The ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months. And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us with what we shall send it to its place.” They said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why his hand does not turn away from you.” And they said, “What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?” They answered, “Five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines, for the same plague was on all of you and on your lords. So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you and your gods and your land.” I Samuel 6:1-5 ESV
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. I John 1:8-10 ESV
During the time of the black death of the middle ages, many people thought that God was punishing them for their sins by sending the plague. A group of people called flagellants tried to help. They thought they could punish themselves and make God stop the plague from causing more death. Flagellants went from town to town, dressed in white, carrying crosses, and whipping themselves. It was their idea that God would accept the work they did and forgive the people their sins.
The Philistines had the same idea during the plague God sent them because of the ark of the covenant. They wanted to get rid of the ark and send it back to Israel, but they thought it would be better if they also sent an offering. They hoped God would accept their offering and forgive their guilt for capturing the ark. They had a strange offering to give God–golden tumors and mice. The mice were what carried the plague and the tumors were one of the symptoms. The Philistines might have thought that sending golden mice and tumors away from them would also carry the real tumors and mice away.
People often think that they can earn God’s mercy or forgiveness or love by doing some kind of good work or giving a gift or punishing themselves in some way. But it’s impossible to buy God’s forgiveness. The good news is that Jesus has already done everything we need to win God’s love and forgiveness for us. He did all the good works we fail to do, and he offered himself as a perfect offering on the cross. When Jesus suffered and died, he paid the price for all our sin and guilt. We don’t have to earn anything from God, because Jesus gives it to us as a free gift.
Dear Jesus, thank you for loving us and dying for us so that we can have God’s love and forgiveness. Amen.