1 Samuel 6
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1 Samuel 6:10-7:1. (BETH-SHEMESH and KIRJATH-JEARIM.)
On the taking of the ark Israel sank to the lowest point of degradation. But "when the night is darkest then dawn is nearest." And the return of the sacred symbol was the first gleam of returning day. It was -

I. RESTORED BY DIVINE FAVOUR (vers. 10-12), which was -

1. Exceeding abundant (1 Timothy 1:14). The people of Israel do not appear to have made any effort for its restoration, but God remembered them, and for their sake constrained their enemies to send back the precious treasure. "That is free love which never has been desired, never has been deserved, and never can be requited."

2. Shown in an extraordinary manner. It was brought by creatures acting contrary to their natural instincts, under a Divine impulse, in a direct line to the nearest border city of Israel - Beth-shemesh (the house of the sun); a sign to Israel as well as the heathen. "Two kine knew their owner as (Isaiah 1:3) Hophni and Phinehas knew him not" (Lightfoot). God's favour often comes by the most unlikely agencies and means. His power is universal, and all things serve him.

3. Unexpected and surprising (ver. 13). It was the time of harvest, and the men of Beth-shemesh were pursuing their ordinary secular occupations, thinking nothing of the ark, when they suddenly lifted up their eyes and beheld it approaching. It was found by them like "the treasure hid in the field."

4. Distinguishing. Shown toward Beth-shemesh beyond other cities, and toward Joshua beyond any other man; for some reason, perchance, in the people as well as in the locality. The city we know was a priestly city (Joshua 21:10). "We shall probably be doing them no wrong if we suppose that they regarded its presence as an honour to themselves. It distinguished their township above all the cities of Israel."

II. RECEIVED WITH GREAT JOY (vers. 13-18). We can imagine how promptly they put aside their harvest work and gathered with one accord around the sacred object. Their joy was the joy of -

1. Gratitude for the favour shown toward them (1 Kings 8:62-66; Ezra 6:16, 17).

2. Devotion (vers. 14, 15). "They offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices (peace offerings) unto the Lord."

3. Hope; for in it they saw a proof of the power of God over the heathen, and a promise of their own freedom and prosperity.

4. And the day of their abounding joy was commemorated by means of the great stone on which the ark and the coffer containing the jewels of gold were set, "which remaineth unto this day."


1. Their conduct consisted of "looking into (or upon) the ark." Whether they actually pried into it is uncertain. Whatever may have been the precise nature of their conduct, the spirit in which they acted was their chief offence in the sight of him who "looketh at the heart." There may be much sin in a look.

2. Their sin was great; exhibiting want of reverence and godly fear, presumption, perhaps rationalism, recklessness, profanity (Leviticus 10:3). A spirit of intelligent curiosity and inquiry is of unspeakable worth, being the principal means of discovering truth and promoting human progress; but it should be ever joined with humility and reverence, as it has been in the greatest minds. "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." The fact that Beth-shemesh was a city of the priests would lead us to expect better things of its inhabitants. "It is not improbable that in their festive rejoicing they may have fallen into intemperance, and hence into presumptuous irreverence, as it is thought was the case with Nadab and Abihu" ('Sp. Com.').

3. Their punishment was severe; for "of fifty thousand men, seventy died a sudden death" (Hengstenberg; ver. 19). What is sent as a blessing is often turned by men themselves into a curse.

4. The effect was morally benefical on the people generally. "Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?" etc. (ver. 20).

(1) A conviction of his transcendent and awful holiness. "Our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29).

(2) A feeling of their own deep sinfulness, which the former never fails to produce (Isaiah 6:5; Luke 5:8).

(3) A persuasion of the necessity of "righteousness and true holiness" in those among whom he dwells; for their request to the inhabitants of Kirjath-jearim, "Come ye down, and fetch it up to you," was the expression of something more than selfish dread (1 Samuel 5:7), being caused by the belief that it would be more worthily honoured by others than by themselves. The conduct of a single city sometimes reveals the moral condition of a whole nation. And Israel was evidently not prepared to receive openly and fully the sign of God's presence among them, nor, until they should have passed through long and painful discipline, any further signal manifestation of his favour.

