1 Samuel 6
In this chapter we have the return of the ark to the land of Israel,
whither we are now gladly to attend it, and observe,
I. How the Philistines dismissed it, by the advice of their priests
(2 Samuel 6:1-11),
with rich presents to the God of Israel, to make an atonement for their
(2 Samuel 6:3-5),
and yet with a project to bring it back, unless Providence directed the
kine, contrary to their inclination, to go to the land of Israel,
2 Samuel 6:8,9.
II. How the Israelites entertained it.
1. With great joy and sacrifices of praise,
2 Samuel 6:12-18.
2. With an over-bold curiosity to look into it, for which many of them
were struck dead, the terror of which moved them to send it forward to
2 Samuel 6:19-21.
|The Ark Among the Philistines.
||B. C. 1120.|
1 And the ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines
2 And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners,
saying, What shall we do to the ark of the LORD? tell us
wherewith we shall send it to his place.
3 And they said, If ye send away the ark of the God of Israel,
send it not empty; but in any wise return him a trespass
offering: then ye shall be healed, and it shall be known to you
why his hand is not removed from you.
4 Then said they, What shall be the trespass offering which
we shall return to him? They answered, Five golden emerods, and
five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the
Philistines: for one plague was on you all, and on your lords.
5 Wherefore ye shall make images of your emerods, and images of
your mice that mar the land; and ye shall give glory unto the God
of Israel: peradventure he will lighten his hand from off you,
and from off your gods, and from off your land.
6 Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and
Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully
among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed?
7 Now therefore make a new cart, and take two milch kine, on
which there hath come no yoke, and tie the kine to the cart, and
bring their calves home from them:
8 And take the ark of the LORD, and lay it upon the cart; and
put the jewels of gold, which ye return him for a trespass
offering, in a coffer by the side thereof; and send it away, that
it may go.
9 And see, if it goeth up by the way of his own coast to
Beth-shemesh, then he hath done us this great evil: but if not,
then we shall know that it is not his hand that smote us: it
was a chance that happened to us.
The first words of the chapter tell us how long the captivity of the
ark continued--it was in the country of the Philistines seven months.
In the field of the Philistines (so it is in the original), from
which some gather that, having tried it in all their cities, and found
it a plague to the inhabitants of each, at length they sent it into the
open fields, upon which mice sprang up out of the ground in great
multitudes, and destroyed the corn which was now nearly ripe and marred
the land. With that judgment they were plagued
(1 Samuel 6:5),
and yet it is not mentioned in the foregoing chapter; so God let them
know that wherever they carried the ark, so long as they carried it
captive, they should find it a curse to them. Cursed shalt thou be
in the city, and cursed in the field,
But, most take it to signify, as we render it, The country of the
1. Seven months Israel was punished with the absence of the ark, that
special token of God's presence. How bare did the tabernacle look
without it! How was the holy city now a desolation, and the holy land
a wilderness! A melancholy time no doubt it was to the good people
among them, 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.
2. Seven months the Philistines were punished with the presence of the
ark; so long it was a plague to them, because they would not send it
home sooner. Note, Sinners lengthen out their own miseries by
obstinately refusing to part with their sins. Egypt's plagues would
have been fewer than ten if Pharaoh's heart had not been hardened not
to let the people go. But at length it is determined that the ark must
be sent back; there is no remedy, they are undone if they detain
I. The priests and the diviners are consulted about it,
1 Samuel 6:2.
They were supposed to be best acquainted both with the rules of wisdom
and with the rites of worship and atonement. And the Israelites being
their neighbours, and famed above all people for the institutions of
their religion, they had no doubt the curiosity to acquaint themselves
with their laws and usages; and therefore it was proper to ask them,
What shall we do to the ark of Jehovah? All nations have had a
regard to their priests, as the men whose lips keep knowledge. Had the
Philistines diviners? We have divines, of whom we should enquire
wherewith we shall come before the Lord and bow ourselves
before the most high God.
