Today's passage: I Samuel 6
Probably one of the biggest excuses policemen hear from people they have pulled over is, "Oh, I didn't know." And more than likely they are telling the truth. People are not aware of many laws. Do you know what? That doesn't mean you will not necessarily still get a ticket for it. Now sometimes, policemen will be merciful and only give out a warning. But people should not expect this, and should not complain against the policemen for enforcing what the general public should already know. Ignorance is not an excuse. If I don't know, it is my responsibility to find out. Sometimes the best way of finding out, is suffering the consequences.
After seven months, the Philistines finally devise a plan for getting rid of that wretched Ark. I'm not sure why it took so long. Even if the Ark had resided in each of Philistia's five major cities for a month, that still leaves two months left over. Maybe it took them that long to decide what to do with the thing. In the meantime, they are suffering from the boils until it leaves their country. After consulting their wise men, they melt down gold and dip some of their emerods and field mice in it to send as a trespass offering with the ark. Now when the wise men first propose this plan they say, "If ye send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty," which sends alarm bells ringing in my head, "Uh-oh, they aren't going to open that box, are they?" But do you know what? They had sense enough not to do this. They do put it on a cart (which was a no-no), but I don't think God expected them to have enough knowledge about His Ark not to do this, and he does not dole out punishment for it.
They hitch up some milk cows to the cart, secure the ark on it along with a chest of the gold items, and send it on its way back to Israel. Some of the Philistines follow behind, just to make sure it reaches its destination, and doesn't get waylaid somewhere in their country. As it reaches one of the borderlands, a field in Beth-shemesh, the Israelis of course are thrilled to see their beloved symbol back on their soil. They immediately take it down from the cart (they knew it should not be on there) and offer the milk cows as a sacrifice. Many people had gathered by this time. All of Israel was rejoicing that the Ark of the Covenant had been returned. Then they did something that even the Philistines knew not to do. They looked in the Ark. Why would they do such a thing? Did they think they could get away with such behavior? Were they that ignorant, when people from another land, who worshipped other gods, knew not to do this? The Philistines had more respect for God's Ark, than its own people did. God smites them. And the number is pretty astounding. Over 50,000 people are killed. Does that mean 50,000 people took turns looking into the Ark? I'm guessing no. I'm guessing several hundred may have, but several thousand more stood by to watch without giving any warning, without trying to stop them.
What does this tell me? The people had lost any respect for God and His ways. This could be because Eli had been an ineffective priest. He was nearly 100 years old at his death, which would mean he had been a priest in Israel for a very long time. Beth-shemesh is only about 30 miles from Shiloh, the religious capital at the time. That doesn't seem so far a distance for these field-hands not to know what God's Word taught. But chapter 2 already told us, that because of the corruption of Eli and his sons, many people had stopped coming to the tabernacle to offer sacrifices. If they were not going there to offer sacrifices, they were probably not going there for much of anything else. When they fell away from this, they more than likely fell away from studying the Scriptures on their own. When they fell away from that, they started to drift from revering God as He should be revered. Little step by little step produces big consequences.
So why would God not punish the Philistines for their ignorance in putting the Ark on a cart, and not spare His own people for looking into it? Forgive the worldly quip here, but as Uncle Ben in Spider-Man said, "With great power, comes great responsibility". The more knowledge we have, the more we are accountable. If the Beth-shemites were ignorant, it would be their own fault, for neglecting to worship at the tabernacle (even with the corrupt priests) and then neglecting to study God's Word on their own. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think God excuses us from our responsibility just because someone else is not living up to his. God still expects us to be faithful. He still expects us to follow through. He will hold those doing wrong accountable for their actions, but He will also hold us accountable for our wrongdoing. The Israelites should have known that they were not to look in the Ark. The Philistines were not God's chosen people. He did not expect them to behave as if they were. He did not expect them to know all the details of how to treat His Ark. They obviously knew the big one which was not to look inside. But He wasn't going to hold a heathen nation responsible for the details they did not know. The Israelites had been given this information thoroughly, and still had it in His Word to reference. They would be held responsible for what they did or did not know, because if they didn't know, they could find out.
How does this apply to me? God expects me to know what His Word says. He expects me to go to His house to find out, and He expects me to go to His Word to find out. If I am not doing either of those two things, I can not expect God to excuse my bad behavior because I claim ignorance. I should know, and if I don't know, I should take the opportunity to find out. If I make a decision without consulting His Word first, and believe it or not, He can direct me through it, even today, I have no excuses when my plans go awry. If I make plans and do not pray to Him about them, I shouldn't complain when my expectations are thwarted. Just because I don't do those things, doesn't mean God is going to be merciful to me, although He may choose to be. But I can only blame myself if He chooses to allow me to suffer the consequences.
God might be like the policeman who gives only the warning, but if He chooses to give me the ticket or send me to jail, ignorance will never be an excuse.