What does 1 Samuel 6:19 mean?
ESV: And he struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the LORD. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the LORD had struck the people with a great blow.
NIV: But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them.
NASB: Now He fatally struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the Lord. He struck 50,070 men among the people, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great slaughter.
CSB: God struck down the people of Beth-shemesh because they looked inside the ark of the Lord. He struck down seventy persons. The people mourned because the Lord struck them with a great slaughter.
NLT: But the Lord killed seventy men from Beth-shemesh because they looked into the Ark of the Lord. And the people mourned greatly because of what the Lord had done.
KJV: And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.
Verse Commentary:
Rejoicing over the return of the ark in the Israelite border town of Beth-shemesh (1 Samuel 6:13–16) turns suddenly to mourning. The Lord kills seventy men of the town because looked inappropriately at the ark of the Lord. Some commentators understand the phrase translated "looked upon" to mean they "looked into" the ark. To carelessly open and peer into the ark would have been a shocking violation of God's commands about the ark of the covenant.

The ark was the place on earth where God's presence symbolically rested. It was from the mercy seat on top of the ark that He met with His people once a year when the priest of Israel entered the inner part of the tabernacle, behind the veil, to make atonement for his sins and the sins of the people (Exodus 25:10–16; Leviticus 16).

Numbers 4 spells out in specific detail how the ark of the Lord was to be handled and transported. It was to be covered when being moved in the open (Numbers 4:5–6). It was never to be touched directly (Numbers 4:15), and those who were not priests were not allowed to even look at the "holy things" of the inner temple for even a moment or else they would die (Numbers 4:20).

The people of Beth-shemesh could not have avoided seeing the ark when it arrived on a cart from the Philistines. However, they immediately placed it on a large stone out in the open and offered sacrifices in front of it. If, in fact, they opened the lid and looked inside of it, even to check and make sure nothing was missing, they were directly disobeying the Lord and violating His holy presence among them. The Law was clear: The penalty for this was death.

Commentators and scholars differ on the translation of the number of those killed by the Lord. Some Hebrew manuscripts simply give the number as seventy. Many more seem to report the number as "seventy men, fifty thousand men," which could be read as "50,070 men." This would be unusual for two reasons. First, the Bible often seems to round off high numbers to hundreds or thousands, such as in 1 Samuel 4:10. Second, it's unlikely that so many people lived in the town of Beth-shemesh at this time. A possible solution is that the construction of the phrase means that seventy men were killed, or "five out of every thousand men," which would put the population of Beth-shemesh at about fourteen thousand.

In any case, the people of Beth-shemesh received these deaths as a "great blow" or "great slaughter" from the Lord and entered a time of mourning. Their rejoicing and worship of the Lord had been sincere, but they had disobeyed the Lord's commands and dishonored His presence among them in their enthusiasm. The Lord will not allow His holiness to be violated, even among His own people.

Given prior narratives, it seems the Israelites misunderstood who God is and thus also misunderstood the ark. Seven months earlier, they had treated the ark as a sort of good luck charm that would defeat their enemies (1 Samuel 4:2–5). Jesus spoke about worshipping the Lord in spirit and in truth (John 4:23–24). We need to know who God is to worship Him rightly. God provides a way for us to do that: Jesus Christ (John 3:16–18; 14:6). All who put their faith in Him become children of God (John 1:12) and receive the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:3–14). God helps us to know Him and He helps us to worship Him appropriately (Philippians 2:12–13).
Verse Context:
First Samuel 6:19–21 explains that the ark's return to Israel was not entirely positive. God killed seventy men of Beth-shemesh, the place where the ark had been returned. Though they were celebrating the return of the ark from the Philistines, these men acted carelessly and inappropriately. Their deaths seem to be punishment for profaning the ark, probably by looking inside it. The townspeople recognize God's holiness, so they ask the people in Kiriath-jearim to take the ark.
Chapter Summary:
The Philistine religious leaders advise the five lords of the Philistines to send the ark of the Lord back to Israel with a guilt offering to stop the plague of tumors ravishing their land (1 Samuel 5:6–12). The Philistines place the ark along with five golden mice (or five golden tumors and five golden mice) on a new cart hitched to two untrained milk cows whose calves are shut up at home. The cows head straight for the Israelite border town of Beth-shemesh. There, the people rejoice and offer the cows before the ark as a burnt offering to the Lord. The Lord kills seventy men of the town because the people looked at the ark. Frightened, the people send to Kiriath-jearim and ask them to take the ark.
Chapter Context:
First Samuel 6 finds most of the Philistines convinced that the plague and panic (1 Samuel 5:6–12) are from the Lord. They place the ark of the Lord and a guilt offering of golden mice on a cart pulled by two milk cows. The cows pull the ark straight to the Israelite town of Beth-shemesh, where the rejoicing people offer the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord before the ark. The Lord kills seventy men of the town for looking at (or in) the ark. The people of Beth-shemesh send word to those in another town to take the ark away.
Book Summary:
First Samuel introduces the key figures who led Israel after the era of the judges. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel were originally part of a single text, split in certain translations shortly before the birth of Christ. Some of the Bible’s most famous characters are depicted in this book. These including the prophet Samuel, Israel’s first king, Saul, her greatest king, David, and other famous names such as Goliath and Jonathan. By the end of this book, Saul has fallen; the book of 2 Samuel begins with David’s ascension to the throne.
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