Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 5

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1

1. From Eben-ezer unto Ashdod A distance of nearly thirty miles.

Ashdod in Greek, Azotus (Acts 8:40) was one of the five chief cities of Philistia, (Joshua 13:3,) and the principal seat of the worship of Dagon.

Verses 1-12


The Philistine conquerors are soon to find that the ark is for them a fearful booty. With great rejoicing they carry it to their great idol’s temple, as if to say, Our God is mightier than the mighty God of Israel, and we will dedicate the ark to him. But miserable honours await Dagon, and fearful plagues visit his worshippers. Terror-smitten, they carry the ark from one place to another, supposing that change of locality might check its power for evil, but all without avail, for the presence of the ark spreads plague and terror everywhere.

Here we may see why Jehovah permitted the ark to fall into the hands of these idolaters. It would prove to them, in their own land, that Jehovah’s power was not in sword nor bow, nor chariot; that the ark alone, the mere symbol of his presence, could be used by him to crush their Dagon, and smite their land and its inhabitants with plagues. Nor was this capture of the ark without its salutary lessons for Israel. They never afterwards attempted to put it to a superstitious use. Their priests had defiled the tabernacle by their impiety, and had committed sacrilege in their use of the offerings. The sanctuary seems to have become totally neglected by several of the tribes of Israel, for as “men abhorred the offering of the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:17) at Shiloh, they turned to the practice of sacrificing on high places; or else, like Micah, (Judges 17:5,) made a tabernacle of their own with graven images, and set up an independent worship. Thus Israel failed to establish a central seat of worship, as well as a central government; the Levitical service became disorganized, and the worship at Shiloh a reproach; and the Lord allowed the ark of his presence to be taken from them as a judgment for their sins. Compare Psalms 78:56-66.

“The loss and the recovery of the ark,” says Milman, “would tend powerfully to consolidate the disorganized realm. The tidings of that awful calamity, the capture of the ark, the seeming abandonment of his people by their God, would sound like a knell in the heart of every one born of Israel. From the foot of Lebanon to the edge of the desert, from the remotest pastures of Gilead to the seacoast of Asher, the dormant religious feeling would be stirred to its depths. Even those who had furtively cast their grain of incense on the altar of Baal would be roused by the terrible shock, and prostrate themselves in penitence, if not in despair. That universal religious movement, from grief, from shame, from fear, would be maddened to tumultuous excitement at the tidings, as rapidly, as widely spread, of the restoration of the inappreciable treasure Jehovah’s return in all his power and majesty to the center of his chosen people.”

Verse 2

2. House of Dagon Hebrew, Beth-Dagon; not here the name of a city, as at Joshua 15:41; Joshua 19:27, but the house or temple (1 Chronicles 10:10) in which Dagon was worshipped. The Philistines placed the ark in Dagon’s temple as a dedicatory offering to their god, who had gotten them their victory. Dagon was the great national god of the Philistines. His image bore the body of a fish, and the face and hands of a man. Various representations of this idol have been found on the Assyrian monuments, and in them all the characteristic feature is the figure of a fish. See note and cut at Judges 16:23.

Verse 3

3. Dagon… fallen upon his face… before the ark Not only will Jehovah not give his glory to another, nor his praise to graven images, but he will make idols themselves fall before him, (comp. Isaiah 19:1; Isaiah 46:1-2,) and thereby proclaim that he alone is God.

Set him in his place again Not knowing the cause of his fall, but perhaps supposing that it was by accident. How dim and low their notions of Deity!

Verse 4

4. Only the stump of Dagon was left to him רק דגון נשׁאר עליו , only Dagon was left upon him; Septuagint, only the spine ( ραχις ) of Dagon was left; marginal reading, only the fishy part was left. Those parts of the idol which resembled man, namely, the head and hands, were smitten off by Jehovah’s power, and thrown upon the sill of the door which led into the apartment of the temple where the idol stood; so there was left upon the pedestal only that part of the image which resembled a fish, and from which the idol received its characteristic name, Dagon.

Verse 5

5. Neither the priests of Dagon,… nor any… tread on the threshold They deemed that place, on which the nobler portions of their god had fallen, a spot too holy for human feet to press. Here behold the blind infatuation of idolatry! They should have acknowledged Dagon’s nothingness before Jehovah, and have said that his head and hands, after such disgrace, were only to be trodden under foot, like the threshold of a door; but they only make this disgrace of their idol an occasion of plunging into deeper superstition.

Verse 6

6. Hand of the Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod Not only did Dagon suffer shame, but the persons and lands of his worshippers were visited with plagues.

Destroyed them Made them desolate and terror-stricken by fearful diseases on their bodies, and wasting devastation in their fields. The Hebrew word may be rendered, He caused them to be amazed, that is, by the fearful judgments with which he afflicted them.

