When the Philistines decide to return the ark to Israel, they consult their priests and prophets. These Philistine spiritual guides plan to discern whether YHWH’s judgement has caused all their problems with tumors and deaths. They tie the ark plus their offerings onto a cart pulled by inexperienced and directionless calves to see if YHWH will guide these calves back to the people of Beth Shemesh and Israel. How did the Philistine priests come up with this plan? Why does God choose to honor this wisdom? We are not really told the reasons, but we are to safely assume that this story reflects God’s desire for the Philistines to know who YHWH is, in order that they not trifle with His glorious presence. God is patient with the ignorance of the nations when they pay proper attention to God’s works and character. These Philistines even had appropriate respect for God’s deliverance of Israel out of Egypt generations ago (1 Samuel 6:6).
Did God tell these Philistines to do exactly what they did through their diviners and priests? I find that unlikely, and certainly we are not told God says anything like this. Still, God honors their curiosity and their attempts at respect. When the ark returns, Israel shows that they must learn hard lessons about respecting God’s presence like the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:19). Only a superficial reading of scripture leads one to believe that God has different standards for Israel than He has for other nations. If anything, God choosing Israel means that His standards for this people are higher. Let this message instruct the church of Christ to consider how essential it is to know God as those who have been called God’s beloved. May we also consider God’s kindness and patience toward those who do not know God so that we might reflect God’s character to our neighbors.