10 Then the men did so, and took two milch cows and hitched them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home. 11 They put the ark of the Lord on the cart, and the box with the golden mice and the likenesses of their tumors. 12 And the cows took the straight way in the [e]direction of Beth-shemesh; they went along the highway, lowing as they went, and did not turn aside to the right or to the left. And the lords of the Philistines followed them to the border of Beth-shemesh.
13 Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley, and they raised their eyes and saw the ark and were glad to see it. 14 The cart came into the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite and stood there where there was a large stone; and they split the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. 15 The Levites took down the ark of the Lord and the box that was with it, in which were the articles of gold, and put them on the large stone; and the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices that day to the Lord. 16 When the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned to Ekron that day.
17 These are the golden tumors which the Philistines returned for a guilt offering to the Lord: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron; 18 and the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fortified cities and of country villages. The large [f]stone on which they set the ark of the Lord is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite.
19 He struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the Lord. He struck down of all the people, 50,070 men, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great slaughter. 20 The men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?” 21 So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of the Lord; come down and take it up to you.”
Indeed, “who is able to stand before the Lord?” Not I, nor you, not without the sacrifice of Jesus covering the stains of our sin. The Israelites should have known this full well (except the part about Jesus), but it shows how far they had strayed that they dared to look inside the ark.
Even touching the ark was forbidden, which was why it had places for the Levites to slide poles in for carrying it. But who would know with so many that had wandered away from serving God?
It’s a different story today, but God is no less holy. The difference for us is when we have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus to wipe our slate clean before God. Only then can we “boldly approach” the throne of God. Not as mere subjects to a king, but as children of the Most High King.