Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And the ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months.
1Sa 6:1-9. The Philistines Counsel How to Send Back the Ark.
1. the ark … was in the country of the Philistines seven months—Notwithstanding the calamities which its presence had brought on the country and the people, the Philistine lords were unwilling to relinquish such a prize, and tried every means to retain it with peace and safety, but in vain.
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.
2, 3. the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners—The designed restoration of the ark was not, it seems, universally approved of, and many doubts were expressed whether the prevailing pestilence was really a judgment of Heaven. The priests and diviners united all parties by recommending a course which would enable them easily to discriminate the true character of the calamities, and at the same time to propitiate the incensed Deity for any acts of disrespect which might have been shown to His ark.
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.
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.
4. Five golden emerods—Votive or thank offerings were commonly made by the heathen in prayer for, or gratitude after, deliverance from lingering or dangerous disorders, in the form of metallic (generally silver) models or images of the diseased parts of the body. This is common still in Roman Catholic countries, as well as in the temples of the Hindus and other modern heathen.
five golden mice—This animal is supposed by some to be the jerboa or jumping mouse of Syria and Egypt [Bochart]; by others, to be the short-tailed field mouse, which often swarms in prodigious numbers and commits great ravages in the cultivated fields of Palestine.
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.
5. give glory unto the God of Israel—By these propitiatory presents, the Philistines would acknowledge His power and make reparation for the injury done to His ark.
lighten his hand … from off your gods—Elohim for god.
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?
6. Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts?—The memory of the appalling judgments that had been inflicted on Egypt was not yet obliterated. Whether preserved in written records, or in floating tradition, they were still fresh in the minds of men, and being extensively spread, were doubtless the means of diffusing the knowledge and fear of the true God.
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:
7. make a new cart—Their object in making a new one for the purpose seems to have been not only for cleanliness and neatness, but from an impression that there would have been an impropriety in using one that had been applied to meaner or more common services. It appears to have been a covered wagon (see on 2Sa 6:3).
two milch kine—Such untrained heifers, wanton and vagrant, would pursue no certain and regular path, like those accustomed to the yoke, and therefore were most unlikely of their own spontaneous motion to prosecute the direct road to the land of Israel.
bring their calves home from them—The strong natural affection of the dams might be supposed to stimulate their return homewards, rather than direct their steps in a foreign country.
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.
8. take the ark of the Lord, and lay it upon the cart—This mode of carrying the sacred symbol was forbidden; but the ignorance of the Philistines made the indignity excusable (see on 2Sa 6:6).
put the jewels … in a coffer by the side thereof—The way of securing treasure in the East is still in a chest, chained to the house wall or some solid part of the furniture.
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.
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.
And the men did so; and took two milch kine, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home:
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.
And the kine took the straight way to the way of Bethshemesh, 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 Bethshemesh.
12. the lords of the Philistines went after them—to give their tribute of homage, to prevent imposture, and to obtain the most reliable evidence of the truth. The result of this journey tended to their own deeper humiliation, and the greater illustration of God's glory.
And they of Bethshemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley: and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it.
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 the LORD.
14. and they clave—that is, the Beth-shemites, in an irrepressible outburst of joy.
offered the kine—Though contrary to the requirements of the law (Le 1:3; 22:19), these animals might properly be offered, as consecrated by God Himself; and though not beside the tabernacle, there were many instances of sacrifices offered by prophets and holy men on extraordinary occasions in other places.
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 Bethshemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto the LORD.
And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day.
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;
17, 18. And these are the golden emerods … and the mice—There were five representative images of the emerods, corresponding to the five principal cities of the Philistines. But the number of the golden mice must have been greater, for they were sent from the walled towns as well as the country villages.
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 Bethshemite.
18. unto the great stone of Abel—Abel, or Aben, means "stone," so that without resorting to italics, the reading should be, "the great stone."
And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, 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 slaughter.
19. he smote the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had looked into the ark—In the ecstasy of delight at seeing the return of the ark, the Beth-shemesh reapers pried into it beneath the wagon cover; and instead of covering it up again, as a sacred utensil, they let it remain exposed to common inspection, wishing it to be seen, in order that all might enjoy the triumph of seeing the votive offerings presented to it, and gratify curiosity with the sight of the sacred shrine. This was the offense of those Israelites (Levites, as well as common people), who had treated the ark with less reverence than the Philistines themselves.
he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men—Beth-shemesh being only a village, this translation must be erroneous, and should be, "he smote fifty out of a thousand," being only fourteen hundred in all who indulged this curiosity. God, instead of decimating, according to an ancient usage, slew only a twentieth part; that is, according to Josephus, seventy out of fourteen hundred (see Nu 4:18-22).
And the men of Bethshemesh said, Who is able to stand before this holy LORD God? and to whom shall he go up from us?
And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjathjearim, saying, The Philistines have brought again the ark of the LORD; come ye down, and fetch it up to you.
21. Kirjath-jearim—"the city of woods," also called Kirjath-baal (Jos 15:60; 18:14; 1Ch 13:6, 7). This was the nearest town to Beth-shemesh; and being a place of strength, it was a more fitting place for the residence of the ark. Beth-shemesh being in a low plain, and Kirjath-jearim on a hill, explains the message, "Come ye down, and fetch it up to you."