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An ancient town comes to life 

First Samuel 6 

Don Ruhl • Savage Street, Grants Pass, Oregon • July 28, In the year of our Lord Christ, 2019 


  1. From a website explaining what we will be doing with brother Dale Manor,

    “Since the beginning of modern explorations of the ancient world and it civilizations, Tel Beth-Shemesh attracted the interest of scholars and students of the ancient Near East. Its long sequence of occupational history has yielded a great deal of information about the past civilizations that flourished and faded in the region. The site is located between two valleys which were well-suited for grain production, growing grapes and olives, and animal grazing. They were also avenues of trade and communication. Tel Beth-Shemesh is located at the geographic meeting point of three different ethnic and cultural groups during the Iron Age (Philistines, Canaanites and Israelites), making it an ideal site to investigate ancient geopolitical, social, and cultural dynamics at a border zone. By applying insights gained through anthropological and archaeological research, the current expedition is shedding new light these and other theoretical issues. This summer our excavation team will concentrate in the northern area of the site in order to explore cultural diversity, continuity, and changes from Level 4 (10th Century BCE) down to Level 9 (13th Century BCE).”
    1. Ancient cities rebuilt on top of the old city. 
      1. Whereas we clear out the debris. 
      2. This way cities over the centuries kept getting higher, 
        1. which would be good for defensive purposes and 
        2. why move all that debris if it can serve as a good foundation. 
    2. Today we name such a place a tel, 
      1. from the Arabic word for tall or mound. 
      2. Therefore it is artificial or manmade. 
  2. Contrast the Archaeology of the Bible with the Book of Mormon 
    1. Biblical archaeology shows the historicity of biblical events and people. 
    2. The people, places, and events of the Bible 
      1. took place in the real world. 
      2. I can read in the Bible of places and events, and 
        1. go to the places mentioned and 
        2. see the truthfulness of the Bible. 
    3. Do you know of any place in America 
      1. where we can say a civilization from the Book of Mormon once thrived? 
      2. The Book of Mormon claims to show Jesus having a ministry in America. 
    4. Have you heard of any archaeological excavations in America 
      1. that support the people, places, and events of the Book of Mormon? 
      2. Where is the ongoing archaeological dig? 


  1. What We Know of Beth Shemesh from the Bible 
    1. Beth Shemesh was a border town. 
    2. Joshua 21.16 shows that Beth Shemesh was a Levitical city. 
    3. First Samuel 6 shows the most famous incident in Beth Shemesh’s history 
      1. when Israel and Philistia fought. 
        1. This is part of what are youth are learning for LTC this year. 
      2. Philistia won the battle and captured the Ark of the Covenant. 
        1. However, the Ark did not belong to them and 
        2. it did not belong in Philistia. 
          1. Therefore, the Lord cursed the Philistines. 
          2. First Samuel 6 says that after seven months among the Philistines, 
            1. they saw the wisdom in returning the Ark to Israel. 
            2. The priests and diviners of Philistia in part gave this advice,

              7 “Now therefore, make a new cart, take two milk cows which have never been yoked, and hitch the cows to the cart; and take their calves home, away from them. 8 Then take the ark of [Yahweh] and set it on the cart; and put the articles of gold which you are returning to Him as a trespass offering in a chest by its side. Then send it away, and let it go. 9 And watch: if it goes up the road to its own territory, to Beth Shemesh, then He has done us this great evil. But if not, then we shall know that it is not His hand that struck us—it happened to us by chance” (1 Samuel 6.7–9).
      3. Verses 10–12 shows the lords of the Philistines 
        1. following the cows as they pulled the Ark of their own accord and 
        2. it went toward Beth Shemesh,

