1 Samuel 6:9
And see, if it goeth up by the way of his own coast to Bethshemesh, 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.
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(9) It was a chance that happened to us.—The priests and diviners were not certain whether the plague had been sent by the offended God of Israel or had visited Philistia in the ordinary course of nature. This strange experiment would satisfy the minds of the Philistine people. If the cows, contrary to their expectation, kept on the road to Bethshemesh, this would be a sign that they were driven and guided by a Divine power, and it would be clear to all that the Ark was a dangerous possession, and that they were well rid of it. They would be assured then that the scourge they were suffering from came from the angry Israelite Deity. If, on the other hand, the animals, left to themselves, returned to their own stalls, which, evidently, the diviners expected would be the case—then the Philistines might safely retain the Ark, being confident that their late sufferings were simply the results of natural causes. It will be remembered (1Samuel 6:7) that these were milch cows, whose calves were shut up in the stall. The diviners felt quite sure that the cows, left to their own instincts, would, unless driven by some Divine power, come back to their young ones in the stall. What the priests and diviners advised was done, and the next two verses (10 and 11) relate how the restoration of the Ark was carried out in the way prescribed above.

1 Samuel 6:9. And see if it goeth up by his own coast — Without any guide; to Beth-shemesh — A city in the tribe of Judah, in the confines of both countries. Then he hath done this great evil — Hath inflicted this sore calamity upon us. This they might well conclude, if such heifers should, contrary to their custom and natural instinct, go into a strange path, and regularly and constantly proceed in it, without being guided by any one.

6:1-9 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. Sinners lengthen out their own miseries by refusing to part with their sins. The Israelites made no effort to recover the ark. Alas! where shall we find concern for religion prevail above all other matters? In times of public calamity we fear for ourselves, for our families, and for our country; but who cares for the ark of God? We are favoured with the gospel, but it is treated with neglect or contempt. We need not wonder if it should be taken from us; to many persons this, though the heavies of calamities, would occasion no grief. There are multitudes whom any profession would please as well as that of Christianity. But there are those who value the house, the word, and the ministry of God above their richest possessions, who dread the loss of these blessings more than death. How willing bad men are to shift off their convictions, and when they are in trouble, to believe it is a chance that happens; and that the rod has no voice which they should hear or heed!Bethshemesh was the first Israelite town they would come to, being on the border of Judah. (See the marginal reference.) 9-12. Beth-shemesh—that is, "house of the sun," now Ain Shems [Robinson], a city of priests in Judah, in the southeast border of Dan, lying in a beautiful and extensive valley. Josephus says they were set a-going near a place where the road divided into two—the one leading back to Ekron, where were their calves, and the other to Beth-shemesh. Their frequent lowings attested their ardent longing for their young, and at the same time the supernatural influence that controlled their movements in a contrary direction. His own coast, or, border, i.e. the way that leadeth to his coast or border, viz. the country to which it belongs.

Then he hath done us this great evil; which they might well conclude, if such heifers should, against their common use and natural instinct, go into a strange path, and regularly and constantly proceed in it, without any man’s conduct.

It was a chance that happened to us: this evil came to us from some influences of the stars, or other unknown causes; which was a weak and foolish inference, depending upon a mere contingency, it being uncertain whether God would please to give them this sign, and probable that he would deny it, both to punish their superstition, and to harden their hearts to their further and utter destruction. But wicked men will sooner believe the most uncertain and ridiculous things, than own the visible demonstrations of God’s power and providence.

And see if it goeth up by the way of its own coast to Bethshemesh,.... The nearest city to the land of the Philistines, which lay on their borders, and the borders of the tribe of Judah; see Gill on Joshua 15:10. Now the lords of the Philistines are directed by their priests to observe, whether these kine, that drew the cart on which the ark was, took the direct road to the borders of the land of Israel, and to Bethshemesh, the nearest city that lay on that coast: if so, they might conclude then,

he hath done us this great evil; that is, the God of Israel, whose ark this was; he had inflicted the disease of the emerods on them, and sent such numbers of mice into their fields, that had destroyed the increase of them:

but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that hath smote us; but that there is some other cause of it:

it was a chance that happened to us; and so might have been the case if the ark had never been taken or detained, and to be imputed to fate, or to the stars, or some secret causes they know not of.

And see, if it goeth up by the way of his own coast to Bethshemesh, then {e} 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 {f} chance that happened to us.

(e) The God of Israel.

(f) The wicked attribute almost all things to fortune and chance, whereas indeed there is nothing done without God's providence and decree.

