Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 6:1
The Ark of God Sent Back. - Sa1 6:1-3. The ark of Jehovah was in the land (lit. the fields, as in Rut 1:2) of the Philistines for seven months, and had brought destruction to all the towns to which it had been taken. At length the Philistines resolved to send it back to the Israelites, and therefore called their priests and diviners (see at Num 23:23) to ask them, "What shall we do with regard to the ark of God; tell us, with what shall we send it to its place?" "Its place" is the land of Israel, and בּמּה does not mean "in what manner" (quomodo: Vulgate, Thenius), but with what, wherewith (as in Mic 6:6). There is no force in the objection brought by Thenius, that if the question had implied with what presents, the priests would not have answered, "Do not send it without a present;" for the priests did not confine themselves to this answer, in which they gave a general assent, but proceeded at once to define the present more minutely. They replied, "If they send away the ark of the God of Israel (משׁלּחים is to be taken as the third person in an indefinite address, as in Sa1 2:24, and not to be construed with אתּם supplied), do not send it away empty (i.e., without an expiatory offering), but return Him (i.e., the God of Israel) a trespass-offering." אשׁם, lit. guilt, then the gift presented as compensation for a fault, the trespass-offering (see at Lev. 5:14-6:7). The gifts appointed by the Philistines as an asham were to serve as a compensation and satisfaction to be rendered to the God of Israel for the robbery committed upon Him by the removal of the ark of the covenant, and were therefore called asham, although in their nature they were only expiatory offerings. For the same reason the verb השׁיב, to return or repay, is used to denote the presentation of these gifts, being the technical expression for the payment of compensation for a fault in Num 5:7, and in Lev 6:4 for compensation for anything belonging to another, that had been unjustly appropriated. "Are ye healed then, it will show you why His hand is not removed from you," sc., so long as ye keep back the ark. The words תּרפאוּ אז are to be understood as conditional, even without אם, which the rules of the language allow (see Ewald, 357, b.); this is required by the context. For, according to Sa1 6:9, the Philistine priests still thought it a possible thing that any misfortune which had befallen the Philistines might be only an accidental circumstance. With this view, they could not look upon a cure as certain to result from the sending back of the ark, but only as possible; consequently they could only speak conditionally, and with this the words "we shall know" agree.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 6:4
The trespass-offering was to correspond to the number of the princes of the Philistines. מספּר is an accusative employed to determine either measure or number (see Ewald, 204, a.), lit., "the number of their princes:" the compensations were to be the same in number as the princes. "Five golden boils, and five golden mice," i.e., according to Sa1 6:5, images resembling their boils, and the field-mice which overran the land; the same gifts, therefore, for them all, "for one plague is to all and to your princes," i.e., the same plague has fallen upon all the people and their princes. The change of person in the two words, לכלּם, "all of them," i.e., the whole nation of the Philistines, and לסרניכם, "your princes," appears very strange to us with our modes of thought and speech, but it is by no means unusual in Hebrew. The selection of this peculiar kind of expiatory present was quite in accordance with a custom, which was not only widely spread among the heathen but was even adopted in the Christian church, viz., that after recovery from an illness, or rescue from any danger or calamity, a representation of the member healed or the danger passed through was placed as an offering in the temple of the deity, to whom the person had prayed for deliverance;
(Note: Thus, after a shipwreck, any who escaped presented a tablet to Isis, or Neptune, with the representation of a shipwreck upon it; gladiators offered their weapons, and emancipated slaves their fetters. In some of the nations of antiquity even representations of the private parts, in which a cure had been obtained from the deity, were hung up in the temples in honour of the gods (see Schol. ad Aristoph. Acharn. 243, and other proofs in Winer's Real-wrterbuch, ii. p. 255). Theodoret says, concerning the Christians of the fourth century (Therapeutik. Disp. viii.): Ὅτι δὲ τυγχάνουσιν ὧνπερ αἰτοῦσιν οἱ πιστῶς ἐπαγγέλλοντες ἀναφανδὸν μαρτυρεὶ τὰ τούτων ἀναθήματα, τὴν ἰατρείαν δηλοῦντα, οἱ μὲν γὰρ ὀφθαλμῶν, οἱ δὲ ποδῶν ἄλλοι δὲ χειρῶν προσφέρουσιν ἐκτυπώματα καὶ οἱ μὲν ἐκ χρυσοῦ, οἱ δὲ ἐξ ὕλης ἀργύρου πεποιημένα. Δέχεται γὰρ ὁ τούτων Δεσπότης καὶ τὰ σμικρά τε καὶ εὔωνα, τῇ τοῦ προσφέροντος δυνάμει τὸ δῶρον μετρῶν. Δηλοῖ δὲ ταῦτα προκείμενα τῶν παθημάτων τὴν λύσιν, ἧς ἀνετέθη μνημεῖα παρὰ τῶν ἀρτίων γεγενημένων. And at Rome they still hang up a picture of the danger, from which deliverance had been obtained after a vow, in the church of the saint invoked in the danger.)
