Matthew Poole's Commentary
And the ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months.The Philistines consult with the priests how they shall return the ark: they advise to send with it for a trespass-offering five golden emerods and mice, on a new cart which they do: the kine tied to the cart, go straightway to Beth-shemesh; which was for a sign to the Philistines, 1 Samuel 6:1-12. They of Beth-shemesh rejoice: the Levites offer sacrifice for it, 1 Samuel 6:13-15. The people are smitten for looking into the ark; and request them of Kirjath-jearim to fetch it thence into their own city, 1 Samuel 6:19-21.
So long they kept it, as loth to lose so great a prize, and willing to try all ways to keep it, and yet free themselves from the mischiefs accompanying its presence.
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.The diviners; whose art was in great esteem with heathen nations, and especially with the Philistines and their neighbours the Canaanites and Egyptians.
Wherewith; in what manner, and with what gifts; for to send it they had decreed before, 1 Samuel 5:11.
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.Empty, i.e. without a present; which they judged necessary, from the common opinion and practice both of Jews and Gentiles.
Return him a trespass-offering; thereby to acknowledge our offence, and obtain his pardon.
It shall be known to you; you shall understand what is hitherto doubtful, whether he was the author of these calamities, and why they continued so long upon you. Compare 1 Samuel 6:7-9.
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.What shall be the trespass-offering? they desire particular information, because they were ignorant of the nature and manner of the worship of Israel’s God, and they might easily understand that there were some kinds of offerings which God would not accept.
Golden emerods, i.e. figures of that part of the body which was the seat of the disease, which by its swelling, or some other way, represented also the disease itself; which they offered not in contempt of God, for they sought to gain his favour hereby; but in testimony of their humiliation, that by leaving this monument of their own shame and misery they might obtain pity from God, and freedom from their disease.
Golden mice; which marred their land, (as it. is related, 1 Samuel 6:5) by destroying the fruits thereof; as the other plague afflicted their bodies.
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.Glory unto the God of Israel; the glory of his power in conquering you, who seemed and pretended to have conquered him; of his justice in punishing you; and of his goodness if he shall relieve you.
From off your gods they so speak, either because not only Dagon, but their other gods also, were thrown down by the ark, though that be not related; or because the plural number in that case was commonly used for the singular.
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?Do ye harden or, should ye harden; the future tense of the indicative mood being put potentially, as is not unusual. They express themselves thus, either because they perceived that some opposed the decree of sending home the ark, though the most had consented to it; or because they thought they would hardly send it away in the manner prescribed, by giving glory to God, and taking shame to themselves.
As the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts; which they might easily learn, either by tradition from their ancestors, or by the reports of the Hebrews.
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:Make a new cart; as David did for the same use, 2 Samuel 6:3, in reverence to the ark.
On which there hath come no yoke; partly in respect to the ark, and partly for the better discovery, because such untamed heifers are wanton, and apt to wander, and keep no certain and constant paths, as oxen accustomed to the yoke do, and therefore were most unlikely to keep the direct road to Israel’s land.
Bring their calves home from them; which would stir up natural affection in their dams, and cause them rather to return home, than to go to a strange 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.Lay it upon the cart; which God winked at in them, both because they were ignorant of God’s law to the contrary, and because they had no Levites to carry it upon their shoulders.
In a coffer by the side thereof; for they durst not presume to open the ark, to put them within it.
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.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 the men did so; and took two milch kine, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home:No text from Poole on this verse.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.To the way of Beth-shemesh, i.e. leading to Beth-shemesh, a city of the priests, Joshua 21:16, who were by office to take care of it.
Lowing as they went; testifying at once both their natural and vehement inclination to their calves, and the supernatural and Divine power which overruled them to a contrary course.
The lords of the Philistines went after them, under pretence of an honourable dismission of it; but in truth, to prevent all imposture, and to get assurance of the truth of the event; all which circumstances tended to their greater confusion, and 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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.They clave; not the lords of the Philistines, but the Beth-shemites, to wit, the priests that dwelt there.
A burnt-offering to the Lord: there may seem to be a double error in this act. First, That they offered females for a burnt-offering, contrary to Leviticus 1:3 22:19. Secondly, That they did it in a forbidden place, Deu 12:5,6, into which they might easily be led by excess of joy, and eager desire of returning to their long-interrupted course of offering sacrifices. And some think these irregularities were partial causes of the following punishment. But this case being very extraordinary, may in some sort excuse it, if they did not proceed by ordinary rules. As for the first, though they might not choose females for that use, yet when God himself had chosen, and in a manner consecrated them to his service, and employed them in so sacred and glorious a work, it may seem tolerable to offer them to the Lord, as being his peculiar, and improper for any other use. And for the latter, we have many instances of sacrifices offered to God by prophets and holy men in other places besides the tabernacle, upon extraordinary occasions, such as this certainly was; it being fit that the ark should at its first return be received with thanksgivings and sacrifice; and this place being sanctified by the presence of the ark, which was the very soul of the tabernacle, and that by which the tabernacle itself was sanctified, and for whose sake the sacrifices were offered at the door of the tabernacle.
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 the Levites took down, or, for the Levites had taken down; for this, though mentioned after, was done before the sacrifices were offered.
And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day.To wit, when they had seen that prodigious return of the ark to its own country, and the entertainment it found there.
