1 Samuel 6
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And the ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months.
Ch. 1 Samuel 6:1-9. The Philistines resolve to send back the Ark

1. The Sept. adds, at the end of the verse, “And their land swarmed with mice,” probably an explanatory gloss in anticipation of 1 Samuel 6:4.

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.
2. diviners] Men who professed to predict future events or interpret the will of heaven by the observation of omens. See Exodus 7:11; Daniel 2:2. Philistine diviners seem to have been celebrated. Cp. Isaiah 2:6.

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.
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).

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.
4. emerods] Or, boils. See note on ch. 1 Samuel 5:6.

according to the number of the lords of the Philistines] The number of the confederate cities was naturally chosen to represent the whole people.

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.
5. images of your mice that mar the land] The Heb. text now first definitely speaks of the plague of mice, which was alluded to in ch. 1 Samuel 5:6. The Sept. as we have seen mentions it in 1 Samuel 5:6 and 1 Samuel 6:1. The extraordinary voracity of field-mice, and the incredible rate at which they multiply, are noticed by many ancient writers on Natural History. Aristotle, in his History of Animals (VI. 37) says, “In many places mice are wont to appear in the fields in such unspeakable numbers, that scarce anything is left of the whole crop. So rapidly do they consume the corn, that in some cases small farmers have observed their crops ripe and ready for the sickle on one day, and coming the next with the reapers, have found them entirely devoured.”

In 1848, it is said, the coffee crop in Ceylon was entirely destroyed by mice.

These images are not to be compared with the talismans or amulets made by magicians and astrologers in later times to effect cures or avert evils, as is done by Kitto, who gives many examples of such charms (Bible Illustrations, p. 84): nor with the thank-offerings for recovery in the form of the injured members which may be seen suspended at the altars of Roman Catholic churches in Switzerland and Italy at the present day: but with “a custom which according to the traveller Tavernier has prevailed in India from time immemorial, that when a pilgrim takes a journey to a pagoda to be cured of a disease, he offers to the idol a present, either in gold, silver, or copper, according to his ability, of the shape of the diseased or injured member. Such a present passes as a practical acknowledgment that the god has inflicted the suffering or evil.” Thus in the present case the Philistines offered “representations of the instruments of their chastisements” as an acknowledgment that the plagues of boils and mice were inflicted by the God of Israel, and were not “a chance.” Thereby they would “give glory to the God of Israel.” Cp. Revelation 16:9.

The question has been raised, whether there was a plague of mice at all. The mouse was the Egyptian symbol of destruction, and the two kinds of images were, it is said, emblematic of the same thing, the pestilence. The words that mar the land may mean no more than “mice such as are commonly found in the country.” The theory is more ingenious than probable. The natural inference from the text certainly is that there was a plague of mice, and it is quite in accordance with the practice of Hebrew writers that in a condensed narrative like the present, the fact of the desolation of the country should be barely mentioned in ch. 1 Samuel 5:6; and the cause of it stated incidentally afterwards.

We should compare (though with caution) the Brazen Serpent (Numbers 21:8). (a) It too represented the instrument of chastisement: (b) Looking to it implied an acknowledgment of sin, and a desire for deliverance from punishment, as did the sending of these offerings by the Philistines.

1 Samuel 6:4-5 stand as follows in the Sept.: “And they say, What shall be the expiation for the plague which we shall return to it? And they said, According to the number of the satraps of the aliens five golden seats, for one calamity was on you, both on your rulers and on the people: and golden mice in the likeness of your mice that mar the land.” Possibly this is an intentional alteration to get rid of the apparent discrepancy with 1 Samuel 6:18. See note there.

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?
6. as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts] A second allusion (cp. ch. 1 Samuel 4:8) to the events of the Exodus. See Exodus 8:15; Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:34.

when he had wrought wonderfully among them] Or, wrought his will upon them. The word is used in Exodus 10:2 (E. V. wrought), and 1 Samuel 31:4 (E. V. abuse). The Sept. renders it by ἐμπαίζειν = mock. But the E. V. may be right here.

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:
7. Now therefore make, &c.] Heb. “And now take and make a new cart” = set to work to make. Cp. 2 Samuel 18:18. The use of a new cart (cp. 2 Samuel 6:3) and unyoked kine (Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3-4) was a natural mark of reverence.

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.
8. jewels of gold] Jewel is here used in a general sense = “any precious or costly object.” The Heb. word simply means “articles” or “vessels.”

