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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 6

 

 

Introduction

SECTION 1. The Birth, Rise, Prophetic Ministry And Judgeship of Samuel (1-12).

This first section of the book covers the life of Samuel from his birth to the setting up of Saul as king in response to the people’s request. The first three chapters deal with the birth and spiritual growth of Samuel. This is then followed in chapter 4 by the Philistine invasion in which the Ark of YHWH of hosts is lost to Israel, something which takes place while Samuel is still a youth. That loss indicates YHWH’s demonstration of the fact that He no longer sees Himself as king over an Israel that has forsaken Him. However, He then goes on to demonstrate His authority over the gods of the Philistines by bringing disaster on them, so that His Ark is restored to Israel by the Philistines, who also pay Him generous tribute. The Ark is then placed with due honour (after a previous unfortunate incident) in the house of Abinadab where it will remain for many years. It is a recognised symbol that YHWH is still present as King over His people, and will therefore, once they turn back to Him, act on their behalf through His appointed deliverers.

This will firstly be through Samuel in this section, then through Saul before he is finally rejected, in the next section, and then through the young David in the final section, until he is outlawed and then exiled as a result of Saul’s activities. As a result of his exile there will be a lull, and the Philistines triumph. But in the second part of the book David will become the Spirit inspired king, the Philistines will be defeated, and then the Ark will be restored for public worship, having been ‘purified’ by its period spent in the house of Abinadab. The Kingship of YHWH has triumphed.

B). The Ark As The Focal Point Of The Kingship Of YHWH (4:1b-7:14).

The emphasis in this subsection is on the Kingship of YHWH as revealed by the Ark which is the symbol of His Kingship. Because of His people’s disobedience and sinfulness as revealed through their priesthood YHWH refuses to act to deliver Israel, and allows the Ark to be taken. But when the Ark is brought to Ashdod the idol Dagon falls before YHWH and is smashed to pieces. Thus even in Ashdod YHWH is revealed as King. Then through plague, and a multiplying of vermin, YHWH brings His judgment on them because of the disrespect that they have shown to the Ark, so that in the end the Philistines recognise that they must return it to Israel along with suitable homage in the form of Gifts.

But those who receive it in Israel also treat it with disrespect, even though they are priests, demonstrating that their hearts are not right towards YHWH, and they too are therefore smitten and punished, and the Ark is then placed in a household where it is respected and honoured, and where it will remain for many years.

The King being therefore once again among His people they learn, after a twenty-year period of mourning during which He is silent, that if they will turn from their idols and seek Him, He will deliver them from the Philistines. And, as a result of the prayers of His prophet Samuel, the Philistines are then driven from the land.

We are not to see the Ark as forgotten. It is its very presence in Israel that evidences the fact that YHWH has not finally deserted His people, and the writer intends us to see its presence as indicating that YHWH is still there as Israel’s King, overseeing their future both for good and bad.

Analysis.

a The Philistines defeat Israel and capture the Ark of God (1 Samuel 4:1-22).

b The Ark of God is taken to Ashdod and the idol Dagon falls before YHWH and is smashed in pieces (1 Samuel 5:1-5).

c The Ark of God brings misery and plague on the Philistines who disrespect it (1 Samuel 5:6-12).

d The Ark of God is returned to Israel with reparations (1 Samuel 6:1-16).

c The Ark of God brings misery on the Israelites who disrespect it (1 Samuel 6:17 to 1 Samuel 7:2).

b The Ark of God is suitably re-established in Israel and they are promised that if they return to YHWH and put away their idolatry they will be delivered from the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:3-4).

a The Ark having been restored, Israel defeat the Philistines through the prayers of Samuel (1 Samuel 7:5-14).

Note that in ‘a’ the Philistines defeat Israel and the Ark of God is defiled, while in the parallel the Ark of God is re-established and Israel defeat the Philistines. In ‘b’ the Ark is taken to Ashdod and the idol Dagon falls before it and is smashed in pieces, and in the parallel, on the restoration of the Ark Israel are called on to denounce their idols. In ‘c’ the Ark bring misery on the Philistines who disrespect it and in the parallel it brings misery on the people of Israel who disrespect it. In ‘d’ the Ark of God returns in triumph to Israel, being duly honoured by the Philistines.

Chapter 6.

The Ark of God Is Returned to Israel With Due Tributes and Reparations (1 Samuel 6:1-16).

