Why Be Stubborn?

Why Be Stubborn? April 9, 2024

Photo by Jungwoo Hong on Unsplash

The priests and diviners of the Philistines said, “Why be stubborn like the Egyptians and Pharaoh?” Even though they didn’t serve the God of Israel, they recognized his power. So why don’t we?

Scripture:       

1 Samuel, chapters 6-7; Psalm 72; 2 Corinthians, chapter 9

1 Samuel 6:1-9 (CEB):

The Lord’s chest was in Philistine territory for seven months. The Philistines called for the priests and the diviners. “What should we do with the Lord’s chest?” they asked. “Tell us how we should send it back to its own home.”  They replied, “If you are returning the chest of Israel’s God, don’t send it back empty, but be sure to return a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and it will become clear to you why God’s hand hasn’t left you alone.”

“What compensation offering should we return to him?” they asked. The priests and diviners replied: “Five gold tumors and five gold mice, matching the number of Philistine rulers, because the same plague came on all of you and your rulers. You must make images of your tumors and the mice that have devastated the land. Honor Israel’s God. Perhaps he will lighten the weight of his hand on you, your gods, and your land. Why be stubborn like the Egyptians and Pharaoh? After God dealt harshly with them, didn’t they send the Israelites on their way?

So get a new cart ready along with two nursing cows that have never been yoked before. Harness the cows to the cart, but take any of their calves that are following back home. Next, take the Lord’s chest and put it on the cart. Set the gold items that you are giving God as a compensation offering in a box next to the chest. Then watch what happens: if the cart goes up the road to its own territory toward Beth-shemesh, then Israel’s God has brought this great disaster on us. If the cart goes another way, then we’ll know it wasn’t God’s hand that struck us. It happened to us randomly.”

Observations – Why Be Stubborn Like the Egyptians?

The Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant (“God’s chest” in the CEB translation) in battle (1 Samuel 4:10-11). God had decreed that Israel would be punished for the wrongdoing of Eli’s sons (1 Samuel 3:11-14). So the Philistines had the Ark, but it soon became clear that was NOT good for them! First, they placed the Ark in the temple of their god Dagon. But the next day, the idol was facedown on the follow in front of the Ark! (1 Samuel 5:3). They set the idol back up, but the next day it was facedown again – and its head and hands were cut off (1 Samuel 5:4)!

After that, God struck the people of Ashdod with tumors – so they moved the chest to Gath (another city of the Philistines). God afflicted them with tumors as well (1 Samuel 5:9). They sent the Ark to Ekron, and the people there cried out, “Why have you moved the chest of Israel’s God to us? In order to kill us and our people?” (1 Samuel 5:10). So the leaders of the Philistines called together their “experts” to find out how they could appropriately send the Ark back to Israel.

The priests and diviners told them to send the Ark back with five gold tumors and five gold mice (verse 4), “because the same plague came on all of you and your rulers.” (Interestingly, there is no mention of mice in the account of the plagues that came on the Philistine cities.). And the rationale the priests and diviners gave was: Why be stubborn like the Egyptians and Pharaoh?

Why Be Stubborn? God Has a Track Record!

A little history is in order. The Exodus – Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt – had happened a few hundred years earlier. The fact that the Philistines still remembered that event – and recognized God’s power – is remarkable. Remember: the Israelites, who were the beneficiaries of God’s display of power, had quickly turned away to worship other gods!  But the Philistines understood God’s power, even if they didn’t worship Him. That’s why the priests and diviners warned the rulers to send the Ark back to Israel.

Their instructions are also interesting: a new cart, pulled by two cows that have never been yoked (verse 7). Although they had said not to send the Ark back “empty” (verse 3), they told the rulers to put their offerings in a box next to the Ark, not in the Ark. (We see what happened to people who looked into the Ark later in 1 Samuel 6:19. “God struck down some of the people from Beth-shemesh because they looked into the Lord’s chest.”)

Evidently, these priests and diviners got things “right enough” because the Lord led the cart to Beth-shemesh just as they had expected. “If the cart goes up the road to its own territory toward Beth-shemesh, then Israel’s God has brought this great disaster on us.”  They had their answer; God had punished them for taking the Ark. And the cows went right to Beth-shemesh with the Ark.

Application – Why Be Stubborn?

Why be stubborn? God has demonstrated his power and majesty over and over again. That was true in the days of Samuel, and it’s still true today. Even the pagan Philistines recognized God’s power; why be stubborn like the Egyptians and Pharaoh? Yet today, people keep stubbornly asserting their own power and autonomy. But the more we come to understand about the world, the more we realize our inability to do anything about it.

The United States experienced a solar eclipse yesterday.  News outlets sent reporters; photographers were everywhere. They warned us, over and over: “Don’t look directly at it unless you have special glasses!” Some people wanted to read prophetic meaning into this eclipse, as though it was “the sign of the end.” Someday, of course, that end will come – and maybe an eclipse will be involved (although probably not one limited to a swath of territory in the United States).

That brings me back to the question: Why be stubborn? Hasn’t God already shown us enough? Unfortunately, many people would say “no.” It was the same in Jesus’ day: “Show us a sign” (see, for example, John 2:18). The signs are there – enough for anyone to come to faith. It’s not a matter of evidence; it’s a matter of willWhy be stubborn?

Prayer:

Father, thank you for reminding us that you have demonstrated your power and majesty throughout history. There is no reason for us to be stubborn – but our sinful nature stubbornly clings to the delusion of autonomy. Help us to recognize not only your power, but your goodness and love toward us. You loved us enough to send your Son to die for us, while we were still sinners.

Help us not to be stubborn, but to acknowledge your sovereignty as well as your love for us. You continue to demonstrate your power each day, and you continue to call us to walk in your way. Lead us today in your path for us.  Amen.

 

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