1 Samuel 13:5
And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Bethaven.
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(5) And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel.—The figures here, again, of the numbers of this vast army are perfectly untrustworthy. In the rolls of ancient armies (and we possess many a one in the sacred records) the number of war chariots is always smaller than that of the horsemen; here the chariots are represented as four times as numerous. In the rolls of the most famous armies there never appear anything like this number. For instance, Jabin (Judges 4:3) had 900 chariots. Pharaoh pursued Israel with 600. When David defeated Syria, the great Syrian army had 40,000 horsemen and 700 chariots. King Solomon is only reported (1Kings 10:26) to have possessed 1,400 chariots. Zerah the Ethiopian had but 300 in his vast army, and the Pharaoh Shishak 1,200. Here the more probable reading would be “300” not 30,000. Bishop Wordsworth endeavours to explain the vast array by a reference to Josephus, who relates that this Philistine force was composed of various nations; but this would never account for the incredible number of chariots. The Philistines evidently lost no time. While Saul was endeavouring to rally at Gilgal a Hebrew army, Philistia at once, with the aid of foreign allies, took the field, and with a large army—for it is clear their host on this occasion was very large—encamped no great distance from Gilgal, evidently determined once and for all to crush their enemies and their recently-elected daring king.

1 Samuel 13:5. Thirty thousand chariots — The Syriac and Arabic copies mention only three thousand chariots, which seems to be the true reading; for there is no foundation for believing that the Philistines could bring into the field thirty thousand chariots of war. Indeed we read of nothing like it in all history. Or, we may suppose that most of them were but carriages for the baggage of the army.

13:1-7 Saul reigned one year, and nothing particular happened; but in his second year the events recorded in this chapter took place. For above a year he gave the Philistine time to prepare for war, and to weaken and to disarm the Israelites. When men are lifted up in self-sufficiency, they are often led into folly. The chief advantages of the enemies of the church are derived from the misconduct of its professed friends. When Saul at length sounded an alarm, the people, dissatisfied with his management, or terrified by the power of the enemy, did not come to him, or speedily deserted him.Thirty thousand chariots - Probably a copyist's mistake for 300. (Compare, for a similar numerical variation, 1 Chronicles 18:4 with 2 Samuel 8:4.)

Eastward from Bethaven - Or more simply "to the east of Bethaven," which Joshua 7:2 lay "on the east side of Bethel." Bethaven (thought to be the same as Deir Diwan) lay between Bethel and Michmash, which had been evacuated by Saul.

1Sa 13:5. The Philistines' Great Host.

5. The Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen—Either this number must include chariots of every kind—or the word "chariots" must mean the men fighting in them (2Sa 10:18; 1Ki 20:21; 1Ch 19:18); or, as some eminent critics maintain, Sheloshim ("thirty"), has crept into the text, instead of Shelosh ("three"). The gathering of the chariots and horsemen must be understood to be on the Philistine plain, before they ascended the western passes and pitched in the heart of the Benjamite hills, in "Michmash," (now Mukmas), a "steep precipitous valley" [Robinson], eastward from Beth-aven (Beth-el).

Thirty thousand chariots: this number seems incredible to infidels; to whom it may be sufficient to reply, that it is far more rational to acknowledge a mistake in him that copied out the sacred text in such numeral or historical passages, wherein the doctrine of faith and good life is not directly concerned, than upon such a pretence to question the truth and divinity of the Holy Scriptures, which are so fully attested, and evidently demonstrated. And the mistake is not great in the Hebrew, schalosh for schellshim; and so indeed those two ancient translators, the Syriac and Arabic, translate it, and are supposed to have read in their Hebrew copies, three thousand. Nor is it necessary that all these should be military chariots, but many of them might be for carriages of things belonging to so great an army; for such a distinction of chariots we find Exodus 14:7. But there is no need of this reply.