Having determined to return the Ark to Israel the Philistines had a problem. How were they going to propitiate the God of Israel for what they had done in bringing His Ark to Philistia? They wanted to ensure that they did not antagonise Him further. So they consulted their own priests and diviners.

The solution was that they would return the Ark with a trespass ( or ‘guilt’) offering, admitting that they had trespassed and making compensation. If healing then took place in the land it would indicate that it was YHWH Who had done it.

But the question then was, what would be a suitable offering? Their solution is interesting in indicating the common customs that were shared in the Ancient Near East. The golden tumours and the golden rodents were an indication that they recognised that the tumours and the rodents in their land had been sent by YHWH, and acted as a plea that they be removed from the land in the same way as these golden replicas were being. We can compare how when the earlier Israelites had been judged by having poisonous snakes sent among them, their remedy was to make a replica of the snakes in gold and offer it to YHWH in recognition of the fact that their judgment had come from Him. Then whoever looked to it as something that was now the possession of YHWH lived. That replica was still in the Tabernacle to that day. Similarly it was the custom in India for a pilgrim who visited a pagoda seeking healing to take with him a gift offering of gold, shaped into the fashion of the diseased part, indicating their recognition that their disease had been inflicted by the gods.

The next thing was to take a new, unused cart and attach to it two milch cows which had never been under the yoke, and use them to bear the Ark. This would then make them the possession of YHWH, as the Israelites recognised when they used them for sacrificial purposes. For the use of a new cart compare 2 Samuel 18:18. For the use of beasts never before under the yoke as a kind of offering compare Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3-4.

The final test would then be whether two cows who had never borne the yoke, and whose calves had been taken from them, would willingly pull the cart and head straight for an Israelite town. If they did this it would be a sign that YHWH wanted His Ark to return home. On the other hand if they returned to where they expected their calves to be, or refused to draw the cart, it would indicate that no god was involved at all.

Analysis.

a And the Ark of YHWH was in the country of the Philistines seven months. And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, “What shall we do with the Ark of YHWH? Show us by what method we shall send it to its place” (1 Samuel 6:1-2).

b And they said, “If you send away the Ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty; but whatever you do return Him a trespass-offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why His hand is not removed from you” (1 Samuel 6:3).

c Then said they, “What shall be the trespass-offering which we shall return to him?” And they said, “Five golden tumours/boils, and five golden rodents, 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).

d For this reason you shall make images of your tumours, and images of your rodents that mar the land; and you shall give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps He will lighten His hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land” (1 Samuel 6:5).

e “Why then do you 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).

f “Now therefore take and prepare for you a new cart, and two milch cows, on which there has come no yoke; and tie the cows to the cart, and bring their calves home from them, and take the ark of YHWH, and lay it on the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which you return him for a trespass-offering, in a container by its side, and send it away, that it may go” (1 Samuel 6:7-8).

g “And watch. If it goes up by the way of its own border to Beth-shemesh, then He has done us this great evil, but if not, then we will know that it is not His hand that smote us. It was a chance that happened to us” (1 Samuel 6:9).

f And the men did so, and took two milch cows, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home, and they put the ark of YHWH on the cart, and the container with the rodents of gold and the images of their tumours/boils (1 Samuel 6:10-11).

e ‘And the cows took the direct way by the way to Beth-shemesh. They went along the highway, lowing as they went, and did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them to the border of Beth-shemesh (1 Samuel 6:12).

d And they who were of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley, and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it (1 Samuel 6:13).

c And the cart came into the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they split the wood of the cart, and offered up the cows for a burnt-offering to YHWH (1 Samuel 6:14).

b And the Levites took down the ark of YHWH, and the container that was with it, in which the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone, and the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt-offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day to YHWH (1 Samuel 6:15).

a And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day (1 Samuel 6:16).

Note that in ‘a’ the Philistines wanted to know how they could satisfactorily return the Ark, and in the parallel they were satisfied that they had succeeded. In ‘b’ they were informed that they must return a trespass offering, and in the parallel the offering is put on the great stone, and burnt offerings and sacrifices were offered to YHWH. In ‘c’ whatever they did they must send a trespass offering, and in the parallel their cart and milch cows are offered as a burnt offering to YHWH. In ‘d’ the Philistines were to give glory to the God of Israel, and in the parallel the Israelites rejoiced before God at the return of the Ark. In ‘e’ reference is made to the fact that Israel had to let God’s people go, and in the parallel the Philistines let God’s Ark go. In ‘f’ the Philistines were told how to send off the Ark in a new cart with unyoked milch cows, with the golden treasure on the cart, and in the parallel they do precisely that. Centrally in ‘h’ the successful operation will reveal that it was truly YHWH Who had smitten them.

