Seven months of plague was enough. Over-run by rats and killed by mysterious tumors, the Philistines finally decided the culprit was the Ark of Israel’s God.
But they wanted to be sure (chapter 6).
So they took two cows who had recently given birth and hitched them to a cart on which the ark was set. They pinned up the calves and let the cows loose. Normally, the cows would head toward their calves, who would be crying for their mothers. But this was the test. If the cows, despite their natural instincts, went on the road to Beth Shemesh and Israel, the Philistines would know for sure that the God of Israel was in the matter.
To their credit, the people of Beth Shemesh called for the Levites to unload the Ark rather than try to do it themselves. This was, of course, the proper course. Not to their credit, seventy of the people of Beth Shemesh looked inside the Ark.
No, that’s not quite right. God killed them.
Even after so long, God’s rules still applied.
God’s way does not change because circumstances change. When the Lord has spoken specifically about a matter, it’s best to take Him at His word until he actually says something different.
It really is a matter of life and death, and now both Israel and the Philistines understand.
Notice the historical reference. At the time of the writing of Samuel, there was still a huge stone in the field of Joshua in Beth Shemesh. They left it there as a testimony to the truthfulness of the Ark story.