1 Samuel 6:19
But God struck down some of the people of Beth-shemesh because they looked inside the ark of the LORD. He struck down seventy men, and the people mourned because the LORD had struck them with a great slaughter.
Dangerous Prying into Secret ThingsEliza Cook.1 Samuel 6:19-20
IrreverenceD. Fraser 1 Samuel 6:19, 20
Irreverent CuriosityW. G. Blaikie, D. D.1 Samuel 6:19-20
The Severity and Mercy of GodC. Ness.1 Samuel 6:19-20
Uncurbed Curiosity PerilousT. Adams.1 Samuel 6:19-20

I. THE OFFENCE. The Philistines are not blamed for sending away the ark of God on a wooden car. They did not know, or, if they knew, they had no means of observing, the mode of carriage by Levites which had been prescribed in the Mosaic law. In placing the ark on a new car never before used, and drawn by young cows that had never before worn a yoke, the Philistines meant to show respect. But the men of Beth-shemesh, being Israelites, and having Levites among them, knew, or ought to have known, the laws regarding the sacred ark. So they were more severely judged. Their familiar handling of the ark was a presumptuous sin. Irreverence had grown during the years of misgovernment and license through which Israel had passed. It is evident that before the people would have dared to send for the ark to Shiloh, and take it into the field of battle, they must have lost much of the veneration with which their fathers had regarded the symbol of Jehovah's presence. And now the men of Beth-shemesh actually presumed to look into the ark, perhaps to ascertain whether the Philistines had put any gold into it, besides the golden offerings which they had placed in a separate coffer. So doing, they forgot, or wilfully broke, the law which allowed none of the people at large so much as to approach the ark, and required that the priests should cover it with a veil, before the Kohathites might carry it; and in carrying it those Levites might not lay their hands upon it, but were commanded to bear it on gilt staves passing through golden rings in the four corners of the sacred chest. Indeed the Kohathites, though thus honoured as the bearers of the ark, were forbidden not only to touch it, but even to go into the most holy place to see it covered under pain of death.

II. THE PENALTY. The Lord saw it needful to restore reverence for his law and for the ark of his testimony by striking a blow at presumption which would not be soon forgotten. Accordingly, seventy of the country people at Beth-shemesh were smitten with death. On the same ground, a few years later, was Uzzah the Levite stricken dead because he put his hand on the ark of God. What a warning against irreverence! For this cause men may die close to the ark of the covenant, perish beside the mercy seat. Nay, that which is the greatest blessing may be turned by presumption into the greatest disaster. The savour of life may be turned into a savour of death. It is especially a warning to those who "name the name of the Lord." The ignorant and profane are judged, but not so strictly as those who "profess and call themselves Christians;" just as the Philistines were afflicted with boils, but the Israelites were visited with death. God is much displeased with listless minds, irreverent postures, and heedless spirits in his Church. No doubt it may be pleaded that such faults come of want of thought, and not of any evil intent; but want of thought is itself a very grave offence in such a matter as the service of God. Even levity is inexcusable; for, at all events in adult persons, it comes of hardness of heart, ingratitude to Christ, neglect of reflection on sacred themes and objects, engrossment of thought and affection with the things which are seen, and an indifference to the presence and purpose of the Holy Spirit. Let us study reverence. "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the holy ones, and to be had in reverence of all that are round about him." - F.

And He smote the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had Looked into the ark of the Lord.
The prying men of Beth-shemesh have had their counterparts many a time in more recent days. Many men, with strong theological proclivities, have evinced a strong desire to pry into the "secret things which belong to the Lord our God." Foreknowledge, election, free will, sin's punishment — men have often forgot that there is much in such subjects that exceeds the capacity of the human mind, and that as God has shown reserve in what He has revealed about them, so men ought to show a holy modesty in their manner of treating them. And even in the handling of sacred things generally, in the way of theological discussion, a want of reverence has very often been shown. It becomes us all most carefully to beware of abusing the gracious condescension which God has shown in His revelation, and in the use which He designs us to make of it. It was an excellent rule a foreign theologian laid down for himself, to keep up the spirit of reverence — never to speak of God without speaking to God.

(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)

Men may soon be too bold with hidden mysteries; he that modestly looks upon the sun, sees a glorious torch, and receives a comfortable light; but he that fixeth his eyes too earnestly upon it, is struck blind, and because he will see more than he should, comes in the end to see nothing at all.

(T. Adams.)

He that pryeth into every cloud may be stricken with a thunderbolt.

(Eliza Cook.)

The city of Beth-shemesh (which signifies the House of the Sun) was now under such an eclipse and darkness, as peevishly to think that God was over strict, laying the blame all upon God, and none upon their sins (ver. 20), and therefore desire to dismiss the ark as the cause of this rigour. David himself had something of this sin (2 Samuel 6:8, 9), and the Gadarins much more (Matthew 8:54). God always shows most severity in punishing His own people, especially in matters that immediately concerned His worship, and men are not competent judges, because we understand not the unsearchable reasons of His judgments. Who hath been God's counsellor, etc? (Romans 11:33, 34), we ought not to search into God's secrets, which belong to Him only (Deuteronomy 29:29). It is as unmannerly a trick to spy into another man's house with his eyes, as to press into it with his feet: How much more unlawful was this prying and peeping into the secrets of God, so expressly against God's Law? (Numbers 4:15, 18, 19, 20). As it is a learned ignorance not to know what is unrevealed, so it is a sort of madness to pry into them. It is a wonder that the Philistines were not all cut off (as the Beth-shemites were here, ver. 19) when they first laid their foul hands upon it, when they first took it captive; and now again, when they carted the ark (though upon a new cart), seeing the Lord made a breach upon David for his doing the very self-same thing (2 Samuel 6:8). No reason can be rendered for this severity of God against His servants, and His indulgency towards His enemies, but this, God confers greater privileges upon His own people, and therefore if they transgress against all their light and love, etc., He infers greater punishments upon them (Amos 3:2). David and the Beth-shemites had the light of the law of God by them, and therefore sinned more against knowledge than those poor blind ignorant Philistines could do: Therefore God did not only spare them in carting His ark, but also condescended to work this miracle for their conviction.

(C. Ness.).

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