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Saturday, September 23rd, 2023
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 6

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-21

2. Restoration of the Ark with Expiatory Gifts. 1 Samuel 6:1-11

1And the ark of the Lord [Jehovah] was in the country of the Philistines seven 2months. And the Philistines called for [together1] the priests and the diviners, saying, What shall we do to [with] the ark of the Lord [Jehovah]? Tell us 3wherewith2 we shall send it to his [its] place. And they said, If ye3 send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty, but in any wise [om. in any wise4] return him5 a trespass-offering; then ye shall be healed,6 and it shall be known7 to 4you why his hand is not removed from you. Then said they [And they said], What shall be [is] the trespass-offering which we shall return to him? [Ins. And] they answered [said], Five golden emerods [boils] and five golden mice,8 according9 to the number of the lords of the Philistines; for one plague was [is] on you10 all 5and on your lords. Wherefore [And] ye shall make images of your emerods [boils], and images of your mice that mar [devastate] the laud; and ye shall give glory to the God of Israel; peradventure he will lighten his hand from off you, 6and from off your gods, and from off your land. [Ins. And] wherefore then [om. then] do [will] ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? [ins. Did they not], when he had [om. had11] wrought wonderfully among them, did they not [om. did they not] let the people go, and they departed? 7Now therefore [And now] make12 a new cart, and take12 two milch kine, on which there hath come no yoke, and tie [yoke] the kine to the cart, and bring their calves 8home from them. And take the ark of the Lord [Jehovah], and lay it upon the cart, and put the jewels of gold [golden figures13], which ye return him5 for a trespass-offering, in a [the14] coffer by the side thereof, and send it away, that it may 9go. And see, if it goeth [go] up by the way of his [its] own coast to Beth-Shemesh, then he hath done us this great evil; but if not, then we shall know that it is not 10his hand that smote us; it was a chance that happened to us. And the men did so, and took two milch kine, and tied [yoked] them to the cart, and shut up their 11calves at home; And they [om. they] laid the ark of the Lord [Jehovah] upon the cart, and the coffer with [and] the mice of gold [golden mice] and the images of their emerods [boils].15

3. Reception and Quartering of the Ark in Israel. 1 Samuel 6:12 to 1 Samuel 7:1

12And the kine took the straight way [went straight forward16] to the way of [on the road to] Bethshemesh, and [om. and] went along the highway [on one highway they went], lowing17 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. 13And they18of Bethshemesh were reaping their wheat-harvest in the valley; 14and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see19 it. And the cart came into the field of Joshua a Bethshemite [the Bethshemeshite], and stood there, where [and there] there was a great stone; and they clave the wood of the 15cart, and offered the kine a burnt-offering unto the Lord [Jehovah]. And the Levites took down the ark of the Lord [Jehovah], and the coffer that was with it, wherein [ins. were] the jewels of gold [golden figures] were [om. were], and put them on the great stone; and the men of Bethshemesh offered burnt-offerings, and 16sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto the Lord [Jehovah]. And when [om. when] the five lords of the Philistines had seen [saw] it, they [and] returned to Ekron 17the same day. And these are the golden emerods [boils] which the Philistines returned for [as] a trespass-offering unto the Lord [Jehovah]: for Ashdod one, for 18Gaza one, for Askelon one, for Gath one, for Ekron one. And the golden mice [ins. were] according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fenced cities and of country villages,20even 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 [And21 the great stone, on which they set down the ark of Jehovah, remaineth to this day in the field of Joshua the Bethshemeshite].

19And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had [om. had] looked into [at22] the ark of the Lord [Jehovah], even [and] he smote of the people fifty thousand and three-score and ten men [70 men, 50,000 men23]; and the people lamented, because the Lord [Jehovah] had smitten [smote] many of [om. many of] the people 20with a great slaughter. And the men of Bethshemesh said, Who is able to stand before [ins. Jehovah], this holy Lord [om. Lord] God? and to whom shall he go 21up from us? And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjath-jearim, saying, The Philistines have brought again [back] the ark of the Lord [Jehovah]; come ye down, and fetch it up to you.

1 Samuel 7:1 And the men of Kirjath-jearim came, and fetched up the ark of the Lord [Jehovah], and brought it into the house of Abinadab in [on] the hill, and sanctified [consecrated] Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord [Jehovah].


I. 1 Samuel 6:1-11. The ark is sent back with expiatory gifts. The designation of place: in the field is here to be taken in the wider sense of territory, country, as in Ruth 1:2.—The seven months, during which the ark was in the country of the Philistines, was a time of uninterrupted plagues. In addition to the disease of boils came the plague of the devastation of the fields by mice. That the plague of mice was something over and above the disease is plain from 1 Samuel 6:5; 1 Samuel 6:11; 1 Samuel 6:18; in 1 Samuel 6:1 the Sept. adds, “and their land swarmed with mice,” which the narrator has not expressly mentioned. Thenius’ supposition that, from similarity of final syllables ((־ִים), a clause has fallen out of the Heb. text, is too bold a one. Maurer remarks correctly: “it is generally agreed that the Hebrew writers not infrequently omit things essential, and then afterwards mention them briefly in succession.”

1 Samuel 6:2. After it had been determined in the council of the princes to send back the ark to the Israelites, the priests and soothsayers are now to tell how it shall be sent back. Alongside of an honorable priestly class appear here the soothsayers [diviners] (that is, the organs of the deity, who reveal his counsel and will through the mantic art) as authorities, whose decision is final. The princes had to consider the political-national and social side, these the religious side of the question.,24 Inasmuch as it has already been determined to send the ark back, the question “what shall we do in respect to the ark of God?” is only introductory to the succeeding question, “wherewith or how shall we send it to its place?” The בַּמֶּה may mean either, but the rendering “how, in what way” (Vulg. quomodo) is favored by the connection, since the priests would else not have answered that the ark was not to be sent back without gifts.

