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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

1 Samuel 6



Verse 4


‘Five golden emerods, and five golden mice.’

1 Samuel 6:4

Instead of reading, ‘Ye shall make images of your emerods and images of your mice,’ we ought to read, ‘Ye shall make talismans of your emerods and talismans of your mice.’ We get the word ‘talisman’ from the Arabic. The original meaning of the word is doubtful; but the Greeks understood it to denote certain magical characters which were supposed to carry a supernatural force, in short, what we call a charm.

I. What did the diviners of Philistia mean by the golden mice and emerods?—In what way were these images to relieve their bodies from disease and their fields from the swarming mice? It is the answer to this question which yields us a clue to many dark and involved Scriptures.

At first we might think that these golden images were meant simply to express their recognition of the power of that God whose seat was the ark. No doubt they had this meaning. They were a confession that the emerods and mice came from Him, that they were signs of His power and anger; they were a confession that the Philistines had done wrong to offer violence to ‘the ark of His strength.’ But this is only a partial answer to our question. It would have been more natural to any but diviners simply to offer the usual beasts as a sacrifice or trespass offering to the offended god. Why did they rather make tiny golden images? What divination was there in these? What did the diviners, or magicians, mean by them?

The real and full answer to this question comes from the astrological systems of antiquity. Up to about three hundred years ago all men, or almost all, European no less than Asiatic, believed that the stars had a strange mystic influence on the health, fortunes, and destiny of men, cities, kingdoms. They set themselves to read and interpret the heavens; to reduce their interpretations to a science, a system, that they might not only tell, but affect the fortunes of men.

II. I am not prepared to admit that the ‘wise men’ of antiquity were such fools as they are often held to have been, nor such rogues.—I cannot bring myself to believe that they wittingly palmed obvious and monstrous delusions upon their fellows, that they pretented to powers which they knew they did not possess. I should be no whit surprised if science were yet to discover new secrets in the sky, new harmonies between heaven and earth. It may be that as the old Greek historians, whom our fathers set down as credulous setters forth of fables, are now proved to have been accurate and learned chroniclers; so also the diviners and astrologers, whose science we reject as mere imposture, will yet justify themselves and help our sons to a wider scientific knowledge than we have reached.

But whatever influences and predictions are, or are not, in the stars, whatever occult and mysterious harmonies of earth with heaven have yet to be discovered, our principal concern is to know that God worketh all things; that it is He who brings forth the constellations in their season—He who has set ordinances in heaven, and determined their influences upon the earth—He, the Doer of great things past finding out, and wonders that cannot be numbered. He may shape our destinies and predict them by the celestial signs, just as He may administer His providence by the angels who excel in strength, and wait to do His will. These are questions which we may discuss, and on which we may differ.

III. The one question we need to have settled beyond all doubt is, that, whether by subordinate ministers or without them, it is He who shapes our lot and guides our feet; that however many servants He may or may not employ, we are still and always in His hands. If He is our Father, and our reconciled Father, if He loves us and cares for us, it is enough; for if not a sparrow can fall to the ground without our Father, how, without Him, should a star have any influence over us, whether adverse or benign? If He is our Father, and in His minute, tender care of us numbers the very hairs of our heads, how should any angel, be its intents wicked or charitable, be other to us than a spirit of health, a minister of grace? The universe may be more complex and concordant than we suppose, heaven and earth may be more full of august and solemn ministries; between the mighty music of the spheres and the rhythms of human life there may be antiphonies, echoes, responses, too subtle or too vast for our ears to grasp; but so long as the universe is His, and all its innumerable hosts do His will, we may at all times hear the sentinel

Who moves about from place to place,

And whispers to the worlds of space,

In the deep night, that all is well,

God is with us and in us; and His presence is the true talisman. Trusting in this, we are secure in all perils and all vicissitudes. If He make us sore, He will bind up; if He bruise, His hands will make whole. In six troubles He will deliver us, nor in seven shall evil touch us. So that He be with us and for us, we may laugh at ravage and famine, at change and death; for then even the stones of the field will be in league with us and the stars in their courses will fight on our behalf. If we love Him, nothing can in anywise harm us, for nothing can separate us from His love. In Him all things are ours—life and death, heaven and earth—things present and things to come.


‘Sin brings sorrow. So was it with Israel long ago. The tyranny of the Philistines and the exile of the ark, these were the bitter harvests of the people’s transgressions. So is it with me to-day. After I sin, “there follows a mist and a weeping rain, and life is never the same again.” In my outer history or my inner history, in others who are influenced by me, I reap a dreary wage. Ah, they are wisest who are simple concerning evil. But sorrow should lead on to penitence. It should bend and break my heart. It should kindle again my desires after God. And penitence brings God near once more, in grace, in blessing, in peace.’


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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 6:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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