Chariots here may very well be put for the men that rode upon them, and fought out of them, by a figure called a metonymy of the subject for the adjunct, or the thing containing for the thing contained in it, than which none more frequent. In the very same manner, and in the very same figure, the basket is put for the meat in it, Deu 28:5,17; the wilderness, for the wild beasts of the wilderness, Psalm 29:8; the nest, for the birds in it, Deu 32:11; the cup, for the drink in it, Jeremiah 49:12 1 Corinthians 10:21. And, to come more closely to the point, a horse is put for a horse-load of wares laid upon it, 1 Kings 10:28; and an ass of bread is put for an ass-load of bread, both in the Hebrew text of 1 Samuel 16:20, and in an ancient Greek poet. And, yet nearer, the word chariots is manifestly put either for the horses belonging to them, or rather for the men that fought out of them; as 2 Samuel 10:18, where it is said in the Hebrew that David slew seven hundred chariots; that is, seven thousand men which fought in chariots, as it is explained, 1 Chronicles 19:18; and 1 Kings 20:21, where Ahab is said to smite horses and chariots; and 1 Chronicles 18:4 Psalm 76:6, where the chariot and horse (i.e. the men that ride and fight in chariots, or upon horses) are said to be cast into a dead sleep; and Ezekiel 39:20, where it is said, Ye shall be filled at my table with horses and chariots, (i.e. with men belonging to the chariots; for surely the chariots of iron had been very improper food,) with mighty men, &c. And let any cavilling infidel produce a wise reason why it may not, and ought not, to be so understood here also. Add to all this, that the Philistines were not alone in this expedition, but had the help of the Canaanites and the Tyrians, as is very credible, both from /APC Sir 40:20, and from the nature of the thing. If it be further inquired, Why the Philistines should raise so great an army at this time? the answer is obvious, That not only their old and formidable enemy Samuel was yet alive, but a new enemy was risen, even king Saul, who was lately confirmed in his kingdom, and had been flushed with his good success against the Ammonites, and was likely to grow more and more potent, if not timely prevented; and they thought that now the Israelitish affairs were come to some consistency, being put into the hands of a king; and therefore they thought fit, once for all, to put forth all their strength to suppress the Israelites, and to prevent that ruin which otherwise threatened them.

And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel,.... To prevent their further encroachments on them, and designs against them; for they perceived they intended to cast off their yoke, and free themselves entirely from them:

thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen; it may seem incredible that so small a people as the Philistines were, who only were possessed of five cities, or lordships, with the villages belonging to them, except what they had taken from Israel; and even if assisted by the Tyrians, the author of Sirach in the Apocrypha says:"And he destroyed the rulers of the Tyrians, and all the princes of the Philistines.'' (Sirach 46:18)though he seems to have respect not to this time, but when Samuel discomfited them, 1 Samuel 7:10. I say it may seem incredible that they should bring such a number of chariots into the field; wherefore this must either be understood of 30,000 men that fought in chariots, as Lyra interprets it, and in which sense it is plain and certain the word chariots is sometimes used, as in 2 Samuel 10:18, or else of some sort of carriages, not chariots of war, at least not all of them; but what were brought to carry the baggage of their infantry, which was very large, and to carry away the goods and substance of the Israelites; some have thought that there is a mistake of the copier, who instead of "three", read "thirty": so Capellus; and the rather because in the Arabic and Syriac versions it is only "three thousand"; but even this is too great a number, understood of chariots of war; for never any people in the world was known to have so many chariots of war; Pharaoh in his large host had but six hundred, Exodus 14:7 Jabin king of Canaan had indeed nine hundred, Judges 4:3 and David took from the king of Zobah one thousand chariots; but whether they were all chariots of war is not certain, 2 Samuel 8:4. Solomon indeed had one thousand and four hundred chariots, but they do not appear to be chariots of war, but some for use, and some for state and grandeur. Wherefore, if a mistake in the copy is admitted of, and this can be confirmed by some MSS, yet we must recur to one or other of the above senses; some of them must be understood of other sort of carriages, or of men that fought in these chariots; and allowing ten men to a chariot, which seems to be the usual number by comparing 2 Samuel 10:18 with 1 Chronicles 19:18 then 3000 men would fill three hundred chariots, which are as many as it can well be thought the Philistines had Zerah the Ethiopian, who brought into the field an army of million men, had no more than three hundred chariots, 2 Chronicles 14:9, and no more had Antiochus Eupator in his army,"And with him Lysias his protector, and ruler of his affairs, having either of them a Grecian power of footmen, an hundred and ten thousand, and horsemen five thousand and three hundred, and elephants two and twenty, and three hundred chariots armed with hooks.'' (2 Maccabees 13:2)Darius in his vast army had but two hundred (a), and in the very large one which Mithridates brought against the Romans there was but one hundred; and now 3000 men in three hundred chariots were but a proportion to 6000 horsemen, which in those times and countries was a large cavalry:

and the people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude; the infantry was so large as not to be numbered; however, the phrase denotes a great multitude of them; Josephus says (b) there were 300,000 footmen:

and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Bethaven; where Saul, before he went to Gilgal, had his quarters, 1 Samuel 13:2. Bethaven was a place near Bethel, on the east of it, Joshua 7:2 though Bethel itself was afterwards so called when Jeroboam had set up the worship of the calves there, Hosea 4:15 it signifying the house of vanity or iniquity.

