1 Samuel 5-7
5 The Philistines brought the captured covenant chest of the True God from Ebenezer to one of their capital cities called Ashdod. 2 There the Philistines took the chest of the True God into the house of their god, Dagon, and placed it in a place of honor beside the idol of Dagon. 3 When the people of the city anxiously awoke early the next morning, there was Dagon, lying on his face on the ground, as if bowing before the covenant chest of the Eternal. So they grabbed the idol and put it back in its proper place. 4 But when they awoke the next morning, only the trunk of the idol was untouched. Dagon had fallen to the ground on his face before the covenant chest of the Eternal One again, and this time his head and hands had been cut off and were lying across the threshold. 5 That is why the priests and worshipers of Dagon in the house of Dagon in Ashdod refused to step on the threshold even till this day.
6 The hand of the Eternal One came down hard with punishment on the people of Ashdod while the covenant chest rested there. He ravaged the people of Ashdod and the surrounding territory and struck them with swollen, painful growths like tumors. 7 When the people of Ashdod saw how they were cursed, they said,
People of Ashdod: We can’t let the chest of the True God of Israel remain here because their God continues to punish us and our god Dagon.
8-9 So they gathered together all the rulers of the Philistines to ask what should be done with the covenant chest of Israel’s God.
People of Gath: Send this chest of Israel’s God to us.
They did so. But after they had moved the chest of the True God of Israel to Gath, another of the capital cities, the hand of the Eternal One began to punish the people of Gath and sent them into a panic. He also struck them with swollen, painful, tumor-like growths—the young and old alike. 10 So then they sent the covenant chest of the True God of Israel on to a third capital city, Ekron; but when the people of Ekron saw that the covenant chest was coming, they protested.
People of Ekron: Have you brought this chest of the Israelite God here to kill us now?
11 So they gathered together all the rulers of the Philistines.
People of Ekron: Send away this covenant chest of the God of Israel. Send it back where it came from so that it doesn’t kill us all!
For there was great panic throughout the city. The True God’s hand rested heavily on them; 12 and those He did not kill, He struck with swollen, painful tumors. Their suffering was so intense their cries could be heard in the heavens.
6 The covenant chest of the Eternal One had been in the land of the Philistines for seven months. 2 Then the rulers of the Philistines sent for their priests and fortune-tellers.
Rulers: What should we do with this chest of the Eternal One? We need to get rid of it. What should we send with it when we return it?
Priests and Fortune-tellers: 3 Whatever you do, don’t send this covenant chest of the True God of Israel back by itself. You should certainly offer Him compensation for your guilt. If you do, you will all be healed. That’s the only way you can be certain that His hand will be lifted.
Rulers: 4 What should we send as this guilt offering to Him when we return the covenant chest?
Ancient people understand diseases and various infestations as omens of divine wrath. In order to appease the God of the Israelites, the Philistines cast metal tumors and mice to give back to the Eternal One what He gave to them.
Priests and Fortune-Tellers: Have your artisans make five gold tumors and five gold mice, one for each of the rulers of the Philistines’ capital cities, because the same plague came upon all of the Philistines and all of our rulers. 5 So you must make images of the tumors and of the mice that devastate our land and honor this God of Israel. Maybe then He will release His grip on this land, its people, and its gods. 6 Why would you be as stubborn as the Egyptians and their Pharaoh were? You’ve heard the stories, haven’t you? When this God had taught them a lesson, didn’t they release the people of Israel? Didn’t they go?
7 So do this now: have your carpenters make a new wagon, find two milk cows that have never been yoked, and yoke them to the cart. But take away their calves and pen them up. 8 Take this chest of the Eternal One and set it upon the wagon. In a box beside it, put the gold images you are presenting to this God as a guilt offering. Then turn the cows loose, and let them go on their way. 9 Watch closely. If the team pulls the wagon up to this God’s country, to Beth-shemesh, then you know that He has been the One punishing us. If they don’t, then at least we’ll know that it was not His hand that struck us, that it has just been bad luck.
10 And that is what the leaders did. They separated two milk cows from their calves. They yoked the cows to the wagon and took the calves home. 11 They set the covenant chest of the Eternal upon the wagon, and next to it, they placed the box with the gold tumors and gold mice. 12 The cows went straight along the road toward Beth-shemesh, mooing after their lost calves as they went. They went straight ahead without any hesitation, and the rulers of the Philistines followed as far as the border of Beth-shemesh.
