Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 6

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

Verse 5

1 Samuel 6:5. Ye shall make images of your emerods, and images of your mice that mar the land "It was an ancient rite," says Mr. Locke, "that in case a city or country was infected with any plague of diseases or noxious creatures, the talismans were consulted, and desired to erect an image of the plague, under a certain influence of celestial configuration; and this was the cause why the Philistine astrologers gave counsel that golden images should be made of the hemoroides, and the mice that marred the land, to give glory to the God of Israel. These astrologers, who knew the history of the Israelites, see 1Sa 6:6 had perceived that this God had been pleased with the brazen serpent which Moses the talisman [so they would account him] set upon a pole in the wilderness; Numbers 21:8.; and I need not hesitate to affirm, that this brazen serpent against the fiery serpents, was the first occasion, I say not given but taken, of all these talismanical practices, says the learned Gregory." Tavernier tells us, that something similar to what is related in the text is still practised among the Indians: for when a pilgrim there goes to a pagod for the cure of any disease, he brings the figure of the member affected, made either of gold, silver, or copper, according to his quality, which he offers to his god, and then falls a singing, as all others do after they have offered. See Travels, p. 92. It was also a custom among the ancient heathens, to consecrate to their gods the monuments of their deliverances.

REFLECTIONS.—At the Ekronites' importunate request, we have here,

1. A new council assembled. The ark of God had been with them now seven months, and long months they seemed, when every day presented new scenes of sorrow. The princes consult the priests and diviners, and their unanimous voice is to send it back without delay. Note; (1.) They who keep back their sins only prolong their sorrows. (2.) The heathen princes reverenced and consulted the priests of Dagon. Shall not they condemn the present irreligious contempt of the ministers of God?

2. How it must be sent, is the next consideration; and the priests and diviners direct the manner, and urge instant compliance. (1.) They admonish them of the danger of delay, from the history of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, with which they appear to be acquainted. Experience of what Israel's God had done, should warn them not to harden their hearts. Note, It is far better to be warned by others' experience than by our own. (2.) They prescribe a trespass-offering, that it may not return empty, but with an acknowledgment of their humiliation according to the nature of their plagues, five golden images of the hemorrhoids, and five golden mice, according to the number of their princes; for it seems this contemptible animal made as great havock in their fields, as the vile disease did on their persons. They seem to have learnt the necessity of a satisfaction to offended justice, though they miserably mistook the way. (3.) In this case, they hoped the disease would be removed, or alleviated; and this would be a proof that their detention of the ark was the cause of it. Note; When we have repented of our sin, we may hope for the removal of our sorrow. (4.) To put the case beyond all doubt, whether their plagues were of God, they prescribe a cart to carry it, drawn by two milch-kine, whose calves being detained at home, they would naturally return thither, and who, being without a driver, would hardly be supposed of themselves to take the road of Beth-shemesh, the nearest city of Israel; yet on this they would rest the evidence, from whose hands their plagues came; and if the beasts went not the direct road, which were a miracle itself if they did, they would conclude their disease to be a mere chance, and not of God. Note; (1.) Wicked men would fain shift off their convictions, and ascribe their sufferings to any cause rather than the hand of God. (2.) The very means men take to confirm themselves in infidelity, through God's infinite grace, sometimes turn out to their more unanswerable conviction of the truth.

Verse 11

1 Samuel 6:11. They laid the ark of the Lord upon the cart The excess of their wickedness, says a sensible writer, provoked the Almighty to deliver the Israelites into the hands of the Philistines, who not only overthrew them, but, to complete their misfortune, took from them the ark of God. Now this, in appearance, was a fatal stroke to the cause of religion; for the Israelites, we may conclude, would soon abandon the worship and service of God, when departed from them; nor could the Philistines have any veneration for him, whom they now looked upon in the contemptible light of a vanquished captive to their own tutelar deity. In this state of things, may we not expect that God would interpose in some extraordinary manner, as well to vindicate his own authority, as to recover the ark to his despairing people? It is natural to expect it; nor are we left to expect it in vain; for when the Philistines had carried away the ark in triumph, and placed it by Dagon as a monument of his victory, behold, the next morning they found their God prostrate before it; an evident token of his subjection and inferiority; but evident as it was, his deluded votaries were yet blind to it: the succeeding day, however, brought them clearer evidence; for when they saw him again in the same posture of humiliation, dismembered of his head and hands, they could no longer doubt that his fall was owing to that Being whom he had neither policy nor power to withstand. And now, perhaps, they thought it adviseable to detain the ark as a means of drawing over this superior deity. But God soon convinced them that he chose not to reside amongst them, for he smote them with plagues till the ark was dismissed, and shewed the concern he had for its return, by restraining the natural affections, and directing the steps of those beasts which were harnessed to the carriage; causing them in a miraculous manner to take a particular road, and to stop at a particular place; at Bethshemesh, which was a city of the priests. See Dr. Owen on Scripture Miracles.

