The ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months. And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us with what we shall send it to its place.” They said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why his hand does not turn away from you.” And they said, “What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?” They answered, “Five golden tumours and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines, for the same plague was on all of you and on your lords. So you must make images of your tumours and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you and your gods and your land. Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away, and they departed? Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. And take the ark of the LORD and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way and watch. If it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth-shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm, but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it happened to us by coincidence.”
Comment: Having read the whole passage we see at the end that the leaders are playing a gamble. They are not sure if the Ark is the problem. Nevertheless they seem to treat the Ark with deep respect and care. They plan to send the Ark away on a new cart, presumably to honour this ‘god’ by not using an old or unclean vehicle: they send it with it an offering. We can understand the symbols of the ‘tumours’ which had been a curse on them, but why the mice? Maybe they found field mice a curse on their crops and wanted this other ‘god’ to act as an agriculturalist, and rid them of another problem.
They weren’t prepared to delay because they knew the stories of the Israelites coming out of Egypt. But, here comes the gamble, they put an obstacle in the way of the extremely expensive Ark (with a huge amount of gold in its structure). They chained into the cart two cows with new calves, but locked the calves away. There would have been a lot of bellowing both ways. If the cows don’t return to their calves but continue to go that will be test number one. Where they end up taking the cart will be a second test. Will they take it back to the Israelites?
Prayer: I don’t want to be gullible but I do want to discern and obey Your will, O God.