Emerods There is some uncertainty as to the nature of the disease here indicated. The more proper English word is hemorrhoids, from the Greek αιμορροος , a flow of blood. Accordingly, Josephus and some English commentators understand it here to mean dysentery. Josephus says: “God sent a very destructive disease upon the city and country of Ashdod, for they died of the dysentery and flux, a sore distemper, that brought death upon them very suddenly; for before the soul could, as usual in easy deaths, be well loosed from the body, they brought up their entrails, and vomited up what they had eaten, and what was entirely corrupted by the disease.” But 1 Samuel 5:12 clearly shows that the disease was not necessarily fatal. A more plausible explanation is, that which makes the word mean bleeding piles, and this is favoured by the English and several ancient versions of 1 Samuel 5:9, where see note. The Hebrew word is the plural of עפל , a hill, and, used to designate some disease of the body, it would most naturally mean some rising or swelling of the flesh. Hence Gesenius, Furst, and Keil appropriately render the word by tumours or boils. In 1Sa 6:11 ; 1 Samuel 6:17, the word שׂחורים is used, whose root, according to Furst, means to glow, to burn, to kindle, and may therefore be properly rendered inflammatory tumours. The Masoretes have substituted this latter word in the keri for עפלים , perhaps, as some suggest, to make the reading more euphemistical. In 1 Samuel 5:9 the disease is spoken of as a breaking out, ( נשׂתר ,) an expression most naturally used of boils or tumours. We may safely conclude, therefore, that the word has essentially this sense. See further on 1 Samuel 5:9.

Ashdod and the coasts thereof These words are grammatically in apposition with them, and are added to indicate the extent of the plague. The Septuagint, evidently in anticipation of what is said in 1 Samuel 6:5, adds the following: “And in the midst of that region were produced mice, and there was a great confusion of death in the city.” Besides this, the Vulgate also has, “The villas and fields in the midst of that region burst up.” These are doubtless interpolations from other passages, though Thenius takes them as evidences of corruption in the Hebrew text.

Verse 7

7. The ark… shall not abide with us To idolaters, whether they be Israelitish or Philistine, Jehovah’s presence is a fearful scourge, and in idolatry they can have ease only by sending Him away.

Verse 8

8. They sent Feeling now that, though they had vanquished the Israelites, they could not endure the severe hand of their God, the lords of the Philistines come together in solemn convocation, and the great question before them is:

What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel Their prize has become a sore burden on their hands, and they know not how to dispose of it. At length they decide:

Let the ark… be carried about unto Gath They seem to have imagined that the difficulty might have arisen from some local cause, and that a change of place might disarm the ark of its power. The site of Gath has long remained unknown. In 1857 Revelation J.L. Porter explored Philistia in special search of it, and supposes he has identified it with Tell-es-Safieh, which is situated ten miles east of Ashdod, and nearly the same distance south of Ekron.

Verse 9

9. Hand of the Lord was against the city In Gath, as in Ashdod, the presence of the ark was the cause of plagues.

A very great destruction Rather, a very great consternation; that is, by reason of the fearful plagues it spread. מהומה is from הום , to agitate, to throw commotion, Septuagint, ταραχος , tumult, commotion; compare השׁם , to amaze, in 1 Samuel 5:6.

In their secret parts These words are adopted from the ancient versions, (Septuagint, Chaldee, Vulgate,) but have nothing to support them in the Hebrew text. Literally the Hebrew, as we render, stands thus: And there broke out on them boils. But what part of the body was thus affected we are not informed. The versions above named, and rabbinical tradition, however, with singular unanimity, represent the disease as affecting the anus. Hence the plausibility of rendering עפלים bleeding piles. This is supposed to receive support from Psalms 78:66, where it is said, in reference to this very judgment, He smote his enemies in the hinder parts. But אחור , translated hinder parts, may more properly be rendered back, or backwards, as is done by De Wette, Lengerke, and Alexander, in their works on the Psalms. There is nothing, therefore, in the Hebrew Scriptures to sustain the reference of this disease to any one particular part of the body. For aught that appears to the contrary, these swellings or boils may have broken out all over the body. It may, perhaps, be worth noticing in this connexion that Herodotus (1,105) mentions a plague, which he calls the female disease, ( θηλειαν νουσον ,) as being inflicted by a goddess of the Philistines upon some Scythians who plundered her ancient temple at Ascalon. According to Hippocrates, this disease came from continual exercise on horseback, and resulted in the loss of virility, whereupon the victims clothed themselves in the attire, and betook themselves to the habits and employments, of women.

Verse 10

10. They sent the ark… to Ekron A city some ten miles north of Gath. Compare Joshua 13:3. From city to city does the ark of Jehovah spread terror and confusion.

Verse 11

11. A deadly destruction throughout all the city מהומה מות , confusion of death in all the city; that is, consternation caused by many sudden deaths. Ekron, as well as Gath and Ashdod, is smitten with the plague, and many die. Therefore they abandon all hopes of keeping their prize within their borders, and at once resolve to send it away to its own place.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 5". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.