1 Samuel 5:1-7:17
The Philistines took the captured ark of the Covenant to the temple of their demonic deity, Dagon, in Ashdod. The next day, their statue of Dagon had fallen on its face. They put it back up, only for it to fall down the next night and smash into pieces. Dagon’s head and hands were broken off – showing the superiority of our one true God.
God brought devastation on the people of Ashdod and affected them with tumours. The Philistines moved the ark to Gath. Usually, people other than Levites are struck down dead for merely going near the ark and so God was allowing the Philistines to move it around, to fall into his trap and demonstrate his power. The city of Gath was thrown into panic and both young and old broke out in tumours (v.9). They then moved the ark to Ekron.
In Ekron, those who didn’t die were afflicted with tumours. All the Philistines wanted to send the ark back to Israel. After seven months with the ark they sent it back to Israel along with five gold tumours and five gold rats. This implies the tumours may have been a type of bubonic plague – spread by the fleas from an invasion of rats. There were five of them because five Philistine cities had been devastated by the presence of the ark.
The Philistines loaded the ark onto a new cart with two cows that had never been yoked. The Philistine diviners said that if the driverless cart went to the Israelite town of Beth Shemesh, this would confirm that the Lord had brought the disasters on them. The cows went straight for Beth Shemesh and the Israelites, harvesting wheat in their fields, were delighted to see the ark coming towards them. However, seventy of he villagers disrespected God by looking inside the ark and were struck down dead. They sent a message to the town of Kiriath Jearim and asked them to take it. The men of Kiriath Jearim finally gave the ark the respect it deserved, setting it up in the house of Abinadab and consecrating Eleazar his son to guard it (7:1).
These days, the ark of the Covenant is said to reside in a chapel in the Ethiopian city of Aksum, guarded by a single monk who, once appointed as the ark’s guardian, is never allowed to leave the chapel’s grounds. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/keepers-of-the-lost-ark-179998820/
The ark stayed at Kiriath Jearim for twenty years and the Israelites ‘mourned and sought after the Lord’ (7:2).
Samuel, the prophet, told them to rid themselves of all their demonic idols and commit themselves solely to the Lord. His prophesied with faith that the Lord would then deliver them from the Philistines. All of Israel assembled at Mizpah.
They ‘poured water before the Lord’, fasted and confessed they had sinned. Samuel was their leader (v.6). The Philistines came to attack them but Samuel told them not to stop praying to God while he offered a suckling lamb as a burnt sacrifice to God. As the Philistines drew near, the Lord threw them into panic with loud thunder and the Israelites were able to slaughter them (v.11). Samuel set up a stone as a memorial.
We have in this story familiar elements of communing with God. They used water as a symbol of washing away sin / rebirth. Samuel sacrificed a lamb – similar to the Passover lambs that had saved the Israelites in Egypt and prefigured Jesus, the holy lamb of God. Samuel set up a memorial stone and an altar in Ramah – the Israelites had set up stones and altars during their Exodus years to remember and worship the saving deeds of God.
Samuel was judge over Israel all the days of their life and during this time, the Israelites recaptured their towns from the Philistines.
‘Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him’ (v.45). If Mary (of Bethany) was indeed Mary Magdalene and also the sinful woman mentioned in Luke – these men may well have been ‘interesting’ characters. Converting a sinner, who has a lot of intimate connections to other sinners, can reap a great harvest.
The high priest, Caiaphas, prophesied that Jesus would die as one man to save the entire Jewish nation. So even someone plotting evil can be a mouthpiece for God. Thanks to the mercy of God, sacraments from priests who may be themselves living in grave sin are still valid. From that day, the chief priests and the Pharisees plotted to arrest and kill Jesus. They did not want to lose their power and control and be further subdued by the Romans. If Jesus went around raising everybody from the dead, people would have no choice but to believe in him. It is amazing that religious leaders can feel so envious and threatened by witnessing the truth and power of God. God can use evil people to bring about a greater good in the end. By allowing the Sanhedrin to arrest and kill Jesus, God would allow us into heaven because of the sacrifice of his precious son.
Jesus visited Bethany again – where Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived. Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair (12:3), just as she may have done in the house of Simon the Pharisee in Luke (7:37-38). At that earlier encounter, she had been weeping because of her many sins. This time, she anointed Jesus in anticipation of his burial. She would later accompany the other women to Jesus’ tomb expecting to anoint his dead body – only to experience the joy of his resurrection.
Judas was annoyed at this use of expensive perfume. He was a thief, like his father the devil. If they had sold the perfume, he would have helped himself to some of the proceeds. Jesus predicted that we would always have the poor among us, ‘but you will not always have me’ (v.8). We do still have the poor among us, principally because of greed and exploitation. There is no shortage of food and other resources, we just need to stop selfishly hoarding and share equitably. Jesus gave us permission to hold the occasional guilt-free party. Life is for joyous living as well as helping the needy.
The dramatic testimony of Lazarus, having been raised from the dead, was converting many people to Jesus and so, the chief priests made plans to kill him too. There are many legends about what might have subsequently happened to Lazarus. As Lazarus had died once and already seen life after death, he wouldn’t have been frightened by his second death. He would have known Jesus, his friend and saviour, would be there to rescue him from death once again and this time give him eternal life. One legend is that Lazarus, Martha and Mary were put into a leaking boat by the Jews at Jaffa but still miraculously landed safely in Cyprus. There Lazarus died peacefully after serving as bishop for 30 years. Later, his relics were transferred to Constantinople. https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/lazarus
The Lord delights in the truthful (v.22). God doesn’t like lying, foolishness or laziness.
He wants us to bring healing with our words, to be prudent, diligent, righteous and joyfully promote peace.
We can be weighed down with anxiety but kind support from others can cheer us up. Jesus will take away our burdens. One of my favourite passages is Matthew (11:28-30): ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’.
A yoke is a wooden beam that joins two oxen side by side when working in a field. Jesus is saying he will walk step by step with us throughout our life, teaching us, connected to us and doing the heavy lifting to give us rest.
Image: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons