|Map from the Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 438|
The Ark of God was taken by the Philistines. The map above shows its wanderings from city to city. The Philistines (also called the "sea people") were the main enemies of Israel toward the end of the reign of the Judges. They were believed to be from Crete and other parts of the Aegean Sea (Genesis 10:14. Jeremiah 47:4; Deuteronomy 2:23; Amos 9:7). They came to Canaan during the time of Abraham (2000 B.C.) and around 1200 B.C. They lived along the southern coast of Canaan in Gaza, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, and Ashdod, some of which are mentioned in this reading. Contrary to popular lore, the current Palestinian people are not descendants of the Philistines.
Dagon was their primary god who was the god of grain. He was believed to have the body of a man with a fish's tail. The God of Israel was much more powerful than Dagon!
Seven months of the wrath of God came upon all the Philistine people who messed with the ark! Some commentators believe that the plague upon the Ashdodites, Gathites, and Ekronites in 5:6-12 consisted of growths primarily in the rectal area! OUCH!
When the Philistines had had enough, they called on their priests and diviners to learn what to do. They suggested offerings to Israel's God, acknowledging that He was superior to their gods (6:5). They even chose animals that had never been yoked so that, if they made it back to Israel, they would know God had been the source of their affliction. This testing of gods/God was a common practice in Near Eastern culture.
Of course, the cows made it back, and the Israelites sacrificed them to the LORD with joy. Sadly, they violated the Mosaic law by looking inside the Ark (6:19). We know that only the Levites could handle the ark, and no one was allowed to look inside of it (Numbers 4:5, 15, 20). This resulted in the death of many men. Commentators vary on the number anywhere from 70 - 50,070, but the point is that when the law of God was violated, either by unbelievers (Philistines) or believers (Israelites), He released His wrath.
Finally, the Zrk was moved to Kiriath-Jearim (modern day Abu Ghosh, 10 miles northwest of Jerusalem). It was not taken back to Shiloh because Shiloh had been destroyed by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4). The house of Abinadab was blessed to keep the Ark for 100 years.
The wrath of God is a very hard concept for many of us to grasp. Here is a warning: the rest of the Old Testament does not get any better as Israel continues its downward spiral. God's wrath will come up again and again.
New Testament followers of God often do not want anything to do with this God of wrath, but it is important to work through it. We must understand the wrath of God in order to understand the perfect sacrifice that Jesus made in order to avert His wrath.
I made this chart for our study of Romans. As you can see, God's wrath is real! You cannot have the grace of God through Jesus Christ without understanding why He had to die as a sacrifice. You can also see that Jesus is our redemption. This is a concept we learned when we read about Boaz as the kinsman-redeemer for Ruth!
Wrestle with the wrath of God today. Talk to Him. Listen to what He says. Meditate on these verses in order to understand Jesus' propitiation.
1 John 2:2: He Himself (Jesus) is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
1 John 4:10: In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Romans 3:25: [Jesus], whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;
Hebrews 2:17: Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
LORD, You are the holy God above all gods. Reveal to us the little gods we have in our lives. We worship You, and we thank You that You sent Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins. Amen