Summary: Following the capture of Aron (Ark), the Philistines placed itin their temple in Ashdod dedicated to the idol Dagon. Each morning, the idol was found lying on its face. The residents of Ashdod became inflicted with plagues of mice that caused a bowel disease resulting in haemorrhoids. The residents of Ashdod moved the Aron to the cities of Gat and then Ekron. Yet wherever the Aron went the nearby Philistines suffered in the same way. Ultimately they agreed to return the Aron to the Jewish people together with a rather strange tribute to God. As the Aron arrived in Bet Shemesh, the people were punished for gazing at it. They sent the Aron to Kiryat-Ye’arim declaring that the Philistines had returned the Aron.
A deeper look: The punishment inflicted on the Philistines seems bizarre. Why did God cause a plague of haemorrhoid inflicting mice on them? Rabbi Moshe Dovid Valle (d. 1777) explains that mice are a type of common pest that invade a person’s house, eating and contaminating their food while destroying their home. God’s message to the Philistines was that by taking the Aron, they were acting like mice in the Land of Israel, the home of the Jewish people. They were stealing their source of spiritual nourishment and destroying their habitat.
Similarly, Rabbi Yaakov Culi (d. 1739) explains that the reason that they were struck with a bowel disease it that one of the claims of idol worshippers at that time was that they did not need to perform bodily functions. The Midrash notes that Pharaoh would secretly relieve himself in the River Nile to appear as a god, for a divine being should not need to perform human bodily functions. This is why Moses was commanded to meet him by the river (Shemot Rabbah 9:8 and Exodus 7:15).
When the Philistines returned the Aron, they made gold mice and gold haemorrhoids as a guilt offering to God. More importantly, it demonstrated that they understood that the affliction had been a divine act and not mere coincidence, an important lesson for both Philistine and Jew alike.