Friday, November 8, 2013

1 Samuel: Ark as Plague Dog

When last we left off, the Philistines had just defeated the Israelites in battle, killed the sons of the high priest, and captured the ark of the covenant. So as we pick up in Chapter 5 of the First Book of Samuel, the ark is about to go on its own little adventure in the lands of the Philistines.

The Philistines brought the ark to the city of Ashdod, where they set it up in the temple of their own tribal delusion, Dagon. The morning after this, they found their Dagon idol had fallen over, face down in front of the ark. They set it back up, but the next day they found the statue fallen over again, and this time the head and hands had been cut off and were lying at the threshold of the temple. Meanwhile, the people of Ashdod and the surrounding lands began to break out in tumors.

The people of Ashdod decided to kick their problem down the road by sending the ark to the city of Gath. But then the people of Gath started getting tumors instead, and they tried sending the ark to Ekron. But the people of Ekron said “Oh, fuck no! We ain’t having that shit here!” But, you know, in Bible-speak.

So they sent to the lords of the Philistines to ask them to get the ark out of there. And the lords consulted their own priests and diviners about how best to deal with the ark. The priests came up with the idea that they needed to return the ark to Israel along with some gold as a payment for their sin in taking it in the first place (silly Philistines! Don’t they know God’s preferred offerings are in the form of burnt flesh?). But not just any gold. This gold had to be molded into five representations of tumors, and five mice. Seriously. Golden tumors.

And just so that nobody would have any doubt that sending the ark back was the thing God wanted done, the priests came up with a test. They loaded it and the golden tumors and golden mice into a crate, which they put onto a cart. Then they took two cows that had never been broken for pulling a cart, and who had just had calves (so basically, two cows that should have no clue how to pull a cart and every motivation to return home to their babies), and hitched them to the cart. Then they just let them go, on the theory that if they headed back to Israel then it must mean God was controlling their behavior.

The cows went straight up the road to the city of Beth-shemesh, and the lords of the Philistines followed them to see what would happen.

The cart proceeded to the fields outside of Beth-shemesh, where it stopped beside a large stone in the fields of some guy named Joshua. The Israelites were so thrilled to see it back that they immediately tore the cart apart for firewood and used it to sacrifice the cows as burnt offerings. They set the ark itself and the golden tumors on the big stone. After seeing all this, the lords of the Philistines turned around and went home. All’s well that ends well, right?

1 Sam 6:19 And he struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of Yahweh. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because Yahweh had struck the people with a great blow.”

Guess not.

That pretty much killed the celebratory mood, and the people who had been so thrilled at the return of the ark immediately begged the people of Kiriath-jearim to take it off their hands. So some men came from that city and took the ark with them to the house of Abinadab, where his son Eleazar was given charge of it. And that’s where it stayed, apparently without killing anybody, for about twenty years.

Then, we are told, Samuel told all of Israel (what a shame that his nation-spanning public address system was lost to history) that if they wished to return to God, they needed to set aside all the other gods and worship him only. So they did (that was easy!). Then Samuel told them all to gather at Mizpah, so that he could pray to God on their behalf. And they did that too.

When the Philistines heard about the gathering, they decided to attack Israel. As their army approached, Samuel sacrificed a lamb as a burnt offering to God and begged for his help. And God sent the Philistines into a panic so that they fled from the army of Israel. After that the Philistines no longer attacked Israel, and over time the Israelites recovered from them the cities they had conquered.

So Samuel spent the rest of his life as a judge over Israel. And when he was an old man, he made his sons judges as well. But they were kinda douchebags, and would accept bribes to sway their judgments. And then the elders of Israel got it into their heads that they’d be much better off if they had a king instead of judges. We’ll hear about how swimmingly that plan goes in the next post!

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