13 The people of Beth-shemesh were in the valley harvesting their wheat at that time. When they looked up and saw the covenant chest, they ran to greet it with joy. 14 The wagon came to a halt at a large stone in the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh. The people split up the cart for firewood and sacrificed the cattle as a burnt offering to the Eternal One on the large stone. 15 The Levites took the chest of the Eternal and the box next to it down from the wagon. They took the gold images from the box and set them upon the stone altar. Then the people of Beth-shemesh offered sacrifices and made other burnt offerings to the Eternal One.
16 When the five rulers of the Philistines saw how their offering had been received that day, they returned to Ekron.
17 The five gold images of swollen tumors presented to the Eternal One by the Philistines as a guilt offering represented Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron—one for each. 18 Likewise the golden mice represented all the cities of the Philistines governed by their rulers, both the walled cities and the villages surrounding them. The large stone in the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh where they set the chest of the Eternal remains there as a witness to these events.
19 The Eternal struck the people of Beth-shemesh because some looked into the covenant chest. God struck down 75[a] men, and the people were saddened because of the slaughter the Eternal One had brought among their people.
People of Beth-shemesh: 20 Who can stand in the presence of the Eternal One, this holy God? Who will take the covenant chest so we can be safe from Him?
21 So the people of Beth-shemesh sent messengers to the people of Kiriath-jearim to tell them that the Philistines had returned the chest of the Eternal One to Beth-shemesh and that they should come down and take it with them.
7 The people of Kiriath-jearim did as they were asked. They collected the chest of the Eternal One and brought it up the hill to the house of Abinadab. They performed sacred rituals to set apart his son Eleazar to be in charge of caring for the chest of the Eternal.
This section about the chest of the covenant shows God’s power in the world when all the nations around Israel believe in their own gods. Hebrew literature often talks about the Lord as the greatest of all gods, and this passage shows Him using the covenant chest to declare His preeminence. He embarrasses another god in his own temple, brings death and destruction on those around Him (as He did with the plagues of Egypt), and inflicts something like the bubonic plague, which would devastate Europe in the Middle Ages, on the Philistines. God is powerful and must be treated with the greatest of reverence. Even the people of God are happy to see the chest of the covenant move on, because it is too powerful for sinful human beings to live close to with comfort.
2 Time passed, 20 years or so, from the time that the covenant chest was taken to Kiriath-jearim, and all the people of Israel began to grieve over their separation from the Eternal One.
Samuel (to the Israelites): 3 If you really want to totally devote yourselves and return to the Eternal One, then get rid of all the foreign gods and goddesses you have gathered. Devote yourselves to the Eternal, serve Him and Him alone, and He will save you from the oppression of the Philistines.
The Canaanites have a long history of worshiping idols or local gods. In this case, the god being worshiped is Astarte (Ashtoreth), a fertility goddess similar to the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar. In Canaanite mythology, she is the sister and wife of the high god Baal. She and similar goddesses are worshiped throughout the ancient Near East; and the children of Israel are constantly falling away from serving the Lord by worshiping Astarte, Baal, and other pagan gods. God commands His people not to raise up idols or bow down to any gods except Him. Along with the worship of these gods come many strange practices that pollute the people of the Lord.
4 So the people of Israel got rid of their gods and goddesses,[b] and they began to serve only the Eternal One.
Samuel: 5 Assemble all of Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Eternal on your behalf.
6 That day they gathered at Mizpah, drew water, poured it out ritually in front of the Eternal One, and fasted.
People: We have sinned. We have rebelled against the Eternal.
Samuel judged the Israelites at Mizpah, delivering the people from danger and establishing justice in the land.
7 When the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines gathered an armed force and went to attack them. When the people of Israel heard that the Philistines were coming, they were filled with fear. They turned to God’s prophet.
People of Israel (to Samuel): 8 Don’t stop calling out to the Eternal our God for us. Ask Him to save us from the Philistine army that is coming.
9 Samuel took a young lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the Eternal One. He called out to the Eternal on behalf of Israel, and the Eternal responded. Here is what happened: 10 As Samuel was performing the sacrifice, the voice of the Eternal rolled like thunder and confused the advancing Philistine army so that Israel easily struck them down. 11 From Mizpah, the Israelites chased them beyond Beth-car, striking them along the way.
12 That’s why Samuel set up a stone between Mizpah and Shen; and he called that stone Ebenezer, which means “rock of help,” for he said,
Samuel: The Eternal One has helped us so far.
13 So the Philistines were humbled and did not invade the lands of Israel again. The Eternal One held off the Philistines for as long as Samuel judged Israel. 14 The Israelite cities the Philistines had seized between Ekron and Gath were returned, and Israel took its territory back from Philistine rule. There was also peace with the Amorites.