and it also perfectly agrees with a custom which has prevailed in India, according to Tavernier (Ros. A. u. N. Morgenland iii. p. 77), from time immemorial down to the present day, viz., that when a pilgrim takes a journey to a pagoda to be cured of a disease, he offers to the idol a present either in gold, silver, or copper, according to his ability, of the shape of the diseased or injured member, and then sings a hymn. Such a present passed as a practical acknowledgement that the god had inflicted the suffering or evil. If offered after recovery or deliverance, it was a public expression of thanksgiving. In the case before us, however, in which it was offered before deliverance, the presentation of the images of the things with which they had been chastised was probably a kind of fine or compensation for the fault that had been committed against the Deity, to mitigate His wrath and obtain a deliverance from the evils with which they had been smitten. This is contained in the words, "Give glory unto the God of Israel! peradventure He will lighten His (punishing) hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land." The expression is a pregnant one for "make His heavy hand light and withdraw it," i.e., take away the punishment. In the allusion to the representations of the field-mice, the words "that devastate the land" are added, because in the description given of the plagues in Sa1 5:1-12 the devastation of the land by mice is not expressly mentioned. The introduction of this clause after עכבּריכם, when contrasted with the omission of any such explanation after עפליכם, is a proof that the plague of mice had not been described before, and therefore that the references made to these in the Septuagint at Sa1 5:3, Sa1 5:6, and Sa1 6:1, are nothing more than explanatory glosses. It is a well-known fact that field-mice, with their enormous rate of increase and their great voracity, do extraordinary damage to the fields. In southern lands they sometimes destroy entire harvests in a very short space of time (Aristot. Animal. vi. 37; Plin. h. n. x. c. 65; Strabo, iii. p. 165; Aelian, etc., in Bochart, Hieroz. ii. p. 429, ed. Ros.).
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 6:6
"Wherefore," continued the priests, "will ye harden your heart, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? (Exo 7:13.) Was it not the case, that when He (Jehovah) had let out His power upon them (בּ התעלּל, as in Exo 10:2), they (the Egyptians) let them (the Israelites) go, and they departed?" There is nothing strange in this reference, on the part of the Philistian priests, to the hardening of the Egyptians, and its results, since the report of those occurrences had spread among all the neighbouring nations (see at Sa1 4:8). And the warning is not at variance with the fact that, according to Sa1 6:9, the priests still entertained some doubt whether the plagues really did come from Jehovah at all: for their doubts did not preclude the possibility of its being so; and even the possibility might be sufficient to make it seem advisable to do everything that could be done to mitigate the wrath of the God of the Israelites, of whom, under existing circumstances, the heathen stood not only no less, but even more, in dread, than of the wrath of their own gods.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 6:7
Accordingly 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 (Sa1 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 (Sa1 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 Sa1 6:10 and Sa1 6:12. ארגּז, which only occurs again in Sa1 6:8, Sa1 6:11, and Sa1 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 (Sa1 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 Deu 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.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 6:10
The God of Israel actually did what the idolatrous priests hardly considered possible. When the Philistines, in accordance with the advice given them by their priests, had placed the ark of the covenant and the expiatory gifts upon the cart to which the two cows were harnessed, "the cows went straight forward on the way to Bethshemesh; they went along a road going and lowing (i.e., lowing the whole time), and turned not to the right or to the left; and the princes of the Philistines went behind them to the territory of Bethshemesh." בּדּרך ישּׁרנה, lit., "they were straight in the way," i.e., they went straight along the road. The form ישּׁרנה for יישׁרנה is the imperf. Kal, third pers. plur. fem., with the preformative י instead of ת, as in Gen 30:38 (see Ges. 47, Anm. 3; Ewald, 191, b.). Bethshemesh, the present Ain-shems, was a priests' city on the border of Judah and Dan (see at Jos 15:10).
