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The Return of the Ark of Covenant

Now the ark of Yahweh had been in the territory of the Philistines for seven months, and the Philistines called to the priests and to those who practiced divination, saying, “What should we do with the ark of Yahweh? Inform us how we should send it to its place.” They said, “If you are sending the ark of the God of Israel away, you must not send it away empty, but by all means return it with a guilt offering. Then you will be healed and it will become known to you why his hand is not turned aside from you.” And they said, “What is the guilt offering that we should return to him?” They said, “The number of the rulers of the Philistines is five. Therefore send five gold tumors[a] and five gold mice, because one plague was on all of you and all your rulers. You must make images of your tumors[b] and images of your mice that are ravaging the land, and you must give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand on you and on your gods and on your land. Why should you harden your hearts like the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their heart? Is it not just like when he dealt with them wantonly so that they sent them away and they left? So then, prepare[c] one new utility cart and two milking cows that have never had a yoke on them, and you must harness the cows to the utility cart and then turn their calves from following them to their stall. And you must take the ark of Yahweh and place it on the utility cart with the gold objects that you are returning to him as a guilt offering. You must place them in the container[d] beside the ark and then send it off so that it goes away. You must watch; if it goes up by the way of its territory to Beth Shemesh, he has caused this great disaster to come on us. But if not, then we will know his hand has not struck us; it was by chance that this happened to us. 10 So the men did so; they took two milking cows and harnessed them to the utility cart, but they shut up their calves in the stall. 11 Then they put the ark of Yahweh on the utility cart with the container[e] holding the gold mice and the images of their tumors. 12 The cows went straight on the way on the road to Beth Shemesh, on the one main road, lowing as they went.[f] They did not turn aside to the right or to the left, and the rulers of the Philistines were walking after them up to the border of Beth Shemesh.

13 Now the people of Beth Shemesh were reaping the wheat harvest in the valley. They lifted their eyes and saw the ark, and they were glad to see it. 14 The utility cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh and stopped there where there was a large stone. They split the wood of the utility cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to Yahweh. 15 Then the Levites took down the ark of Yahweh and the container[g] that was beside it, in which were the gold objects, and they set them on the large stone.[h] Then the men of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings, and they made[i] sacrifices to Yahweh on that day. 16 The five rulers of the Philistines saw it and returned to Ekron that same day.

17 Now these are the gold tumors which the Philistines returned as a guilt offering to Yahweh: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron. 18 And the gold mice according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines, for their five rulers, from the fortified city to the unwalled village of the open country as far as the great stone, where they set[j] the ark of Yahweh until this day in the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh. 19 He[k] struck seventy men[l] among the men of Beth Shemesh because they looked into the ark of Yahweh. So the people mourned because Yahweh had struck a great blow among the people. 20 Then the men of Beth Shemesh asked, “Who is able to stand before Yahweh, this holy God? And to whom shall it[m] go up from us?” 21 So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath Jearim saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of Yahweh. Come down and take it up to yourselves.”


  1. 1 Samuel 6:4 The Masoretic Hebrew text (Kethib) reads “boils”; the reading tradition (Qere) has “tumors”
  2. 1 Samuel 6:5 The Masoretic Hebrew text (Kethib) reads “boils”; the reading tradition (Qere) has “tumors”
  3. 1 Samuel 6:7 Literally “take and make”
  4. 1 Samuel 6:8 Or perhaps “chest” or “bag”
  5. 1 Samuel 6:11 Or perhaps “chest” or “bag”
  6. 1 Samuel 6:12 Literally “they went going and lowing”
  7. 1 Samuel 6:15 Or perhaps “chest” or “bag”
  8. 1 Samuel 6:15 The Masoretic Hebrew text reads “Abel” here; some Hebrew manuscripts and LXX read “stone” (see 6:14–15)
  9. 1 Samuel 6:15 Literally “sacrificed”
  10. 1 Samuel 6:18 Literally “which they set down on it”
  11. 1 Samuel 6:19 That is, Yahweh
  12. 1 Samuel 6:19 Though the MT has “seventy men, fifty thousand men” (= 50,070), it is likely the original was “seventy men”
  13. 1 Samuel 6:20 That is, the ark of the covenant (alternatively read as “he,” referring to Yahweh)