1 Samuel 6:3, We must here not supply the pronoun “ye” to the Particip. (מְשַׁלְחִים), but must render (as in 1 Samuel 2:24) impersonally,1 Samuel 25:0 : “if one sends, if they send.” The ark must be restored, not empty, but with gifts. These gifts are to be an asham (אָשָׁם), a debt-offering or expiatory offering; the gift is thus designated, because it is a question of the payment of a debt.26 Satisfaction must be made to the angered God of the people of Israel for the contempt put on Him by the abduction of the ark. The word “return, make compensation” (הֵשִׁיב) refers to the unlawful appropriation; it is a matter of compensation. Vulg.: quod debetis, reddite ei pro peccato. לוֹ [“to him,” “to it”] is to be referred not to the ark (Sept.), but to God. Send Him a “gift, by which His anger shall be appeased, lest He torment you more” (Cleric). According to Exodus 23:15 no one was allowed to appear empty-handed (רֵיקָם) before God. Whether, as Clericus supposes, this was known to the Philistine priests, is uncertain. The words אַז תֵּרָֽפְאוּ may be taken either as conditional or as assertory. The latter rendering “then you shall be healed” would suit the connection and the whole situation, but that these priests expressly declare it to be possible (1 Samuel 6:9) that this plague was to be ascribed not to the God of Israel, but to a chance. The hypothetical rendering is therefore to be preferred, which is grammatically allowable, though the conditional particle is wanting. (Comp. Ew. Gr., § 357 b). We must therefore translate: “and if ye shall be healed.”,27 In the words “and it shall be known to you why His hand is not removed from you” the present tense offers no difficulty, the sense being: “you shall then by the cure learn why His hand now smites you; His hand is not removed from you, because the expiation for your guilt, which will be followed by cure, is not yet made.”

Bunsen: “It was a universal custom of ancient nations to dedicate to the deity to whom a sickness was ascribed, or from whom cure was desired, likenesses of the diseased parts.” This was true also of the cause of the plagues. The Philistines therefore (1 Samuel 6:4 sq.), when they inquired what they should send along as trespass or expiatory offering, received the answer: “five golden boils and five golden mice.” The number five is expressly fixed on with reference to the five princes of the Philistines, who represent the whole people (מִסֻפָּר is Acc. of exact determination “according to, in relation to,” with adverbial signification. Ges. Gr., § 118, 3). The change of person in the words “one plague is on them all and on your princes” has occasioned the reading “you all,” which is for this reason to be rejected.28 People and princes are here regarded as a unit, the latter representing the former, and therefore the number of the gifts to be offered for the whole is determined by the number (five) of the princes. 1 Samuel 6:5 makes in a supplementary way express mention of the devastation which the mice made in the land. “This plague is often far greater in southern lands than with us; so that the Egyptians use the figure of a fieldmouse to denote destruction; there are many examples, it is said, of the whole harvest in a field having been destroyed by them in one night” (1 Samuel 5:0 : Gerl.). Comp. Boch. Hieroz. II., 429 ed. Ros.; Plin. Hist. Nat. X. c. 65. By the presentation of the likenesses in gold they were to “give honor to the God of Israel.” These words of the Philistine priests explain the expression “pay or return a trespass-offering.” By the removal of the ark, the seat of the glory of the God of Israel, His honor is violated; hence the punishment in this two-fold plague; by these gifts they are to attempt to make compensation for the violation of honor, and the wrath of the God who is wounded in His honor is to be turned aside. “By bringing precisely the instrument of their chastisement as a gift to God, they confess that He Himself has punished them, and do homage to His might, hoping therefore all the more by paying their debt to be made or to remain free,” (v. Gerlach). The expression “perhaps He will lighten His hand from off you” agrees with that in 1 Samuel 6:3, “if ye be healed,” and with 1 Samuel 6:9.

[It is not clear that the Philistines were visited with a plague of mice. In spite of Maurer’s remark (on 1 Samuel 6:1) endorsed by Erdmann, it is strange that no mention is made of the mice in chap. 5. Philippson (who translates akbar not “mouse” but “boil”) further objects that the assumption of a mouse-plague different from the boil-disease is incompatible with the assertion in 1 Samuel 6:4, “one plague is on you and on your lords,” which supposes a bodily infliction (on which, however, see the discussion of the Sept. text of 1 Samuel 6:4-5, in note to 1 Samuel 6:18). Nor does the Heb. text expressly state that there was such a plague. In 1 Samuel 6:5 nothing more is necessarily said (so Wellhausen) than that they were exposed to land devastations by mice, and that the whole land had suffered, and 1 Samuel 6:18 (however interpreted) adds nothing to the statement in 1 Samuel 6:4. We may on critical grounds keep the present Masoretic text (discarding the Sept. addition to 1 Samuel 6:1) without finding in it the mouse-plague. On the other hand, the figure of a mouse was in Egypt a symbol of destruction, and so might have been chosen here as a fitting expiatory offering. Possibly, as there was a Baal-zebub, “lord of flies” (Ζεὺς ’Απόμυιος), worshipped at Ekron, so there was a Baal-akbar, “lord of mice,” and this animal may have been connected with religious worship.—Others explain the figures of the boils and mice as telesms or talismans. So Maimonides, quoted in Poole’s Synopsis, in which are cited many illustrations of the wide use of talismans (figures made under planetary and astral conjunctions in the likeness of the injurious object or of the part affected) among the ancients (expanded by Kitto, Daily Bible Illust., Saul and David, p. 86 sq.). But, supposing there was a plague of mice, these figures were prepared, not by their own virtue to avert the plague (which the talismans were supposed to do), but to appease the wrath of the God of Israel.—Tr.].—Lighten from off you, etc., is a pregnant expression for “lighten and turn away from you,” so that the burden of the punishment shall be removed from you. In 1 Samuel 6:6 the case of the Egyptians is referred to in order to strengthen the exhortation. We have already seen in 1 Samuel 4:8 the mark of the deep impression made on the neighboring heathen nations by the judgments of the God of Israel on the Egyptians. The Philistine priests see in these plagues judgments like those inflicted on the Egyptians, and set forth the universal and comprehensive significance of this revelation of the heavy hand of God in the words “on [rather from] you, and your god [better, perhaps, gods, as in Eng. A. V.], and your land.” They thus refer this general calamity not only to its highest cause in the God of Israel and His violated honor, but also to its deepest ground in the Philistines’ hardening of the heart against Him after the manner of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and so show exact acquaintance with the pragmatism of the history of God’s revelations towards Egypt and its king. Comp. Exodus 7:13 sqq. with Exodus 8:32. It is evident from the connection that the words of the priests are to be referred only to the obligation to “give honor to the God of Israel” by expiatory presents, not to the restoration of the ark, which was already determined on. The hardening or obduration of the heart is the stubborn and persistent refusal to give to the God of Israel His due honor, after His honor had been violated. The word הִתְעַלֵּל [“ wrought”] points to God’s mighty deeds against Pharaoh and the Egyptians; it is found in the same sense “work, exercise power” [“work one’s will on”] in Exodus 10:2 and 1 Samuel 31:4. In view of these exhibitions of God’s power, they are warned against such a persistent stiff-necked opposition to it. 1 Samuel 6:6 is not inconsistent with the doubt expressed in 1 Samuel 6:9, whether the plagues come from the God of Israel or from a chance, since it is (in 1 Samuel 6:9) at any rate regarded as possible that the God of Israel has thus exhibited His anger. “The mere possibility of this makes it seem advisable to do every thing to appease the wrath of the God of the Israelites, which the heathen, from their fear of the gods, dreaded under the circumstances not less, yea, more than the anger of their own gods” (Keil).

