Reading through the Bible together
God had demonstrated the incompetence of the gods of the Philistines. It was not the superiority of the Philistines that gave them the victory. It was the sins of Israel that caused them to be defeated by the Philistines.
In the instruction the priests and diviners gave the Philistine lords are the words, “you shall give glory to the God of Israel,…do not harden your hearts as did the Egyptians. They had knowledge of the true God but it did not lead them to say, “We should learn to serve Him.” The advice of the priests was based on fear because of the bad things that happened to their idols and to themselves. Fear does motivate people to do right but by itself it does not result in salvation. They witnessed the power of Israel’s God but as soon as His judgments ceased they returned to their old way of living.
The plan devised for the return of the ark was not natural, but it enabled God to give the Philistines a more powerful witness than the plagues had been to the Egyptians. The cows were untrained to bear the yoke. Also cows never walk away from their newborn calves as they did. And how could the cows know to go across the border to Beth-Shemesh and stop in the middle of a field?
In the seven months since being defeated in battle and the loss of the Ark what had the leaders and people of Israel been doing? Had there been a movement for repentance?
When the Ark was returned they rejoiced to see it and offered sacrifices but then, “did what was right in their own eyes,” and looked into it. Such disobedience was immediately punished. It is not how much information we have about God and the Bible. We need, “the love of the truth,” and “faith that works by love and purifies the life.” Then by following God’s teachings we will be changed.