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 6:13
The inhabitants of Bethshemesh were busy with the wheat-harvest in the valley (in front of the town), when they unexpectedly saw the ark of the covenant coming, and rejoiced to see it. The cart had arrived at the field of Joshua, a Bethshemeshite, and there it stood still before a large stone. And they (the inhabitants of Bethshemesh) chopped up the wood of the cart, and offered the cows to the Lord as a burnt-offering. In the meantime the Levites had taken off the ark, with the chest of golden presents, and placed it upon the large stone; and the people of Bethshemesh offered burnt-offerings and slain-offerings that day to the Lord. The princes of the Philistines stood looking at this, and then returned the same day to Ekron. That the Bethshemeshites, and not the Philistines, are the subject to ויבקּעוּ, is evident from the correct interpretation of the clauses; viz., from the fact that in Sa1 6:14 the words from והעגלה to גּדולה אבן are circumstantial clauses introduced into the main clause, and that ויבקּעוּ is attached to לראות ויּשׂמחוּ, and carries on the principal clause.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 6:15
Sa1 6:15 contains a supplementary remark, therefore הורידוּ is to be translated as a pluperfect. After sacrificing the cart, with the cows, as a burnt-offering to the Lord, the inhabitants of Bethshemesh gave a further practical expression to their joy at the return of the ark, by offering burnt-offerings and slain-offerings in praise of God. In the burnt-offerings they consecrated themselves afresh, with all their members, to the service of the Lord; and in the slain-offerings, which culminated in the sacrificial meals, they sealed anew their living fellowship with the Lord. The offering of these sacrifices at Bethshemesh was no offence against the commandment, to sacrifice to the Lord at the place of His sanctuary alone. The ark of the covenant was the throne of the gracious presence of God, before which the sacrifices were really offered at the tabernacle. The Lord had sanctified the ark afresh as the throne of His presence, by the miracle which He had wrought in bringing it back again. - In Sa1 6:17 and Sa1 6:18 the different atoning presents, which the Philistines sent to Jehovah as compensation, are enumerated once more: viz., five golden boils, one for each of their five principal towns (see at Jos 13:3), and "golden mice, according to the number of all the Philistian towns of the five princes, from the fortified city to the village of the inhabitants of the level land" (perazi; see at Deu 3:5). The priests had only proposed that five golden mice should be sent as compensation, as well as five boils (Sa1 6:4). But the Philistines offered as many images of mice as there were towns and villages in their five states, no doubt because the plague of mice had spread over the whole land, whereas the plague of boils had only fallen upon the inhabitants of those towns to which the ark of the covenant had come. In this way the apparent discrepancy between Sa1 6:4 and Sa1 6:18 is very simply removed. The words which follow, viz., וגו עליה הגּיחוּ עשׁר, "upon which they had set down the ark," show unmistakeably, when compared with Sa1 6:14 and Sa1 6:15, that we are to understand by הגּדולה אבל the great stone upon which the ark was placed when it was taken off the cart. The conjecture of Kimchi, that this stone was called Abel (luctus), on account of the mourning which took place there (see Sa1 6:19), is extremely unnatural. Consequently there is no other course left than to regard אבל as an error in writing for אבן, according to the reading, or at all events the rendering, adopted by the lxx and Targum. But ועד (even unto) is quite unsuitable here, as no further local definition is required after the foregoing הפּרי כּפר ועד, and it is impossible to suppose that the Philistines offered a golden mouse as a trespass-offering for the great stone upon which the ark was placed. We must therefore alter ועד into ועד: "And the great stone is witness (for ועד in this sense, see Gen 31:52) to this day in the field of Joshua the Bethshemeshite," sc., of the fact just described.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 6:19
Disposal of the Ark of God. - Sa1 6:19. As the ark had brought evil upon the Philistines, so the inhabitants of Bethshemesh were also to be taught that they could not stand in their unholiness before the holy God: "And He (God) smote among the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked at the ark of Jehovah, and smote among the people seventy men, fifty thousand men." In this statement of numbers we are not only struck by the fact that the 70 stands before the 50,000, which is very unusual, but even more by the omission of the copula ו before the second number, which is altogether unparalleled. When, in addition to this, we notice that 50,000 men could not possibly live either in or round Bethshemesh, and that we cannot conceive of any extraordinary gathering having taken place out of the whole land, or even from the immediate neighbourhood; and also that the words אישׁ אלף חמשּׁים are wanting in several Hebrew MSS, and that Josephus, in his account of the occurrence, only speaks of seventy as having been killed (Ant. vi. 1, 4); we cannot come to any other conclusion than that the number 50,000 is neither correct nor genuine, but a gloss which has crept into the text through some oversight, though it is of great antiquity, since the number stood in the text employed by the Septuagint and Chaldee translators, who attempted to explain them in two different ways, but both extremely forced. Apart from this number, however, the verse does not contain anything either in form or substance that could furnish occasion for well-founded objections to its integrity. The repetition of ויּך simply resumes the thought that had been broken off by the parenthetical clause יי בּארון ראוּ כּי; and בּעם is only a general expression for שׁ בּאנשׁי ב. The stroke which fell upon the people of Bethshemesh is sufficiently accounted for in the words, "because they had looked," etc. There is no necessity to understand these words, however, as many Rabbins do, as signifying "they looked into the ark," i.e., opened it and looked in; for if this had been the meaning, the opening would certainly not have been passed over without notice. ראה with ב means to look upon or at a thing with lust or malicious pleasure; and here it no doubt signifies a foolish staring, which was incompatible with the holiness of the ark of God, and was punished with death, according to the warning expressed in Num 4:20. This severe judgment so alarmed the people of Bethshemesh, that they exclaimed, "Who is able to stand before Jehovah, this holy God!" Consequently the Bethshemeshites discerned correctly enough that the cause of the fatal stroke, which had fallen upon them, was the unholiness of their own nature, and not any special crime which had been committed by the persons slain. They felt that they were none of them any better than those who had fallen, and that sinners could not approach the holy God. Inspired with this feeling, they added, "and to whom shall He go away from us?" The subject to יעלה is not the ark, but Jehovah who had chosen the ark as the dwelling-place of His name. In order to avert still further judgments, they sought to remove the ark from their town. They therefore sent messengers to Kirjath-jearim to announce to the inhabitants the fact that the ark had been sent back by the Philistines, and to entreat them to fetch it away.