The Ark of God Brings Misery On The Israelites Who Disrespect It (1 Samuel 6:17 to 1 Samuel 7:2).

The rejoicing of Israel turned to lamentation as a result of the irreverent behaviour of the priests who had grown careless in respect of holy things, due no doubt to the influence of the two sons of Eli. The trophies sent by the Philistines and the Ark of YHWH were set down on the great stone, but it became a ‘stone of lamentation’ (Abel) when instead of fulfilling their duty and covering the Ark, which they knew should not have been exposed to public gaze (see Numbers 4:5), they stood and stared at it in its uncovered state. The result was that seventy men died, of whom fifty were chief men. (It may be that they went too close and thus became flea infected although no mention is made of plague). The result was that all the people ‘lamented (abel). Their rejoicing had become lamentation.

So they talked together and decided to call on the principle town of the area to send men to fetch the Ark of YHWH, and it was taken to the house of Abinadab on the hill, and there it was put under the care of Eleazar his son who was sanctified for the task, where it remained for over twenty years, while the voice of YHWH was silent. And the whole nation lamented after YHWH. They were slowly being brought to see how deeply they had failed Him.

Analysis.

a And these are the golden tumours which the Philistines returned for a trespass-offering to YHWH: for Ashdod one, for Gaza one, for Ashkelon one, for Gath one, for Ekron one, and the golden rodents, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fortified cities and of country villages, even to the great stone of lamentation (or ‘Abel’), on which they set down the ark of YHWH, which stone remains to this day in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite (1 Samuel 6:17-18).

b And He smote of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had gazed irreverently at the ark of YHWH. He smote of the people seventy men, fifty of them chief men, and the people mourned (abel) , because YHWH had smitten the people with a great slaughter (1 Samuel 6:19).

c And the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before YHWH, this holy God? and to whom shall He go up from us?” And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-yearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of YHWH, you come down, and fetch it up to you” (1 Samuel 6:20-21).

b And the men of Kiriath-yearim came, and fetched up the ark of YHWH, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of YHWH (1 Samuel 7:1).

a And it came about, from the day that the ark abode in Kiriath-yearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after YHWH (1 Samuel 7:2).

Note that in ‘a’ the great stone is called ‘the great Abel’, the stone of great lamentation, and in the parallel the people lament (nahah) after YHWH. In ‘b’ the Ark is treated with irreverence, and in the parallel it is treated with great reverence. In ‘c’ they ask what they are to do with the Ark now that they have been faced up with their error and then answer their own question


Verses 1-16

Chapter 6.

The Ark of God Is Returned to Israel With Due Tributes and Reparations (1 Samuel 6:1-16).

Having determined to return the Ark to Israel the Philistines had a problem. How were they going to propitiate the God of Israel for what they had done in bringing His Ark to Philistia? They wanted to ensure that they did not antagonise Him further. So they consulted their own priests and diviners.

The solution was that they would return the Ark with a trespass ( or ‘guilt’) offering, admitting that they had trespassed and making compensation. If healing then took place in the land it would indicate that it was YHWH Who had done it.

But the question then was, what would be a suitable offering? Their solution is interesting in indicating the common customs that were shared in the Ancient Near East. The golden tumours and the golden rodents were an indication that they recognised that the tumours and the rodents in their land had been sent by YHWH, and acted as a plea that they be removed from the land in the same way as these golden replicas were being. We can compare how when the earlier Israelites had been judged by having poisonous snakes sent among them, their remedy was to make a replica of the snakes in gold and offer it to YHWH in recognition of the fact that their judgment had come from Him. Then whoever looked to it as something that was now the possession of YHWH lived. That replica was still in the Tabernacle to that day. Similarly it was the custom in India for a pilgrim who visited a pagoda seeking healing to take with him a gift offering of gold, shaped into the fashion of the diseased part, indicating their recognition that their disease had been inflicted by the gods.

