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1 Samuel 6:1

ESV The ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months.
NIV When the ark of the LORD had been in Philistine territory seven months,
NASB Now the ark of the Lord had been in the territory of the Philistines for seven months.
CSB When the ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory for seven months,
NLT The Ark of the Lord remained in Philistine territory seven months in all.
KJV And the ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months.

What does 1 Samuel 6:1 mean?

Given what is described in the previous chapter, seven months seems a long time for the ark of the Lord (Exodus 25:10–16) to have remained in Philistine territory. That seven months began when the ark was brought to the camp of the Israelite army by Eli's sons (1 Samuel 4:3–4). It ends later in this chapter when it crosses the border into Israelite territory alone on a cart pulled by two milk cows (1 Samuel 6:12).

During those months, the hand of the Lord was heavy on the Philistines for holding His ark captive. He brought great panic and a plague of tumors on the people, first in Ashdod and then in Gath and Ekron and eventually to the entire Philistine nation (1 Samuel 5:6–12; 6:4).

Why did it take the Philistines seven months to decide to send the ark back to Israel? For one thing, they likely believed they had literally captured the God of Israel—the deity Himself—by capturing the ark, thus removing from Israel any access to the Lord's power and protection (1 Samuel 4:5–11). This was false. The ark of the Lord was merely the place on earth where God's presence rested, but He continued to be God in all places and to be all powerful. His ability to bring this plague on the Philistines should have demonstrated that to them. Giving back the ark was an admission of defeat.

The other reason is that some among the Philistines apparently speculated that the incident was mere coincidence. Perhaps the presence of the ark and the onset of their suffering coincided by chance. Maybe the plague would have happened either way. Why give the Lord the credit for something that may have been an act of nature (1 Samuel 6:9)?
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