I need to give a bit of background on today’s verse.
A couple of weeks ago we looked at the birth and dedication of Samuel, the son of Hannah. Samuel went to live in the temple with the priest Eli and his two sons. When Samuel was still very young, God called him by name and told him that Eli’s sons would not live because of the things they had done (stealing the best, choicest meats from the people’s offerings rather than taking what God gave them). And God made it clear that all of Israel would see the destruction of Eli’s household (since Eli himself didn’t stop his sons).
The people are still at war with the Philistines. Actually, it seems like throughout a chunk of the Old Testament God’s people and the Philistines are at odds. This time, the battle was not won by God’s people, and Eli’s sons had brought the ark of the covenant to the place of the battle, in an attempt to win God’s favor. Instead, they were killed and the ark was captured. But even though God wiped out the house of Eli in this big way, He didn’t forsake His chosen people for the Philistines. In fact, every town that housed the ark experienced curses from that point on. Finally, the Philistines realized they had to send the ark back to Israel. So they put it on a cart and added a chest filled with gold guilt offerings, one for each ruler and town in their land. They hitched the cart to two cows, and started them on the road to Beth Shemesh, an Israel town near the border. Then we see this passage in 1 Samuel 6:13-14:
Now the people of Beth Shemesh were harvesting their wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they rejoiced at the sight. The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and there it stopped beside a large rock. The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord.
It would be great if the story stopped there, with the people celebrating and rejoicing in the return of the symbol of God’s presence in Israel. But of course, as it has since Adam and Eve first tasted that fruit, human pride entered into the equation and the people of the town had to take a look inside the ark. What were they thinking? Was it to check for damage? Or more likely, was it because they thought they could harness some of God’s divine power for themselves? Whatever their reason, seventy men looked and were struck down by God. And the people of the town contacted another town and asked them to come and get the ark. Probably a good idea since they couldn’t seem to resist the temptation.
And oh, how tempting it is to control things, to have power, to choose the best things for myself instead of allowing God to give me what He wants me to have. I want it my way, right away. I want God to be my fairy godmother, not my Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. When His answer is no, I react defensively: “It’s not fair!”
In my sense of God’s withholding, I miss the things He is holding out to me: His grace, mercy, and love. And not just that, but the little daily blessings that I miss. The beauty of a sunrise. The quiet and roar of nature. The protection from an almost-accident. The joy of teaching and learning and growing. His call on my life. I am blessed beyond measure, and I pray that I can learn gratitude for it.