New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary


1Sa 6:1 The ark of Yahweh was in the country of the Philistines for seven months-
LXX adds "And their land swarmed with mice" (as in :4). The question of course which dominated their thinking was whether their sufferings were all just coincidence, or whether this was due to Israel's God. And yet at the end of 1 Sam. 5 it is clear they recognized the supremacy of Yahweh; and yet by all means men seek to wriggle and squirm against the most evident proof, even if they are brought to admit His existence and activity, they will still seek to dismiss it later (see on :9). This is why "evidences for the existence of God" are not ultimately powerful of themselves; there has to be a movement within the heart of those experiencing them, and a conscious desire not to deny them further.

1Sa 6:2 The Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, asking, What shall we do with the ark of Yahweh? Show us how we should send it back to its place-
Circumstances repeat within the lives of God's people, both over time and space. The calling of diviners for help when they were clearly beaten and revealed as having no wisdom... all recalls the situation when seeking to interpret the visions of Pharaoh and the kings in the book of Daniel. There is the same hallmark left from the same Divine hand that was operating. And the continuities in God's operations can be perceived within our own lives, and between our lives and those of others contemporary with us. This is one advantage of meeting together in fellowship with other believers; if we talk about His hand in our lives [rather than social chit chat] we perceive that man is not alone, the same God is working and has worked in others' lives as He does in our life. See on :20.

1Sa 6:3 They said, If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, don’t send it empty; by all means return Him a trespass offering, then you will be healed and you will know why His hand has not been removed from you-
The Philistines were aware of Israel's exodus from Egypt and the judgment upon the Egyptians (1 Sam. 4:8). The Egyptians had given presents to Israel when they left, so that Israel were "sent out" from Egypt "empty" (s.w. Ex. 3:21). It seems the Philistine elders had this in mind. They recognized they were as Egypt before Yahweh; and yet they didn't take the Divine hint to go further, and be those Egyptians who went with Israel to inherit the land. They also had some moral sense that they had sinned against Yahweh. All the time, as noted throughout 1 Sam. 5, Yahweh was seeking to bring them unto Himself; but they refused, thinking that a tokenistic offering to Him would allow them to just continue with their existing religious practices.

1Sa 6:4 Then they said, What should the trespass offering be, which we should send to Him?
The real existence of Yahweh and His claim upon them is recognized.

They said, Five golden tumours and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines, for the same plague struck you all and your lords-
The trespass offering was to be in the form of the judgments experienced for the trespass, mice (see on :1) and tumours. This was some kind of recognition that the judgments experienced were just.  

1Sa 6:5 Therefore you must make images of your tumours and your mice that are destroying the land, and give glory to the God of Israel; perhaps He will lift His hand from you, your gods and your land-
Eli's daughter in law had died muttering "Ichabod", the glory is departed, because of the loss of the physical ark. But she saw things only in terms of physical visible religion. Glory was in fact given to God even in the loss of the ark; He was to be given glory, kabod, heaviness, so that He would lighten His hand. It was a magnificent defeat; Israel on earth lost, but Yahweh won, hence Dagon falling mutilated and defeated before Yahweh. Giving glory to God meant repentance and acceptance He was right and they were wrong, and that they had stolen what was His (exactly the same context in Josh. 7:19). They were not far from the Kingdom of God. They very well perceived what had happened, and the path required to reconciliation with Yahweh. And yet in :9 we see their return to the idea that maybe this was all coincidence. As noted on 1 Sam. 5:12, God was seeking their repentance and coming to Him. The exiles were likewise asked to repent and give glory to God (s.w. Jer. 13:16); they too were guilty of mere religious tokenism toward Yahweh and His ark and presence; they were no better than these Philistines, but just as there was a path to repentance for the Philistines, so there was for the exiles.

1Sa 6:6 Why do you harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? When He had done wonders among them, didn’t they send the people away and they departed?-
The Philistine logic equates the ark with God's people. They argued that the ark must be sent away just as the people were sent away. The argument also clearly recognizes Yahweh as supreme over them, as He was over Egypt. But then we come in :9 to the slipping back into secular thinking, wondering if after all this was all chance and coincidence. It's like the atheist confronted with empirical evidence for God, being forced to accept it, and yet slipping back into the hope this just all coincidence.   

Hebrew thought and language tends not to use abstract terms but rather uses language which alludes to physical body parts- e.g.  to be stubborn is to be 'hard hearted' (1 Sam. 6:6), 'look' becomes 'to lift up the eyes' (Gen. 22:4), anger is 'to burn in the nostrils' (Ex. 4:14), to reveal something is to 'unstop someone's ears' (Ruth 4:4), stubbornness is to be 'stiff necked' (2 Chron. 30:8), to prepare oneself is to 'gird up the loins' (Jer. 1:17), to determine to go somewhere is 'to set one's face' (Jer. 42:15; Lk. 9:51).