1 Samuel 6:7-9. The arrangements respecting the mode of sending back the ark. In 1 Samuel 6:7 the arrangements are made for a restoration of the ark worthy of and proportionate to the honor of the God of Israel. The Philistines are not, for this purpose, to have a new cart made, but, as the preceding קְחוּ shows, to take,29 one already made, in order to fit it up and prepare it for this end; this is shown by the וַעֲשׂוּ [“and make”]. A new cart and two hitherto unyoked milch cows (comp. Deuteronomy 21:3) are to carry back the ark with the presents; only what had not been used, what was still undesecrated, was an appropriate means for the honor destined to be shown to the dreaded God of Israel. עֲגָלָה, properly the “rolling thing,” means the transport-wagon, which, according to this, was in use in Philistia, and was usually yoked with oxen. The calves were to be taken along, but afterwards to be carried from behind the drawing cows, back into the house—that is, into the stall. In reference to the cows the Masc. is thrice used in 1 Samuel 6:7 for the Fem., “because the writer thinks of the cows as oxen” (Thenius); and so in 1 Samuel 6:10; 1 Samuel 6:12. In 1 Samuel 6:8 a minute description is given of the manner of loading the cart with the ark and with the coffer (אַרְגָּז, found only here and 1 Samuel 6:11; 1 Samuel 6:15) in which the golden expiatory gifts were to be carried. “And send it away, that it may go.” From the connection it appears that the cart, with the ark, is left to the cows to draw; the direction which they take without being led or driven is decisive of the question whether the plagues are from the God of Israel or not.

1 Samuel 6:9. This is stated more precisely by the priests. If the cows went straight to its (the ark’s) territory, this would be the sign that the plagues were from the God of Israel; if not, it would show that it was only a matter of chance. From their stand-point the heathen distinguished with perfect logical consistency between the providence of the God of Israel and a mere chance. “Its territory or coast” (גְּבוּלוֹ) is the land of Israel as its home. Bethshemesh is one of the Israelitish priestly cities on the border of Judah and Dan (Joshua 21:16), the nearest of them to Ekron, and the nearest point of entrance from Philistia into the hill-country of Judah (Joshua 15:10-11). The valley in or on which (1 Samuel 6:13) it lay, was the same with the present Wady Surar. The present Ain Shems which rests on it is the ancient Bethshemesh.30 S. Robinson, II. 599, III. 224 sq. [ Amer. Ed. II. 14, 16, 223–225.] If this direction was not taken by the cows, that was to be the sign that “this was a chance (מִקְרֶה is not adverb. “by chance” (Keil), but Nom. of the subject; and this is no ground for reading (with Böttcher) מִקָּרֶה, “by chance”). The meaning of the priests was, that the cows, being unaccustomed to the yoke, and being, besides, milch cows, from which their calves had been separated, would, in obedience to their natural impulse, wish to turn about and go back to their stall, unless a higher power restrained them, and compelled them to take the road to Bethshemesh and keep it. By God’s ordination this was done, and so was for the Philistines the factual confirmation given by the God of Israel of the opinion that He had inflicted the plagues on them. 1 Samuel 6:10-11 relate the carrying out of the arrangements which the priests had made. The restoration is performed in the manner prescribed by the priests.