The next thing was to take a new, unused cart and attach to it two milch cows which had never been under the yoke, and use them to bear the Ark. This would then make them the possession of YHWH, as the Israelites recognised when they used them for sacrificial purposes. For the use of a new cart compare 2 Samuel 18:18. For the use of beasts never before under the yoke as a kind of offering compare Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3-4.

The final test would then be whether two cows who had never borne the yoke, and whose calves had been taken from them, would willingly pull the cart and head straight for an Israelite town. If they did this it would be a sign that YHWH wanted His Ark to return home. On the other hand if they returned to where they expected their calves to be, or refused to draw the cart, it would indicate that no god was involved at all.

Analysis.

a And the Ark of YHWH was in the country of the Philistines seven months. And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, “What shall we do with the Ark of YHWH? Show us by what method we shall send it to its place” (1 Samuel 6:1-2).

b And they said, “If you send away the Ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty; but whatever you do return Him a trespass-offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why His hand is not removed from you” (1 Samuel 6:3).

c Then said they, “What shall be the trespass-offering which we shall return to him?” And they said, “Five golden tumours/boils, and five golden rodents, 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).

d For this reason you shall make images of your tumours, and images of your rodents that mar the land; and you shall give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps He will lighten His hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land” (1 Samuel 6:5).

e “Why then do you 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).

f “Now therefore take and prepare for you a new cart, and two milch cows, on which there has come no yoke; and tie the cows to the cart, and bring their calves home from them, and take the ark of YHWH, and lay it on the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which you return him for a trespass-offering, in a container by its side, and send it away, that it may go” (1 Samuel 6:7-8).

g “And watch. If it goes up by the way of its own border to Beth-shemesh, then He has done us this great evil, but if not, then we will know that it is not His hand that smote us. It was a chance that happened to us” (1 Samuel 6:9).

f And the men did so, and took two milch cows, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home, and they put the ark of YHWH on the cart, and the container with the rodents of gold and the images of their tumours/boils (1 Samuel 6:10-11).

e ‘And the cows took the direct way by the way to Beth-shemesh. They went along the highway, lowing as they went, and did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them to the border of Beth-shemesh (1 Samuel 6:12).

d And they who were of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley, and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it (1 Samuel 6:13).

c And the cart came into the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they split the wood of the cart, and offered up the cows for a burnt-offering to YHWH (1 Samuel 6:14).

b And the Levites took down the ark of YHWH, and the container that was with it, in which the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone, and the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt-offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day to YHWH (1 Samuel 6:15).

a And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day (1 Samuel 6:16).

Note that in ‘a’ the Philistines wanted to know how they could satisfactorily return the Ark, and in the parallel they were satisfied that they had succeeded. In ‘b’ they were informed that they must return a trespass offering, and in the parallel the offering is put on the great stone, and burnt offerings and sacrifices were offered to YHWH. In ‘c’ whatever they did they must send a trespass offering, and in the parallel their cart and milch cows are offered as a burnt offering to YHWH. In ‘d’ the Philistines were to give glory to the God of Israel, and in the parallel the Israelites rejoiced before God at the return of the Ark. In ‘e’ reference is made to the fact that Israel had to let God’s people go, and in the parallel the Philistines let God’s Ark go. In ‘f’ the Philistines were told how to send off the Ark in a new cart with unyoked milch cows, with the golden treasure on the cart, and in the parallel they do precisely that. Centrally in ‘h’ the successful operation will reveal that it was truly YHWH Who had smitten them.

1 Samuel 6:1

And the ark of YHWH was in the country of the Philistines seven months.’

It is possible that this should be seen as the ending of 1 Samuel 5. The point is to emphasise the drawn out sufferings of the Philistines, and it bring out why the plague had time to spread.

1 Samuel 6:2

And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, “What shall we do with the ark of YHWH? Show us by what method we shall send it to its place.” ’

The plagues had made the Philistines recognise that they had offended YHWH. And having decided to send the Ark back they wanted to ensure that they did not offend Him even more. So they called together their priests and their diviners in order to obtain their advice on precisely how to do it so as to pacify YHWH. The fear of YHWH had taken hold of them. Philistine soothsayers and diviners appear to have been especially well known and highly thought of (Isaiah 2:6)

1 Samuel 6:3

And they said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty; but whatever you do return him a trespass-offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why his hand is not removed from you.”