9. his own coast] His own border, as in 1 Samuel 6:12. See ch. 1 Samuel 5:6, note. “His” refers to the Ark. The neuter possessive pronoun “its” is not found in the original edition of the E. V. See The Bible Word-Book, p. 272.

to Beth-shemesh] = “House of the Sun,” probably the same as Irshemesh = “City of the Sun” (Joshua 19:41). It was a priestly city (Joshua 21:16) on the border of the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:10), about 12 miles S.E. of Ekron. Its position is identified by the modern village of Ain Shems (= “Fountain of the Sun”) in the Wady es Sŭrâr, and is described by Robinson as “a noble site for a city, a low plateau at the junction of two fine plains,” the “valley” in which the Beth-shemeshites were reaping their wheat (1 Samuel 6:13). “Here are vestiges of a former extensive city, consisting of many foundations and remains of ancient walls of hewn stone … Enough yet remains to make it one of the largest and most marked sites which we had anywhere seen.” Biblical Researches, II. 224.

Beth-shemesh was the scene of Amaziah’s defeat by Jehoash (2 Kings 14:11-12): and with other towns was taken from Ahaz by the Philistines (2 Chronicles 28:18). Its name, and that of Har-cheres = “Mount of the Sun” (Jdg 1:35), which was evidently in the neighbourhood, point to an ancient sun-worship in the country.

then he hath done us this great evil] Observe the completeness of the test. If cows unaccustomed to the yoke drew the cart quietly; if in spite of their natural instincts they deserted their calves; if without human guidance they went straight to the nearest Israelite town; the obvious conclusion must be that they were controlled by a supernatural power, and that that power was the God of Israel. Compare Gideon’s ‘signs,’ consisting of phenomena contrary to expectation (Jdg 6:37 ff.).

Verse 9. - His own coast, or "border." The ark throughout this verse is spoken of as if it were itself a deity. Beth-shemesh - i.e. "the house of the sun," also called Irshemesh, "city of the sun" (Joshua 19:41) - had evidently been in the time of the Canaanites the seat of this popular idolatry. It was now a city of the priests, situated in the tribe of Judah, on its northeastern border, next the tribe of Dan, and was the nearest Israelite town to Ekron. If, then, the kine, albeit unused to the yoke, left their calves behind, and drew the cart by the most direct route unto the land of Judah, they would give the required proof that the Philistines were smitten by the hand of Jehovah, and that it was no chance that had happened unto them. 1 Samuel 6:9Accordingly they arranged the sending back in such a manner as to manifest the reverence which ought to be shown to the God of Israel was a powerful deity (1 Samuel 6:7-9). The Philistines were to take a new cart and make it ready (עשׂה), and to yoke two milch cows to the cart upon which no yoke had ever come, and to take away their young ones (calves) from them into the house, i.e., into the stall, and then to put the ark upon the cart, along with the golden things to be presented as a trespass-offering, which were to be in a small chest by the side of the ark, and to send it (i.e., the ark) away, that it might go, viz., without the cows being either driven or guided. From the result of these arrangements, they were to learn whether the plague had been sent by the God of Israel, or had arisen accidentally. "If it (the ark) goeth up by the way to its border towards Bethshemesh, He (Jehovah) hath done us this great evil; but if not, we perceive that His hand hath not touched us. It came to us by chance," i.e., the evil came upon us merely by accident. In עליהם, בּניהם, and מאחריהם (1 Samuel 6:7), the masculine is used in the place of the more definite feminine, as being the more general form. This is frequently the case, and occurs again in 1 Samuel 6:10 and 1 Samuel 6:12. ארגּז, which only occurs again in 1 Samuel 6:8, 1 Samuel 6:11, and 1 Samuel 6:15, signifies, according to the context and the ancient versions, a chest or little case. The suffix to אתו refers to the ark, which is also the subject to יעלה (1 Samuel 6:9). גּבוּלו, the territory of the ark, is the land of Israel, where it had its home. מקרה is used adverbially: by chance, or accidentally. The new cart and the young cows, which had never worn a yoke, corresponded to the holiness of the ark of God. To place it upon an old cart, which had already been used for all kinds of earthly purposes, would have been an offence against the holy thing; and it would have been just the same to yoke to the cart animals that had already been used for drawing, and had had their strength impaired by the yoke (see Deuteronomy 21:3). The reason for selecting cows, however, instead of male oxen, was no doubt to be found in the further object which they hoped to attain. It was certainly to be expected, that if suckling cows, whose calves had been kept back from them, followed their own instincts, without any drivers, they would not go away, but would come back to their young ones in the stall. And if the very opposite should take place, this would be a sure sign that they were driven and guided by a divine power, and in fact by the God whose ark they were to draw into His own land. From this they would be able to draw the conclusion, that the plagues which had fallen upon the Philistines were also sent by this God. There was no special sagacity in this advice of the priests; it was nothing more than a cleverly devised attempt to put the power of the God of the Israelites to the text, though they thereby unconsciously and against their will furnished the occasion for the living God to display His divine glory before those who did not know Him.
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