II. They give their advice very fully, and seem to be very unanimous in
it. It was a wonder they did not, as friends to their country, give it,
ex officio--officially, before they were asked.
1. They urge it upon them that it was absolutely necessary to send the
ark back, from the example of Pharaoh and the Egyptians,
1 Samuel 6:6.
Some, it may be, were loth to yield, and were willing to try it out
with the ark awhile longer, and to them they apply themselves:
Wherefore do you harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh
did? It seems they were well acquainted with the Mosaic history,
and could cite precedents out of it. This good use we should make of
the remaining records of God's judgments upon obstinate sinners, we
should by them be warned not to harden our hearts as they did. It is
much cheaper to learn by other people's experience than by our own. The
Egyptians were forced at last to let Israel go; therefore let the
Philistines yield in time to let the ark go.
2. They advise that, when they sent it back, they should send a
trespass-offering with it,
1 Samuel 6:3.
Whatever the gods of other nations were, they knew the God of Israel
was a jealous God, and how strict he was in his demands of
sin-offerings and trespass-offerings from his own people; and
therefore, since they found how highly he resented the affront of
holding his ark captive, those with whom he had such a quarrel must
in any wise return him a trespass-offering, and they could not
expect to be healed upon any other terms. Injured justice demands
satisfaction. So far natural light instructed men. But when they began
to contrive what that satisfaction should be, they became wretchedly
vain in their imaginations. But those who by wilful sin have imprisoned
the truth in unrighteousness, as the Philistines did the ark
may conclude that there is no making their peace with him whom they
have thus injured but by a sin-offering; and we know but one that can
take away sin.
3. They direct that this trespass-offering should be an acknowledgement
of the punishment of their iniquity, by which they might take shame to
themselves as conquered and yielding, and guilty before God, and might
give glory to the God of Israel as their mighty conqueror and
most just avenger,
1 Samuel 6:5.
They must make images of the emerods, that is, of the swellings
and sores with which they had been afflicted, so making the reproach of
that shameful disease perpetual by their own act and deed
also images of the mice that had marred the land, owning thereby
the almighty power of the God of Israel, who could chastise and humble
them, even in the day of their triumph, by such small and despicable
animals. These images must be made of gold, the most precious metal, to
intimate that they would gladly purchase their peace with the God of
Israel at any rate, and would not think it bought too dearly with gold,
with much fine gold. The golden emerods must be, in
number, five, according to the number of the lords, who, it is
likely, were all afflicted with them, and were content thus to own it;
it was advised that the golden mice should be five too, but,
because the whole country was infested with them, it should seem, upon
second thoughts, they sent more of them, according to the number
both of the fenced cities and of the country villages,
1 Samuel 6:18.
Their priests reminded them that one plague was on them all;
they could not blame one another, for they were all guilty, which they
were plainly told by being all plagued. Their proposal to offer a
trespass-offering for their offence was conformable enough to divine
revelation at that time; but to send such things as these for
trespass-offerings was very foreign, and showed them grossly ignorant
of the methods of reconciliation appointed by the law of Moses; for
there it appears all along that it is blood, and not gold, that makes
atonement for the soul.
4. They encourage them to hope that hereby they would take an effectual
course to get rid of the plague: You shall be healed,
1 Samuel 6:3.
For, it seems, the disease obstinately resisted all the methods of cure
their physicians had prescribed. "Let them therefore send back the ark,
and then," say they, "It shall be known to you why his hand is not
removed from you, that is, by this it will appear whether it is for
your detaining the ark that you are thus plagued; for, if it be, upon
your delivering it up the plague will cease." God has sometimes put his
people upon making such a trial, whether their reformation would not be
their relief. Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts,
Yet they speak doubtfully
(1 Samuel 6:5):
Peradventure he will lighten his hand from off you; as if now
they began to think that the judgment might come from God's hand, and
yet not be removed immediately upon the restitution of the ark; however
that was the likeliest way to obtain mercy. Take away the cause and the
effect will cease.