II. 1 Samuel 6:12-21. The ark is transported to Bethshemesh. 1 Samuel 6:12. They kept the road exactly—lit. “they were straight on the way.”31 Mesillah (מְסִלָה) is a thrown up, raised way, a highway. On one highway—that is, without going hither and thither, as is afterwards added by way of explanation, “without turning aside to the right or to the left.” They went going and lowing; that is, constantly lowing, because they wanted their calves; yet they did not turn about, but went on in the opposite direction. The Philistine princes went behind, not before them, because, in accordance with the suggestion of the priests, they had to observe whither the animals went. 1 Samuel 6:13. Bethshemesh is for “the inhabitants of Bethshemesh.” Though it was a priestly city, the inhabitants of Bethshemesh are expressly distinguished from the Levites. The Bethshemeshites, who were reaping wheat in the valley (Wady Surar), rejoiced to see the long-lost ark. [The wheat harvest points to May or June as the time of the return of the ark. Robinson: “May 13. Most of the fields (near Jericho) were already reaped. Three days before we had left the wheat green upon the fields around Hebron and Carmel; and we afterwards found the harvest there in a less forward state on the 6th of June” (I. 550, 551). We do not know what species of wheat the ancient Hebrews had; but the crop was the most important one in the country (see 1 Kings v. 11). Mr. W. Houghton says (Smith’s Bib. Dict. Art. “Wheat”): “There appear to be two or three kinds of wheat at present grown in Palestine, the Triticum vulgare (var. hybernum), the T. spelta, and another variety of bearded wheat, which appears to be the same as the Egyptian kind, the T. compositum.” The phrase “they lifted up their eyes and saw,” being the common Heb. formula for “looking,” does not show that the object looked at was on a higher elevation than the spectator. Thus Stanley’s argument (Sin. and Pal., p. 248) from Genesis 22:4 as to the site of “Moriah” has no weight.—Tr.] 1 Samuel 6:14. The great stone in the field of the Beth-shemeshite Joshua was probably the occasion of the cart’s being stopped here, with the design of using the stone as a sacred spot for the solemn removal of the ark and the presents, as appears from 1 Samuel 6:15. The Levites are expressly mentioned in connection with the setting the ark down on the great stone, a sacred act which pertained to them alone. Since the ark betokened the presence of the Lord, it could be said that they, namely, the Bethshemeshites, offered the kine to the Lord by using the wood of the cart for the burnt-offering. With this they joined a blood-offering. It was lawful to offer the sacrifice here, because, wherever the ark was, offering might be made. Though the people of Bethshemesh are expressly said to be the offerers [1 Samuel 6:15], this does not exclude the co-operation of the priests, especially as Bethshemesh was a priestly city. From the single burnt-offering in 1 Samuel 6:14, which was offered with the cart and the kine, the burnt-offerings [1 Samuel 6:15] and the slain-offerings, which were connected with a joyful sacrificial meal, are to be distinguished as a second sacrificial act, which, in its first element (the burnt-offering), set forth the renewed consecration and devotion of the whole life to the Lord, and in its second (the meal) expressed joyful thanksgiving for the restoration of God’s enthronement and habitation amid His people, of which they had been so long deprived. 1 Samuel 6:16. The five lords of the Philistines saw in this occurrence, in accordance with the instruction of their priests, a revelation of the God of Israel; they returned to Ekron the same day.

1 Samuel 6:17-18. A second enumeration of the expiatory gifts, comp. 1 Samuel 6:4. The statement here made varies from that of 1 Samuel 6:4 only in the fact that, while the priests had advised the presentation of only five golden figures of mice, here a much greater number, “according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines,” are offered; because, from the expression “from the fenced city to the village of the inhabitants of the low land” (הַפְּרָזִי Deuteronomy 3:5) [rather “fenced cities and country32 villages”], which shows that every Philistine locality was represented in the mouse-figures, we learn that the mouse-plague extended over the whole country, while the boil-plague prevailed only in the largest cities,33 In the second clause, instead of וְעַד [“and unto”] read וְעֵד [“and witness”], and instead of אָכֵל [“Abel”], we must, on account of the attached Adj. and the repeated reference to the “field of Joshua” (1 Samuel 6:14; 1 Samuel 6:16), read אֶבֶן [“stone”], and translate: “and a witness is the great stone (וְעֵד is found in the same sense, Genesis 31:52)… to this day.” Kimchi’s explanation of אָבֵל as the name [the Heb. word means “mourning”] given to the stone on account of the mourning made there (1 Samuel 6:19) is a fanciful expedient, which has also no support in the context, since nothing is afterwards said of a mourning at this stone.

1 Samuel 6:19-21. The ark in Bethshemesh. A punishment is inflicted by God on the Bethshemeshites because they had sinned respecting the holiness of God, which was represented before their eyes by the ark. Wherein this sin consisted is stated in the words “because they looked,” &c. (בִּי רָאוּ בְּ׳), which are to be connected with the question in 1 Samuel 6:20. From 1 Samuel 6:13 (if we retain the text) it could not have been the mere looking at the ark, which stood on the cart, and was necessarily visible to every body, but, as the בְּ shows, consisted only in the manner of looking at it. As the unauthorized touching (Numbers 4:15; 2 Samuel 6:7), so the profane, prying, curious looking at the ark, as the symbol of the holy God who dwells amid His people, is forbidden on pain of death. The fundamental passage, to which we must here go back, is Numbers 4:20. The deepest ground of the strict prohibition to touch and look at the ark lies in the opposition which exists between man, impure through sin, and the holy God, which cannot be removed by immediate and unmediated connection with God on man’s part, but only through the means which God has by special revelation ordained to this end. Against Thenius, who holds that this explanation cannot be based on Numbers 4:20, it is to be remarked that this passage speaks expressly not only of unauthorized intrusion, but also of a similar looking at the inner sanctuary. There is no contradiction between this verse and 1 Samuel 6:13, if we regard the Ace. in the latter, and the Prep. “at” (בְּ) here; this difference in the designation of the object indicates a difference in this connection in the seeing. In Numbers 4:20 also the seeing is more exactly defined by an added word. Other explanations, as: “because they were afraid at the ark” (Syr., Arab.), or: “looked into it” (Rabb.), are entirely untenable. It is true, however, that the words of the text (according to which the above would be the only tenable explanation) present great difficulties, which Thenius expresses in the remark: “One does not see why ‘and he smote’ (וַיַךְ) is repeated, and why we have ‘the people’ (בָּעָם) again after ‘the men of Bethshemesh’ (בְּאַנְשֵׁי ב׳).” Moreover, the following words of this verse, which give the number of the slain, undoubtedly offer an incorrect, or rather a corrupt text; whereby the preceding words would be involved in the corruption. The supposition of a defective text being here so natural, we should be inclined to adopt (with Thenius) the reading of the Sept.: “And the children of Jechoniah among the Bethshemeshitcs were not glad (5:13) that they saw the ark, and he smote of them,” etc.; but that the objection “that we elsewhere find nothing at all about the race of Jechoniah” is by no means so unimportant as Thenius thinks it. The reading “70 men, 50,000 men” is evidently corrupt. If a process of addition were here intended, then “and” (ו) must necessarily stand before the second number. If a partition were meant (70 out of 50,000 men), then, besides the grammatical difficulty, there is the objection that the city of Bethshemesh (and it alone is here spoken of), could not possibly have had so many inhabitants. The last objection applies with still more force to Ewald’s translation, “beginning with 70 and increasing to 50,000 men,”—which would require us to suppose a still larger population. The words “50,000 men” are wanting in Jos. (Ant. 6,1–14), and in some Heb. MSS. (Cod. Kenn. 84, 210, 418), and are [to be rejected],34 since they give no sense, and probably “came from the margin into the text as another solution of the numeral sign which stood there (in the original text stood ע [70], while in another נ̈ [50,000] was found)” (Thenius).—The ground of the sudden death of the 70 of the race of Jechoniah is their unsympathizing, and therefore unholy bearing towards the symbol of God’s presence among His people, which showed a mind wholly estranged from the living God, a symptom of the religious-moral degeneracy, which had spread among the people, though piety was still to be found.35