REFLECTIONS.—In haste to get rid of the ark, they immediately prepare the offering of golden hemorrhoids and mice, put them in a little coffer, and, with the ark, send them away on the new cart, drawn by two milch-kine.

1. No sooner were they yoked in, than, wonderful to behold! though unaccustomed to draw without a driver, the way quite strange to them, and the strong attractive of their calves behind them, lowing with parental instinct to leave them, yet without the least mistake or reluctance, they pursue the straight road to Beth-shemesh, whilst the lords of the Philistines, who followed them, were fully convinced from whose hands their plagues came.
2. Little thought the men of Beth-shemesh what an invaluable present was sent them. They were reaping when the ark arrived; and, with a transport of wonder, laid down their hooks to run to welcome it. Note; (1.) Though industry is highly commendable, it becomes sinful selfishness, when it makes us neglect the most needful work of prayer and praise to God. (2.) The return of God's presence, and the revival of his pure worship, is matter of unspeakable delight to every faithful soul.

3. They immediately remove the ark and coffer with the jewels of gold, and place them on a great stone, in the field of Joshua, near which the kine had stopped, as at their journey's end; the Levites (among whom might be priests also), to whom this city belonged, take it down; and as the case was so extraordinary, they think themselves authorized to offer sacrifices before the ark, though out of the instituted way. The cart serves for fuel, and the kine which drew it, though females, are offered up for a burnt-offering: besides which, they add other sacrifices, in token of their thankfulness for the mercy. Note, If, in extraordinary cases, a man moved with zeal for God's glory steps out of the instituted way of worship, we ought not to be severe censurers of the irregularity.

4. The stone whereon the ark rested, with the coffer containing the mice and emerods, to which every city under each of the five lords seems to have contributed, long remained a memorial of Philistia's shame, and of the glory of Israel's God.

Verse 19

1 Samuel 6:19. And he smote the men of Beth-shemesh The people of Beth-shemesh could not but know that God had forbidden, on pain of death, not only the common people, but even the Levites, to look into the ark. But their curiosity caused them to forget their duty, and they were accordingly punished for it. This history, as Bochart remarks, has given rise to many stories among the heathens. See his Canaan, lib. 1: cap. 18. Dr. Waterland renders the next clause, he smote of the people fifty thousand, &c.: thus, he smote of the people threescore and ten men out fifty thousand: which, says he, is a juster rendering of the Hebrew, and is well defended by Le Clerc upon the place. Bochart had before led the way towards correcting the common translations; rendering the words thus: seventy men; viz. fifty out of a thousand men, which was a much better rendering than the common translations; and his reasonings upon the text afforded great light to all that came after. Le Clerc's will suit as well with the letter of the Hebrew, and appears more natural and less perplexed. Houbigant understands the passage in its rigour, and translates thus; but the Lord smote in Beth-shemesh seventy men, because they had looked into the ark of the Lord; and of the people [who he supposed had come from the neighbouring countries to see the ark] fifty thousand men; so that the lamentation was great, &c. One of this great critic's reasons for supposing that more than seventy were slain is, that this is called a great slaughter: but surely it might well cause much lamentation, and might with propriety be called a great slaughter, when so many as seventy of the people perished at once by a stroke from heaven for an offence of this nature; and as the Hebrew will bear the interpretation given by Dr. Waterland and Le Clerc, one would certainly rather wish to understand it in this light, than in that wherein we see it in the common translation. We just observe, that Josephus mentions only seventy Beth-shemites as punished on this occasion. See his Antiq. book 6: cap. 2 and Kennicott's Dissert. vol. 1: p. 532.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 6". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.