1 Samuel 6:19—Why did God strike the people of Beth Shemesh with such a severe judgment for looking into the Ark?

Problem: When the Philistines returned the ark of the Lord to Israel, they placed it on an ox cart and sent it down the road without a driver. When the oxen had pulled the cart into the borders of Beth Shemesh, the people of Beth Shemesh took the ark off of the cart and placed it on a large stone. However, some of the men of Beth Shemesh looked into the ark, and the Lord “struck the people with a great slaughter” (v. 19). But why did God strike the people with such a severe judgment simply because they looked into the ark?

Solution: The Lord struck the people with judgment because they committed a terrible sacrilege against God. The ark of the covenant was a symbol of the very presence of God among His people. Regulations concerning the ark and how it was to be treated were of the strictest nature because of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man (Ex. 25:10–22; 26:32–34; 37:1–9). Such an impious act of disregard for God’s holiness certainly merited the sudden and terrible judgment of God.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.