1 Samuel 6:20. Who can stand before this holy God?—This question expresses their consciousness of unworthiness, and their fear of the violated majesty of the covenant-God of Israel. The people of Bethshemesh recognize in the death of the 70 a judgment of God, in which He punishes the violation of His majesty and glory, and defends His holiness in relation to His people. God is called the holy in this connection, in that He guards and avenges His greatness and glory, which He had revealed to Israel, when they are violated and dishonored by human sin, by unholy, godless conduct.—From the connection only “God” can be the Subj. of “shall go up” (יַעֲלֶה). The question “to whom shall he go up from us?” refers then indeed to the ark, in connection with which the sin and the punishment had occurred, and supposes that the Bethshemeshites were unwilling to keep it among them, from fear of farther judgments which its stay might occasion. A superstitious idea here mingles with the fear of God, since the stay of the ark is regarded as in itself a cause of further misfortune.

1 Samuel 6:21. Kirjath-jearim, that is, “ city of forests” [Forestville, Woodville], in the tribe-territory of Judah, belonged at an earlier period to Gibeon (Joshua 9:17; Joshua 18:25-26; Ezra 2:25; Nehemiah 7:29), and is the present Kuryet el Enab= “city of wine” [literally “grapes”] (Rob. II. 588 sq. [Amer. ed. II. 11], and Bibl. Forschung. 205 sq. [Am. ed. III. 157], Tobler, Topogr. II. 742 sqq.).36 The embassy to the inhabitants of Kirjath-jearim had two objects: the announcement of the return of the ark, and the demand that they should take it. They are silent as to the misfortune which was connected with its restoration, and as to their reason for not wishing to keep it. 1 Samuel 7:1 mentions the safe transportation of the ark by the Kirjath-jearimites to their city. The ark is placed in the house of Abinadab בּגִּבְעָה, “on the hill,” not in “Gibeah” (Vulg., Luther), as if the latter were a suburb of Kirjath-jearim. The house of Abinadab was on a hill, and for this reason probably was chosen as the resting-place of the ark. “They consecrated Eleazar,” the son of Abinadab, that is, they chose and appointed him as a person consecrated to God for this service: he had to keep watch and guard over the ark. It is hence probable that the ark found shelter in the house of a Levite. “Nothing is said of Eleazar’s consecration as priest.…. He was constituted not priest, but watchman at the grave of the ark, by its corpse, till its future joyful resurrection” (Hengst., Beitr. III. 66 [Contributions to Int. to O. T.]). Why it was not carried back to Shiloh, is uncertain. The reason may be, that the Philistines after the victory in ch. iv. had conquered Shiloh, and now held it, as Ewald (Gesch. II. 540 [Hist, of Isr.]) supposes; though his conjecture that the Philistines had destroyed Shiloh together with the old sanctuary, is to be rejected, since it is certain that the Tabernacle afterwards moved from Shiloh to Nob, and thence to Gibeon, and that the worship in connection with it was maintained (1 Samuel 21:6; 1 Kings 3:4; 2 Chronicles 1:3). Or, it may be that, without a special revelation of the divine will, they were unwilling to carry the ark back to the place whence it had been removed by a judgment of God in consequence of the profanation of the Sanctuary by the sons of Eli (Keil); or simply that the purpose was first and provisionally to carry it safely to a large city as far off as possible, inasmuch as, in view of the sentence of rejection which had been passed on Shiloh, they did not dare to select on their own authority a new place for the Sanctuary (comp. Hengst., ubi sup., 49). It was not till David’s time that the ark was carried hence to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:0).


1. Outside the sphere of His revelations in the covenant-people, the living God has not allowed the heathen nations to be without positive testimonies to His glory; He has, by severe chastisements, made them feel His might and power over them, when they, though they were the instruments of His punitive justice on Israel, did violence to His honor, and transgressed the limits assigned them.

2. The exact knowledge that the Philistine priests and soothsayers had of the punitive revelations of God against the Egyptians, and of the cause of them in the fact that that people hardened itself against Him, is an eminent example of His government of the world, which was closely interwoven with the history of revelation in His kingdom, and in which He penetrated with the beams of His revealed light the darkness of heathenism which surrounded His people, and made preparation for the revelation of the new covenant, which was to embrace the whole world. They were in such light to seek the Lord in their ways, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him (Acts 17:27).

