The Mercy Seat Killings

The Mercy Seat Killings

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

Dale Pollard

The ark of the covenant is a well-known object even among the non-religious, thanks to Hollywood. The depiction on the big screen has been exaggerated and romanticized for entertainment purposes, and that’s a shame. The ark of God is interesting enough without the unnecessary special effects. While many in the church are familiar with Uzzah’s fatal and infamous mistake (2 Samuel 6.7), there are several other accounts involving the ark that aren’t as commonly reviewed. 

The Ark Is Stolen 

It all began when the Philistines had taken the ark after the Israelites go into battle without consulting the Lord. These are the humbling events that showcase God’s power and holiness following the theft of the ark. 

  • God strikes the citizens of Ashdod with tumors (1 Sam. 5.6) 
  • God strikes the citizens of Gath with tumors (1 Sam. 5.8) 
  • Destruction and death fall on the city of Ekron as the ark passed through (1 Sam. 5.11-12) 
  • After the ark reaches Beth Shemesh the men of the town take a peak inside the ark and *50,070 (see explanation at end of this article) are struck dead (1 Sam. 6.19) 

All of the death and disease show us the seriousness and obedience required of God’s people. It’s not just about a mysterious wooden box covered in gold— it was an object meant to train the Israelites to think properly about their Lord. Many applications can be made for us today as well. 

The Hebrews writer explains that things are different now (Heb. 4.14-16). God’s response to all those who are disobedient to Him aren’t always immediately avenged but we shouldn’t assume that God feels differently— vengeance still belongs to Him (Heb. 10.30). 

God also tells us that He is unchanging in His nature (Heb. 13.8). 

It’s thanks to Jesus that we are able to approach God with confidence. It’s Jesus we ought to thank for the grace and forgiveness we receive because of His sacrifice (Heb. 4.16). 


Note: *50,070

“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” (1 Sam. 6.19). 

The ESV as well as several other translations use the number “seventy” rather than “fifty thousand and seventy.” While there are a few explanations for this, here are the abbreviated leading takes. 

  1. Some believe the scribes were unsure of the number and so copied the text with slight variation. 
  2. Similarly, some believe that “three score and ten” or “fifty thousand and seventy” was originally found in the margins of the scrolls by early scribes. Later, scribes placed the commentary into the text. 
  3. Some believe the number should be translated “seventy” because Josephus seemed to hold this view (Antiquities of the Jews, Book VI). 

“…although it cannot be proven beyond all reasonable doubt that the 50,070 figure is erroneous, there is the very real possibility that either (1) the Hebrew has been misunderstood, or (2) a copyist made an error in the transmission process.” 

– Eric Lyons, M. Min 

“Nowhere else is a figure like 50,070 written in this fashion according to the grammar of biblical Hebrew. Normally the wording would have been either…“seventy man and fifty thousand man” or else in the descending order—which was far more usual…“fifty thousand man and seventy man” (Archer, 1982, p. 169, Apologetics Press, Art. ‘Death at Beth Shemesh). 

While this may seem trivial to some and worrisome to others, one can take comfort knowing that we have everything we need for life and godliness (1 Pt. 1.3). That’s the view held by the other authors on this blog as well as each member of the Lord’s church sited/quoted here.