In those days the Israelites went out to meet the Philistines, and in a hard-fought battle the Israelites were defeated by the Philistines.
When the people returned to the camp, the leaders of Israel said, “Why has Jehovah let us be beaten to-day by the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of our God from Shiloh. He may then go out with us and deliver us from our enemies.”
So the people sent to Shiloh and took from there the ark of Jehovah of hosts. When it came to the camp, all the Israelites shouted so loud that the earth resounded.
The Philistines heard the sound of the shouting and said, “What does this sound of great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” When they knew that the ark of Jehovah had come to the camp, they were afraid, for they said, “Their god has come to their camp. Woe to us! for it has never been so before; but be strong and act like men.” So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and each fled to his tent.
The same day a Benjamite from the ranks ran to Shiloh with his clothes torn and with earth on his head. As he came, Eli was sitting on his seat by the gate watching the road, for his heart was trembling for the ark of God.
When the man came and told the people of the city, they all cried out. Eli heard the sound of crying and said, “What is this uproar?” So the man came quickly and told Eli, “I am the man who came from the battle, for I fled from the ranks.” Eli said, “How did it go, my son?” The messenger answered, “Israel fled from the Philistines, and many people were killed, and your two sons are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” When he spoke of the ark of God, Eli fell off his seat backward beside the gate, and his neck was broken, for he was old and heavy, and he died.
The Philistines took the ark of God and brought it to the temple of Dagon in Ashdod and set it up by the side of Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day and came to the temple of Dagon, there was Dagon on the ground flat on his face before the ark of Jehovah. Then they raised up Dagon and set him in his place again. But when they rose early on the following morning, there was Dagon on the ground flat on his face before the ark of Jehovah. The head of Dagon and both his hands were broken off on the door sill, and only his body was left.
Jehovah severely punished the people of Ashdod, for he punished them with boils. When the men of Ashdod saw this, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel shall not stay with us, for he is severely punishing us and Dagon our god.” So they sent for all the rulers of the Philistines and asked, “What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?” They answered, “Let it be carried around to Gath.”
So they carried the ark of the God of Israel around to Gath. Then Jehovah punished the men of that city, both young and old, with boils. Therefore they sent the ark of the God of Israel to Ekron; but when it came to Ekron, the Ekronites cried out, “They have brought around the ark of the god of Israel to kill us and our people!” They sent, therefore, and gathered all the rulers of the Philistines and said, “Send the ark of the god of Israel back to its own place, so that it will not kill us and our people!”
Then the Philistines called the priests and diviners and asked, “What shall we do with the ark of Jehovah? Tell us with what we shall send it to its place.” They said, “If you send back the ark of the god of Israel, you must not send it away empty, but must return to him an offering to repay him for all that you have done to the ark. Then you shall be healed, and you shall know why he has continued to punish you.” They said, “What offering shall we send back in order to repay him?”
They said, “Five golden boils and five golden mice, the same number as the rulers of the Philistines; for one plague was upon you as well as upon your rulers. Now therefore prepare a new cart and two milch cows that have never worn a yoke, and fasten the cows to the cart, but leave their calves behind them at home. Then take the ark of Jehovah and place it upon the cart and put in a box at its side the golden objects which you are sending to them as an offering to repay him. Then send it away. If it goes on the way to its own border, to Bethshemesh, then it is Jehovah who has done us this great harm; but if not, then we shall know that it is not he who has punished us; it was only an accident.”
The men did so, and the cows took a straight course along the Bethshemesh road. They went along the highway, lowing as they went, and did not turn aside to the right nor to the left. The rulers of the Philistines also went after them as far as Bethshemesh.
The inhabitants of Bethshemesh were harvesting their wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they rejoiced at the sight. When the ark came into the field of Joshua, the Bethshemeshite, it stood still there. And a great stone was there; so they split up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt-offering to Jehovah. When the five rulers of the Philistines saw it, they returned to Ekron the same day.