5. Yet they put them in a way to make a further trial whether it was
the hand of the God of Israel that had smitten them with these plagues
or no. They must, in honour of the ark, put it on a new cart or
carriage, to be drawn by two milch-cows, that had calves daily sucking
(1 Samuel 6:7),
unused to draw, and inclined to home, both for the sake of the crib
where they were fed and of the calves they nourished, and, besides,
altogether unacquainted with the road that led towards the land of
Israel. They must have no one to lead or drive them, but must take
their own way, which, in all reason, one might expect, would be home
again; and yet, unless the God of Israel, after all the other miracles
he has wrought, will work one more, and by an invisible power lead
these cows, contrary to their natural instinct and inclination, to the
land of Israel, and particularly to Beth-shemesh, they will retract
their former opinion, and will believe it was not the hand of God that
smote them, but it was a chance that happened to them,
1 Samuel 6:8,9.
Thus did God suffer himself to be tempted and prescribed to, after he
had been otherwise affronted, by these uncircumcised Philistines. Would
they have been content that the honour of Dagon, their god, should be
put upon such an issue as this? See how willing bad men are to shift
off their convictions of the hand of God upon them, and to believe,
when they are in trouble, that it is a chance that happens to
them; and, if so, the rod has no voice which they are concerned to
hear or heed.
|The Restoration of the Ark.
||B. C. 1119.|
10 And the men did so; and took two milch kine, and tied them
to the cart, and shut up their calves at home:
11 And they laid the ark of the LORD upon the cart, and the
coffer with the mice of gold and the images of their emerods.
12 And the kine took the straight way to the way of
Beth-shemesh, and went along the highway, lowing 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
13 And they of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest
in the valley: and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark,
and rejoiced to see it.
14 And the cart came into the field of Joshua, a Bethshemite,
and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they clave
the wood of the cart, and offered the kine a burnt offering unto
15 And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD, and the
coffer that was with it, wherein the jewels of gold were, and
put them on the great stone: and the men of Beth-shemesh offered
burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto the
16 And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it,
they returned to Ekron the same day.
17 And these are the golden emerods which the Philistines
returned for a trespass offering unto the LORD; for Ashdod one,
for Gaza one, for Askelon one, for Gath one, for Ekron one;
18 And the golden mice, according to the number of all the
cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both
of fenced cities, and of country villages, even 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
We are here told,
I. How the Philistines dismissed the ark,
1 Samuel 6:10,11.
They were made as glad to part with it as ever they had been to take
it. As God had fetched Israel out of the house of bondage, so now he
fetched the ark out of its captivity, in such a manner as that Egypt
was glad when they departed,
1. They received no money or price for the ransom of it, as they hoped
to do, even beyond a king's ransom. Thus it is prophesied of Cyrus
He shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward. Nay,
2. They gave jewels of gold, as the Egyptians did to the Israelites,
to be rid of it. Thus the ark that was carried into the land of the
Philistines, a trophy of their victory, carried back with it trophies
of its own, and lasting monuments of the disgrace of the Philistines.
Note, God will be no loser in his glory, at last, by the successes of
the church's enemies against his ark, but will get himself honour from
those that seek to do dishonour to him.
II. How the kine brought it to the land of Israel,
1 Samuel 6:12.
They took the straight way to Beth-shemesh, the next city of the
land of Israel, and a priests' city, and turned not aside. This
was a wonderful instance of the power of God over the brute-creatures,
and, all things considered, no less than a miracle, that cattle
unaccustomed to the yoke should draw so even, so orderly, and still go
forward,--that, without any driver, they should go from home, to which
all tame creatures have a natural inclination, and from their own
calves, to which they had a natural affection,--that, without any
director, they should go the straight road to Beth-shemesh, a city
eight or ten miles off, never miss the way, never turn aside into the
fields to feed themselves, nor turn back home to feed their calves.
