1 Samuel 6:1-18 – Do You Play “If…Then” Games With God?

Posted: December 7, 2017 in 09-1 Samuel
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1 Samuel 6:1-18
The Philistines Return the Ark

Last night, at the dinner table, as has been our practice here lately, we read one of the Psalms. We have been reading through them consecutively for about two months. Not every night but most nights where we are home for dinner. We read it and then we discuss what the Psalm means (using the footnotes in our study Bible to make sure that we are not too far off course as to the true meaning of the passage) and how that affects us. Last night, we read Psalm 35. In that psalm, David laments about being under attack. David laments about the difference between evil and righteous people. David calls out to the Lord to deliver him. Elena mentioned something that I kind of thought myself but was afraid to verbalize it was that toward the end of the psalm, it almost sounds like David is bargaining with God. God if you do this, then I will praise you. We both discussed out that would seem so out of character for David. Though David was a flawed man in many ways (particularly when it comes to family relationships and women), he was a man after God’s own heart. He loved the Lord. He respected the Lord. He is greatest joy was in the Lord and following the Lord’s commands. How then, can he in that psalm seem as though he is expecting God to do so something as if it is almost a demand – that he is somehow equal to the Lord such that he can demand things from Him.

But is that really what David was doing? Was he really bargaining with God? Or was he a godly man simply asking and pleading with God to demonstrate His power to David’s enemies. Sure, David would benefit from that, but the most important thing to David was that God be glorified in the process. I don’t think that David was being inconsistent with his understanding of and his deep and abiding relationship with God. He was not like us after a hard night of drinking and now making offerings to the porcelain god from the very depths of our stomach and bargaining with God about how we will never drink again if God will just make it stop. David was being pursued for the threat that he posed to the kingship of Saul. David was God’s anointed future king. It is similar to say a Christian in an Islamic prison for being a Christian and being tortured for it. It is not bargaining. It is calling out to God to end our suffering. It is calling out to God to show and demonstrate His power to our enemies. To say that we will praise him for that is not so much bargaining as it is promising God that we will celebrate Him so mightily when He delivers us from the clutches of evil that has been forced upon us. David is asking God to show His power and that He will celebrate Him when He does. David had a firm faith that God would deliver and vindicate those who chased after God’s heart.

That idea of the difference between bargaining with God and promising God to celebrate Him when we are delivered by His power is what I thought about again this morning when I read this passage, 1 Samuel 6:1-18. Let’s read it together now:

Chapter 6

1The Ark of the Lord remained in Philistine territory seven months in all. 2 Then the Philistines called in their priests and diviners and asked them, “What should we do about the Ark of the Lord? Tell us how to return it to its own country.”

3 “Send the Ark of the God of Israel back with a gift,” they were told. “Send a guilt offering so the plague will stop. Then, if you are healed, you will know it was his hand that caused the plague.”

4 “What sort of guilt offering should we send?” they asked.

And they were told, “Since the plague has struck both you and your five rulers, make five gold tumors and five gold rats, just like those that have ravaged your land. 5 Make these things to show honor to the God of Israel. Perhaps then he will stop afflicting you, your gods, and your land. 6 Don’t be stubborn and rebellious as Pharaoh and the Egyptians were. By the time God was finished with them, they were eager to let Israel go.

7 “Now build a new cart, and find two cows that have just given birth to calves. Make sure the cows have never been yoked to a cart. Hitch the cows to the cart, but shut their calves away from them in a pen. 8 Put the Ark of the Lord on the cart, and beside it place a chest containing the gold rats and gold tumors you are sending as a guilt offering. Then let the cows go wherever they want. 9 If they cross the border of our land and go to Beth-shemesh, we will know it was the Lord who brought this great disaster upon us. If they don’t, we will know it was not his hand that caused the plague. It came simply by chance.”

10 So these instructions were carried out. Two cows were hitched to the cart, and their newborn calves were shut up in a pen. 11 Then the Ark of the Lord and the chest containing the gold rats and gold tumors were placed on the cart. 12 And sure enough, without veering off in other directions, the cows went straight along the road toward Beth-shemesh, lowing as they went. The Philistine rulers followed them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh.

13 The people of Beth-shemesh were harvesting wheat in the valley, and when they saw the Ark, they were overjoyed! 14 The cart came into the field of a man named Joshua and stopped beside a large rock. So the people broke up the wood of the cart for a fire and killed the cows and sacrificed them to the Lord as a burnt offering. 15 Several men of the tribe of Levi lifted the Ark of the Lord and the chest containing the gold rats and gold tumors from the cart and placed them on the large rock. Many sacrifices and burnt offerings were offered to the Lord that day by the people of Beth-shemesh. 16 The five Philistine rulers watched all this and then returned to Ekron that same day.

17 The five gold tumors sent by the Philistines as a guilt offering to the Lord were gifts from the rulers of Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron. 18 The five gold rats represented the five Philistine towns and their surrounding villages, which were controlled by the five rulers. The large rock[a] at Beth-shemesh, where they set the Ark of the Lord, still stands in the field of Joshua as a witness to what happened there.

In this passage, we see the Philistine priests of their false gods and diviners devised a test to see if God was really the One who had caused all their recent troubles. Two cows who had just given birth and had never previously been yoked were hitched to a cart and sent toward Israel’s border carry the Ark of the Covenant. This was significant in that (1) a mother cow leaving her nursing calf would go against her very nature as a mother (her nature would have been to search and find her nursing calf) and (2) the fact that the cows had never been yoked would have most likely caused the cows to work against each other and wander around aimlessly if they got anywhere at all. Only God, who has the power of the natural order of the universe could cause this to happen. God sent the cows directly toward Israel. God did not do this to pass some test that the Philistines had devised but rather to show them His mighty power. How often do we devise tests for God…if you do this then I will do that? How often should we be asking God simply to show His mighty power in our lives?

Do you know the difference between bargaining with God and praising God for His deliverance? Here the Philistines were basically bargaining with the God of Israel. If you do this Lord, then, we will know that it was you that caused our plague. So, they put God to the test. If this happens, then this God of Israel is real. If not it’s just chance. How often do we play this game? God, I need a sign from you before I will believe in you. If you do this, then, I will believe in you. If you get me out of this jam, I will give my life to you. If you get me out of this financial trouble, I will believe in you. If you find me a boyfriend or a girlfriend, I will believe in you. If you find me a husband or a wife, I will believe in you.

There is a big difference between that kind of “if…then” temporary life changes like the Philistines and the real deal like David. Let us be a people that pray to God to have His way in our lives. Let us be a people who firmly believe and have faith that God will deliver us from times of trouble not because we deserve it but because God is that powerful. We have faith in Him and one who is faithful to us. We have confidence that no matter how bad a situation gets that God will deliver us and set us on high ground. We want to celebrate that. Bargaining with God is selfish and prideful. Celebrating God’s power to deliver and trust that He will do it. We have no doubt about it. We believe in Him that firmly. Not just when we get in a jam. We believe that God will deliver because we believe in how powerful He is. We do not have the Philistinic “if…then” kind of faith. We have the Davidic faith that God will deliver and man how we will celebrate that when He does it. That’s a big difference don’t you think?

Amen and Amen.

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