Now the ark of the LORD had been in the country of the Philistines seven months. And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, “What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us with what we shall send it to its place.”
1 Samuel 6:1-2
The Philistines had seen the image of their god humbled before the Ark and they had suffered growths on their skin and a plague of mice that were consuming their crops. So they were dealing with food shortages and with physical discomfort to the point of people dying. The leadership does the smart thing: They seek out advice. And, since the whole thing seems to be a duel between gods with their god on the losing side, the leaders seek out the advice of priests and diviners.
There is an old saying that even a broken clock is right twice a day and these priests and diviners had the correct answer. They told the Philistine leadership to send the Ark back on a cart with two animals fit for sacrifice and with some little golden baubles shaped like the mice and the skin growths as an offering.
The priests and diviners even put together a litmus test of sorts. They tell the leaders to shut up the calves of the cart animals back at home. If the animals go straight for a particular city of the Israelites, then the plagues were from the LORD. If the cart animals went looking for their calves — which would have been the natural behavior — then it was just a coincidence.
The cart animals pulled straight for the Israelite city.
More things happen to the Ark in the end of this chapter and in subsequent chapters, but the Ark is no longer in the hands of the Philistines.
This story illustrates how hard a human heart can be. The priests and diviners are correct about what should be done to remove the plague of mice and the growths. They even go so far as to say you shall give glory to the God of Israel (v. 5), but they do not stop with that, they continue on to say perhaps He will ease His hand from you, your gods, and your land (v. 5). Stating that He might ease His hand from you and your land makes sense, they are just stating facts already in evidence. But the priests and diviners also admitted that their gods cannot compare or compete with the LORD by saying that the LORD’s hand is against their gods. Yet they are going to continue to worship gods that cannot compare or compete with the LORD. They will continue to worship gods that could not save them from the hand of the LORD. In a sad twist, these people with hard hearts also warn against hardness of heart, asking Why then do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts (v. 6)?
And I must examine myself to see whether I likewise exhort others to avoid hardness of heart while hardening my own heart. Is there some area of my life in which I instruct others to keep a tender heart while I have a hard heart in a related area? I am not aware of any, but the examination is a good thing and further prayer and searching are definitely in order.
Father, thank You that You can see into my heart and know whether I am hardening it in some area while exhorting others to remain tender. Please search me and reveal the hard places in my heart. Please soften them and make them able to feel again.