Places of Interest
1. Beth-Shemesh lies 13 miles (21 km.) west of Jerusalem and 20 miles (32 km.) east of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s on Hwy. 38, about 5.5 miles (8 km.) south of Hwy. 1.
2. Beth-Shemesh was the most important city in the Sorek Valley as it was a guard-city to both east-west and north-south traffic through the region.
3. It was a border city between Judah and Dan that was given to the Levites.
4. Just across the valley (north) is the town of Zorah, where Samson lived. Some ruins and his tomb can be seen today.
5. Down the valley (west) a short distance was the town of Timnah, the hometown of Samson’s first wife, and the area where his girlfriend Delilah lived.
6. Beth-Shemesh means “House of the Sun” and probably got its name from sun worship by the Canaanites.
7. Beth-Shemesh is most known as the place where the Ark of the Covenant arrived when it was returned by the Philistines in 1 Samuel 6.
1. Beth Shemesh was a large thriving city belonging to the Canaanites when the Israelites arrived in about 1400 BC.
2. The Philistines were part of the Canaanite people group who lived in the land (Gen. 21:34). They possessed iron and were the high-tech people of the day.
3. At the time of Judges and 1 Samuel (1050 AD), the Philistines had a stronghold in the coastal plain area.
4. As the Philistines gained territory, they moved inland. Beth Shemesh and the cities in the Sorek Valley were affected and became border towns between the Philistines and the Israelites.
5. Samson, who lived across from Beth Shemesh in Zorah, engaged in battle with the Philistines to liberate the area from their grasp and return it to the Israelites.
6. The Philistines worshipped the false god, Dagon, who was supposedly the father of Baalsabul, or Baal. He was a fish god of fertility and was represented as a half-man, half-fish creature.
Places of Interest
1. Tel Beth-Shemesh
5th century AD Byzantine Monastery
Underground Water Reservoir
Northern Double Chambered Gate
Large rock where the Israelites did the burnt offering after receiving back the Ark of the Covenant from the Philistines.
2. Sorek Valley
3. Nahal Sorek Stream
5. Tel Timnah
6. Modern Beth-Shemesh
Beth-Shemesh in the Bible
1. God gave the Israelites over to the Philistines because they had done evil in His sight.
Judges 13:1: And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.
2. God raised up Samson to begin the deliverance of the area from the hand of the Philistines (Judges 13–16).
3. Not long after the death of Samson, the Ark of the Covenant was captured in a battle against the Philistines. This was due to judgment against the priest Eli and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, whom all died in battle because of their wickedness (1 Sam. 4).
4. The Philistines believed they were victorious in battle because their god, Dagon, was stronger than the true God of the Israelites. As a result, the Philistines took the Ark to the temple of their god, Dagon, to honor him for the victory.
5. However, God made the false god, Dagon, fall down in worship before the Ark.
1 Samuel 5:1–4: When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. 3 And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.
6. God sent the Philistines many sicknesses as a result of possessing the Ark. So they moved it from town to town thinking their diseases were just coincidental.
7. Finally, they realized that it was God who was behind their diseases and decided to send the Ark of the Covenant back to the Israelites.
8. The Philistines prepare to return the Ark to the Israelites in Beth-Shemesh.
1 Samuel 6:1–9: The ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months. 2 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.” 3 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.” 4 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. 5 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. 6 Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away, and they departed? 7 Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. 8 And take the ark of the LORD and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way 9 and watch. If it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth-Shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm, but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it happened to us by coincidence.”
9. The Ark miraculously arrives at Beth-Shemesh.
1 Samuel 6:10–13: The men did so and took two milk cows and yoked them to the cart and shut up their calves at home. 11 And they put the ark of the LORD on the cart and the box with the golden mice and the images of their tumors. 12 And the cows went straight in the direction of Beth-Shemesh along one highway, lowing as they went. They turned neither to the right nor to the left, and the lords of the Philistines went after them as far as the border of Beth-Shemesh. 13 Now the people of Beth-Shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. And when they lifted up their eyes and saw the ark, they rejoiced to see it.
10. The Israelites offer a burnt offering to the Lord in gratitude for receiving the Ark.
1 Samuel 6:14–16: The cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth-Shemesh and stopped there. A great stone was there. And they split up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD. 15 And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD and the box that was beside it, in which were the golden figures, and set them upon the great stone. And the men of Beth-Shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices on that day to the LORD. 16 And when the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned that day to Ekron.
11. The Beth-Shemesh area is where Philip the Evangelist witnessed to the Ethiopian Eunuch.
Acts 8:26–31: Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet, Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
Faith Lesson from Beth-Shemesh
1. The Israelites adopted the sinful culture of those around them and did evil in the sight of the Lord. Am I careful not to adopt the sinful lifestyles and beliefs of the sinful culture in which I live?
2. Even though the Israelites sinned and failed to be a faithful witness to the surrounding nations, God protected His glory and showed Himself to them as the true and living God. Am I a faithful witness to my culture in living out God’s truth and reflecting His glory?
3. Do I use the miracles God has done in my life as a tool to witness and teach others who God is?
4. Like Philip, am I obedient in listening to God’s voice and sharing the gospel when He prompts me?