3. The need of expiation, as well as the demand for it, is deeply grounded in the relation of man to the holy God; through sin against God’s will and ordinances man finds himself in custody under His punitive justice, whence there is no redemption except by an expiation, failing which judgment is pronounced against him. Ail need of expiation and all means thereto, not only in the sphere of Old Testament revelation, but also in heathendom, are predictions of Christ, who made the universal and all-sufficient expiation for the guilt of the world.

4. The enemies of God’s kingdom cannot and are not permitted to retain the possessions of God’s sanctuary which they have gotten by robbery, but must bow beneath His mighty hand, and give them up, yea, restore them increased by counter-gifts on their part.
5. “ Who can stand before the Lord, this holy God!” The more clearly God’s holiness is seen in the mirror of His justice, the deeper and more energetic is the feeling of sin and unworthiness in the human heart before the holy God. The depth of the divine holiness becomes clearest and most sensible to sinful man in those of its manifestations, by which he sees God as “this holy God,” that is, in the vigorous exercise of His holiness, of which he has experience in God’s punitive justice directed against himself. But the deeper and more thorough the knowledge of one’s own sin, the clearer the knowledge of the divine holiness. Yet, to sinful men the light of the divine holiness, which is always for him dulled, must not become intolerable, so that he shall avoid God’s face, and abandon fellowship with Him; rather must sinful man bear this light which discloses all his sin and alienation from God, and seek to learn in it the ways of grace and salvation (Psalms 51:5-6 [4,5]). The contrary result of the revelation of God’s holiness and justice leads to a sundering of relations between sinful man and Him, which by man’s fault makes of no effect God’s purposes of salvation.

6. “The blow which fell on the inhabitants of Bethshemesh in connection with the arrival of the ark, showed the people that they were not yet worthy of the fulfilment of the promise ‘I dwell in your midst.’ A condition of things had come about like that in the wilderness after the calf-worship, and in the Babylonian exile. The people must first become again inwardly God’s people before the sanctuary could be again placed among them. In what had happened they saw God’s factual declaration that He wished to dwell no longer in Shiloh” (Hengst. Beitr. 3, 48 sq. [Contrib. to Introd.]).


1 Samuel 6:1. [Henry: Seven months Israel was punished with the absence of the ark, and the Philistines punished with its  presence.… A melancholy time no doubt it was to the pious in Israel—particularly to Samuel—but they had this to comfort themselves with, as we have in the like distress, when we are deprived of the comfort of public ordinances, that, wherever the ark is, the Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven, and by faith and prayer we may have access with boldness to Him there. We may have God nigh unto us, when the ark is at a distance.—Tr.]. S. Schmid: God cannot bear with His enemies too long, but knows how at the right time to save His honor.

1 Samuel 6:2-3. J. Lange: Bad men, when they are chastised for their sins, are commonly disposed not to recognize the true cause, but maintain that it all comes only from chance or from merely natural causes.—Wuertemberg Bible: Even false prophets and teachers often have the gift of prophecy: Numbers 24:2; John 11:50-51; Matthew 7:22-23. We must therefore not trust to outward gifts.—Tuebingen Bible: Even the heathen have recognized that the justice of God must be appeased if sin is to be forgiven.

1 Samuel 6:6. Cramer: God is wonderful, and often even speaks His word through unbelievers and ungodly men (Numbers 22:28). The word of God loses nothing in certainty, power, and worth, though it is preached by ungodly men (Philippians 1:15). [Hall: Samuel himself could not have spoken more divinely than these priests of Dagon: they do not only talk of giving glory to the God of Israel, but fall into an holy and grave expostulation.… All religions have afforded them that could speak well. These good words left them both Philistines and superstitious.—Tr.].

1 Samuel 6:7. S. Schmid: That the irrational brutes are under God’s providence and control, even the heathen have recognized.

1 Samuel 6:9. Starke: Great and wonderful is the long suffering of God, that He condescends to the weakness of men and suffers Himself to be tempted by them.—S. Schmid: That in which men prescribe to God and tempt Him, cannot indeed bind God; but it binds the men themselves in their consciences, who prescribe to Him.

1 Samuel 6:13. S. Schmid: Even in troublous times God does not cease to do good to His people.—Cramer: When God brings forth again the light of His word, it ought to be recognized with the highest thankfulness.

1 Samuel 6:14. Seb. Schmid: It is a great favor when God comes forward before men, and voluntarily appears among them.

1 Samuel 6:15. Wuert. Bible: When, after we have borne trouble and need, God again manifests to us His favor and help, we should not forget to be thankful.

1 Samuel 6:19. Seb. Schmid: An untimely and venturesome joy God can soon turn into great sorrow.—The plague is fortunate that brings the impenitent to repentance.

1 Samuel 6:20. Berlenb. Bible: When God so to speak only passes by us, through some temporary taste of His presence, it is a favor which He may also impart to sinners. But that He may make His abode in us, as He promises in so many passages of Holy Scripture, that He may be willing to remain with us and in us,—for that there is demanded great purity in every respect.—S. Schmid: Better is quite too great a fear of God than no fear, if only it does not wholly take away confidence in God’s mercy (Psalms 119:120).


[1][1 Samuel 6:2. So the verb is not unfrequently used, as in Joshua 23:2.—Tr.]

[2][1 Samuel 6:2. Or, “how.—Tr.]

[3][1 Samuel 6:3. The Pron. is not in the present Heb. text, but is found in 7 MSS., in Sept., Syr., Chald., Arab., and apparently in Vulg. It may have fallen out, as Houbigant suggests, from similarity to the following word (אתם את). Others (so Erdmann) take the construction as impersonal, and render: “if one sends back,” etc.—Tr.]

[4][1 Samuel 6:3. This phrase in Eng. A. V. is intended to express the Heb. Inf. Abs.; but where the proper shade of intensity or emphasis cannot be given in Eng., it is better to write the verb simply, and not introduce a foreign substantive idea.—Tr.]

