After the Philistines took the ark of God, some things happened that caused them to believe they were being punished for what they had done and so they gave the ark back. Even though it was obvious they were receiving divine chastisement from God, their ignorance of God’s ways made them think it could have been a coincidence that their god Dagon fell down before the ark of God when it was brought into his temple.
Because there is no physical evidence that God exists, people that do not believe in him often look for signs to prove his existence. It is very hard to convince someone that God has done something. We can’t see God’s hand performing the act, therefore, there is always room for doubt. The interesting thing about the sign the Philistines chose to prove that the hand of God had smote them was it could have happened purely by chance.
The Philistines sent the ark of God back on a cart pulled by two oxen. The test they devised to determine if God’s hand was on them was if the cart went a particular route then it was God’s hand and if it went another route it was not. Of course the cart went along the route that meant God’s hand had smote them, but there was no evidence that God made the oxen go in that direction. So why did the Philistines rely on the test?
It is human nature to want to have an explanation for everything. Our world is based on cause and effect. The fact that we can’t see the hand of God and don’t know why certain things happen makes us uncomfortable. It is true that God’s hand was upon the Philistines because they took the ark of God, they knew it or they wouldn’t have sent the ark back, but having evidence made them more comfortable and that’s why they devised a test that would confirm what they already believed.