They went on lowing for their young ones, by which it appeared that
they had not forgotten them, but that nature was sensible of the
grievance of going from them; the power of the God of nature therefore
appeared so much the greater, in overruling one of the strongest
instincts of nature. These two kine, says Dr. Lightfoot, knew their
owner, their great owner
whom Hophni and Phinehas knew not, to which I may add they brought home
the ark to shame the stupidity of Israel, that made no attempt to fetch
it home. God's providence is conversant about the motions even of
brute-creatures, and serves its own purposes by them. The lords of the
Philistines, with a suitable retinue no doubt, went after them,
wondering at the power of the God of Israel; and thus those who thought
to triumph over the ark were made to go like menial servants after
III. How it was welcomed to the land of Israel: The men of
Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat-harvest,
1 Samuel 6:13.
They were going on with their worldly business, and were in no care
about the ark, made no enquiries what had become of it; if they had, it
is likely they might have had private intelligence beforehand of its
coming, and might have gone to meet it, and conduct it into their own
border. But they were as careless as the people that ceiled their
own houses and let God's house lie waste. Note, God will in
his own time effect the deliverance of his church, not only though it
be fought against by its enemies, but though it be neglected by its
friends. Some observe that the returning ark found the men of
Beth-shemesh, not idling or sporting in the streets of the city, but
busy, reaping their corn in their fields, and well employed. Thus the
tidings of the birth of Christ were brought to the shepherds when they
were keeping their flock by night. The devil visits idle men
with his temptations. God visits industrious men with his favours. The
same invisible hand that directed the kine to the land of Israel
brought them into the field of Joshua, and in that field they stood,
some think for the owner's sake, on whom, being a very good man, they
suppose God designed to put this honour. I rather think it was for the
sake of the great stone in that field, which was convenient to put the
ark upon, and which is spoken of,
1 Samuel 6:14,15,18.
1. When the reapers saw the ark, they rejoiced
(1 Samuel 6:13);
their joy for that was greater than the joy of harvest, and therefore
they left their work to bid it welcome. When the Lord turned again the
captivity of his ark they were like men that dream; then was their
mouth filled with laughter,
Though they had not zeal and courage enough to attempt the rescue or
ransom of it, yet, when it did come, they bade it heartily welcome.
Note, The return of the ark, and the revival of holy ordinances, after
days of restraint and trouble, cannot but be matter of great joy to
every faithful Israelite.
3. They offered up the kine for a burnt-offering, to the honour of God,
and made use of the wood of the cart for fuel,
1 Samuel 6:14.
Probably the Philistines intended these, when they sent them, to be a
part of their trespass-offering, to make atonement,
1 Samuel 6:3,7.
However, the men of Beth-shemesh looked upon it as proper to make this
use of them, because it was by no means fit that ever they should be
put to any other use; never shall that cart carry any common thing that
has once carried that sacred symbol of the divine presence: and the
kine had been under such an immediate guidance of heaven that God had,
as it were, already laid claim to them; they were servants to him, and
therefore must be sacrifices to him, and no doubt were accepted, though
females, whereas, in strictness, every burnt-offering was to be a male.
3. They deposited the ark, with a chest of jewels that the Philistines
presented, upon the great stone in the open field, a cold lodging for
the ark of the Lord and a very mean one; yet better so than in Dagon's
temple, or in the hands of the Philistines. It is desirable to see the
ark in its habitation in all the circumstances of solemnity and
splendour; but better have it upon a great stone, and in the fields of
the wood, than be without it. The intrinsic grandeur of instituted
ordinances ought not to be diminished in our eyes by the meanness and
poverty of the place where they are administered. As the burning of the
cart and cows that brought home the ark might be construed to signify
their hopes that it should never be carried away again out of the land
of Israel, so the setting of it upon a great stone might signify their
hopes that it should be established again upon a firm foundation. The
church is built upon a rock.
