And the ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months.1 Samuel 6:1. The ark was in the country of the Philistines seven months — So long they kept it, as being loath to lose so great a prize, and willing to try all ways to keep it.
And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, What shall we do to the ark of the LORD? tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place.1 Samuel 6:2. What shall we do to the ark of the Lord? — Hebrew, Jehovah. They never termed it the ark of Jehovah till this time: but now they seem to have been struck with some apprehension that Jehovah, the God of Israel, was above all gods. Tell us wherewith we shall send it, &c. — They did not call the priests and diviners together, to be resolved whether they should send it home or not, (for upon that point they seem to have been resolved already, 1 Samuel 6:11,) but in what manner it should be sent, and whether accompanied with any presents, to obtain the favour of him whose ark it was.
And they said, If ye send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty; but in any wise return him a trespass offering: then ye shall be healed, and it shall be known to you why his hand is not removed from you.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.
Then said they, What shall be the trespass offering which we shall return to him? They answered, Five golden emerods, and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines: for one plague was on you all, and on your lords.1 Samuel 6:4. Five golden emerods — Figures in gold representing the disease. Five golden mice — Images of the mice which had marred their land by destroying its fruits. According to the number of the lords of the Philistines — Who were five, and were to be at the charge of offering one for each of them. These things they offered, not in contempt of God, for they sought to gain his favour hereby; but in testimony of their humiliation, that, by leaving this monument of their shame and misery, they might obtain pity from God. It may be observed here, that it appears to have been a custom among the ancient heathen, to consecrate unto their gods such monuments of their deliverances as represented the evils from which they were freed. So the Philistines did on this occasion. And, according to Tavernier, this is still practised among the Indians. When any pilgrim goes to a pagod for the cure of a disease, he brings the figure of the member affected; made either of gold, silver, or copper, according to his quality; which he offers to his god, and then falls a singing, as all others do after they have offered. See Travels, page 92.
Wherefore ye shall make images of your emerods, and images of your mice that mar the land; and ye shall give glory unto the God of Israel: peradventure he will lighten his hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land.1 Samuel 6:5. Of your mice that mar the land — By this it appears that their county was infested by mice, which had eaten their corn in the field, and other fruits of the earth, though no mention is made of this before. And give glory to the God of Israel — That is, acknowledge, by this present, that he is the inflicter of these plagues, and has power to remove them, begging his pardon and seeking for healing from him. And hereby give him the glory of his power in conquering you, who seemed to have conquered him; of his justice in punishing you; and of his goodness if he relieve you. For this is the signification of this phrase in a similar case, (Revelation 16:9,) where St. John complains that after many plagues men did not repent. To give glory unto God — That is, to acknowledge his sovereign authority, power, justice, and other attributes.
Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed?1 Samuel 6:6. Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts — They express themselves thus, either because some opposed the sending home the ark, though most had consented to it; or because they thought they would hardly send it away in the manner prescribed, by giving glory to God, and taking shame to themselves.
Now therefore make a new cart, and take two milch kine, on which there hath come no yoke, and tie the kine to the cart, and bring their calves home from them:1 Samuel 6:7. Make a new cart, &c. — It was in honour of the ark that they employed nothing about it that had ever served for any other use. And there was another reason for choosing such kine as are here mentioned; that it might be more manifest that they were led by the God of Israel, if they went directly into his country. For untamed heifers are apt to run back, or to wander, and keep no certain and constant paths, as oxen accustomed to the yoke do; and therefore were very unlikely to keep the direct road to the land of Israel. And the taking their calves from them would excite natural affection in them, and cause them rather to return home to their calves than to go into a strange country.
And take the ark of the LORD, and lay it upon the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which ye return him for a trespass offering, in a coffer by the side thereof; and send it away, that it may go.1 Samuel 6:8. In a coffer by the side thereof — They had either heard, or by their present sufferings were made to fear, that it was dangerous to look into the ark; and therefore they did not open it to put their present within it.
And see, if it goeth up by the way of his own coast to Bethshemesh, then he hath done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that smote us; it was a chance that happened to us.1 Samuel 6:9. And see if it goeth up by his own coast — Without any guide; to Beth-shemesh — A city in the tribe of Judah, in the confines of both countries. Then he hath done this great evil — Hath inflicted this sore calamity upon us. This they might well conclude, if such heifers should, contrary to their custom and natural instinct, go into a strange path, and regularly and constantly proceed in it, without being guided by any one.
And the men did so; and took two milch kine, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home:
And they laid the ark of the LORD upon the cart, and the coffer with the mice of gold and the images of their emerods.
And the kine took the straight way to the way of Bethshemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them unto the border of Bethshemesh.1 Samuel 6:12. The kine took the straight way to Beth-shemesh — Though they had no driver, nor visible director, and had such strong attractives to draw them back, and there were so many other ways in which they might have gone. Lowing as they went — After their calves, which had been taken from them; and hereby evidencing at once both their natural and vehement inclination to their calves, and the supernatural power which overruled them to a contrary course. The lords went — To prevent all imposture, and to get assurance of the truth of the event. All which circumstances tended to the greater illustration of God’s glory.
And they of Bethshemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley: and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it.