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;No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Both of fenced cities, and of country villages: this is added for explication of that foregoing phrase,
all the cities; either to show that under the name of the five cities were comprehended all the villages and territories belonging to them, in whose name and at whose charge these presents were made; or to express the difference between this and the former present, the emerods being only five, according to thee five cities mentioned 1 Samuel 6:17, because it may seem the cities only, or principally, were pestered with that disease; and the mice being many more, according to
the number of all the cities, as is here expressed; the word city being taken generally so, as to include, not only fenced cities, but also the country villages, as is here added, and the fields belonging to them, these being the parts where the mice did most mischief.
The great stone of Abel; which is mentioned as the utmost border of the Philistines’ territory to which the plague of mice did extend; the word stone being easily understood out of 1 Samuel 6:14, where this great stone is expressly mentioned, as the place on which the ark was set which is also here repeated in the following words. And this place is here called
Abel, by anticipation, from the great mourning mentioned in the following verse.
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.They had looked into the ark of the Lord; having now an opportunity which they never yet had, nor were ever like to have, it is not strange they had a vehement curiosity and desire to see the contents of the ark; or whether the Philistines had taken them away, and put other things in their place; and they thought they might now presume the more, because the ark had been polluted by the Philistines, and was now exposed to open view, and not yet put into that most holy place, which they were forbidden to approach.
Of the people, i.e. of the people living in and near Beth-shemesh, or coming thither from all parts upon this great and glorious occasion. Heb. and, or also, he smote of the people, to wit, of or belonging to other places, though now here; so these are distinguished from the men of Beth-shemesh, of whom he speaks only in general and indefinitely, he smote the men, i.e. some or many of them, and then sets down the number of the persons smitten or slain, either excluding the Beth-shemites, or including them.
Fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: this may seem an incredible relation, both because that place could not afford so great a number, and because it seems an act of great rigour, that God should so severely punish those people who came with so much zeal and joy to congratulate the return of the ark, and that for so inconsiderable an error. For the latter branch of the objection, it may be said:
1. That God always used to be most severe in punishing his own people, as sinning against more knowledge and warning than others; especially for such sins as immediately concern his own worship and service.
2. That men are very incompetent judges of these matters, because they do not understand all the reasons and causes of God’s judgments. For although God took this just occasion to punish them for that crime which was so severely forbidden even to the common Levites under pain of death; of which see Numbers 4:18-20; yet it is apparent that the people were at this time guilty of many other and greater miscarriages, for which God might justly inflict the present punishment upon them; and moreover, there are many secret sins which escape man’s observation, but are seen by God, before whom many persons may be deeply guilty, whom men esteem innocent and virtuous. And therefore men should take heed of censuring the judgments of God, of which it is most truly said, that they are oft secret, but never unrighteous. And for the former branch of the objection, many things are or may be said:
1. That the land of Israel was strangely populous. See 2 Samuel 24:9 2 Chronicles 13:3.
2. That all these were not the settled inhabitants of this place, but most of them such as did, and in all probability would, resort thither in great numbers upon so illustrious an occasion.
3. That all these were not struck dead in the very fact, and upon the place, which would have terrified others from following their example; but were secretly struck with some disease or plague, which killed them in a little time.
4. That divers learned men translate and understand the place otherwise, and make the number much smaller. Josephus the Jew, and the Hebrew doctors, and many others, contend that only seventy persons were slain; which though it seem but a small number, yet might justly be called a great slaughter, either for the quality of the persons slain, or for the greatness and extraordinariness of the stroke; or because it was a great number, considering the smallness of the place, and the sadness of the occasion. The words in the Hebrew are these, and thus placed, he smote of or among the people seventy men, fifty thousand men; whereas, say they, the words should have been otherwise placed, and the greater number put before the less, if this had been meant, that he smote fifty thousand and seventy men. And one very learned man renders the words thus, He smote of the people seventy men, even fifty of a thousand, the particle mem, of, being here understood, as it is very frequently. So the meaning is, that God smote every twentieth man of the transgressors, as the Romans used to cut off every tenth man in case of the general guilt of an army. Or the words may be rendered thus, He smote of or among the people seventy men out of fifty thousand men; the particle mem, of, or out of, being understood before the word fifty, which Bochart puts before a thousand; and it may be thus expressed, to show that God did temper his severity with great clemency; and whereas there were many thousands of transgressors, (every one following his brother’s example, as is usual in such cases,) God only singled out seventy of the principal offenders, who either sinned most against their light or office, or were the ringleaders or chief encouragers of the rest. To which may be added, that the ancient translators, the Syriac and Arabic, read the place five thousand and seventy men, being supposed to have read in their Hebrew copies chamesh, five, for chamishim, fifty, which is no great alteration in the word.
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?To stand before this holy Lord God, i.e. to minister before the ark where the Lord is present. Since God is so severe to mark whatsoever is amiss in his servants, who is sufficient and worthy to serve him? who dare presume to come into his presence? It seems to be a complaint, or expostulation with God, concerning this last and great instance of his severity.
To whom shall he go up from us? who will dare to receive the ark with so much hazard to themselves?
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.They sent to Kirjath-jearim, either because the place was not far from them, and so it might soon be removed, which they mainly desired; or because it was a place of eminency and strength, and somewhat further distant from the Philistines, where therefore it was likely to be better preserved from any new attempts of the Philistines, and to be better attended by the Israelites, who would more freely and frequently come to it at such a place, than in Beth-shemesh, which was upon the border of their enemies’ land; or because they thought they would gladly receive it, being a pious and zealous people; or because it was in the way to Shiloh, its ancient habitation, and whither they might suppose it was to be carried by degrees and several stages, whereof this was one.