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William Shepard

The Return of the Ark

The Philistines bore the ark in triumph to their city of Ashdod, and put it into the temple of Dagon, their god, with the other spoils that they had taken. Next morning, when they came to worship this false god, they were alarmed to find that their idol had fallen upon its face on the ground before the ark. They put it back in its place, but again and again they found it in the morning on the ground. God also sent a great sickness upon the people of Ashdod, so that many of them died. And a multitude of rats rose up out of the ground and ate up all the fruits and plants, so that there was danger of a famine. Then the citizens, believing that the ark was the cause of their troubles, resolved to send it to another city, called Askelon, whose inhabitants were willing to receive it. But the plagues visited this city also, and when the ark was removed to other places, it carried with it the scourge of God upon the inhabitants. The whole country was now alarmed, and the inhabitants of the principal cities met together to decide what they should do. And as they were not all agreed that their troubles came upon them because of the ark, some wise men proposed a plan by which they might decide if this were so. They told the Philistines to build a new cart, or wagon, upon which to place the ark, and to this cart should be yoked two cows that had young calves, and that had never drawn a cart before. The cart should be brought to a place where three roads met, and be left there without a driver. "And if," said the wise men, "the cows do not return to their calves, but of their accord choose the road that leads to the land of the Israelites, we shall know that the ark has been the cause of all our evils; but if they take another road, then we shall think that our troubles have come by chance to us, and that God did not send them."

Every one approved of this advice, and it was determined that the plan should be carried out.

The cows chose the road that led straight on to the Israelites, and the Philistines followed at a distance, to see what would happen. When the cows had come to a village called Bethshemesh, they stopped, although there was a grassy plain in front of them. The people were reaping their wheat when they saw it come, and their delight was very great. But in the midst of their joy they forgot the reverence due to God, and they dared to open and look into the ark. Now the ark, as we have seen, was kept in the Holy of Holies, where only the priests might enter. Even a Levite might not touch the ark, under pain of death. Therefore God showed His displeasure at the sin of these men, and seventy of them died on the spot. Then the others knew they were not worthy to have the ark in their midst, and they sent to the senate of the Israelites, informing them that the ark had been restored by the Philistines.


The Return of the Ark

Then the ark was taken to the city of Kirjath-jearim, where it was placed in the house of a good man, named Abinadab, who was a Levite. Here it remained for twenty years. During all this time the Israelites lived very piously, and God blessed them in many ways. And Samuel, who after Eli's death had become judge over the people, seeing that their hearts were softened, thought this would be a good time to exhort them to recover their liberty from the Philistines.

So he called together the multitude and made a speech to them. He showed them the wickedness of their past conduct, and spoke of the evils that had followed from it, praised them for their repentance, and told them that if they continued in the right path God would certainly look down upon them with favor and deliver them from their enemies.

The Israelites were pleased with his words, and replied that they were willing to do whatever the Lord commanded. Samuel ordered them to come together again in the city of Mizpah, which means a watch-tower. There they sacrificed and fasted and offered up public prayers. The Philistines, learning of this gathering, came against them with a large army. And they rushed upon the city while the people were sacrificing, thinking they would surprise them and easily defeat them. But suddenly the earth began to tremble and shake under their feet, then it opened with a loud roar as of thunder, and swallowed up a great number of the Philistines. The rest threw away their arms and fled in the greatest confusion. The Israelites pursued and gained a complete victory. After that they gained other victories, and recovered all the towns they had lost, and they drove the Philistines out of the land of Canaan.

When Samuel was grown old and could no longer attend to all the affairs of the government, he gave a portion of his authority to his two sons; but the sons had no share of their father's virtues. For they took bribes from those who came before them to have their disputes settled, and decided not according to the justice of the case, but according to which side gave them the most money. Besides this, they disobeyed many other of the commands of God. So the Israelites came to Samuel at Ramah, and told him that as he was now too old to govern them, and as his sons behaved so wickedly, they would like to be like the other nations around them, and have a king to rule them. Samuel was very sad when he heard this, and, thinking their desire for a change of government rose from some dislike against himself, he made his complaint to God.

And God said to Samuel,—

"It is not with thee, but with me that they are dissatisfied. For they do not want me to rule any longer over them. They will repent when it is too late, and will be sorry for their ingratitude to me and to you. But I command you to give them as their king the man whom I will point out to you, though first you must point out to them the rights and great power of a king and all the evils that may follow from having one."

So Samuel got the people together, and told them that the king they wished for would often be a cruel master to them, and they would have to give him much of their money and their goods to keep up his grandeur, and he would take their children, whether they liked it or not, to be his soldiers and servants. But the multitude still said, "We want a king like the other nations, to rule over us and to go out to battle at the head of our armies."

Then Samuel dismissed the assembly, telling them that when the time was come he would announce to them who had been chosen for their king.