4. They offered the sacrifices of thanksgiving to God, some think upon
the great stone, more probably upon an altar of earth made for the
1 Samuel 6:15.
And, the case being extraordinary, the law for offering at the altar in
the court of the tabernacle was dispensed with, and the more easily
because Shiloh was now dismantled; God himself had forsaken it, and the
ark, which was its chief glory, they had with them here. Beth-shemesh,
though it lay within the lot of the tribe of Dan, yet belonged to
Judah, so that this accidental bringing of the ark hither was an
indication of its designed settlement there, in process of time; for,
when God refused the tabernacle of Joseph, he chose the tribe of
It was one of those cities which were assigned out of the lot of Judah
to the sons of Aaron,
Whither should the ark go but to a priests' city? And it was well they
had those of that sacred order ready (for though they are here called
1 Samuel 6:15,
yet it should seem they were priests) both to take down the ark and to
offer the sacrifices.
5. The lords of the Philistines returned to Ekron, much affected, we
may suppose, with what they had seen of the glory of God and the zeal
of the Israelites, and yet not reclaimed from the worship of Dagon; for
how seldom has a nation changed its gods, though they were no
Though they cannot but think the God of Israel glorious in holiness
and fearful in praises, yet they are resolved they will think
Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, at least as good as he, and to him they
will cleave because he is theirs.
6. Notice is taken of the continuance of the great stone in the same
place; there it is unto this day
(1 Samuel 6:18),
because it remained a lasting memorial of this great event, and served
to support the traditional history by which it was transmitted to
posterity. The fathers would say to the children, "This is the stone
upon which the ark of God was set when it came out of the Philistines'
hands, a thing never to be forgotten."
|The Ark at Beth-shemesh.
||B. C. 1119.|
19 And he smote the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had looked
into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty
thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented,
because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great
20 And the men of Beth-shemesh said, Who is able to stand before
this holy LORD God? and to whom shall he go up from us?
21 And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of
Kirjath-jearim, saying, The Philistines have brought again the ark
of the LORD; come ye down, and fetch it up to you.
1. The sin of the men of Beth-shemesh: They looked into the ark of
1 Samuel 6:19.
Every Israelite had heard great talk of the ark, and had been possessed
with a profound veneration for it; but they had been told that it was
lodged within a veil, and even the high priest himself might not look
upon it but once a year, and then through a cloud of incense. Perhaps
this made many say (as we are apt to covet that which is forbidden)
what a great deal they would give for a sight of it. Some of these
Beth-shemites, we may suppose, for that reason, rejoiced to see the
(1 Samuel 6:13)
more than for the sake of the public. Yet this did not content them;
they might see it, but they would go further, they would take off the
covering, which it is likely was nailed or screwed on, and look into
it, under pretence of seeing whether the Philistines had not taken the
two tables out of it or some way damaged them, but really to gratify a
sinful curiosity of their own, which intruded into those things that
God had thought fit to conceal from them. Note, It is a great affront
to God for vain men to pry into and meddle with the secret things which
belong not to them,
We were all ruined by an ambition of forbidden knowledge. That which
made this looking into the ark a great sin was that it proceeded from a
very low and mean opinion of the ark. The familiarity they had with it
upon this occasion bred contempt and irreverence. Perhaps they presumed
upon their being priests; but the dignity of the ministerial office
will be so far from excusing that it will aggravate a careless and
irreverent treatment of holy things. They should, by their example,
have taught others to keep their distance and look upon the ark with a
holy awe. Perhaps they presumed upon the kind entertainment they had
given the ark, and the sacrifices they had now offered to welcome it
home with, for which they thought the ark was indebted to them, and
they might be allowed to repay themselves with the satisfaction of
looking into it. But let no man think that his service done for God
will justify him in any instance of disrespect or irreverence towards
the things of God. Or it may be they presumed upon the present mean
circumstances the ark was in, newly come out of captivity, and
unsettled; now that it stood upon a cold stone, they thought they might
make free with it; they should never have such another opportunity of
being familiar with it. It is an offence to God if we think meanly of
his ordinances because of the meanness of the manner of their
administration. Had they looked with an understanding eye upon the ark,
and not judged purely by outward appearance, they would have thought
that the ark never shone with greater majesty than it did not. It had
triumphed over the Philistines, and come out of its house of bondage
(like Christ out of the grave) by its own power; had they considered
this, they would not have looked into it thus, as a common chest.