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.
9. his own coast] His own border, as in 1 Samuel 6:12. See ch. 1 Samuel 5:6, note. “His” refers to the Ark. The neuter possessive pronoun “its” is not found in the original edition of the E. V. See The Bible Word-Book, p. 272.

to Beth-shemesh] = “House of the Sun,” probably the same as Irshemesh = “City of the Sun” (Joshua 19:41). It was a priestly city (Joshua 21:16) on the border of the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:10), about 12 miles S.E. of Ekron. Its position is identified by the modern village of Ain Shems (= “Fountain of the Sun”) in the Wady es Sŭrâr, and is described by Robinson as “a noble site for a city, a low plateau at the junction of two fine plains,” the “valley” in which the Beth-shemeshites were reaping their wheat (1 Samuel 6:13). “Here are vestiges of a former extensive city, consisting of many foundations and remains of ancient walls of hewn stone … Enough yet remains to make it one of the largest and most marked sites which we had anywhere seen.” Biblical Researches, II. 224.

Beth-shemesh was the scene of Amaziah’s defeat by Jehoash (2 Kings 14:11-12): and with other towns was taken from Ahaz by the Philistines (2 Chronicles 28:18). Its name, and that of Har-cheres = “Mount of the Sun” (Jdg 1:35), which was evidently in the neighbourhood, point to an ancient sun-worship in the country.

then he hath done us this great evil] Observe the completeness of the test. If cows unaccustomed to the yoke drew the cart quietly; if in spite of their natural instincts they deserted their calves; if without human guidance they went straight to the nearest Israelite town; the obvious conclusion must be that they were controlled by a supernatural power, and that that power was the God of Israel. Compare Gideon’s ‘signs,’ consisting of phenomena contrary to expectation (Jdg 6:37 ff.).

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.
10–18. The plan carried out and the Ark restored to Israel

12. took the straight way to the way of Beth-skemesh] Better, went straight forward on the road to Beth-shemesh.

lowing as they went] For their lost calves.

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.
13. they of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest] A description of harvest in Philistia by a modem traveller helps us to realise the scene in the valley of Beth-shemesh, which was suddenly suspended by the appearance of the Ark. “When the fog dispersed the whole plain appeared to be dotted over with harvesting parties, men reaping, women and children gleaning and gathering the grain into bundles, or taking care of the flocks which followed closely upon the footsteps of the gleaners. All seemed to be in good humour, enjoying the cool air of the morning. There was singing alone and in chorus, incessant talking, home-made jokes, and laughter long and loud.” Thomson’s The Land and the Book, p. 543.

This notice fixes the time of year as the end of May or beginning of June. Robinson saw wheat harvest in progress at Gaza on the 19th of May, and just commencing at Hebron on the 4th of June. Bibl. Res. I. 431.

in the valley] Heb. “êmek,” denoting “the long broad sweeps sometimes found between parallel ranges of hills.” Sin. and Pal. p. 481.

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.
14. Joshua a Beth-shemite] Joshua the Beth-shemeshite. Our translators have copied the Vulgate in abbreviating the form, as in the case of ‘Benjamite’ for ‘Benjaminite.’

they clave the wood of the cart, &c.] For a similarly extemporised sacrifice see 2 Samuel 24:22. Cp. also 1 Kings 19:21.

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.
15. And the Levites took down] Rather, in accordance with 1 Samuel 6:14, Now the Levites had taken down. As Beth-shemesh was a priestly city, “Levites” appears to be used here in a general sense to mean “members of the tribe of Levi,” not in its technical sense of “Levites” as distinguished from “priests.” Cp. Exodus 4:14; Joshua 3:3.

the men of Beth-shemesh, &c.] In addition to the offering of the kine mentioned in the previous verse, the inhabitants of the town brought offerings of their own. The burst-offerings symbolized renewed consecration of the worshippers to the service of Jehovah: the sacrifices were thank-offerings to Jehovah for His goodness in restoring the Ark.

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;
17, 18. We have here a specific description of the propitiatory offering actually sent; (a) a golden “boil” for each chief city: (b) a golden mouse for each city and village throughout the whole country. The apparent discrepancy between the latter statement and 1 Samuel 6:4 vanishes if we regard 1 Samuel 6:4 as merely the proposal of the priests, and 1 Samuel 6:18 as a description of what was actually done. The reason for the offering of mice from the whole country probably was that the plague of mice had ravaged the whole country, while the pestilence was chiefly confined to the great cities.

fenced cities] Fortified or walled cities, contrasted with the “country villages” or unwalled towns. Cp. Deuteronomy 3:5.

even unto the great [stone of] Abel] If the present Heb. text is correct, Abel (= “lamentation”) must be regarded as a proper name given to the great stone in Joshua’s field from the lamentation for the disaster recorded in 1 Samuel 6:19. But there is no mention of such a name having been given to it: it is scarcely natural that this stone should be taken as the boundary of the land of the Philistines: and the sentence as it stands is ungrammatical. It seems best to follow the Targum and Sept. in reading “stone” instead of Abel, and to make a slight further alteration of the text, by which we obtain good sense and grammar: either (a) “And the great stone whereon they set down the ark of the Lord is a witness unto this day in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemeshite.” (Cp. Genesis 31:52): or (b) “The great stone … remaineth unto this day.”

