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. 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? 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. 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 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.” 1 Samuel 6:1-9.
The Philistines, though they were enemies of God, knew they had done wrong by capturing the Ark of the Lord. For one, the signs were undeniable: their own god fell and was broken before the Ark, and the people had plagues of mice and tumors (hemorrhoids, in some translations).
Then they consulted their own priests to find out how to appease the God of Israel. The priests correctly prescribed substitutionary sacrifices and even referenced Israel’s history with Pharoah and the Egyptians.
These ancient people knew the rules they must follow to show honor to God. They must repent, and they must atone. They had to send the Ark back, and they must make a sacrifice. The old testament law said if you took what did not belong to you, you must return it plus a penalty. They did all they knew to do, and then they followed up to see that it was accepted.
How often have we robbed God and thought we could just say, “sorry,” without changing our ways? Yes, Christ purchased our forgiveness and there is no more sacrifice for sin, but where is our love, and our desire to honor God?