Their advice was that YHWH should be given a trespass offering, in order to atone for their trespass against Him. (We must not directly interpret this in terms of the Israelite trespass offering which had its own significance). Thus they must not send the Ark away just on its own, but must include a trespass offering with it. Then their land would be healed. And as a result they would know why YHWH was continuing to plague them at this point in time.

1 Samuel 6:4

‘Then said they, “What shall be the trespass-offering which we shall return to him?” And they said, “Five golden tumours/boils, and five golden rodents, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines; for one plague was on you all, and on your lords.” ’

The next question was as to what would be a suitable offering. The reply was that they must atone for the behaviour of all five Philistine Tyrants, together with their cities, by sending to YHWH five golden tumours or plague boils, and five golden rodents. Nothing has previously been said about rodents. It was the plague that had really upset the people. But clearly they had also noticed an increase in rodents which they had also attributed to YHWH. (They had, of course, not connected the two, but these may well have been flea-covered rats who were spreading the plague. Alternatively it might have been a separate plague of mice which were eating up their crops. Such mice can multiply rapidly and destroy huge areas of land).

The golden tumours and the golden rodents were an indication that they recognised that the tumours and the rodents in their land had been sent by YHWH, and acted as a plea that they be removed from the land in the same way as these golden replicas were being. We can compare how when the earlier Israelites had been judged by having poisonous snakes sent among them, their remedy was to make a replica of the snakes in gold and offer it to YHWH in recognition of the fact that their judgment had come from Him. Then whoever looked to it as something that was now the possession of YHWH lived. That replica was still in the Tabernacle to that day. Similarly it was the custom in India for a pilgrim who visited a pagoda seeking healing to take with him a gift offering of gold, shaped into the fashion of the diseased part, indicating their recognition that their disease had been inflicted by the gods.

1 Samuel 6:5

For this reason you shall make images of your tumours, and images of your rodents that mar the land; and you shall give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land.”

So these were to be made and offered to the God of Israel indicating that they recognised that it was He Who had punished them, and by this means they would give glory to the God of Israel. The hope was that He would then leave them, and their gods, and their land alone. Note how their words exalt YHWH over the Philistine gods, as the writer intends us to recognise.

(This very fact suggests that the Philistines did not in fact destroy YHWH’s Sanctuary at Shiloh around this time. Having had one experience of YHWH they would tend to be more wary how they treated what belonged personally to Him. This would not deter them from attacking His people. That would not have been seen by them as sacrilegious, for they did not realise how YHWH felt about His people when they were being faithful to the covenant. But to desecrate YHWH’s own sanctuary would have been something that they would think twice about. Possibly when the effects of this experience of YHWH died down they decided to take revenge. But we are in fact nowhere told that it was the Philistines who destroyed Shiloh. For what information we have see Psalms 78:60; Jeremiah 7:12; Jeremiah 7:14; Jeremiah 26:6; Jeremiah 26:9. All we know from this is that YHWH deserted it and that it fell into ruin, perhaps because Israel itself decided to move the Tabernacle elsewhere. It was later to be found at Nob (1 Samuel 21:1-4) which was less accessible to the Philistines. But that was many years later).

1 Samuel 6:6

“Why then do you 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?”

The priests and diviners now revealed their knowledge of Israel’s history for they suggested to the Philistine leaders that they should get a move on and not harden their hearts as the Egyptian Pharaoh had done. The only result for Egypt had been that the plagues had got worse. And in the end they had had to let the Israelites go anyway. So delay could only be seen as foolish.

1 Samuel 6:7-8

“Now therefore take and prepare for you a new cart, and two milch cows, on which there has come no yoke; and tie the cows to the cart, and bring their calves home from them, and take the ark of YHWH, and lay it on the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which you return him for a trespass-offering, in a container by its side, and send it away, that it may go.”

The trespass offering to YHWH was to be sent under suitable conditions. It should be sent on a new cart that had never been used, drawn by two milch cows (cows used specifically for providing milk) that had never known the yoke. Nothing that had been defiled by daily activities must bear the Ark of YHWH (compare 2 Samuel 18:18; Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3-4).

But there was to be a test. The calves of the two milch cows should be returned to their homes. The natural thing for the milch cows to do would therefore be to return home to their calves. If they did so, it would demonstrate that YHWH could not even control two milch cows, and would show that YHWH had not been responsible for all that had happened.