1Sa 6:7 Now therefore prepare a new cart, and get two milk cows which have never been yoked; tie the cows to the cart and bring their calves home from them-
The language of chariot ["cart"], calves and the ark of Yahweh's glory upon it recalls the cherubim of Ezekiel's visions. The exiles were being bidden believe that the prophecies of restoration could easily be fulfilled, just as they had been in these historical precedents. 

1Sa 6:8 Put the ark of Yahweh on the cart and put the jewels of gold, which you are sending Him for a trespass offering, in a chest beside it- and send it away-
They had opened the ark because they wanted to get the jewels they imagined were hidden within it, and perhaps they really were there. Maybe when Hophni and Phinehas were slain, they were bearing the breastplate, which was then put within the ark or associated with it. But now they learned their lesson, not to open the ark. Rather, the jewels of gold which were the images of the tumors and mice were not to be placed within the ark, it was not to be opened again, but rather placed beside it in a separate chest. It was as if the "jewels" they made were appropriate penitence for seeking to steal Yahweh's jewels. "And send it away" alludes to the Egyptians sending the Israelites away with jewels.

1Sa 6:9 If it goes up to its own territory, to Beth Shemesh, then He has done us this great evil; but if not, then we shall know that it is not His hand that struck us; it was a chance that happened to us-
And yet the preceding verses speak of making a trespass offering to Yahweh and finely appreciating the nature of their sin and the appropriate repentance for it. We noted on 1 Sam. 5:10 their acceptance of Yahweh's supremacy over their gods. But as discussed on :1, in the face of every rational, empirical evidence for the one true God and His ways, men must still of themselves choose to come out of denial and believe. By all means men seek to wriggle and squirm against the most evident proof, even if they are brought to admit His existence and activity, they will still seek to dismiss it later.

1Sa 6:10 The men did so, and took two milk cows, tied them to the cart and shut up their calves at home-
The natural desire of the cows would be to return to their calves and not run away from them.

1Sa 6:11 They put the ark of Yahweh on the cart, and the chest with the mice of gold and the images of their tumours-
The cameraman of Divine inspiration is as it were zoomed in close up, so that we see the Philistines carefully doing these things.

1Sa 6:12 The cows went straight towards Beth Shemesh; they went along the highway, lowing as they went, and didn’t 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-
The drivers of an ox cart would go before it, not follow behind it. In this they were being further humbled, that they were not in fact in control, and were potentially being led by God's Spirit in this makeshift imitation of the cherubim... to the people of Israel. But they failed to follow. And again, the lesson was for the exiles, that they too should follow God's cherubic leading back to their God and their land. Just as Ezekiel's visions of the cherubim tried to teach them. The cows going "straight" is to be connected with the straight feet of the cherubim, and how they too travelled in a straight path (Ez. 1:7,9,12 etc.).

1Sa 6:13 The people of Beth Shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they rejoiced to see it-
This was a priestly city, which internally corroborates with the statement in :15 that the Levites were immediately present to offer sacrifice. It is this kind of internal consistency which to me is the greatest argument for a Divinely inspired Bible. This verse is the clear fulfillment of Ps. 126:5: "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy". But that is specifically a song of degrees or ascents, a prophecy of the restoration of the exiles. The restoration was to be modelled upon historical precedents such as these. And this is why these historical records were rewritten under inspiration for the encouragement of the exiles.

1Sa 6:14 The cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh and stood there beside a great stone. The people split the wood of the cart and offered up the cows for a burnt offering to Yahweh-
The cart came to Joshua / Jesus. Perhaps this too had intentional meaning for the exiles, who were to return at a time when there was a priest called Joshua (Hag. 1:1; 2:4; Zech. 3:1 etc.). "The field of..." may suggest he was a Levite or priest who had a "field" as permitted by the law.

I will suggest on Ecc. 10:9 that Solomon in his apostacy later cynically refers to this incident: "Whoever splits wood may be endangered thereby". The same phrase is used. They split wood and sacrificed with joy that the ark had returned to them; but then they looked inside the ark and were slain. And so, Solomon reasons, wisdom and Yahweh worship are pointless. But of course the point was that they were disobedient. The ark was indeed a blessing, but they abused it through harnessing its return to their own self interest and love of wealth, just as Solomon did. 

1Sa 6:15 The Levites took down the ark of Yahweh and the chest with the jewels of gold and put them on the great stone, and the men of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices to Yahweh that day-
See on :13. We noted on 1 Sam. 5:1 how the ark had been taken away from Ebenezer, the rock of help. For Yahweh was no longer their rock. Its return to a great rock / stone (:14) was therefore showing that God was eager to restore relationship with His people and undo what had gone so wrong between them; just as was the case at the restoration. But as the exiles refused to make use of it, so now also.   