          10 Then the men did so; they took two milk cows and hitched them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home. 11 And they set the ark of the LORD on the cart, and the chest with the gold rats and the images of their tumors. 12 Then the cows headed straight for the road to Beth Shemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went, and did not turn aside to the right hand or the left. And the lords of the Philistines went after them to the border of Beth Shemesh (1 Samuel 6.10–12).
          1. “Lowing” refers to the cows wanting their babies and 
          2. I learned at a diary where I worked, 
            1. that they will do everything they can 
            2. to get back to their babies. 
              1. You take the babies away 
              2. so that you can milk the cows for yourself and to sell. 
        3. However, no man prevented these cows from turning around. 
      4. Verse 13 shows Beth Shemesh rejoicing when the people saw the Ark. 
        1. The cows pulled the Ark to the field of a man named Joshua. 
        2. The people then took the wood of the cart for firewood and 
          1. offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. 
          2. The Levites had offloaded the Ark and the Philistine chest. 
      5. Verse 18 says that the large stone upon which they made the sacrifice, 
        1. remained in place until the time of the writing of the Book of Samuel. 
        2. Suddenly the text states at verse 19,

          19 Then He struck the men of Beth Shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. He struck fifty thousand and seventy men of the people [NIV, ESV, 70 men], and the people lamented because the LORD had struck the people with a great slaughter. 20 And the men of Beth Shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before this holy LORD God? And to whom shall it go up from us?” 21 So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjath Jearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of the LORD; come down and take it up with you” (1 Samuel 6.19–21).
    4. Second Kings 14.11–13 states that it was at Beth Shemesh 
      1. the king of Israel, Jehoash, and 
      2. the king of Judah, Amaziah, 
        1. faced one another in battle 
        2. with Judah as the loser and Jehoash captured Amaziah. 
    5. Second Chronicles 28.18 explains 
      1. that because of the moral decline in Judah, encouraged by King Ahaz, 
      2. the Lord allowed the Philistines to invade and to capture Beth Shemesh. 
  2. What We Know of Beth Shemesh from Geography 
    1. Where was ancient Beth Shemesh located? 
      1. The Bible does mention another Beth Shemesh in Naphtali. 
      2. However, the more well known one, 
        1. which is where we are going, 
        2. is about 20 miles west of Jerusalem. 
    2. They are 10 hours ahead of us. 
      1. That means Israel is two time zones short 
      2. of being halfway around the earth from us. 
    3. It was just inside the tribe of Judah’s land, along the border with Dan. 
  3. What We Know of Beth Shemesh from History 
    1. One source says that currently over 102,000 people live there. 
      1. The modern city known as Beit Shemesh began in 1950. 
      2. Otherwise, it seems that it had not been occupied for centuries. 
    2. The ancient city, before Israel conquered it, 
      1. was a Canaanite town and 
      2. the temple of the sun was located there, 
        1. hence the name of the town. 
        2. Like Bethel, house of God 
    3. Wikipedia says,

      “After the destruction of much of Judah by Sennacherib in 701 BCE, the city was abandoned for a while, but there seems to have been an attempt by a group of Judahites at resettling Beth Shemesh, judging by the refurbishing of the water reservoir in the 7th century BCE. However, after the Babylonian conquest of Judah in the early 580s, either the new Babylonian rulers, or the nearby Philistine metropolis of Ekron favoured by them, apparently put an end to the initiative by sealing and covering over the vital water reservoir,[8] which was not uncovered until 2004.”
    4. In 1948, some fighting took place there in the Arab-Israeli war. 
  4. What We Know of Beth Shemesh from Archaeology 
    1. Residences and a temple (house of the sun) were discovered in 1971, 
      1. dating from the middle Bronze Age, 
      2. starting at about 3000 BC and going to 2000 or so. 
    2. A cross-shaped cistern has been discovered. 
    3. A monastery has been unearthed. 
    4. Wikipedia says,

      “The most ancient iron workshop in the world was discovered in Beit Shemesh in 2003. The only remnants of a fortified city with an advanced water system, from the time of the early Kingdom of Judah was found here.”
    5. Another Wikipedia quote,

      “In August 2012 archaeologists from Tel Aviv University announced the discovery of a circular stone seal, approximately 15 millimetres in diameter. The seal was found on the floor of a house at Beit Shemesh and is dated to the 12th century BCE. According to Haaretz, ‘excavation directors Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University say they do not suggest that the human figure on the seal is the biblical Samson. Rather, the geographical proximity to the area where Samson lived, and the time period of the seal, show that a story was being told at the time of a hero who fought a lion…’”