Scripture Reading: I Samuel 6:1-7:2
“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, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great blow.” (I Samuel 6:19)
After the Philistines returned the ark of the covenant to the people of Israel, the people rejoiced greatly when they received it. The Philistines sent the ark on a cart that was pulled by two cows. When the people of Israel saw it, they offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord (v. 14). The priests took down the ark and the people of Beth-shemesh offered sacrifices to the Lord.
But a tragic thing happened. Some of the men of the city gazed upon the ark of the Lord and the Lord struck them down. To understand this, we have to go back to Numbers where God gave specific instructions about the ark. These two verses from Numbers help us grasp why these men were struck down. “When the camp is set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony” (Numbers 4:5). “But they shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die” (Numbers 4:20). No one was to stare at the sacred items that were in the holy of holies. They were symbols of God’s holiness.
The problem was that some of the men of the city became careless and looked intently on the ark (as the Hebrew words suggests). These men had offended the holiness of God. They willfully disobeyed God in these sacred matters and were dealt with severely.
We often neglect to stress the holiness of God. God’s holiness refers to His absolute purity and perfection. When anyone was confronted with the holiness of God, he immediately fell on his face before the Lord. Remember Isaiah’s experience when he received a vision of God’s holiness and the seraphim cried out, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:3). Isaiah’s response was “Woe is me! For i am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).
The only reason we are not struck down by God’s holiness is because of Jesus our Savior. He was stricken in our place so that we could escape the judgment of a holy God — “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4). While we deeply appreciate the love of God, let’s never forget the holiness of God. God’s love sent Jesus to redeem us and His holiness required Jesus to be struck down because of our sins.
Holy God, I bow in reverence before You. My sins are an offense against Your holiness. Your eyes are too pure to look upon sin. Thank You for sending Jesus into this world as the atoning sacrifice for my sins. He was struck down in my place because of my many offenses against Your holiness. I know that apart from Him I would be struck down because I have failed to obey You.
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