And the cart came into the field of Joshua, a Bethshemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they clave the wood of the cart, and offered the kine a burnt offering unto the LORD.1 Samuel 6:14. The cart came into the field of Joshua, and stood there — This was another marvellous thing, that the kine went no further, but stood, as soon as they were come into the territory of a city belonging to the priests, (for such Beth-shemesh was,) whose office it was to take care of the ark. Where there was a great stone — Which seems to have been the boundary of the two countries. They offered the kine — That is, the Beth-shemites, the priests, did this, and not the lords of the Philistines. The great stone probably served for an altar, and on it they offered a whole burnt-offering, in praise to God for his goodness. But was there not a double error in this ?Acts 1 st, In that they offered females for a burnt-offering, contrary to Leviticus 1:3. 2d, In that they did it in a forbidden place? See Deuteronomy 12:5-6. To this it must be answered, that a case so singular is not to be brought to the test of the general rules. These regulations respected only ordinary offerings, and not such as an extraordinary occasion, like this, might require. Besides, the ark being here, and God having not yet appointed any place for its future residence, now Shiloh was destroyed, they thought in reason their sacrifice might be here acceptable to him. And they the rather chose to offer these cows to God, because they considered them as belonging to him, as having drawn his ark, and been particularly directed by him, and therefore to be his sacrifices.
And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD, and the coffer that was with it, wherein the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone: and the men of Bethshemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto the LORD.
And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day.
And these are the golden emerods which the Philistines returned for a trespass offering unto the LORD; for Ashdod one, for Gaza one, for Askelon one, for Gath one, for Ekron one;
And the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fenced cities, and of country villages, even unto the great stone of Abel, whereon they set down the ark of the LORD: which stone remaineth unto this day in the field of Joshua, the Bethshemite.1 Samuel 6:18. Both of fenced cities and country villages — This is added, either to show, that under the name of the five cities were comprehended all the villages and territories belonging to them, in whose name, and at whose charge, these presents were made; or to express the difference between this and the former present, the emerods being only five, according to the five cities mentioned 1 Samuel 6:17; the cities, perhaps, being chiefly afflicted with that disorder; and the mice being many more, according to the number of all the cities and villages, as here expressed. Abel — This is mentioned as the utmost border of the Philistines’ territory, to which the plague of mice extended. And this place is here called Abel by anticipation, from the great mourning mentioned in the following verse. It is desirable to see the ark in its habitation, in all the circumstances of solemnity. But it is better to have it on a great stone, and in the fields of the wood, than to be without it. The intrinsic grandeur of divine ordinances ought not to be diminished in our eyes, by the meanness and poverty of the place where they are administered.
And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.1 Samuel 6:19. Because they had looked into the ark — Which God had forbidden, not only to the common people, but to the sons of Levi also, Numbers 4:20. But the people, having now an opportunity which they had not had before, were moved with a vehement curiosity to see the contents of the ark, forgetting the divine prohibition and their duty. Perhaps they were desirous to see whether the Philistines had taken out the tables of the covenant; or to have a view of such an ancient, sacred monument, written with God’s own hand. Even he smote of the people — In and near Beth-shemesh, and coming from all parts on this occasion. Fifty thousand threescore and ten men — This translation is made by an unaccountable transposition of the words; which, in the Hebrew, lie exactly thus. He smote of the people threescore and ten men, fifty thousand men; the most probable sense of which is this: He smote threescore and ten men, fifty out of a thousand men. That is, God was so merciful as not to slay all that were guilty, but only seventy of them, observing this proportion, that out of a thousand offenders he smote only fifty persons, or a twentieth part. And this interpretation is very easy, by only supplying the letter מmem before אלŠeleph, a thousand, making the sense to be, out of a thousand. And there are many passages of Scripture where this particle is manifestly wanting to make out the true meaning. This translation was long ago proposed by Bochart, and approved by Dr. Waterland, who renders the passage, He smote of the people threescore and ten men out of fifty thousand: which, he says, “is a juster rendering of the Hebrew, and is well defended by Le Clerc upon the place.” Josephus, it must be observed, mentions only seventy Beth-shemites as smitten on this occasion; Antiq., book 6, cap. 2. And Dr. Kennicott appeals to three Hebrew MSS., in confirmation of this sense of the clause. A great slaughter — It was a great slaughter, considering the smallness of this place, probably only a village.
And the men of Bethshemesh said, Who is able to stand before this holy LORD God? and to whom shall he go up from us?1 Samuel 6:20. Who is able to stand? &c. — That is, to minister before the ark, where the Lord is present. Since God is so severe to mark what is amiss in his servants, who is sufficient to serve him? They seem by this to have been made sensible of their rashness, and brought to acknowledge the holiness of God to be such that they were not worthy of his divine presence among them, and therefore they desired that the ark might be placed elsewhere. And to whom shall he go up from us? — Who will dare to receive the ark with so much hazard to themselves? Thus when the word of God works with terror on men’s consciences, instead of taking the blame to themselves, they frequently quarrel with the word, and endeavour to put it from them.
And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjathjearim, saying, The Philistines have brought again the ark of the LORD; come ye down, and fetch it up to you.1 Samuel 6:21. Kirjath-jearim — Whither they sent, either because the place was not far off from them, and so it might soon be removed: or, because it was a place of eminence and strength, and somewhat farther distant from the Philistines, where therefore it was likely to be better preserved from any new attempts of the Philistines, and to be better attended by the Israelites, who would more freely and frequently come to it at such a place than in Beth-shemesh, which was upon the border of their enemies’ land.