Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary
Diviners. The priests generally pretended to a knowledge of magic, among the pagans. (Calmet)
If, &c. The lords were already determined to send back the ark. But the priests knew that some still would not believe that it was the cause of their affliction. To convince all, they try an experiment, which would decide the matter; and in case the ark went back, some suitable presents must accompany it, as a propitiation (Haydock) for the sin which they would not (Menochius) then doubt had been incurred. (Haydock) --- Though God stands in need of nothing, all must acknowledge their dependence on him. The pagans always made some present, when they appeared before their idols or monarchs, and God requires the like testimony of submission, Exodus xxiii. 15.
Provinces. Hebrew seranim, "lords." --- Emerods. Theodoret observes, that the tombs of the martyrs were adorned with figures of eyes, &c., in gratitude for their having procured redress for the afflicted. --- Israel, whose ark you have treated in an improper manner. (Calmet) --- You shall thus confess that He chastises, and grants health. (Menochius) --- Gods. Not only Dagon, but the other idols, were humbled, (Haydock) though the Hebrew word denotes also one god, or princes, &c.
Hearts. Even these confess that obduracy proceeds from men; (Worthington) though Calvin would make God the author of it. (Haydock)
New cart. It would have been deemed irreverent to use one that had been employed for other profane purposes, 2 Kings vi. 3. --- Home. All these circumstances tended to prevent the ark from being conveyed home, (Calmet) unless Providence interfered.
Box. Hebrew argaz, (which the Septuagint retain; Haydock) means also "a purse or basket." (Calmet) --- Josephus ([Antiquities?] vi. 1,) says, "the box was placed upon the ark." (Haydock) --- We do not read what became of these presents afterwards: but it is supposed that they were kept in the sanctuary till the time of the captivity. (Calmet)
Way. Josephus observes, that they stationed the kine at three lane ends; (Haydock) and, as we may infer from the Hebrew (ver. 12,) rather with their heads turned from Bethsames. But, by this conduct, did they not tempt God? Some believe that He inspired them on this occasion, (Estius) that even his enemies might be convinced, (Haydock) the grace of prophecy being frequently granted to wicked men, like Balaam: others believe that He gave success to their plan, though it was dictated by superstition. Even the devil sometimes speaks the truth. (Mendoza) (Calmet) --- People frequently use to pitch upon signs, to which God often assented, Proverbs xvi. 33., (Menochius) and Genesis xxiv. 14. (Haydock)
Wheat, about Pentecost, in May; so that the ark must have been taken in November. (Menochius)
Bethsamite, not the renowned general. (Calmet) --- Stone, which served instead of an altar. (Menochius) --- Lord. Some pretend that the lords of the Philistines followed so far, and offered this holocaust, as the cart belonged to them: but the Bethsamites might suppose that they had abandoned their property, as well as the golden figures; and, as the city belonged to the priests, it is most probable that they would perform this office. Males indeed were to be offered in the tabernacle. But this was an extraordinary case; so that, if there were no priests, the sacrifice might be lawful (Calmet) by dispensation, as we see Samuel and Elias did the like. (Haydock) --- The kine and cart being consecrated to God, it was thought that they could not be turned to a more suitable purpose. (Calmet) --- The ark was also present, on account of which, sacrifices were offered in the tabernacle. The arguments of Abulensis, (q. 19,) who accuses the Bethsamites of sin on this account, are not therefore satisfactory. (Menochius)
Vessels. Protestants less properly, "jewels of gold." (Haydock)
Day. It was distant about 18 miles. (Calmet) --- Provinces. Hebrew, "lords." Some think that only five images of each sort were inclosed in the box: others suppose that the people of each village presented a golden mouse, to satisfy their own devotion, and that they might not be infested with such vermin. Clarius thinks they also sent an equal number of the other images of the anus, chap. v. (Haydock)
Abel. A stone or rock, on which the Jews say Abraham had offered sacrifice; (St. Jerome, Trad. T.[Tirinus?]) Hebrew, "or mourning," was so called afterwards, on account of so many being slain; (Menochius) so the place, to which the Egyptians accompanied the remains of Jacob, was styled "Abol," the mourning of Egypt, Genesis l. 11. (Haydock) --- The Septuagint read Abon, "the stone." All the towns belonging to the Philistines, as far as this place, sent each their golden images, or contributed towards those which were presented by the five lords. --- Which, ark, according to the Vulgate, though some would explain it of the stone. The ark might remain here for some time, and would probably have continued longer, if the people had not been so much afflicted. In the mean time, this record may have been written, as it was afterwards inserted in this book. (Calmet) --- Which, though of the feminine gender, is referred to stone, because Abol is of that description, (Menochius) and we find several such allusions to the Hebrew in our version. Protestants, "unto the great stone of Abel, whereon they set down