1 Samuel 6:9

“And watch. If it goes up by the way of its own border to Beth-shemesh, then he has done us this great evil, but if not, then we will know that it is not his hand that smote us. It was a chance that happened to us.”

So they were to watch. If the cart with the milch cows drawing it made for Bethshemesh it would prove that YHWH was responsible for their misfortunes. On the other hand if it did not then it would demonstrate that He was powerless and had not smitten them. It would demonstrate that everything that had happened had happened by chance.

1 Samuel 6:10

And the men did so, and took two milch cows, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home, and they put the ark of YHWH on the cart, and the container with the rodents of gold and the images of their tumours/boils.

So the Philistines did precisely as they were advised. It should be noted that this was seen as so important that the Philistine tyrants themselves took a personal interest in the matter, for they would accompany the cart to the border (1 Samuel 6:11).

1 Samuel 6:12

And the cows took the direct way by the way to Beth-shemesh. They went along the highway, lowing as they went, and did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them to the border of Beth-shemesh.’

To their partial astonishment (they had not been sure what would happen) the cows on being released made straight for Beth-shemesh. They went directly along the highway as though they were being driven by an invisible rein. They lowed as they went. This may have been because they were calling for their calves, but the writer probably wants us to see them as praising YHWH. And more importantly they did not turn aside to either the right hand or the left. What was more they were followed by the entourages of the five Philistine Tyrants. The matter was being treated very seriously.

Beth-shemesh means ‘house of the sun’. No doubt its previous inhabitants had been sun-worshippers. But that was in the past. It was now a priestly city (Joshua 21:16). It would later be captured by the Philistines in the time of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:18).

1 Samuel 6:13

And they who were of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley, and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it.’

The priests and their families in Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest. Men and women would both be spread widely in the fields singing and laughing as they reaped the harvest. When they saw the cart containing the Ark of the covenant of YHWH coming towards them they would hardly have been able to believe their eyes. It would have seemed like a miracle (which of course it was). And once they had got over the shock they came together and broke out in rejoicing and praising YHWH.

1 Samuel 6:14

And the cart came into the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they split the wood of the cart, and offered up the cows for a burnt-offering to YHWH.’

And the cart came into the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite and stood by the great stone. The watching Philistines must have been impressed. The great stone was suitable for use as an altar, and the cows had gone straight up to it. And as they watched, the Israelite priests took the cart and cut it up and used the wood to light a sacrificial fire. Then they took the milch cows and offered them up as a burnt-offering. (This was quite legitimate because it was ‘before the Ark of YHWH’ which symbolised the legitimate Sanctuary).

Note how, having described the arrival of the cart, we are immediately told what they did with it, and this prior to telling us about taking down the Ark. (They could hardly have cut the cart up without taking the Ark down). This is a typically Hebrew way of presenting things that is also found elsewhere.

1 Samuel 6:15

And the Levites had taken down the ark of YHWH, and the container that was with it, in which the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone, and the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt-offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day to YHWH.’

Prior to this the Levites (that is, the priests, who were of the tribe of Levi) had previously taken down the Ark of YHWH together with the container containing the trespass offering, and placed them on the great stone. And they now proceeded to offer up further burnt-offerings and to sacrifice sacrifices. The burnt offerings were an indication of their total dedication to YHWH. The sacrifices would be freewill and thanksgiving sacrifices, the meat from which would enable them to celebrate in a feast of rejoicing.

1 Samuel 6:16

And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day.’

Meanwhile the five Tyrants, having satisfied themselves that it really was the God of Israel Who was responsible for their problems, returned with their retinues to Ekron.


Verses 17-21

The Ark of God Brings Misery On The Israelites Who Disrespect It (1 Samuel 6:17 to 1 Samuel 7:2).

The rejoicing of Israel turned to lamentation as a result of the irreverent behaviour of the priests who had grown careless in respect of holy things, due no doubt to the influence of the two sons of Eli. The trophies sent by the Philistines and the Ark of YHWH were set down on the great stone, but it became a ‘stone of lamentation’ (Abel) when instead of fulfilling their duty and covering the Ark, which they knew should not have been exposed to public gaze (see Numbers 4:5), they stood and stared at it in its uncovered state. The result was that seventy men died, of whom fifty were chief men. (It may be that they went too close and thus became flea infected although no mention is made of plague). The result was that all the people ‘lamented (abel). Their rejoicing had become lamentation.

So they talked together and decided to call on the principle town of the area to send men to fetch the Ark of YHWH, and it was taken to the house of Abinadab on the hill, and there it was put under the care of Eleazar his son who was sanctified for the task, where it remained for over twenty years, while the voice of YHWH was silent. And the whole nation lamented after YHWH. They were slowly being brought to see how deeply they had failed Him.

Analysis.

a And these are the golden tumours which the Philistines returned for a trespass-offering to YHWH: for Ashdod one, for Gaza one, for Ashkelon one, for Gath one, for Ekron one, and the golden rodents, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fortified cities and of country villages, even to the great stone of lamentation (or ‘Abel’), on which they set down the ark of YHWH, which stone remains to this day in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite (1 Samuel 6:17-18).

b And He smote of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had gazed irreverently at the ark of YHWH. He smote of the people seventy men, fifty of them chief men, and the people mourned (abel) , because YHWH had smitten the people with a great slaughter (1 Samuel 6:19).

c And the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before YHWH, this holy God? and to whom shall He go up from us?” And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-yearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of YHWH, you come down, and fetch it up to you” (1 Samuel 6:20-21).

b And the men of Kiriath-yearim came, and fetched up the ark of YHWH, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of YHWH (1 Samuel 7:1).

a And it came about, from the day that the ark abode in Kiriath-yearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after YHWH (1 Samuel 7:2).

Note that in ‘a’ the great stone is called ‘the great Abel’, the stone of great lamentation, and in the parallel the people lament (nahah) after YHWH. In ‘b’ the Ark is treated with irreverence, and in the parallel it is treated with great reverence. In ‘c’ they ask what they are to do with the Ark now that they have been faced up with their error and then answer their own question

1 Samuel 6:17-18

And these are the golden tumours which the Philistines returned for a trespass-offering to YHWH: for Ashdod one, for Gaza one, for Ashkelon one, for Gath one, for Ekron one, and the golden rodents, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fortified cities and of country villages, even to the great Abel, on which they set down the ark of YHWH, which stone remains to this day in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite.’

Sadly the triumph and rejoicing of the Israelites turn to lamentation due to the casual treatment of the Ark by the priests. They knew full well that it ought to have been immediately covered up so that men could not gaze on it. That had been the strict instruction of YHWH to the sons of Aaron (Numbers 4:5; Numbers 4:19-20). No doubt even the two sons of Eli had covered it before they brought it into battle. But instead the priests set it on the great rock which stood in the field of Joshua the Bethshemite, naked for all to look on, along with the trophies that had come along with it. And the result was that ‘the great stone (eben)’ (1 Samuel 6:15) became ‘the great Abel (lamentation)’ (1 Samuel 6:18). (Note the play of words between ‘bn and ‘bl) Compare 1 Samuel 6:19 where the people do ‘mourn’ (abel) because of what would follow.

The trophies are described in detail and indicate the level of devastation that the Philistines had experienced. Their advisers had recommended five golden tumours and five golden rodents, but the Philistines had been so affected by the wideness of the devastation by the rodents that they had sent golden rodents ‘according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fortified cities and of country villages’. They wanted to make sure. Clearly the plague of rodents had been even more widespread than the physical plagues, which it seems had been confined to the cities.

1 Samuel 6:19

And he smote of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had gazed irreverently at the ark of YHWH. He smote of the people seventy men, fifty of them chief men, and the people mourned, because YHWH had smitten the people with a great smiting.’

We now learn why the great stone (eben) has been called ‘the great Abel (‘lamentation’)’. It was because the people had gazed irreverently on the Ark so that some had been smitten. Fifty of those smitten were chief men (’lph), leaders among the priests who were therefore the most culpable. Probably the remainder were some of their wives or chief servants who should also have known better. The point here was that Israel had yet to learn the lesson which had been taught to the Philistines. YHWH as Lord over all had to be treated with due reverence.

The number seventy indicated a divinely perfect number as chosen by YHWH (seven intensified). The number fifty indicated covenant responsibility (five intensified). It was of the mercy of YHWH that those whose guilt was less were not punished.

The result was that the people mourned and lamented (abel), because YHWH had inflicted so many deaths among the priests. (Compared, however, with the number of military units that had been slaughtered because of Israel’s ineptness, sinfulness and failure to truly look to YHWH the number is minimal).

