spiritual leaders of the people ignored the commands of God and the results were devastating. Many lives were taken because of sin.
Since the Garden of Eden, “God has been instructing His people in the seriousness of their relationship with Him. He was God and they were His people. They were to be holy. No casual or careless relationship with God would be tolerated, for such behavior would encourage all of God’s people to depart from Him and His covenant relationship with them” (Blackaby, 103).
When a nation or a people turn their backs on God they will surely reap destruction.