Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
And the ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months.CHAPTERS 6:1-7:2
1. The counsel of the Philistines (1Samuel 6:1-9)
2. The ark at Beth-shemesh (1Samuel 6:10-20)
The ark had remained among the Philistines seven months. For them they were months of suffering and deadly destruction. Now they plot to get rid of the ark and of Him whose hand rested so heavily in judgment upon them. The advice of the heathen priests and diviners is that the ark should be sent away with votive offerings of gold, representing that which had plagued them. This was a heathen custom, which has also been adopted and is practiced by Roman Catholicism, the great Philistine system of Christendom. In Romish churches, especially at shrines, one can find hundreds of votive offerings to God by those who are suffering affliction to appease the wrath of God. It is heathenish and denies Him who shed His blood for our redemption. And as these Philistine priests had some knowledge of God’s judgment upon Egypt they added to their counsel a warning reminding them of Pharaoh and Egypt. Their unbelief and superstition are manifested by the way they returned the ark. But the power of the Creator is seen in the incident.
“In result it is proved conclusively that Jehovah is the God of Creation, supreme above all the natural instincts: the kine, though unaccustomed to a yoke, take the cart with its sacred burden directly away from where their calves are shut up, even while lowing after them, and take the straight road to Bethshemesh, a priestly city near the Israelite border. There, at the border, they stop, still under the eyes of the Philistine lords, at a great stone upon which the Levites place the ark, and where the kine are offered up a burnt offering to Jehovah.
“Thus the Philistines have Jehovah’s sovereignty demonstrated to them in the precise terms which they have themselves chosen,--the goodness of God thus meeting them with what should have turned them from idolatry forever and brought them to His feet. But they go back, after all, to worship instead the humbled Dagon” (Numerical Bible).
The ark reaches Beth-shemesh (house of the sun) the nearest point across the border. It is welcomed with much rejoicing, but they forgot the holiness of God and looked into the ark, and the people of Beth-shemesh were smitten. As Beth-shemesh was only a small town it is generally taken that the number of the slain as given in verse 19 was changed by the mistake of a copyist. Various readings give smaller numbers; but that is immaterial.
The ark is removed from Beth-shemesh to Kirjath-jearim, “the city of the woods.” It was an humble place where the ark abode for twenty years. It was brought into the house of Abinadab; his son Eleazar (my God is help) was set aside to keep it. David found it there (Psalm 132:6). The ark never returned to Shiloh again.