1 Samuel 6:3
And they said, If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty; but in any wise return him a trespass offering: then you shall be healed, and it shall be known to you why his hand is not removed from you.
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(3) Send it not empty.—The advice was to propitiate with gifts the powerful Hebrew Deity, whom they imagined was offended and angry at the insult offered Him—the being placed in an inferior position in the Dagon temple.

The priests and diviners evidently thought that the Hebrew Deity, in some way resident in the “golden chest,” was a childish, capricious deity, like one of their own loved gods—Dagon, or Beelzebub, lord of flies. Their people had insulted Him; He had shown Himself powerful enough, however, to injure His captors, so the insults must cease, and He must be appeased with rich offerings.

1 Samuel 6:3. Send it not empty — They answer directly to the question, first in general; that it must not be sent back without some offering. In any wise return him a trespass-offering — As an acknowledgment that they had offended the God of Israel by bringing his ark from its proper place; for which they begged his pardon by this offering. Then ye shall be healed, &c. — Le Clerc renders this sentence, Then if ye shall be healed, it shall be known, or manifest unto you, why his hand is not removed from you. And it is evident this is the meaning of the words. For these diviners were not sure whence these plagues came; but they thought in this way they should either be healed or know that the ark was not the cause of their sickness. It shall be known — You shall understand what is hitherto doubtful, whether he is the author of these calamities, and why they are continued so long upon you.6:1-9 Seven months the Philistines were punished with the presence of the ark; so long it was a plague to them, because they would not send it home sooner. Sinners lengthen out their own miseries by refusing to part with their sins. The Israelites made no effort to recover the ark. Alas! where shall we find concern for religion prevail above all other matters? In times of public calamity we fear for ourselves, for our families, and for our country; but who cares for the ark of God? We are favoured with the gospel, but it is treated with neglect or contempt. We need not wonder if it should be taken from us; to many persons this, though the heavies of calamities, would occasion no grief. There are multitudes whom any profession would please as well as that of Christianity. But there are those who value the house, the word, and the ministry of God above their richest possessions, who dread the loss of these blessings more than death. How willing bad men are to shift off their convictions, and when they are in trouble, to believe it is a chance that happens; and that the rod has no voice which they should hear or heed!Send it not empty - See the marginal references. The pagan idea of appeasing the gods with gifts, and the scriptural idea of expressing penitence, allegiance, or love to God, by gifts and offerings to His glory and to the comfort of our fellow worshippers, coincide in the practical result. 2, 3. the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners—The designed restoration of the ark was not, it seems, universally approved of, and many doubts were expressed whether the prevailing pestilence was really a judgment of Heaven. The priests and diviners united all parties by recommending a course which would enable them easily to discriminate the true character of the calamities, and at the same time to propitiate the incensed Deity for any acts of disrespect which might have been shown to His ark. Empty, i.e. without a present; which they judged necessary, from the common opinion and practice both of Jews and Gentiles.

Return him a trespass-offering; thereby to acknowledge our offence, and obtain his pardon.

It shall be known to you; you shall understand what is hitherto doubtful, whether he was the author of these calamities, and why they continued so long upon you. Compare 1 Samuel 6:7-9. And they said, if ye send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty,.... As they perceived they had either resolved upon, or at least were inclined to do; and which they also thought advisable and therefore would have them by no means send it away as it was, but with some presents along with it; for the meaning of this word "empty" is not that they should take care that all that were in it when taken should go with it, and nothing be taken out of it, or it be stripped of its contents; but that some gifts and offerings should be sent along with it: perhaps they might have some notion of, or respect unto a law in Israel, Exodus 23:15 or might say this from a common principle received among Heathens, that deities were to be appeased by gifts (e):

but in any wise return him a trespass offering; here again they seem to have some notion of the sorts and kinds of sacrifice among the Israelites; and advise to a trespass offering, to make satisfaction and atonement for the offence they had committed in taking away the ark; and that they should make restoration not only by returning the ark, but by sending an expiatory offering along with it:

then ye shall be healed; of the disease with which they were smitten; for it seems it still continued on them, at least on many:

and it shall be known to you why his hand is not removed from you; which was because the ark was detained by them; but when that should be sent home, and they be healed upon it, then it would be a plain case that the reason why the disease was inflicted and continued was because of that.

(e) "Munera crede mihi", &c. Ovid. de arte amandi, l. 3.

And they said, If ye send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty; but in any wise return him {b} a trespass offering: then ye shall be healed, and it shall be known to you why his hand is not removed from you.

(b) The idolaters confess there is a true God, who punishes sin justly.

3. send it not empty] Cp. Exodus 23:15. All religions regard offering as a necessary part of worship.

in any wise] i.e. “at all events,” “certainly.” Wise means “way of acting,” “manner,” “mode.”

return him a trespass offering] A satisfaction or compensation in return for the injury done him by the removal of the Ark.

it shall be known to you] If the removal of the plague followed the restoration of the Ark with due propitiation, they would know for certain that its detention was the cause of the continuance of the plague. They were not yet convinced that their misfortune was more than “a chance” (1 Samuel 6:9).Verses 3, 4. - A trespass offering. The offering that was to be made when the offence had been unintentional (Leviticus 5:15). Why his hand is not removed from you. A euphemism for "why your punishment continues to be so severe, without sign of abatement." If healing follows the gift, you will know that the malady was Jehovah's doing. The trespass offering was to consist of five golden emerods, and five golden mice, it being an old heathen custom, still constantly practised abroad, of presenting to the deity tokens representing the deliverance wrought for such as had implored his aid. Thus Horace ('Carm.,' 1:5) speaks of the custom of hanging up in the temple of Neptune the clothes in which a man had escaped from shipwreck. Slaves when manumitted offered their chains to the Lares; and the idea is so natural that we cannot wonder at its prevalence. One plague was on you all. Rather, "is on you all." It did not cease until the ark had been restored. The Hebrew has on them all; but as all the versions and several MSS. read you all, the substitution of them is probably the mistake of some transcriber. But when the ark was brought to Gath, the hand of Jehovah came upon that city also with very great alarm. גּדולה מהוּמה is subordinated to the main sentence either adverbially or in the accusative. Jehovah smote the people of the city, small and great, so that boils broke out upon their hinder parts.
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