The ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines for seven months. 2Then the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, ‘What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us what we should send with it to its place.’ 3They 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 will be ransomed; will not his hand then turn from you?
13 Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. When they looked up and saw the ark, they went with rejoicing to meet it.
First Samuel 6: 1-3, 13 NRSV
A number of years ago, the film “Raiders of the Lost Ark” thrilled millions. Stories about the ark of the covenant have captured people’s attention for thousands of years.
The Philistines were constant enemies of the land of Israel. Because of the enmity between them, it should come as no surprise to learn that the Philistines stole the ark of the covenant from Israel. They knew that it was highly treasured by God’s people. The Philistines thought they would humiliate their enemy by stealing this beloved possession.
The Philistine’s adventure with the ark rapidly turned into a nightmare. Wherever it went in the land of the Philistines, people became sick. The Philistines moved it about five times to try to rid themselves of the illnesses. It never worked. Wherever the ark went in Philistia, disease followed. The ark, which the Philistines hoped would bring them blessing, turned out to bring them nothing but grief. It got to the point where no town in Philistia wanted to host the ark.
Finally, the Philistines decide to do the right thing. They sent the ark of the covenant back to the land of Israel. They even included treasures of gold and other valuables. When the Israelites at Beth-shemesh saw the ark return, they rejoiced. The ark was now back in the land of Israel, providing blessings to its inhabitants.
This is a cautionary tale about envy. Often, we imagine how much better life would be if we had someone else’s life, money. or other things. Yet what may bless them is not the blessing that the Lord desires for us..
We will never receive God’s blessings when we attempt to steal the Lord’s blessings from others. That is not how life works. It is far better to seek the gifts the Lord intends for us, and to rejoice in them. When we try to play God, it rarely works out as we intended. (Just as the Philistines!) Instead, it is much better to trust that the Lord knows what is best for us.
One of my favorite scriptures is “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.” So much truth! As the Philistines discovered, it never works to try stealing treasures to gain God’s blessing. Only when we truly seek God will we receive the blessings He desires to bestow upon us.
Lord of all,
When I hear the siren song of our culture, encouraging me to take whatever I can, help me to remember what Your son taught us all about giving. Remove the jealousy from my heart. Help me to realize that the individual blessings you have bestowed upon me are all I truly need. Lead me to accept that some things will go differently for me than I thought they would. May I always praise you for Your tender and personal care. I pray this prayer in the name of Your son, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.