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God is never amused at being treated with contempt, nor by having his explicit instructions ignored or defied. For then he would not be God.
God is well able to defend himself. In 1 Samuel 5–6, the unfolding account can be as restrained as it is precisely because it is as obvious to the reader as it was to the Philistines that God himself is behind the tragic illnesses and deaths they were suffering. The surprises began with the capsizing of their fish god, Dagon. It soon spread to a plague of rats, an epidemic of tumors, multiplying deaths — and not only in the city of Ashdod, to which the ark of the covenant was first taken, but in other cities to which it was transported — Gath and Ekron. Panic ensued.
But at the end of the day, all the phenomena the Philistines were experiencing could have been natural. That’s not what they thought, of course; but still, it was difficult to be sure. So the Philistine priests concoct a test so much against nature that should the test succeed, the people will be convinced that what they are suffering comes from the hand of “Israel’s god” (1 Sam. 6:5, 7-9). The cows are separated from their calves and draw along the cart to Beth Shemesh, on the Israelite side: God himself plays along with their superstitions and their fears.
While the Israelites rejoice at the return of the ark of the covenant, “God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the LORD” (1 Sam. 6:19). There is no reason to think this happened instantaneously. If one had peeked into it and been struck down immediately, others would have been pretty quickly discouraged from doing so. There is no hint that a blinding and consuming light swept out of the opened box and melted the flesh off people, like some sort of ancient Harrison Ford film. Rather, seventy men from Beth Shemesh looked into the ark (which of course was strictly forbidden under pain of death), and doubtless saw what was there: the tablets of stone (apparently the pot of old manna and Aaron’s rod that budded had disappeared, perhaps removed by the Philistines). Then the deaths started, all premature, by whatever means — and the only commonality was that they were occurring among men who had looked into the ark. “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?” the people ask (1 Sam. 6:20) — not intending to learn the ways of holiness, but to get rid of the ark — precisely the same pattern as in the pagan cities.
God will not be treated with contempt, nor forever permit his covenant people to ignore his words.
Psalm 19 is one of the precious gems of the Psalter. It has three sections. The first delights in the wordless disclosure of God in the universe (Ps. 19:1–6); the second exults in the clarity, perfection, and wealth of God’s written revelation (Ps. 19:7–11); after a transitional verse (Ps. 19:11), the third section portrays the appropriate response of the believer, a response full of self-examination and godly resolve.
If ancient Israel was sometimes inclined to worship the created order—sun, moon, stars—our generation is more inclined to marshal arguments that make them the product of impersonal forces and nothing more. Both stances are abominations. Owing to our culture’s prevalent philosophical commitment to naturalism, the powerful evidence of intelligent design is marginalized until we can no longer see the obvious: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps. 19:1). The paradox of wordless utterance is delightful, as is the vision of irrepressible speech: “Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:2–4).
But it is in connection with his written self-disclosure that the covenant name of God, Yahweh (“the LORD” in many of our English Bibles), appears seven times (Ps. 19:7–11). The six predications (Ps. 19:7–9) overlap somewhat, but together they project a vision of written revelation that anticipates the even fuller exposition of Psalm 119. One of the striking things about these six affirmations is that several of them are not merely abstract. The text not only says something about the words of God, but about their function in the lives of those who absorb them and follow them. For instance: “The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy” (Ps. 19:7): that is so, but the psalmist does not leave things there. Precisely because the LORD ’s statutes are trustworthy, they serve to make wise the simple. Again: “The precepts of the LORD are right” (Ps. 19:8)—a point strengthened in the next verse: “The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous” (Ps. 19:9). But that is precisely why they give joy to the heart (Ps. 19:8): we are dealing with the Lord’s righteous precepts and ordinances, so they are never corrupt or manipulative.
What these two spheres of revelation demand is more than awe in the face of transcendent power, and more than personal delight in the personal, talking God—but both. Indeed, the appropriate response is repentance and faith, and zealous prayer that God himself would purify us within and make our words and meditations pleasing in his sight (Ps. 19:12–14).
5:1 When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. 3 And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. 5 This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.
6 The hand of the LORD was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory. 7 And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for his hand is hard against us and against Dagon our god.” 8 So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” They answered, “Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought around to Gath.” So they brought the ark of the God of Israel there. 9 But after they had brought it around, the hand of the LORD was against the city, causing a very great panic, and he afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them. 10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. But as soon as the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people.” 11 They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.” For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there. 12 The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.
6:1 The ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months. 2 And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us with what we shall send it to its place.” 3 They said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why his hand does not turn away from you.” 4 And they said, “What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?” They answered, “Five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines, for the same plague was on all of you and on your lords. 5 So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you and your gods and your land. 6 Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away, and they departed? 7 Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. 8 And take the ark of the LORD and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way 9 and watch. If it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth-shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm, but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it happened to us by coincidence.”
10 The men did so, and took two milk cows and yoked them to the cart and shut up their calves at home. 11 And they put the ark of the LORD on the cart and the box with the golden mice and the images of their tumors. 12 And the cows went straight in the direction of Beth-shemesh along one highway, lowing as they went. They turned neither to the right nor to the left, and the lords of the Philistines went after them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh. 13 Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. And when they lifted up their eyes and saw the ark, they rejoiced to see it. 14 The cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh and stopped there. A great stone was there. And they split up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD. 15 And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD and the box that was beside it, in which were the golden figures, and set them upon the great stone. And the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices on that day to the LORD. 16 And when the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned that day to Ekron.
17 These are the golden tumors that the Philistines returned as a guilt offering to the LORD: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron, 18 and the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both fortified cities and unwalled villages. The great stone beside which they set down the ark of the LORD is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh.
19 And he struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the LORD. He struck seventy men of them,1 and the people mourned because the LORD had struck the people with a great blow. 20 Then the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God? And to whom shall he go up away from us?” 21 So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the LORD. Come down and take it up to you.”
5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we1 have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith2 into this grace in which we stand, and we3 rejoice4 in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men5 because all sinned—13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
18 Therefore, as one trespass6 led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness7 leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
43:1 When Jeremiah finished speaking to all the people all these words of the LORD their God, with which the LORD their God had sent him to them, 2 Azariah the son of Hoshaiah and Johanan the son of Kareah and all the insolent men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie. The LORD our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ 3 but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.” 4 So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces and all the people did not obey the voice of the LORD, to remain in the land of Judah. 5 But Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces took all the remnant of Judah who had returned to live in the land of Judah from all the nations to which they had been driven—6 the men, the women, the children, the princesses, and every person whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan; also Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch the son of Neriah. 7 And they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the LORD. And they arrived at Tahpanhes.
8 Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes: 9 “Take in your hands large stones and hide them in the mortar in the pavement that is at the entrance to Pharaoh's palace in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah, 10 and say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. 11 He shall come and strike the land of Egypt, giving over to the pestilence those who are doomed to the pestilence, to captivity those who are doomed to captivity, and to the sword those who are doomed to the sword. 12 I shall kindle a fire in the temples of the gods of Egypt, and he shall burn them and carry them away captive. And he shall clean the land of Egypt as a shepherd cleans his cloak of vermin, and he shall go away from there in peace. 13 He shall break the obelisks of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt, and the temples of the gods of Egypt he shall burn with fire.’”
19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above1 proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice2 goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect,3
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is clean,
the rules4 of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.