Have you ever been hanging out with your parents, laughing and talking, having a good time for once, when out of nowhere they ruin it?
They criticize you or snap at you or say something mean – whatever it is, the mood has taken a nosedive, the vibes are soured, and you’re left wondering, Why did they do that?
Rain on your parade
If you’ve ever experienced that, you might be an Israelite. Or at least you could relate to one.
In 1 Samuel 6, the Israelites have just suffered through a rough few weeks. The Ark of the Covenant, a holy and irreplaceable part of the tabernacle, had been stolen in battle with the Philistines. Thousands of soldiers were dead. They didn’t know what to do. All hope seemed lost.
Until some Israelites living in Beth Shemesh glanced up from their wheat harvesting and noticed a strange procession coming down the road.
It was two cows, crying and lowing, dragging behind them a big cart. The cart drew closer, and they couldn’t believe their eyes: the Ark of the Covenant was in it.
Turns out the Philistines, unable to incorporate the Israelite God alongside their own gods, had sent the Ark of the Covenant back, with gold peace offerings no less (verse 11)!
This was amazing! The Israelites shouted and praised God. They offered sacrifices. Despite their mistake in losing the Ark, God had brought it back. He loved them. He hadn’t given up on them.
Imagine being in the crowd of Israelites, singing and praising, filled with joy, when suddenly screams start to overpower the praises.
You look around frantically. You see a bunch of people slumped on the ground. People start to run. Have the Philistines come back? Are you under attack?
It is only after the chaos has subsided that you realize that no, it wasn’t the Philistines. It was God.
He struck seventy people dead.
Your mind staggers. Why did He do that? You discover later that the people who died had peeked inside of the holy Ark of the Covenant.
It’s true; they weren’t supposed to do that. What’s more, they knew it and did it anyway. But instant death? In the middle of a time of rejoicing?
“Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?” the Israelites cried. In other words, who could manage to measure up to God’s standards? Who would be able to satisfy Him and not stir up His anger?
“You are too casual with Me.”
“Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?” The answer is right there in the question.
God is holy, and the Israelites who looked in the Ark chose to ignore that. And to this day, we still make the same mistake.
We joke about God and His laws. We ignore parts of His word. We casually sin. We treat God more like the weird friend than the Creator the universe, the Father who saved us from our sins, or the Son who suffered and died so we could have another chance at life.
And then we complain and get angry when God punishes us for our sins.
Just like our parents – even more than our parents – God loves us. He wants us to be close to Him. He wants us to delight in Him, to talk with Him, to be honest with Him.
But we can’t forget that God doesn’t just want to be our buddy, He wants to change our lives. He wants to bless us with eternal life. A holy God is the only one who can save us from our unholy, painful lives, but we have to respect Him. We have to humble ourselves, lower ourselves, and accept God’s authority over everything.
Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God? By definition, no one. And once we truly accept that, then God can come close to us and change us into new people.
The kind that respect Him.
What do you think? Why do you think God punished the Israelites so harshly?