IV. REINSTATED IN RESPECTFUL BUT IMPERFECT HONOUR (ver. 21; 1 Samuel 7:1). From Beth-shemesh it was taken (not to Shiloh, which had been rendered unworthy, and was now perhaps in ruins, but) to Kirjath-jearim (city of forests or woods, Psalm 132:6), where it was -

1. Settled among a willing people, and in the house of a devout man - Abinadab, "on the hill." "God will find out a resting-place for the ark." When one people prove themselves unworthy of it, and wish to part with it, he will provide another people of greater worth, and ready to welcome it. "It is no new thing for the ark to be in a private dwelling house."

2. Placed under special and proper guardianship. "Sanctified (consecrated) Eleazar his son to keep the ark from profane intrusion." Even in the most corrupt times there are individual instances of true piety. These are honoured of God, and for their sakes others are spared (Isaiah 1:9).

3. Disassociated from the tabernacle and its services. After the capture of the ark the desecrated tabernacle appears to have been removed from Shiloh to Nob, where we find it long afterwards (1 Samuel 21:6), attended by more than eighty priests, and subsequently to Gibeon (1 Kings 3:4; 1 Chronicles 16:39; 1 Chronicles 21:29; 2 Chronicles 1:3, 6, 7), where it finally fell into decay and perished; the ark itself remained in Kirjath-jearim about seventy years, when it was removed to the house of Obed-edom (2 Samuel 6:3, 11. Gibeah = the hill), and shortly afterwards to Jerusalem, where it abode "in curtains" until deposited in the temple of Solomon. The separation was anomalous, preventive of the full observance of the prescribed order of Levitical services, and indicative of the imperfect moral relations which subsisted between the people of Israel and their Divine King.

4. Long disregarded by the nation. No public assemblies appear to have met at the place where it stood; no sacrifices to have been offered there, no festivities held, as previously at Shiloh. It is not even mentioned again until the time of David, when it was said, "We inquired not at (or for) the ark in the days of Saul" (1 Chronicles 13:3). Its neglect was permitted because its proper use was impossible until a thorough internal reformation and more complete union of the nation should be effected. "It was made evident that the nation was not yet worthy to receive the perfect fulfilment of the promise, 'I will dwell in your midst.' They endeavoured to dispose of the ark in the best possible way. It was buried, as it were, in Kirjath-jearim until the time when God would bring about its joyful resurrection" (Hengstenberg). - D.

1 Samuel 6:13. (BETH-SHEMESH.)
It was in the time of harvest that the ark was restored to Israel. Whilst the cornfields of the Philistines were wasted by an extraordinary plague, the valley of Beth-shemesh was covered with golden grain, and the men of that city were busily occupied in gathering it in (Ruth 1:6). But at the sight of the sacred symbol they left their secular occupation, gathered around it with great joy, and spent the day in "offering burnt offerings and sacrificing sacrifices to the Lord" (ver. 15). We may regard the harvest as representing material blessings, which are more richly bestowed at this season of the year than any other; the ark as representing spiritual blessings: "the law which came by Moses," and "the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ;" the throne of grace, and the mercy and grace which are there obtained. And the fact just mentioned suggests a comparison between the former and the latter. Both come from the.same hand; but spiritual are superior to material blessings, inasmuch as they -


1. In the principle from which they proceed. The one class of benefits from benevolence in general; the other from benevolence in the form of mercy. "According to his mercy he saved us" (Titus 3:5).

2. In the mode by which they are communicated. The operation of the laws of nature (Genesis 8:22; Jeremiah 5:21); the gift and sacrifice of his only begotten Son. "Through Jesus Christ."

3. In the nearness with which the great Benefactor comes to us. "Thou visitest the earth" (Psalm 65:9); but "blessed is the man whom thou choosest and causest to approach unto thee" (Psalm 65:4), in that closer fellowship which those who are reconciled in Christ enjoy, and whose hearts are the temple of thine abode, the habitation of thy Spirit. "Revelation is the voluntary approximation of the infinite Being to the ways and thoughts of finite humanity; and until this step has been taken by Almighty grace, how should man have a warrant for loving him with all his mind, and heart, and strength?" (A.H. Hallam).


1. The one pertains to the body, the other to the soul.

2. The one to man considered simply as a creature, needing support; the other as a sinner, needing forgiveness, renewal, salvation.

3. The one pertains to time, the other to eternity; "bread that perisheth," "bread that endureth to everlasting life" (John 6:27, 51); "that good part which cannot be taken away" (Luke 10:42).

