In verse 20, the Israelites in Beth-shemesh cried out “Who is able to stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?”
Here the Israelites realized what the Philistines realized: No one is worthy to stand before God.
The Philistines’ god Dagon couldn’t. The Philistines couldn’t.
And when judgment fell on the Philistines, they themselves cried out, “Give glory to Israel’s God,” (5) and sent the ark back.
But the Israelites couldn’t stand before God either. Moses had warned them: Only the Levites were to carry the ark, and even they were not to touch or see it. (Numbers 4:15-20)
And because they deliberately broke that command by not immediately covering it when it arrived, judgment fell on them.
And so they cried out, “Who can stand before this holy God?”
The truth is, no one is worthy to stand before God. Because God is holy, and we are unholy. All we are worthy of is judgment. All have sinned. All fall short of his glory. (Romans 3:23)
But through Jesus, now we can stand before this holy God. Paul wrote,
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
Why can we stand before God? Because through Jesus’ work on the cross, we now have peace with God. On the cross, all our filthy rags of unrighteousness were put on him. And when we put our faith in him, God clothes us with Christ’s righteousness and holiness. And so now, clothed with Christs’ righteousness and holiness, we have free access to God.
We don’t always see that righteousness in our lives. And when we sin, we can feel dirty and unworthy. But here is our hope: “When he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is.” (I John 3:2)
So we don’t fear when we see God’s glory. We rejoice, because we have been accepted through Jesus Christ. And one day we will be fully clothed in that glory. As Paul says,
We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)