In 1 Sam 5 the Philistines got a taste of the hand of God weighing heavy on the land, and they wanted no more of it. So they made the decision to send the ark back to Israel in hopes that the affliction would end. Away goes the ark, carried on a cart by two milk cows, lowing their way back to Beth Shemesh.
But once the cart arrives in Beth Shemesh, after the initial rejoicing of getting the ark back, the men of that city make a fateful decision to peek inside the ark. Maybe they were curious, maybe the wanted to see if the Philistines had taken anything. Either way, they paid dearly for it: 50,070 men were consumed by the Lord. Wow, that was harsh! The response of the men of that town says it all, “Who is able to stand before this holy LORD God?” Indeed. Deuteronomy 4:24 tells us “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”
So should we be afraid of God? Should we be cautious in approaching Him? Perhaps it depends on the condition of our heart, because we read in Psalms:
In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. – Ps 5:3
But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. – Ps 5:11
and Hebrews 4 tells us…
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need – Heb 4:16
It seems to me that our God indeed is a consuming fire, and He is worthy our our awe, our reverence, and our worship. He does not take lightly those who would profane His name (Hophni and Phinehas come to mind). But God is also gracious and loving, and He is ready and willing to receive all who come before Him with humble hearts, as James notes:
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. – James 4:10
Join us Sunday, as we continue our study of 1 Samuel 6-7, with “Who is able to stand before this holy LORD God?”.