[5][1 Samuel 6:3. Some ancient vss. and modern expositors refer this to the ark, and render “to it,” relying on the grammatical connection, and on 1 Samuel 6:9; but the Philistines throughout seem to regard God, and not the ark, as the author of their sufferings. Yet it is possible that, even with this view, their idolatrous ideas might have led them to appease the instrument or visible occasion of the divine infliction.—Tr.]

[6][1 Samuel 6:3. Erdmann and others take this sentence as conditional (which is here possible, but somewhat hard) on the ground that the priests are not sure that the atonement-offering will be successful, but propose an experiment (as in 1 Samuel 6:9). Yet in 1 Samuel 6:5-6 they are sure, and the experiment in 1 Samuel 6:9 seems an afterthought.—Tr.]

[7][1 Samuel 6:3. The Heb. text is here supported by Syr., Arab. and Vulg., nor is there any variation in the MSS. (De Rossi); but Sept. has “expiation shall be made for you” (נִכַּפֵּר), and Chald. “healing shall be granted you” (יִתְרְוַח). To the first of these the repetition is an objection, to the second the order of ideas (healing, expiation). It does hot appear whether they are loose renderings of our text, or represent a different text.—Tr.]

[8][1 Samuel 6:4. Philippson renders “tumors” (geschwülste), setting aside the supposed plague of field-mice. See Exeg. Notes in loco. The Sept. here departs from the Heb. text in the order of statements and in the number of mice; see the discussion in the note on the passage.—Tr.]

[9][1 Samuel 6:4. This clause stands first in the original.—Tr.]

[10][1 Samuel 6:4. Heb.: “them all,” and so Erdmann and Philippson. But all the VSS. and 10 MSS. read “you,” Which the sense seems to require.—Tr.]

[11][1 Samuel 6:6. The verb (התעלל) is Aor., rendered “wrought” in Exodus 10:2 by Eng. A. V.; Sept. and Vulg. render freely “smote;” but Syr. has “they mocked them, and did not send them away, and they went,” where the wrong number of the first vb. required the negation in the second.—Tr.]

[12][1 Samuel 6:7. Or, “take and prepare” (so Erdmann). But the verb קְחוּ may properly be taken as expletive or pleonastic here, as in 2 Samuel 18:18 (see Ges. Lex. s. v.), though it must be understood before the second accusative “kine.”—Tr.]

[13][1 Samuel 6:8. The word כְּלִי means any instrument or implement, and is used of utensils, implements, armor, weapons, vessels and jewels; here, however, it is none of these, but figures, copies or works: Luther, bilder, Erdmann, geräthe, D’Allioli, figures, Cahen, empreintes, and the other modern VSS., of Martin, Diodati, D’Almeida, De S. Miguel, have “figures;” only the Dutch has “jewels,” Vulg. vasa, Sept. σκεύη.—Tr.]

[14][1 Samuel 6:8. The Art. here points out the coffer which belonged to the cart; but as this is not otherwise known or mentioned, the insertion or omission of the Art. in Eng. makes little or no difference. The Al. Sept. inserts a neg. before the word “put” in this verse, perhaps to avoid a supposed difficulty in the number of golden mice.—Tr.]

[15][1 Samuel 6:11. The Vat. Sept. (but not Al.) omits the words “and the images of their boils,” perhaps in order to indicate that the mice were not in the argaz or box, and thus avoid the difficulty above-mentioned (see 1 Samuel 6:18). Wellhausen, taking exception to the inverted order here (mice, boils), to the word tehorim, and to the ambiguity of the phrase, omits all of 1 Samuel 6:11 after “coffer,” regarding the Heb. as a gloss on the already corrupt Greek. But this is improbable, and the Heb. is sustained by all the VSS. The tehorim is not improbably a marginal explanation of ophalim which has crept into the text (so Geiger and Erdmann); but the text, though not perfectly clear, must, on critical grounds, be retained, since there would have been no special reason why a scribe should insert it, but on the other hand ground for its omission, as the Greek shows tampering with the text to avoid a difficulty.—Tr.]

[16][1 Samuel 6:12. On the form of the Heb. word see Erdmann in loco.—Tr.]

[17][1 Samuel 6:12. Ges. Gram. (Conant’s transl.), § 75, Rem. I. 2.—Tr.]

[18][1 Samuel 6:13. The Heb. has simply “Bethshemesh,” the place put for its inhabitants.—Tr.]

[19][1 Samuel 6:13. Sept.: “to meet it” (לִקְרָאתוֹ), error of copyist.—Tr.]

[20][1 Samuel 6:18. The first clause of this verse (and along with it 1 Samuel 6:17) is stricken out by Wellhausen on the ground of its incompatibility with 1 Samuel 6:8. The external evidence for the clause is complete; on the internal evidence see the Comm. in loco and Translator’s note.—Tr.]

[21][1 Samuel 6:18. Or: “witness is the great stone,” etc., omitting the word “remaineth;” so Erdmann, see Comm. in loco. The simpler translation given above is that suggested in Bib. Comm.—Tr.]

[22][1 Samuel 6:19. This is the common meaning of the verb (ראה with ב).—Tr.]

[23][1 Samuel 6:19. These numbers, though probably incorrect, are left in the text, because no satisfactory reading has been settled on. The clause should be bracketed. See discussion in Comm.—Tr.]

