1 Samuel 6: The Ark Sent Home
You remember the precious ark, how it was made, and what was in it, and its place in the most holy chamber of the tabernacle. How did it come to be in the country of the Philistines who were enemies of Israel? But it brought no blessing to the Philistines. What had happened to the idol Dagon when the ark was put in the temple of the idol? There were boils upon the people, and mice spoiled the grain in the fields wherever the ark was sent. It was now at Ekron, and the lords of the Philistines, the rulers of their five chief cities, decided that it must be sent home. Their wise men told them how to send it. They must make a new cart, and yoke to the cart two cows, tying up their calves at home. And they must put into the cart with the ark a golden offering, golden images of the boils which had come upon the people and of the mice which had spoiled the fields, five of each for the five cities of the Philistines. They did this, as the wise men told them, putting them in a "coffer" or box. They sent no one with the cart to drive the cows. They watched and followed after the ark, and they saw the cows without any driver, lowing as they went, take the straight way across the fields from Ekron to the valley of Beth-shemesh in the land of Israel. The people of Beth-shemesh were harvesting wheat in the meadow. Looking up they saw the ark coming and were glad; and it stopped in one of their fields. There was a great stone near by, and they offered the cows on the stone, and made other offerings to the Lord. But the people of Beth-shemesh were afraid to have the ark stay with them, for they looked into the ark and many of them died. They sent to the people of Kirjath-jearim (city of the woods) in the hills near by to come and get the ark, and it was there many years. As we read the chapter, think of the new cart with the precious ark and the golden offering, and the cows with no driver taking the straight way, as the Lord guided them, bringing the ark home. Some of you have a picture of the ark coming into the harvest field at Beth-shemesh.
The ark sent home. Why? How did the ark come into the hands of the Philistines? And why did the Philistines wish to send it home?
Our chapter speaks of the five chief cities of the Philistines, and of the five lords or rulers. Our little map will help us to find Ashdod, Gaza, Askalon, Gath, and Ekron. It was in Ashdod that the idol Dagon fell before the ark. They sent the ark then to Gath, and then to Ekron, and wherever it came there were plagues, boils upon the people and mice in the fields. In all how long was the ark in the Philistine country? They had become thoroughly afraid of it; it must be sent home. But how should they send it? Their diviners told them. These were men who had some knowledge of ancient wisdom, such as the wise men had who brought presents to the Lord, and they studied out the way to send the ark.
How was it done? The new cart; the two cows; their calves; no driver; with the ark in the cart the box of golden offerings. So what did the lords of the Philistine see as they watched, and followed across the fields? The cows were lowing for their calves, but they went, and took the straight way to the land of Israel. I have ridden across the fields, from Ekron to Beth-shemesh, thinking of this journey of the ark, when the unseen power guided the reluctant cows to take the straight way and to bring the ark home.
Notice what is said about the reception of the ark. Find Beth-shemesh on your map, and Kirjath-jearim. The ark stayed here a long time, twenty years (1 Sam. 7:1-2), and more, perhaps seventy or eighty years in all, until David came for it and took it up to Zion. (2 Sam. 6)
1. How did it come about that the ark was in the Philistine country? How long was it there?
2. Why did the Philistines wish to send the ark home? Who told them how to send it? The Philistine "diviners," like the wise men and sorcerers of Egypt in the days of Moses, were men who had some knowledge of heavenly things handed down from long ago. Especially they knew something of the correspondence between natural and spiritual things. Some knowledge of this kind remained even to the time of the Lord's coming, among wise men of the East. From their knowledge of correspondences, the diviners "studied out" the instructions which they gave for the trespass offering and for sending the ark home. (T. 203)
3. How was the ark sent home? On what was it placed? What drew the cart? Who drove it? What offering was sent with the ark?
4. What way did the cows take? To what place in the land of Israel did they come?
5. Where was the ark before it was taken to the Philistine country? Where did it stay for many years after coming home?
I have said that the diviners "studied out" the instructions which they gave for the trespass offering and for sending the ark home. This is Swedenborg's expression in T. 203. The diviners of that day did not have the perception of correspondences and of heavenly things, nor the intelligence in regard to them which people had in more ancient times, but they had the knowledge of some correspondences which enabled them to study out a way of sending the ark home which would be a true picture of spiritual experience.
Remember first what is represented by the Philistines, and by the presence of the ark with them. The Philistines represent an intellectual power which is proud and self-confident, and has almost no care for the life of charity in which truth ought to find expression. (A. 9340) What is the effect if the Lord's commandments are held in this way, as mere matters of knowledge without being obeyed? They bring no blessing; rather they bring plagues; they point out and condemn our faults and are an annoyance to us.
What is the remedy for this condition? You say at once that the way to put the commandments in their right place and to make them blessings is to obey them. This part of our duty is represented by yoking the cows to the new cart and by their taking the straight way. The cattle represent strong natural affections for work and pleasure; they are yoked to the ark when we compel these affections to obey the commandments. They may be reluctant to leave what they naturally love, as the cows were taken from their calves; but whatever the hardships, the reluctance, expressed by the lowing of the kine, we must keep the straight way and go as the commandments lead, having no other guide. The new cart on which the ark was carried represents a new principle or doctrine in regard to the commandments, perhaps in particular the new acknowledgment of the duty of carrying them into life, of doing what they teach. (A. 5945; T. 203)
And is this obeying of the commandments all that is needed to bring them to their right place? Ought we not also to confess the evils which the commandments have exposed and humbly ask forgiveness for them? And this is represented by the golden emerods and mice sent as a trespass offering to the Lord. The images of the plague are plainly a confession of the evil things; and the images were of gold because when wrongs things are humbly confessed and repented of, there comes forgiveness and a grateful love for the Lord in their place. The one to whom most is forgiven loves the most. (Luke 7:40-47) Can you distinguish in meaning between the emerods and the mice? The former represent the evil affections and the latter the slyness and deceit which the commandments have exposed. (F.,52; P.326)
In connection with the smiting of the people of Beth-shemesh because they looked into the ark we may remember the death of Uzzah because he touched the ark. (2 Sam. 6:6-8) Irreverence necessarily reacts with harm upon one who is irreverent, as is declared in the second of the Ten Commandments. Remember too that we cannot see the Lord in His Divineness, nor expect to see His infinite providence in events as they pass. "Thou canst not see My face: for there shall no man see Me, and live." The fullness of the Lord's love unveiled would be as a consuming fire. (Exod. 33:20; A. 6849; E. 504 latter half)