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.
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 to 1 Samuel 7:1. The Penalty of Irreverence. Removal of the Ark to Kirjath-jearim

19. because they had looked into the ark] Better, because they had gazed upon the ark. The rendering of the E. V. follows the explanation given by Rabbinic commentators, but the expression used signifies rather “to gaze upon with profane curiosity.” The priests of Beth-shemesh must have known that even the Levites were forbidden to look upon the furniture of the Holy of Holies upon pain of death (Numbers 4:19-20), but instead of hastening to cover it with befitting reverence, they left it exposed to the public gaze, and brought down a judgment which was intended to vindicate the holiness of Jehovah. Certainly they were not punished for the unavoidable sight of the Ark as it approached them, at which they justly rejoiced (1 Samuel 6:13).

It seems not improbable, however, that there is some corruption in the Heb. text here. The repetition “and he smote,” “even he smote,” is somewhat strange, and the Sept. has the following entirely different reading, which may possibly represent an earlier text. “And the sons of Jechonias rejoiced not among the men of Bethsamus because they saw the ark of the Lord: and he smote among them, &c.” i.e. either from indifference or irreligion they took no part in the general rejoicing and were punished for their impiety.

fifty thousand and threescore and ten men] It is generally agreed that there is some mistake in the text here. (a) The anomalous order of the numerals in the Hebrew (70 men 50,000 men), and the absence of the conjunction and mark corruption, (b) The village of Beth-shemesh cannot possibly have contained such a number of inhabitants. It seems best with Josephus and some Heb. MSS. to omit 50,000 altogether. Possibly the number was originally expressed by a letter used as a numerical sign, and explained once rightly and once wrongly in marginal notes, both of which eventually crept into the text. “A like instance of the intrusion of a number into the text is found in Nehemiah 7:70, where the number 500 is erroneously added to the 30 (or 33) Priests’ garments given by Nehemiah, to make up 100 with the 67 given by the congregation. See Ezra 2:69, and Nehemiah 7:72.” Speaker’s Comm. p. 274.

Many explanations of the passage with the retention of the number 50,000 have been attempted. The only one deserving of notice is that 50,000 is the number of the people, 70 the number of those that were smitten among them. But apart from the improbability that the village contained so many inhabitants, (and 1 Samuel 6:21 implies that the news of the return of the Ark had not spread so as to bring in others from a distance), this meaning can only be imposed upon the Hebrew and not fairly extracted from it.

Such errors as this, to which the text of any ancient book is liable in the process of transmission, do not affect the general historical trust-worthiness of the narrative, and the freest acknowledgment of them in no way precludes a full belief in the Inspiration of Scripture.

had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter] Lit., “had smitten the people with a great smiting.”

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?
20. Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?] Before Jehovah this holy God. Holiness is an especial attribute of Jehovah, demanding a corresponding holiness on the part of the people among whom He promised to dwell (Exodus 29:45-46; Leviticus 11:44-45). Chastisement was necessary to teach the men of Beth-shemesh that their sinfulness could not stand before the holiness of God (cp. Malachi 3:2; Luke 5:8): but instead of fitting themselves for His Presence, they desired to free themselves from the harden of it. Cp. Matthew 8:34.

We should compare the judgment upon Uzzah, after which David feared to bring the Ark into Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 6:7-9.)

to whom shall he go up from us?] They regard the Presence of Jehovah as inseparable from the Ark.

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.
21. Kirjath-jearim] i.e. “city of forests,” originally belonged to the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:17), and was one of the frontier cities of Judah (Joshua 15:9).

The site is probably to be fixed at the modern village of Kuryet-el-enab, i.e. “city of the grape,” which stands among the hills, 8 or 9 miles N.E. of Ain Shems. “A ride over ruined rocky paths, some of the worst in the country, brought us to Kureit-el-Enab, the ancient Kirjath-jearim, in a pleasant valley of olive-groves, abounding in jays and hawks. We dismounted to visit the old Gothic church, said to have been built by the English Crusaders, and still quite perfect, though desecrated by the Moslem villagers to the uses of a cow-shed.” Tristram, Land of Israel, p. 397. [See however Add. Note IX. p. 245.]

Kirjath-jearim was also called Baalah (Joshua 15:9), Baale-Judah (2 Samuel 6:2), and Kirjath-baal (Joshua 15:60), names which point to the former existence of Baal-worship in the place.

The Ark was probably taken to Kirjath-jearim, which was neither a priestly nor Levitical city, as being the nearest place of importance on the road to Shiloh, but why it was not restored to its old resting-place does not appear. Possibly Shiloh, as the central seat of worship and government, was occupied by the Philistines after the battle of Aphek. Certainly it never regained its old importance. See Jeremiah 7:12-14; Jeremiah 26:6.

come ye down] Kirjath-jearim was among the hills of Judah on higher ground than Beth-shemesh.

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