1 Samuel 4:6
And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of the LORD was come into the camp.
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4:1-9 Israel is smitten before the Philistines. Sin, the accursed thing, was in the camp, and gave their enemies all the advantage they could wish for. They own the hand of God in their trouble; but, instead of submitting, they speak angrily, as not aware of any just provocation they had given him. The foolishness of man perverts his way, and then his heart frets against the Lord, Pr 19:3, and finds fault with him. They supposed that they could oblige God to appear for them, by bringing the ark into their camp. Those who have gone back in the life of religion, sometimes discover great fondness for the outward observances of it, as if those would save them; and as if the ark, God's throne, in the camp, would bring them to heaven, though the world and the flesh are on the throne in the heart.Of the Hebrews - This was the name by which the Israelites were known to foreign nations (compare Exodus 1:15; Exodus 2:6). 3-9. Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us—Strange that they were so blind to the real cause of the disaster and that they did not discern, in the great and general corruption of religion and morals (1Sa 2:22-25; 7:3; Ps 78:58), the reason why the presence and aid of God were not extended to them. Their first measure for restoring the national spirit and energy ought to have been a complete reformation—a universal return to purity of worship and morals. But, instead of cherishing a spirit of deep humiliation and sincere repentance, instead of resolving on the abolition of existing abuses, and the re-establishing of the pure faith, they adopted what appeared an easier and speedier course—they put their trust in ceremonial observances, and doubted not but that the introduction of the ark into the battlefield would ensure their victory. In recommending this extraordinary step, the elders might recollect the confidence it imparted to their ancestors (Nu 10:35; 14:44), as well as what had been done at Jericho. But it is more probable that they were influenced by the heathenish ideas of their idolatrous neighbors, who carried their idol Dagon, or his sacred symbols, to their wars, believing that the power of their divinities was inseparably associated with, or residing in, their images. In short, the shout raised in the Hebrew camp, on the arrival of the ark, indicated very plainly the prevalence among the Israelites at this time of a belief in national deities—whose influence was local, and whose interest was especially exerted in behalf of the people who adored them. The joy of the Israelites was an emotion springing out of the same superstitious sentiments as the corresponding dismay of their enemies; and to afford them a convincing, though painful proof of their error, was the ulterior object of the discipline to which they were now subjected—a discipline by which God, while punishing them for their apostasy by allowing the capture of the ark, had another end in view—that of signally vindicating His supremacy over all the gods of the nations. Timely understood, by information from the Israelites, who would readily tell them of it to affright them.

And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout,.... For it being so loud as to make the earth ring, it was heard in the camp of the Philistines, which might not be at any great distance from the camp of Israel; how far from each other were Aphek and Ebenezer is not certain:

they said, what meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? they could not conceive what should be the reason of it, seeing they had no occasion to shout for joy, having been lately defeated; and a shout is made generally just before a battle is begun, and the onset made, or when victory is obtained; neither of which was the case now:

and they understood that the ark of the Lord was come into the camp: this they understood by spies, which they sent to find out the meaning of the shout; which is more probable than that they came to the knowledge of it by deserters; seeing it is not very likely that any Israelites would desert to the Philistines.

And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of the LORD was come into the camp.
6. the Hebrews] This name is used (a) by foreigners, as here (cp. ch. 1 Samuel 29:3): (b) by the Israelites in speaking of themselves to foreigners (Exodus 2:7): (c) when the Israelites are contrasted with foreigners (1 Samuel 13:3, note, 7). It is either (1) a derivative from eber, a word meaning beyond, and was originally applied to Abraham as coming from beyond the Euphrates: or (2) a patronymic from Eber (Genesis 10:21; Genesis 10:24), signifying the descendants of Eber.

6–9. Observe how vividly the successive emotions of the Philistines are painted: astonishment, when they heard the triumphant shout of the vanquished army: dismay, when they learnt its cause: manly resolution, when they had recovered from the first panic.

Verse 6. - But they, sure of its talismanic influence, shout for joy as they see its approach, and the Philistines ask the meaning of the great shout in the camp of the Hebrews. This name is constantly given to the Israelites by those not belonging to them, and probably has a certain amount of animosity in it, as showing that they were foreigners; literally, passers over, people who in the person of Abraham had come from the other side of the Euphrates, and having began as feeble immigrants, had ended in obtaining possession of the land, and ousting the rightful inhabitants. 1 Samuel 4:6When the Philistines heard the noise, and learned on inquiry that the ark of Jehovah had come into the camp, they were thrown into alarm, for "they thought (lit. said), God (Elohim) is come into the camp, and said, 'Woe unto us! For such a thing has not happened yesterday and the day before (i.e., never till now). Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the very gods that smote Egypt with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness.' " The Philistines spoke of the God of Israel in the plural., האדּירים האלהים, as heathen who only knew of gods, and not of one Almighty God. Just as all the heathen feared the might of the gods of other nations in a certain degree, so the Philistines also were alarmed at the might of the God of the Israelites, and that all the more because the report of His deeds in the olden time had reached their ears (see Exodus 15:14-15). The expression "in the wilderness" does not compel us to refer the words "smote with all the plagues" exclusively to the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:23.). "All the plagues" include the rest of the plagues which God inflicted upon Egypt, without there being any necessity to supply the copula ו before בּמּדבּר, as in the lxx and Syriac. By this addition an antithesis is introduced into the words, which, if it really were intended, would require to be indicated by a previous בּארץ or בּארצם. According to the notions of the Philistines, all the wonders of God for the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt took place in the desert, because even when Israel was in Goshen they dwelt on the border of the desert, and were conducted thence to Canaan.
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