[24][The word here employed for “priests” (kohanim) is the same as that used to designate the priests of the true God, the distinctive word for idol-priests (kemarim) occurring only three times in O. T., though frequent in the Syriac and Chald. translations. The Arabic here renders “chiefs” or “doctors” (ahbara), probably to avoid a scandalous application of the sacred name. For etymology of kohen see Ges., Thes., and Fürst, Heb. Lex.—The word rendered “soothsayer” (qosem) is probably from a stem meaning “to divide, partition, assign fortunes,” and seems to be employed to denote divination by processes such as shaking arrows, consulting teraphim, inspecting livers (Ezekiel 21:26-28 [21–23]), perhaps differing thus from the mantic art proper, which involved possession or inspiration by the deity (which two methods Cicero calls divination with and without art, Div. 1, 18). The word is used in O. T. only of false diviners (for wider use in Arabic see Freytag, Ar. Lex. s. v. qasama). Comp. Art. “Divination” in Smith’s Bib. Dict. Articles “Wahrsager” and “Magier” in Winer’s Bib. R. W., and Ges., Thes.—Tr.]

[25][On this see Translator’s note in “Textual and Grammatical.”—Tr.]

[26][The word asham rather means not “debt,” but “offence” and its “punishment” (comp. Genesis 26:10; Ps. 14:9; Isaiah 53:10, and the Arab. athama), and is not restricted in the Mosaic Law to cases of restitution (see Leviticus 5:0 (Eng. A. Leviticus 5:1 to Leviticus 6:7), Leviticus 14:12; Numbers 6:12). Here it may be used in this latter sense, and is in general more appropriate than hattath, since the Philistines cannot be supposed to have the deeper conception of sin involved in the latter word. It is, of course, a question whether they employed this very word asham.—Tr.]

[27][Against this see note under “Textual and Grammatical.”—Tr.]

[28][For defence of the reading “you all” see “Textual and Grammatical” notes in loco.—Tr.]

[29][Erdmann translates: “take and make a new cart, and take two milch cows,”—on which see note under “Textual and Grammatical.”—Tr.]

[30][Robinson: “Just on the west of the village (Ain Shems), on and around the plateau of a low swell between the Surar on the North and a smaller Wady on the South, are the manifest traces of an ancient site. Here are the vestiges of a former extensive city, consisting of many foundations and the remains of ancient walls of hewn stone. The materials have indeed been chiefly swallowed up in the probably repeated constructions of the modern village; but enough yet remains to make it one of the largest and most marked sites which we had any where seen. On the north the great Wady-es-Surar—itself a plain—runs off first west and then north-west into the great plain; while on the south the smaller Wady comes down from the south-east, and uniting with the one down which we had traveled, they enter the Surar below the ruins.”—Tr.]

[31] יִשַׁרְנָה is for ייִשָּׁרְנָה, and the י for ת. On this form comp. Ew. §191 b, and Gesen. §47, R. 3.

[32][The word פְּרָזָה is explained by the Mishna and the Jews generally, and by Gesenius, to mean “open country,” and this signification for the adj. form in the text is required by the contrast with “fenced cities.” See Ges. Thes. s. v. The Arab. stem pharaza is “to separate”—and the derived nouns have the sense of “planeness,” whence the rural districts may have been called “plane,” that is, “unwalled.”—Tr.]

[33][On the supposition that there was no mouse-plague, the mouse-figures equally represented the whole country. In this connection the Greek text of 1 Samuel 6:4-5 is worthy of attention. It reads: “(1 Samuel 6:4), five golden hedras (ophalim, ‘boils’), according to the number of the lords of the Philistines; (1 Samuel 6:5), and golden mice, like the mice,” etc.; thus separating the two statements, and omitting the second number five. If this reading were adopted, it-would relieve the Heb. text, which, in several places in this chapter, shows traces of corruption. See note under “Textual and Grammatical.”—Tr.]

[34][The words in brackets are not in the German—omitted probably by typographical error.—Tr.]

[35][On the criticism of this verse see De Rossi, Var. Lcct., and a good note in Bib. Comm. As to the numbers, it seems impossible to determine anything with certainty, and the conjecture of Thenius (that we read 70, omitting the 50,000) is as probable as any other. That the first part of the verse is corrupt is evident from the variations in the VSS. and the confused character of the Heb. text itself. Two hints for the reconstruction of the true text appear to be given us, one by the Chald., the other by the Sept. The former reads: “and He slew among the men of Bethshemesh, because they rejoiced when they saw the ark,” etc. (where the “rejoiced” is apparently taken from 1 Samuel 6:13); the latter reads: “and not pleased were the sons of Jechoniah among the men of Bethshemeshites, that they saw the ark,” etc. Combining these, we may perhaps infer 1) that the “rejoice” or “pleased” was inserted by a translator or copyist and 2) that a phrase of several words preceded the words “with the men of Bethshemesh,” The verse then, may have begun somewhat so: וַיחֲר אַף יהוה ,בּאֲנְשֵׁי ב׳, and read “and Jehovah was angry with the Bethshemeshites, because, etc., … and smote among them” (reading כהם for בעם). From this the present Heb. text might have come by substituting וַיִַךְ (by homœoteleuton or otherwise) for the first words, and omitting יי or יהוה, and the Sept. text might be explained as a duplet, in which the בְּנֵי יְכָנְיָהוּ is a corruption of the Heb., and the “displeased” taken from the same source as the Chald.—Wellhausen translates the Sept. into Heb. by the words וְלֹא נִקּוּ בְנֵי יְכָנְיָהוּ, and adopts this as the true text. But this is not in itself very satisfactory (“and the sons of Jechoniah were not guiltless,” etc.), and does not answer the demands of the VSS. and the context.—Tr.]

[36][Mr. Grove (Smith’s Bib. Dict., Art.“ Kirjath-jearim ”) suggests that the ancient sanctity of Kirjath-jearim (it was called Baalah and Kirjath-Baal, and may have been a seat of worship of the Canaanitish deity Baal) was the ground of the ark’s being sent thither. He points out also a difficulty in its identification with Kuryet el Enab from the distance (ten miles over an uneven country) between it and Bethshemesh (Ain Shems), and further from the absence (so far as known) of a hill corresponding to that mentioned in 1 Samuel 7:1. But see Porter, p. 270.—Tr.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 6". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/1-samuel-6.html. 1857-84.
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