15 Now Samuel was a prophet and judge over Israel for the rest of his life. 16 He traveled a 40-mile circuit just north of Jerusalem every year between Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, solving Israel’s problems in each of these places. 17 But he would always return to his home in Ramah, the base from which he judged Israel and where he built an altar to the Eternal.
6 Once this had transpired, Jesus made His way to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (which some these days call the Sea of Tiberias). 2 As Jesus walked, a large crowd pursued Him hoping to see new signs and miracles; His healings of the sick and lame were garnering great attention. 3 Jesus went up a mountain and found a place to sit down and teach. His disciples gathered around. 4 The celebration of the Passover, one of the principal Jewish feasts, would take place soon. 5 But when Jesus looked up, He could see an immense crowd coming toward Him. Jesus approached Philip.
Jesus (to Philip): Where is a place to buy bread so these people may eat?
6 Jesus knew what He was planning to do, but He asked Philip nonetheless. He had something to teach, and it started with a test.
Philip: 7 I could work for more than half of a year[a] and still not have the money to buy enough bread to give each person a very small piece.
8 Andrew, the disciple who was Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up.
Andrew: 9 I met a young boy in the crowd carrying five barley loaves and two fish, but that is practically useless in feeding a crowd this large.
Jesus: 10 Tell the people to sit down.
They all sat together on a large grassy area. Those counting the people reported approximately 5,000 men—not including the women and children—sitting in the crowd. 11 Jesus picked up the bread, gave thanks to God, and passed it to everyone. He repeated this ritual with the fish. Men, women, and children all ate until their hearts were content. 12 When the people had all they could eat, He told the disciples to gather the leftovers.
Jesus: Go and collect the leftovers, so we are not wasteful.
13 They filled 12 baskets with fragments of the five barley loaves. 14 After witnessing this sign that Jesus did, the people stirred in conversation.
Crowd: This man must be the Prophet God said was coming into the world.
15 Jesus sensed the people were planning to mount a revolution against Israel’s Roman occupiers and make Him king, so He withdrew farther up the mountain by Himself.
Since the Babylonians seized Judah in 586 b.c., the Jews have endured one foreign occupier after another in their land. As conquerors go, the Romans aren’t all that bad. They allow the Jews to worship God in His temple, and they appoint some of them to government positions. Of course, the Judeans still long to rule themselves and throw the Roman rulers out. Some think Jesus is just the man to lead that revolution. But political upheaval isn’t what He is teaching, and it isn’t why He has come to earth.
16 Later that evening the disciples walked down to the sea, 17 boarded a boat, and set sail toward Capernaum. Twilight gave way to darkness. Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 Suddenly, the waves rose and a fierce wind began to rock the boat. 19 After rowing three or four miles[b] through the stormy seas, they spotted Jesus approaching the boat walking mysteriously upon the deep waters that surrounded them. They panicked.
Jesus (to the disciples): 20 I am the One. Don’t be afraid.
21 They welcomed Jesus aboard their small vessel; and when He stepped into the boat, the next thing they knew, they were ashore at their destination.
13 But it didn’t take long for them to forget what He had done.
They moved on without waiting for His instructions,
14 So our ancestors became very hungry in the wilderness
and the rabble grumbled and complained, testing God’s patience in the desert.
15 Although He granted their request,
He also sent a disease that caused them to waste away.
16 While they were camped in the desert, some began to be jealous of Moses
and Aaron, the holy priest of the Eternal.
17 The earth opened up, and a deep fissure swallowed Dathan
and buried Abiram’s group.
18 A blaze ignited where they were gathered;
the fire consumed the wicked mob.
19 The people made a golden calf in Horeb
and bowed to worship an image they had made.
20 They traded the glory of God
for the likeness of an ox that eats grass.
21 They forgot about God, their True Savior,
who had done great things for them in Egypt—
22 Miracles in the land of Ham
and amazing deeds at the Red Sea.
23 Therefore, He declared in His anger that He would wipe them away.
If Moses, His chosen one,
Had not pleaded for the people,
His anger would have destroyed them.
24 At the edge of the beautiful land God had promised them,
they didn’t trust His words, so they refused to enter.
25 They complained when they were gathered in their tents;
they ignored the voice of the Eternal.
26 Because of their attitude, He swore,
“I’ll leave you where you fall in the desert.
27 I’ll scatter your children—whoever is left—
throughout the nations all over the earth.”
28 Then they aligned themselves with the god of Peor,
and they ate sacrifices that had been made to lifeless gods.
29 Through their actions, they stirred up His anger,
and a plague broke out in their midst.
30 Then Phinehas took a stand and intervened,
so the plague was stopped.
31 And God saw what he did and considered him righteous,
a man to be honored by all generations forever.