the ark of the Lord, which stone remaineth unto this day," &c. (Haydock; Vatable, &c.) --- Others think that the ark remained there till it was removed to Cariathiarim, chap. vii. 1. Malvenda says, the memory of the transaction was fresh till the author wrote; while others maintain, that the golden figures continued with the ark till that time. (Calmet) --- The Roman Septuagint omits the words till this day; and reads, "where they placed upon it (the stone) the ark....upon the stone in the field," &c. Then with the Alexandrian copy, and Procopius, &c., it subjoins 19. "And the sons of Jechonias did not approve, among the men of Bethsames, that they saw the ark of the Lord, and he slew of them 70 men, and 50,000 of the people." Theodoret suspects that they were more impious than the rest. But we might as well say that they shewed more (Calmet) reverence, as we may explain slew them, to denote the two curious citizens, (Haydock) if any dependence could be had on this addition. (Calmet)
Seen; and curiously looked into. It is likely this plague reached to all the neighbouring country, as well as the city of Bethsames. (Challoner) --- For we need not suppose that all these deaths took place in one day. The ark seems to have continued there for some time, ver. 18. Hebrew, "because they had looked into, or at the ark." (Haydock) --- It was unlawful, even for the Levites, to touch or to look at the ark uncovered; (Tirinus; Numbers iv. 15, 20,) and the Hebrew expression into, is often taken in this sense, Proverbs vii. 15., and xi. 4. --- Men of rank. (St. Gregory, &c.) "Ancients," Chaldean. Some would suppose that only these 70 perished, and were of as much value as 50,000 of the common people: for they will not allow that he latter number was slain. Out of that number, 70 were made victims of the divine justice. (Tirinus; Sa) --- Bochart translates, "he slew 70 out of 50,000." The Syriac and Arabic read, "5070 men." Josephus only admits 70 who were slain, "because they dared to touch the ark with their profane hands, as they were not priests." Hebrew, "and he slew of the people 70 men, 50,000 men. (Calmet) --- Kennicott seems to suspect that a cipher has been added in the Hebrew at the end. Protestants, "50,000, and threescore and ten men." (Haydock) --- Some would insert aderant in the Vulgate, and 50,000 "were present." (Du Hamel) --- The Chaldean, Septuagint, &c., constantly retain these numbers, and we must not judge of God severity by our feeble reason. (Calmet) --- This decision is the most common. (Menochius) --- The people had indulged their curiosity, to see whether the Philistines had taken the tables of the law out of the ark, &c. (Serarius) --- As the ark was terrible to the infidels, so it was also to those true believers, who treated it with disrespect. (Worthington)
Us. These words may denote that they thought God too severe, or else, that they judged themselves unworthy of his presence. There is no proportion between an offence of God, and what the creature can do to make him satisfaction. (Calmet)
Up. This is the import of the Hebrew. The Vulgate reducite, "bring it back," insinuates, that the Bethsamites desired the people of Cariathiarim to convey the ark to their city, on the road to Silo, where they probably thought it ought to be placed, in the tabernacle. But it seems God ordered it otherwise, and the ark was never restored to its former splendid station, surrounded with all the vessels and ornaments of the tabernacle. David made something similar, and place an altar before it, while the Mosaic tabernacle and altar were removed from Silo to Nobe, (chap. xxi. 1.) and afterwards to Gabaon, 2 Paralipomenon i. 5. Salien (the year of the world 3030) doubts not but they were thence translated to Solomon's temple, during the octave of the dedication, along with those of David, from Mount Sion, 2 Paralipomenon v. 2., and viii. 3. Why the ark was not placed in this most magnificent abode, but removed from the stone of Abel to the houses of Abinadab, of Obededom, of David in Sion, till all the original ornaments, prescribed by God to Moses, with a still more splendid apparatus, met to adorn the temple of Solomon, we cannot easily explain. Perhaps it might be to render that event more glorious, and to represent the troubled state of the Jewish Synagogue, immediately preceding the appearance of the great Redeemer, who would establish a church without spot or wrinkle, shining brighter than the sun, and replenished with all heavenly graces. (Haydock) --- Cariathiarim is the same place as Cariathbaal, and Baala, (Josue xv. 9, 60.) Baalim Juda, (2 Kings vi. 2.) and Sedeiarim, about ten miles from Jerusalem. Gabaa was "a hill," (Calmet) belonging to the same city, where the house of Abinadab stood; (Haydock) and Nobe was also in the vicinity, while Silo was much farther north. (Calmet) --- The priests still remained, and offered sacrifice in the tabernacle, though occasionally some of them might come to offer extraordinary victims before the ark, in those private houses which were thus converted, as it were, into the holy of holies. Salien, the year of the world 2941, were he observes from St. Jerome, that the tabernacle was removed to Nobe about the same time as the ark was deposited at Cariathiarim; and no doubt both the translations were in consequence of the divine command, signified by the mouth of his prophet Samuel. (Haydock)