The Philistines (people in Philistia) had taken possession of the ark of the covenant during a battle. They then kept it for 7 months.
During those 7 months, there were great troubles in their country. Firstly, the image of their god called Dagon fell, and then it broke apart. Then an awful illness spread through their towns, and many people died. Also, unclean animals called rats were destroying everything (6:5).
These troubles happened because of the way that they were dealing with the ark. The ark was a very holy object: it was a box that acted as evidence of God’s relationship with Israel. Something that is holy belongs to God. However, the Philistines would not give honour to God; they still wanted to serve their false gods. Their attitudes remained proud; they wanted to keep the ark as their prize from the battle.
In the end, the troubles became so serious that the rulers of the Philistines had to act. They decided that they would send the ark back to Israel. They then asked the leaders of their false religion for advice about how they should do that.
Two kinds of people led their religion. The people called priests carried out the ceremonies. The people called diviners carried out magic, in order to inquire of their gods.
The priests and diviners belonged to a wrong religion. However, on this occasion, they knew what to advise. They agreed that the leaders of the Philistines must not continue to act in a proud manner. If the Philistines continued to be proud, then God would continue to punish their country. Instead, the leaders must declare to God that they had behaved wrongly towards his sacred ark. They should do that by means of a gift that they would send back with the ark.
The Philistines were still not willing to serve the real God. Their decision was to return the ark so that the troubles in their country would end.
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© 2014, Keith Simons.