Israel goes to war with the Philistines. We met these guys back during the days of Samuel when they were in control of the Israelite territory and were exacting tribute from them. Israel is fighting again that control.
So they fight a battle and lose and 4,000 men die. So they get the great idea to bring the Ark of the Covenant along. One of the guys had seen Raiders of the Lost Ark and thought God would shoot face melting beams at the Philistines or something.
So everyone’s happy and celebrating and the Philistines are afraid, but their commanders ask them if they want to be Israel’s slaves, and they say, “no…” and look awkward and go fight again.
And the Philistines win. No face melting beams from the Ark happened and Israel ran and 30,000 men die. The sons of Eli are killed and the Ark is taken by the Philistines.
Eli gets the news, falls off his chair, breaks his neck because he’s so fat, and dies. I guess God preferred a comedic fat guy falls death for him.
His daughter-in-law dies during child birth, but gives birth to a son whom she names Ichabod who would go on to die at the hands of a headless horseman thousands of years later.
The Philistines take the Ark to Ashdod and put it in the temple of their fish god, Dagon. Now, God, could appear to them in a fiery column and say, “Nope.” He could incinerate the temple and everything in it except for the Ark. He could even fire a few face melting beams.
But God opts for the passive-aggressive response and tips over the idol of Dagon.
“I said no other gods before me. Get in line.”
So the Philistines set him up again, and God knocks him over and cuts off the statues head and hands. God of the Universe resorts to petty vandalism to show that He exists and He’s better than Dagon.
Okay, but he does smite them with… rats and a wicked case of killer hemorrhoids or tumors? Maybe it was the Bubonic Plague which would make sense with the rats, but… yeah, let’s go with the Plague instead of swollen butt parts.
The Philistines play hot potato with the Ark, and finally decide to give it back to Israel.
So they come up with a plan. They’ll make an offering to God of five gold mice and five gold tumors. They’ll put those on a cart with the ark, hitch up two cows that had recently given birth. Take their calves away from them and send the cows on their way. If the cows go back to their calves as is their instinct, then they just got the Plague. But if the cows take the Ark to Israel, then God’s the one who is killing them.
So the cows go to Israel.
And the people of the town of Beth-shemesh saw the Ark and were happy and killed an animal for God. And then God kills over 50,000 of them because a handful of the men of the city looked in the Ark.
And the people learned the lessons the Philistines just learned. The best outcome that you can hope for from Old Testament God is that He leaves you alone. So they call up their neighbors and say, “Hey. Good news! The Ark is here! Please come and get it… now, please… why are you still talking to me? Come get the Ark… before God kills us all. What do you mean the call is coming from inside the house? He’s here? NOOOOOOOOOO!”