The Return of the Ark
1 Samuel 6:10-7:1
And the men did so; and took two milk cows, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home:…

On the taking of the ark Israel sank to the lowest point of degradation. But "when the night is darkest then dawn is nearest." And the return of the sacred symbol was the first gleam of returning day. It was -

I. RESTORED BY DIVINE FAVOUR (vers. 10-12), which was -

1. Exceeding abundant (1 Timothy 1:14). The people of Israel do not appear to have made any effort for its restoration, but God remembered them, and for their sake constrained their enemies to send back the precious treasure. "That is free love which never has been desired, never has been deserved, and never can be requited."

2. Shown in an extraordinary manner. It was brought by creatures acting contrary to their natural instincts, under a Divine impulse, in a direct line to the nearest border city of Israel - Beth-shemesh (the house of the sun); a sign to Israel as well as the heathen. "Two kine knew their owner as (Isaiah 1:3) Hophni and Phinehas knew him not" (Lightfoot). God's favour often comes by the most unlikely agencies and means. His power is universal, and all things serve him.

3. Unexpected and surprising (ver. 13). It was the time of harvest, and the men of Beth-shemesh were pursuing their ordinary secular occupations, thinking nothing of the ark, when they suddenly lifted up their eyes and beheld it approaching. It was found by them like "the treasure hid in the field."

4. Distinguishing. Shown toward Beth-shemesh beyond other cities, and toward Joshua beyond any other man; for some reason, perchance, in the people as well as in the locality. The city we know was a priestly city (Joshua 21:10). "We shall probably be doing them no wrong if we suppose that they regarded its presence as an honour to themselves. It distinguished their township above all the cities of Israel."

II. RECEIVED WITH GREAT JOY (vers. 13-18). We can imagine how promptly they put aside their harvest work and gathered with one accord around the sacred object. Their joy was the joy of -

1. Gratitude for the favour shown toward them (1 Kings 8:62-66; Ezra 6:16, 17).

2. Devotion (vers. 14, 15). "They offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices (peace offerings) unto the Lord."

3. Hope; for in it they saw a proof of the power of God over the heathen, and a promise of their own freedom and prosperity.

4. And the day of their abounding joy was commemorated by means of the great stone on which the ark and the coffer containing the jewels of gold were set, "which remaineth unto this day."


1. Their conduct consisted of "looking into (or upon) the ark." Whether they actually pried into it is uncertain. Whatever may have been the precise nature of their conduct, the spirit in which they acted was their chief offence in the sight of him who "looketh at the heart." There may be much sin in a look.

2. Their sin was great; exhibiting want of reverence and godly fear, presumption, perhaps rationalism, recklessness, profanity (Leviticus 10:3). A spirit of intelligent curiosity and inquiry is of unspeakable worth, being the principal means of discovering truth and promoting human progress; but it should be ever joined with humility and reverence, as it has been in the greatest minds. "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." The fact that Beth-shemesh was a city of the priests would lead us to expect better things of its inhabitants. "It is not improbable that in their festive rejoicing they may have fallen into intemperance, and hence into presumptuous irreverence, as it is thought was the case with Nadab and Abihu" ('Sp. Com.').

3. Their punishment was severe; for "of fifty thousand men, seventy died a sudden death" (Hengstenberg; ver. 19). What is sent as a blessing is often turned by men themselves into a curse.

4. The effect was morally benefical on the people generally. "Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?" etc. (ver. 20).

(1) A conviction of his transcendent and awful holiness. "Our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29).

(2) A feeling of their own deep sinfulness, which the former never fails to produce (Isaiah 6:5; Luke 5:8).

(3) A persuasion of the necessity of "righteousness and true holiness" in those among whom he dwells; for their request to the inhabitants of Kirjath-jearim, "Come ye down, and fetch it up to you," was the expression of something more than selfish dread (1 Samuel 5:7), being caused by the belief that it would be more worthily honoured by others than by themselves. The conduct of a single city sometimes reveals the moral condition of a whole nation. And Israel was evidently not prepared to receive openly and fully the sign of God's presence among them, nor, until they should have passed through long and painful discipline, any further signal manifestation of his favour.

IV. REINSTATED IN RESPECTFUL BUT IMPERFECT HONOUR (ver. 21; 1 Samuel 7:1). From Beth-shemesh it was taken (not to Shiloh, which had been rendered unworthy, and was now perhaps in ruins, but) to Kirjath-jearim (city of forests or woods, Psalm 132:6), where it was -

1. Settled among a willing people, and in the house of a devout man - Abinadab, "on the hill." "God will find out a resting-place for the ark." When one people prove themselves unworthy of it, and wish to part with it, he will provide another people of greater worth, and ready to welcome it. "It is no new thing for the ark to be in a private dwelling house."

2. Placed under special and proper guardianship. "Sanctified (consecrated) Eleazar his son to keep the ark from profane intrusion." Even in the most corrupt times there are individual instances of true piety. These are honoured of God, and for their sakes others are spared (Isaiah 1:9).

3. Disassociated from the tabernacle and its services. After the capture of the ark the desecrated tabernacle appears to have been removed from Shiloh to Nob, where we find it long afterwards (1 Samuel 21:6), attended by more than eighty priests, and subsequently to Gibeon (1 Kings 3:4; 1 Chronicles 16:39; 1 Chronicles 21:29; 2 Chronicles 1:3, 6, 7), where it finally fell into decay and perished; the ark itself remained in Kirjath-jearim about seventy years, when it was removed to the house of Obed-edom (2 Samuel 6:3, 11. Gibeah = the hill), and shortly afterwards to Jerusalem, where it abode "in curtains" until deposited in the temple of Solomon. The separation was anomalous, preventive of the full observance of the prescribed order of Levitical services, and indicative of the imperfect moral relations which subsisted between the people of Israel and their Divine King.

4. Long disregarded by the nation. No public assemblies appear to have met at the place where it stood; no sacrifices to have been offered there, no festivities held, as previously at Shiloh. It is not even mentioned again until the time of David, when it was said, "We inquired not at (or for) the ark in the days of Saul" (1 Chronicles 13:3). Its neglect was permitted because its proper use was impossible until a thorough internal reformation and more complete union of the nation should be effected. "It was made evident that the nation was not yet worthy to receive the perfect fulfilment of the promise, 'I will dwell in your midst.' They endeavoured to dispose of the ark in the best possible way. It was buried, as it were, in Kirjath-jearim until the time when God would bring about its joyful resurrection" (Hengstenberg). - D.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the men did so; and took two milch kine, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home:

WEB: The men did so, and took two milk cows, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home;

The Ministry of Chance
Top of Page
Top of Page