1Sa 6:16 When the five lords of the Philistines had seen this. they returned to Ekron the same day-
I discussed on :9 how they had previously been forced to accept the empirical evidence before them for the existence of Yahweh and His supremacy and claims upon them. But then they slipped back to the suspicion that it was all chance and coincidence. But now, they return to Ekron with this further demonstration that Yahweh is for real, and there was no question of chance coincidence. But they still refused to believe, just as so many today. Again we have to observe how men must still of themselves choose to come out of denial and believe. By all means men seek to wriggle and squirm against the most evident proof, even if they are brought to admit Yahweh's existence and activity; but they will still seek to dismiss it later. Being trounced by the power of argument and observed reality is still not enough to make men believe, because belief must ultimately be a human choice and not forced upon a man by the weight of empirical evidence alone.

1Sa 6:17 These are the golden tumours which the Philistines returned for a trespass offering to Yahweh: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath and one for Ekron-
We wonder if this alludes to the fact that the Philistines had labelled them.

1Sa 6:18 The number of golden mice was according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, fortified cities and country villages. The great stone on which they put the ark of Yahweh remains to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh-
Again we get the impression that they perceived very well the complete nature of their guilt, and their desire to demonstrate that their every village had to be covered by this admission of trespass against Yahweh, and seeking to do something about it. But see on :9.

1Sa 6:19 But God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh because they had looked into the ark of Yahweh. He killed seventy of the men, and the people mourned, because Yahweh had struck the people with a great slaughter-
I suspect this was because they wanted to find any more jewels which the Philistines might have placed there. In the face and presence of the things of the supreme glory of Jehovah of Israel, they scavenged around in a spirit of petty materialism- just as men gambled for the clothes of Jesus at the foot of His cross. "Seventy" follows some manuscripts, whilst others give a figure of 50,070. Remember that "thousands" in Hebrew can refer not to the literal number but to groups, regiments, families etc. The idea may be the men of 70 families.

Ez. 7:19 defines “silver and gold” as Israel’s stumblingblock- moreso than idols. They just so loved wealth. The men of Bethshemesh looked into the ark to see if there were any more jewels left in it (1 Sam. 6:19 cp. 6,15); they trampled upon the supreme holiness of God in their crazed fascination with wealth. The early corruption of Christianity was due to false teachers who like Balaam "loved the wages of unrighteousness" (2 Pet. 2:15); they taught false doctrine "for filthy lucre's sake" (Tit. 1:11 AV). Time and again the NT warns against elders who would be motivated by the love of "filthy lucre" rather than the Lord Jesus and His people (1 Tim. 3:3,8; Tit. 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:2). The Greek translated " filthy lucre" is hard to understand; it doesn't just mean 'money'. It suggests profit that is somehow filthy, morally disgusting. This is what money turns into, in God's eyes, when men so love it.

The judgment upon the Israelites at this point was intended to teach them that their religious usage of the ark was wrong. They assumed that having the ark literally with them meant they were right with God. Just as they had wrongly assumed that having the ark with them would guarantee them victory against the Philistines.

1Sa 6:20 The men of Beth Shemesh said, Who is able to stand before Yahweh, this holy God?-

This was to be David's later feelings when Uzzah was slain for not being respectful to the ark (2 Sam. 6:9). Circumstances repeated, and David failed to learn the lesson. We wonder if indeed David consciously repeated the words of the men of Beth Shemesh. I suspect he didn't, but rather his words are recorded in a similar way, to show to us readers the similarity. We are intended to learn from history, even though so few do. This is why so much of the Bible is history. We note from 1 Sam. 7:3 that at this time, the Israelites were generally following other gods. They considered Yahweh one of many gods, and at this point, they wanted no more to do with Him because He seemed to them an unreasonable God. 

The Israelites at this point are feeling and speaking just like the Philistines- they too want the ark, and Yahweh, to "go from us". They see God as His ark, the external visible religious symbol became God for them- just as so many fail to separate church from God. The loss of church, of religion, means they have no relationship with God. Israel now had the same religious view of the ark as the Philistines, and were punished for this. Form triumphed over content, religion over spirituality, and God was and is displeased by this. God's people too often view their God and their faith as mere religion, just as do the people in the world around us.

To whom shall He go from us?-
By reasoning like this they were repeating the very attitudes and words of the Philistines. As David failed to perceive the similarities between his position in 2 Sam 6:9 and that of the men of Bethshemesh, so they had failed to learn from the lesson of the Philistines. And ended up saying the same words as they did (1 Sam. 5:11).

1Sa 6:21 They sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath Jearim saying, The Philistines have brought back the ark of Yahweh; come down and take it up to your place
This repeats the attitude of the Philistines, seeking other towns to take custody of the ark. As noted on :20, all concerned failed to perceive that history was repeating, and they were not learning the lessons. This is perhaps the greatest tragedy of history, of the entire Divine-human encounter.