(a) Curtius, l. 4. c. 9. (b) Antiqu, l. 6. c. 6. sect. 1.

And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from {e} Bethaven.

(e) Which was also called Beth-el, in the tribe of Benjamin.

5. thirty thousand chariots] This reading, though as old as the Sept., is certainly wrong. The number of chariots was always less than that of horsemen, and such an enormous force of chariots is not only quite unparalleled, but would be useless in the mountainous country. Possibly the numeral 30, expressed in Hebrew by the letter l, was due to the accidental repetition of the last letter of the word Israel, and we should read “a thousand chariots.” Jabin had “nine hundred chariots” (Jdg 4:3).

people as the sand which is on the sea shore] “People” = infantry. “The sand on the sea shore” is a common figure for an indefinite number. Cp. Genesis 22:17; Genesis 41:49; Joshua 11:4; Psalm 78:27, &c.

in Michmash, eastward from Beth-aven] Saul evacuated Michmash and withdrew to Gilgal. Jonathan however still held Gibeah (1 Samuel 13:16). Beth-aven (= “house of naught” i.e. idols) was near Ai, between Michmash and Bethel (Joshua 7:2). The position was an important one, commanding the chief approach from Gilgal to the heart of the country.

Verse 5. - Long before Saul could gather Israel the Philistines had completed their preparations, and invaded the country in overwhelming numbers; but thirty thousand chariots compared with six thousand horsemen is out of all proportion. Possibly the final l in Israel has been taken by some copyists for a numeral, and as it signifies thirty, it his changed 1000 into 30,000. Or, simpler still, shin, the numeral for 300, has been read with two dots, and so changed into 30,000. They came up, and pitched in Michmash. Saul had withdrawn eastward to Gilgal, and the Philistines had thus placed themselves between him and Jonathan. There is a difficulty, however, in the words eastward from Beth-aven; for as this, again, was east of Bethel, it puts the Philistines' camp too much to the east. As it is not, however, the regular phrase for eastward, some commentators render, "in front of Beth-avon." "It means 'the house of naught,' and was the name originally given to the desert east of Bethel, because of its barren character" (Conder, 'Tent Work,' 2:108). The Philistines, however, had come in such numbers that their camp must have occupied a large extent of ground. 1 Samuel 13:5The Philistines also did not delay to avenge the defeat at Geba. They collected an innumerable army: 30,000 chariots, 6000 horsemen, and people, i.e., foot-soldiers, without number (as the sand by the sea-shore; cf. Judges 7:12; Joshua 11:4, etc.). רכב by the side of פּרשׁים can only mean war chariots. 30,000 war chariots, however, bear no proportion whatever to 6000 horsemen, not only because the number of war chariots is invariably smaller than that of the horsemen (cf. 2 Samuel 10:18; 1 Kings 10:26; 2 Chronicles 12:3), but also, as Bochart observes in his Hieroz. p. i. lib. ii. c. 9, because such a number of war chariots is never met with either in sacred or profane history, not even in the case of nations that were much more powerful than the Philistines. The number is therefore certainly corrupt, and we must either read 3000 (אל שׁלשׁת instead of אל שׁלשׁים), according to the Syriac and Arabic, or else simply 1000; and in the latter case the origin of the number thirty must be attributed to the fact, that through the oversight of a copyist the ל of the word ישׂראל was written twice, and consequently the second ל was taken for the numeral thirty. This army was encamped "at Michmash, before (i.e., in the front, or on the western side of) Bethaven:" for, according to Joshua 7:2, Bethaven was to the east of Michmash; and קדמת when it occurs in geographical accounts, does not "always mean to the east," as Thenius erroneously maintains, but invariably means simply "in front" (see at Genesis 2:14).

(Note: Consequently there is no ground whatever for altering the text according to the confused rendering of the lxx, ἐν Μαχμὰς ἐξ ἐναντὶας Βαιθωρὼν κατὰ νότου, for the purpose of substituting for the correct statement in the text a description which would be geographically wrong, viz., to the south-east of Beth-horon, since Michmash was neither to the south nor to the south-east, but to the east of Beth-horon.)

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