III. PRODUCE MORE EXALTED JOY. "Rejoiced." "The joy in harvest" (Isaiah 9:3).

1. In its relation to God. The one is felt less and the other more directly in him. The difference is very much the same as that which exists between the joy felt at receiving a present from a friend at a distance, and that of seeing his face and holding personal intercourse with him. And what are all the harvests which the earth ever produced compared with one smile of the Father's countenance, one whisper of Divine love? (Psalm 4:6, 7).

2. In its influence on the heart; elevating, purifying, enlarging, strengthening, satisfying it.

3. In its power over circumstances. The joy of our harvest may be speedily turned into sorrow by bereavement (ver. 19) and other afflictions; but the joy which is felt in God is independent of outward circumstances, lifts the soul above them (Habakkuk 3:17, 18), lives in death, and is perfected in heavenly bliss.


1. With respect to the Giver. His bestowment of "fruitful seasons, filling our heart with food and gladness," incites to some return to him (Exodus 23:14-17); but his bestowment of mercy and grace, to the "whole burnt offering" of the man himself (Romans 12:1).

2. With respect to our fellow men. The one incites to the giving of "those things which are necessary for the body" (Exodus 23:11); the other incites (and effectually constrains) to the giving of what is good for the whole man, body and soul; to self-sacrifice, and the "peace offerings" of brotherly kindness, and of charity toward all men.

3. The whole course of life; not in one or two acts merely, but in a continued service of love to be completed in eternity. Conclusion. -

1. If God has bestowed upon you temporal good, rejoice not in it so much as in spiritual.

2. If he has withheld it, rejoice in the higher good which is yours.

3. "Seek first the kingdom of God," etc. (Matthew 6:33). - D.

I. THE OFFENCE. The Philistines are not blamed for sending away the ark of God on a wooden car. They did not know, or, if they knew, they had no means of observing, the mode of carriage by Levites which had been prescribed in the Mosaic law. In placing the ark on a new car never before used, and drawn by young cows that had never before worn a yoke, the Philistines meant to show respect. But the men of Beth-shemesh, being Israelites, and having Levites among them, knew, or ought to have known, the laws regarding the sacred ark. So they were more severely judged. Their familiar handling of the ark was a presumptuous sin. Irreverence had grown during the years of misgovernment and license through which Israel had passed. It is evident that before the people would have dared to send for the ark to Shiloh, and take it into the field of battle, they must have lost much of the veneration with which their fathers had regarded the symbol of Jehovah's presence. And now the men of Beth-shemesh actually presumed to look into the ark, perhaps to ascertain whether the Philistines had put any gold into it, besides the golden offerings which they had placed in a separate coffer. So doing, they forgot, or wilfully broke, the law which allowed none of the people at large so much as to approach the ark, and required that the priests should cover it with a veil, before the Kohathites might carry it; and in carrying it those Levites might not lay their hands upon it, but were commanded to bear it on gilt staves passing through golden rings in the four corners of the sacred chest. Indeed the Kohathites, though thus honoured as the bearers of the ark, were forbidden not only to touch it, but even to go into the most holy place to see it covered under pain of death.

II. THE PENALTY. The Lord saw it needful to restore reverence for his law and for the ark of his testimony by striking a blow at presumption which would not be soon forgotten. Accordingly, seventy of the country people at Beth-shemesh were smitten with death. On the same ground, a few years later, was Uzzah the Levite stricken dead because he put his hand on the ark of God. What a warning against irreverence! For this cause men may die close to the ark of the covenant, perish beside the mercy seat. Nay, that which is the greatest blessing may be turned by presumption into the greatest disaster. The savour of life may be turned into a savour of death. It is especially a warning to those who "name the name of the Lord." The ignorant and profane are judged, but not so strictly as those who "profess and call themselves Christians;" just as the Philistines were afflicted with boils, but the Israelites were visited with death. God is much displeased with listless minds, irreverent postures, and heedless spirits in his Church. No doubt it may be pleaded that such faults come of want of thought, and not of any evil intent; but want of thought is itself a very grave offence in such a matter as the service of God. Even levity is inexcusable; for, at all events in adult persons, it comes of hardness of heart, ingratitude to Christ, neglect of reflection on sacred themes and objects, engrossment of thought and affection with the things which are seen, and an indifference to the presence and purpose of the Holy Spirit. Let us study reverence. "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the holy ones, and to be had in reverence of all that are round about him." - F.

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