The Ark in Philistia (1 Samuel 5:1-7:1) October 20
The plague many of the Philistines suffer and die from produces "tumors," the Hebrew word for which "literally means 'swellings' and may refer to any kind of tumor, swelling, or boil" (Nelson, note on 5:6). When the ark is sent back, the people include an "offering" consisting of five golden sculptures of these "tumors." But they also for some unstated reason include five golden rats. It would appear that rats had some sort of involvement with whatever the plague was. It is interesting to note that bubonic plague, the black death of the Middle Ages, is characterized by the formation of buboes, i.e. inflammatory swellings of the lymph glands, especially in the groin areaand that the plague was spread by the fleas of rodents, particularly rats. This, then, may have been what the Philistines were suffering from.
When the Philistines decide the ark is most likely the cause of their problems, and agree to send it back, they devise a test to try to determine for sure whether the God of Israel is behind all of this. They find two cows that have never pulled a cart and that have recently given birth, and they take their calves from them. If the cows are willing to be harnessed to a cart for the first time and cooperate together to pull it without balking, without any guidance, and in the correct direction away from their own calves, then, the Philistines reason, God would have to be involved. The lords of the Philistines follow the cart in astonishment as the cows pull the ark directly back to the land of Israel.
For some reason, the ark is never returned to the tabernacle. It remains in the house of Abinadab for 70 years or more until David brings it to Jerusalem when he pitches a new tent for it (1 Chronicles 15:1; 16:1). Meanwhile, the tabernacle and altar of burnt offering somehow find their way to Gibeon (16:37-40).