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The ark returns (5:1-7:1)
Although God used the Philistines to judge Israel, he would not allow them to dishonour him. He showed that the capture of the ark did not mean that he was inferior to the Philistine god Dagon (5:1-5). Wherever the ark went it brought trouble to the Philistine people. A plague of mice seems to have spread a painful and deadly disease throughout the country, bringing widespread suffering and death (6-12; cf. 6:5).
The Philistines felt fairly certain that the ark was the cause of their troubles. So they decided to send it back to Israel, along with gifts to Israel’s God to pay for their sin in capturing his ark (6:1-6). To test whether their theory was correct, they planned to put the ark on a new cart to be drawn by two milking cows that had never pulled a cart and had only recently calved. The cows were to be left alone to see if Israel’s God directed them to take his ark back to Israel. Normally the cows would want to break loose and return to their calves (7-9).
God restored his honour by bringing his ark back without the Israelites’ doing anything at all (10-12). The Israelites accepted the Philistines’ gifts and offered sacrifices to God, but God killed those Israelites who looked into the ark. He wanted to impress upon the people that the ark was sacred. They were not to treat it as an object of curiosity or superstition (13-19; cf. Numbers 4:20). The people then took the ark and placed it in a private house in the nearby town of Kiriath-jearim (20-7:1).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 5". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany