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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 6

 

 

Verse 1

RETURN OF THE ARK TO KIRJATH-JEARIM, Samuel 1 Samuel 6:1 to 1 Samuel 7:1.

1. Seven months — “So enfeebled and debased was Israel by their sins, that they durst not or would not attempt to recover it. God displayed his own power by bringing back the ark, not by the hands of Israel, but by those of his enemies.” — Wordsworth.


Verse 2

2. The priests and the diviners — These were the sacred orders among the Philistines, as the sacred scribes and magicians were among the Egyptians. Genesis 41:8; Exodus 7:11.

Wherewith we shall send — That is, with what kind of a present.

To his place — The land of Israel. They had already fully resolved to send the ark back, but they wished to be careful about the manner of their sending it, lest further woes afflict them.


Verse 3

3. Send it not empty — That is, send it not without an offering. Compare Exodus 23:15.

Return him a trespass offering — The Hebrew is emphatic — by all means return him a trespass offering. On the trespass offering see Leviticus 5:6. They doubtless meant to render the God of Israel this offering as a satisfaction for their offence in carrying his ark out of its own land.

Then ye shall be healed — It is better to render this as a conditional sentence, then may ye be healed, etc., for from 1 Samuel 6:9 we infer that these diviners still suspected that it was only by chance that they were smitten.


Verse 4

4. Five golden emerods, and five golden mice — Perhaps these Philistine soothsayers had heard the history of the brazen serpent, (Numbers 21:4-9,) and therefore supposed that the wrath of Israel’s God might be appeased by talismans. At all events, it was a common custom among the heathen nations of antiquity to make use of such talismanic offerings as a preservative against evil. Apollonius of Tyana is said to have made a brazen scorpion and set it on a pillar in the city of Antioch. whereupon the scorpions of that country all vanished. See many examples given in Kitto’s “Daily Bible Illustrations.” Had the ark remained in their own country, these talismans would, of course, have been set up in their midst; but when the ark was sent away, they deemed it most proper to send them along with it into its own land. The annexed cut is a picture of a Greek votive tablet in the British Museum. It is thought to present the lower part of the face of a woman who, healed of an affection of the nose or mouth, had caused this tablet to be placed in the temple of some god in token of her gratitude for her healing.

According to the number of the lords — One golden mouse and one golden boil for each of the five confederate cities, and golden mice for other cities besides these. See 1 Samuel 6:17-18.

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Verse 5

5. Images of your mice that mar the land — This plague is here for the first time distinctly mentioned, though something of the kind is implied, 1 Samuel 5:6, where the coasts of Ashdod are said to have been smitten. A sudden and rapid increase of this little animal in seven months might be a sore plague indeed to the harvest fields of the Philistines. “Of all the smaller rodentia which are injurious, both in the fields and in the woods, there is not,” says Professor Bell, “one which produces such extensive destruction as this little animal when its increase, as is sometimes the case, becomes multitudinous.”

You… your gods… your land — Their persons were plagued with boils, their gods with disgrace, and their land with mice.


Verse 6

6. As the Egyptians — The miracles of the exodus had been noised abroad among many nations, and inspired them with a fear of Jehovah. See 1 Samuel 4:8; Joshua 2:10; Joshua 9:9.


Verse 7

7. A new cart — Compare 2 Samuel 6:3. An old vehicle, or one used for meaner purposes, would not accord with the sacredness of the ark.

Two milch kine, (cows,) on which… no yoke — And therefore not likely, in the natural course of things, to be at once docile and tractable.

Bring their calves home from them — Which would add still more to the difficulty of drawing them away from their own fields.


Verse 8

8. Jewels of gold — Rather, vessels of gold; that is, the golden images mentioned in 1 Samuel 6:4.

A coffer — A chest, or box. They did not venture to open the ark and put the golden vessels in it, but placed them in a chest beside it.


Verse 9

9. His own coast — The land of the ark, the same as his place, in 1 Samuel 6:2.

Beth-shemesh — Situated about seven miles southeast of Ekron; it was a border city of the tribe of Judah, (Joshua 15:10.) and one allotted to the Levites. Joshua 21:16. It was identified by Dr. Robinson, in 1838, with the modern Ain Shems.

A chance — An accident; a fortuitous event.

There still lingered in some minds the thought that possibly the ark was not the cause of their troubles.


Verse 12

12. The kine took the straight way — Literally, were straight in the way on the way of Beth-shemesh, in a highway they continued going and lowing. This wondrous sign was evidence, beyond all possibility of doubt, that it was Jehovah’s hand that had smitten Philistia, her people, and her gods.

The lords of the Philistines went after them — Their eyes had never witnessed a sight like this before, and they were anxious to see it to the end.


Verse 14

14. And they — Namely, the Levites mentioned in the next verse, for probably a large proportion of the Beth-shemites were Levites.


Verse 15

15. The Levites took down — We have already noticed that Beth-shemesh was a city of the Levites, (see on 1 Samuel 6:9.) There was fitness in the kine stopping and standing still, when they had brought the sacred treasure to those whose duty it was to look after it.


Verse 16

16. Returned to Ekron the same day — Which might easily be done, providing they knew the route — the distance being only seven miles. “It might be said, by those ignorant of the country, that the whole distance being a level plain, there was no great miracle needed to secure the safe transmission of the ark over this comparatively short distance; but let them make a similar experiment, and stake their skepticism upon its success, if they have the courage to do so, or let them even try to reach Ain Shems themselves without a guide, and see how they will succeed.” — W.M. Thomson.


Verse 18

18. Both of fenced cities, and of country villages — From which it appears that many more images of the mice were sent than of the boils.

Perhaps the plague of mice had marred the whole land, while that of boils was confined to the places where the ark had been. This statement is not a contradiction of 1 Samuel 6:4, as Thenius asserts, but additional information which the writer paused not there to record.

Even unto the great stone of Abel ועד אבל, and unto Abel. Instead of אבל, Abel, two codices of Kennicott and one of De Rossi read אבן, a stone, as in 1 Samuel 6:14-15, and this reading is sustained by the Septuagint and Chaldaic versions, and is most probably the true one. If, now, we simply change the pointing of עד, unto, to עד, a witness, we relieve the latter part of this verse of all the obscurity that clings to it in the English version. Thus amended it reads: And a witness is the great stone whereon they set down the ark of the Lord unto this day, in the field of Joshua, the Beth-shemite; that is, the stone is a witness unto this day of the facts related in 1 Samuel 6:14-18 . This construction has the sanction of Thenius and Keil.


Verse 19

19. He smote the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had looked into the ark — Some irregularities may be observed in their hastily using the cart for their wood, and milch kine for a burnt offering; but these may be apologized for on the supposition that the cart and kine could never be put to nobler uses, and might, if preserved, be put to meaner and unworthy usage. But to look into the ark, which implies the removal of the cover and the golden cherubim, (Exodus 25:20-21,) and to do this in the open field, and in full view of all the multitudes that came flocking in from the surrounding harvest fields — this was the foulest kind of sacrilege, and justly merited the severest judgment of Heaven.

Fifty thousand and threescore and ten men — It is possible, indeed, that the remarkable events here described might have called together such an immense host as is here named, but it is extremely improbable, and the message sent to the inhabitants of Kirjath-jearim, (1 Samuel 6:21,) which was only six or seven miles distant, implies that they had not until then heard of the return of the ark from Philistia. The Septuagint has the same as the Hebrew, but other versions vary. Syriac and Arabic, Five thousand and seventy. Chaldee, Of the elders of the people seventy men, and of the congregation fifty thousand. Vulgate, Of the people (populo) seventy men, (viros,) and fifty thousand of the common people, (plebis.) An old Rabbinical tradition, with which some more modern expositors partially coincide, says that only seventy men were slain, but, being elders or chief men, they were of as much importance as fifty thousand ordinary persons. But such explanation is hardly worth recording. The Hebrew is, literally, he smote among the people seventy men, fifty thousand men, and some explain this as meaning seventy men of fifty thousand; but this leaves the main difficulty of the passage unsolved, namely, how to account for the presence of fifty thousand men. There is, probably, a corruption in the text. Three codices of Kennicott, and Josephus, omit the words fifty thousand men, and it is, perhaps, best to regard them as an interpolation.


Verse 20

20. Who is able to stand — For Israelite as well as Philistine is smitten by the presence of the holy shrine.

To whom shall he go up from us — Who next will dare take charge of him?


Verse 21

21. Kirjath-jearim — A city about seven miles northeast of Beth-shemesh, and the nearest large town on the way from Beth-shemesh to Shiloh. This may have been one reason why the Beth-shemites sent thither for men to come down and fetch up the ark. Ancient Kirjath is represented by the modern village Kuriet-el-Enab, “city of grapes.” See note on Joshua 9:17.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 6:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-samuel-6.html. 1874-1909.

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