1 Samuel 6:20

And the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before YHWH, this holy God? and to whom shall he go up from us?” ’

What had happened had brought the people back to their senses. It had reminded them of the holiness of YHWH. And so they began to ask themselves who could possibly stand before this holy God, and to whom they should commit the Ark so that it could be properly looked after? The fact that they did not consider Shiloh may have been because the Sanctuary had been destroyed, but it may equally have been because they considered that the Ark had been defiled by its sojourn among the uncircumcised Philistines. Possibly they recognised that just as a person who had become ritually ‘unclean’ had to wait for a period before YHWH (e.g. ‘they shall not be clean until the evening’), so it was necessary for the Ark to be kept somewhere safe while the defilement wore off. 1 Samuel 3:21 appears to suggest that Shiloh continued for some time.

1 Samuel 6:21

‘And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-yearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of YHWH, you come down, and fetch it up to you.” ’

Their considerations brought them to one conclusion. There was only one man in the area fitted to look after the Ark, and that was Abinadab who lived ‘on the hill’ in Kiriath-yearim. So they sent to the inhabitants of Kiriath-yearim and informed them that the Philistines had returned the Ark and that they should come and fetch it and take it to Kiriath-yearim. Kiriath-yearim was one of the frontier cities of Judah (Joshua 15:9).

1 Samuel 7:1

And the men of Kiriath-yearim came, and fetched up the ark of YHWH, and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of YHWH.

Clearly the people of Kiriath-yearim also recognised that Abinadab was the most suitable person, for they came and ‘fetched up the Ark of YHWH’, bringing it into the house of Abinadab on the hill. While Kiriath-yearim was not a priestly city we can safely assume that those who brought up the Ark were either priests or Levites, for the priests in Beth-shemesh, having learned their lesson the hard way, would not otherwise have permitted it to go in their care. Indeed the probability must be that Abinadab was himself a priest, or at least a Levite (so Josephus), and was chief man of the area (which, if he was a priest, would be why he lived in Kiriath-yearim), and that he had priestly servants who performed the function described of bringing up the Ark. It would also explain why his son was ‘sanctified’ in order to care for the Ark, although there is no suggestion that he performed priestly functions. It is probable that at this stage there was no one old enough in the High Priestly families to act as High Priest. The deaths of Eli’s successor in battle had denuded the line. It would not be until Ahijah became of age that a successor to the High Priesthood would become available. Ahijah’s father appears for some reason not to have been available. Perhaps he died before he became of the right age, or perhaps he had some disablement. (See 1 Samuel 14:3).

The position of Abinadab’s house ‘on the hill’ would also have been seen as a suitable place for the Ark. In Israel the Sanctuary was regularly set on hills, as it would finally be on Mount Zion. It gave them a certain isolation, and lifted them nearer to the heavens (compare Isaiah 2:2-4). Hills were often seen as sacred because of their remoteness. Compare Genesis 22.

1 Samuel 7:2

‘And it came about, from the day that the ark abode in Kiriath-yearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after YHWH.’

Following the arrival back of the Ark Israel’s problems were not solved, for they had not repented and turned from their sin. And thus for a period of twenty years the Ark remained in the house of Abinadab, while the people ‘lamented after YHWH’. It was necessary for them to face up to their failures and sins before YHWH would again speak to them and act on their behalf.

The ‘twenty years’ (a round number indicating a good number of years) did not mark the length of time that the Ark was to stay in the house of Abinadab, for it would be there a good while longer. It rather indicated the period during which Samuel was growing up to take his position as the prophet of YHWH, so that Israel would once again hear YHWH’s voice once it had had time to consider its ways. It was a period of darkness for Israel, for there was apparently no one yet available to take the High Priesthood, and those living in the lower hill country were therefore still partly under the control of the Philistines. This is the second half of the forty years mentioned in Judges 13:1. (Philistine control would be loose in the hills and seemingly never reached Transjordan. It would also not necessarily have affected some of the tribes in the north, except when they were called on for fulfilment of their covenant duties by providing fighting men in accordance with the requirements of the amphictyony). As the darkness grew idolatry seems to have abounded (1 Samuel 7:3). However, for those who were faithful in Israel there was the young Samuel still seemingly residing at a rather bereft (no Ark, no High Priest) Shiloh (1 Samuel 3:21).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 6:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-samuel-6.html. 2013.

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