2. Their punishment for this sin: He smote the men of Beth-shemesh,
many of them, with a great slaughter. How jealous is God for the
honour of his ark! He will not suffer it to be profaned. Be not
deceived, God is not mocked. Those that will not fear his goodness,
and reverently use the tokens of his grace, shall be made to feel his
justice, and sink under the tokens of his displeasure. Those that pry
into what is forbidden, and come too near to holy fire, will find it is
at their peril. He smote 50,070 men. This account of the
numbers smitten is expressed in a very unusual manner in the original,
which, besides the improbability that there should be so many guilty
and so many slain, occasions many learned men to question whether we
take the matter aright. In the original it is, He smote in (or
among) the people three score and ten men, fifty thousand men.
The Syriac and Arabic read it, five thousand and seventy men.
The Chaldee reads it, seventy men of the elders, and fifty thousand
of the common people. Seventy men as valuable as 50,000, so some,
because they were priests. Some think the seventy men were the
Beth-shemites that were slain for looking into the ark, and the 50,000
were those that were slain by the ark, in the land of the Philistines.
He smote seventy men, that is, fifty out of a thousand,
which was one in twenty, a half decimation; so some understand it. The
Septuagint read it much as we do, he smote seventy men, and fifty
thousand men. Josephus says only seventy were smitten.
3. The terror that was struck upon the men of Beth-shemesh by this
severe stroke. They said, as well they might, Who is able to stand
before this holy Lord God?
1 Samuel 6:20.
Some think this expresses their murmuring against God, as if he had
dealt hardly and unjustly with them. Instead of quarrelling with
themselves and their own sins, they quarrelled with God and his
judgments; as David was displeased, in a case not much
2 Samuel 6:8,9.
I rather think it intimates their awful and reverent adoration of God,
as the Lord God, as a holy Lord God, and as a God before whom none is
able to stand. This they infer from that tremendous judgment, "Who is
able to stand before the God of the ark?" To stand before God to
worship him (blessed be his name) is not impossible; we are through
Christ invited, encouraged, and enabled to do it, but to stand before
God to contend with him we are not able. Who is able to stand before
the throne of his immediate glory, and look full upon it?
1 Timothy 6:16.
Who is able to stand before the tribunal of his enflexible justice, and
make his part good there?
Who is able to stand before the arm of his provoked power, and either
resist or bear the strokes of it?
4. Their desire, hereupon, to be rid of the ark. They asked, To whom
shall he go up from us?
1 Samuel 6:20.
They should rather have asked, "How may we make our peace with him, and
recover his favour?"
But they begin to be as weary of the ark as the Philistines had been,
whereas, if they had treated it with due reverence, who knows but it
might have taken up its residence among them, and they had all been
blessed for the ark's sake? But thus, when the word of God works with
terror on sinners' consciences, they, instead of taking the blame and
shame to themselves, quarrel with the word, and put it from them,
They sent messengers to the elders of Kirjath-jearim, a strong city
further up in the country, and begged of them to come and fetch the ark
1 Samuel 6:21.
They durst not touch it to bring it thither themselves, but stood aloof
from it as a dangerous thing. Thus do foolish men run from one extreme
to the other, from presumptuous boldness to slavish shyness.
Kirjath-jearim, that is, the city of woods, belonged to Judah,
It lay in the way from Beth-shemesh to Shiloh, so that when they sent
to them to fetch it, we may suppose, they intended that the elders of
Shiloh should fetch it thence, but God intended otherwise. Thus was it
sent from town to town, and no care taken of it by the public, a sign
that there was no king in Israel.