Then the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall he go up away from us?” So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the Lord. Come down and take it up to you.” 1 Samuel 6:20-21
The ark of God, the place of His presence among Israel, had been captured by the Philistines and remained among them for seven months. As the judgment of God broke out among their cities, they wisely decided to return the ark to Israel. The Scripture says that the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping the wheat harvest “and when they lifted up their eyes and saw the ark, they rejoiced to see it.”
What could have made any inhabitant of Israel happier than to see the ark of God returning? The people of Beth-shemesh called the Levites to come and handle the ark. They prepared a burnt offering for the Lord. So far, so good. But this is the end of their reverent obedience, for some of the men looked into the ark of God, prompting an outbreak of judgment upon them.
Rather than repenting before God when they see His displeasure over their disobedience, they try to find somewhere else to send the ark of God. They were happy to have the presence of God until it means their sin was going to be judged. And the thing that once brought them great joy, they now seek to be rid of.
They were right to ask the question “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God?” It is right to recognize and be in awe of the holiness of God. It is right to realize that, possessing no righteousness of our own, we cannot stand before Him, . Their question is right, but their answer is wrong – “come down and take it up to you.”
Many people say that they desire the presence of God not realizing that the nearness of God means that sin will be dealt with. Those pet sins that we have not yet repented of even though the Holy Spirit has brought conviction, will eventually be dealt with firmly. Inevitably we all come to the point that we must make a choice. Send away the sin or send away God.
Will you be offended when God deals harshly with you because of the sin you have cherished? Is so, you will surely be one who sends God away. But let us not be as the people of Beth-shemesh. Let us instead humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, prepared to send away anything and everything except Him. If only we may have His presence, the loss of all else means nothing. Nothing at all.