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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 6

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

Verse 1


After the ark had been seven months in the land of the

Philistines, they consult their priests and diviners about

sending it to Shiloh, 1, 2.

They advise that it be sent back with a trespass-offering of

five golden emerods, and five golden mice, 3-6.

They advise also that it be sent back on a new cart, drawn by

two milch kine from whom their calves shall be tied up; and

then conclude that if these cows shalt take the way of

Beth-hemesh, as going to the Israelitish border, then the LORD

had afflicted them, if not, then their evils were accidental,


They do as directed; and the kine take the way of Beth-shemesh,


They stop in the field of Joshua; and the men of Beth-shemesh

take them, and offer them to the Lord for a burnt-offering,

and cleave the wood of the cart to burn them, and make sundry

other offerings, 14, 15.

The offerings of the five lords of the Philistines, 16-18.

For too curiously looking into the ark, the men of Beth-shemesh

are smitten of the Lord, 19, 20.

They send to the inhabitants of Kirjath-jearim, that they may

take away the ark, 21.


Verse 2

Verse 1 Samuel 6:2. The diviners — קסמים kosemim, from קסם kasam, to presage or prognosticate. See Deuteronomy 18:10. In what their pretended art consisted, we know not.

Verse 3

Verse 1 Samuel 6:3. Send it not empty — As it appears ye have trespassed against him, send him an offering for this trespass.

Why his hand is not removed — The sense is, If you send him a trespass-offering, and ye be cured, then ye shall know why his judgments have not been taken away from you previously to this offering.

It is a common opinion, says Calmet, among all people, that although the Supreme Being needs nothing of his creatures, yet he requires that they should consecrate to him all that they have; for the same argument that proves his independence, infinitude, and self-sufficiency, proves our dependence, and the obligation we are under to acknowledge him by offering him due marks of our gratitude and submission. Such sentiments were common among all people; and God himself commands his people not to appear before him without an offering, Exodus 23:15: None shall appear before me empty.

Verse 4

Verse 1 Samuel 6:4. Five golden emerods, and five golden miceOne for each satrapy. The emerods had afflicted their bodies; the mice had marred their land. Both, they considered, as sent by God; and, making an image of each, and sending them as a trespass-offering, they acknowledged this. See at the end.

Verse 5

Verse 1 Samuel 6:5. He will lighten his hand from off you — The whole land was afflicted; the ground was marred by the mice; the common people and the lords afflicted by the haemorrhoids, and their gods broken in pieces.

Verse 6

Verse 1 Samuel 6:6. Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts — They had heard how God punished the Egyptians, and they are afraid of similar plagues. It appears that they had kept the ark long enough.

Did they not let the people go — And has he not wrought wonderfully among us? And should we not send back his ark?

Verse 7

Verse 1 Samuel 6:7. Make a new cart — It was indecent and improper to employ in any part of the worship of God any thing that had before served for a common purpose. Every thing in the worship of God is said to be sanctified: now the general meaning of that word is, to separate a thing from all earthly and common uses, and devote it solely to the service of God.

When David removed the ark from the house of Abinadab, he put it on a new cart, 2 Samuel 6:3.

Bring their calves home from them — So it appears that their calves had been with them in the fields. This was a complete trial: unless they were supernaturally influenced, they would not leave their calves; unless supernaturally directed, they would not leave their home, and take a way unguided, which they had never gone before.

Verse 8

Verse 1 Samuel 6:8. The jewels of gold — The word קלי keley, which our translators so often render jewels, signifies vessels, implements, ornaments, &c. A jewel of gold has an odd sound to those who always attach the idea of a precious stone to the term.

Verse 9

Verse 1 Samuel 6:9. A chance that happened to us — The word מקרה mikreh, from קרה karah, to meet or coalesce, signifies an event that naturally arises from such concurring causes as, in the order and nature of things, must produce it.

Thus a bad state of the atmosphere, putrid exhalations, bad diet, occasioned by any general scarcity, might have produced the disease in question; and to something of this kind they would attribute it, if the other evidences did not concur. This gives us the proper notion of chance; and shows us that it is a matter as dependent upon the Divine providence, as any thing can be: in short, that these occurrences are parts of the Divine government.

The word chance, though often improperly used to signify such an occurrence as is not under the Divine government, is of itself, not only simple, but expressive; and has nearly the meaning of the Hebrew word: it comes from the French cheoir, or escheoir, to fall out, to occur, to fall to. Hence our law-term escheat, any lands that fall to the lord of the manor by forfeiture, or for want of heirs: i.e., these are the occurrences which naturally throw the lands into the hands of the lord.

Verse 12

Verse 1 Samuel 6:12. Lowing as they went — Calling for their calves.

To the right hand or to the left — Some think they were placed where two roads met; one going to Ekron, the other to Beth-shemesh. It is possible that they were put in such circumstances as these for the greater certainty of the affair: to have turned from their own homes, from their calves and known pasture, and to have taken the road to a strange country, must argue supernatural influence.

The lords of the Philistines went after — They were so jealous in this business that they would trust no eyes but their own. All this was wisely ordered, that there might be the fullest conviction of the being and interposition of God.

Verse 14

Verse 1 Samuel 6:14. They clave the wood of the cart — Both the cart and the cattle having been thus employed, could no longer be devoted to any secular services; therefore the cattle were sacrificed, and the cart was broken up for fuel to consume the sacrifice.

Verse 15

Verse 1 Samuel 6:15. The Levites took down — It appears there were some of the tribe of Levi among the people of Beth-shemesh: to them appertained the service of the tabernacle.

Verse 17

Verse 1 Samuel 6:17. These are the golden emerods — Each of these cities, in what may be called its corporate capacity, sent a golden emerod.

Verse 18

Verse 1 Samuel 6:18. And the golden mice — The desolation that had been made through the land by these animals had excited a general concern; and it appears from the text, that all the cities of the Philistines, as well fended as without walls, sent a golden mouse as a trespass-offering.

Remaineth unto this day — Some think the ark is intended, which continued on the stone of Abel for some considerable time after it was placed there; and that the memoranda from which this book was afterwards compiled, were made before it was removed: but it is not likely that it remained any time exposed in the open field. Therefore it is most natural to suppose that it is the stone of Abel which is here intended; and so our translators have understood the place, and have used supplementary words to express this sentiment: "Which stone remaineth unto this day."

Verse 19

Verse 1 Samuel 6:19. He smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men — The present Hebrew text of this most extraordinary reading stands thus: ויך באנשי בית־שמש - ויך בעם שבעים איש חמשים אלף איש vaiyach beanshey Beith-shemesh-vaiyach baam shibim ish, chamishshim eleph ish; "And he smote among the men of Beth-shemesh, (because they looked into the ark of Jehovah,) and he smote among the people SEVENTY men, FIFTY THOUSAND men."

From the manner in which the text stands, and from the great improbability of the thing, it is most likely that there is a corruption in this text, or that some explanatory word is lost, or that the number fifty thousand has been added by ignorance or design; it being very improbable that such a small village as Beth-shemesh should contain or be capable of employing fifty thousand and seventy men in the fields at wheat harvest, much less that they could all peep into the ark on the stone of Abel, in the corn-field of Joshua.

That the words are not naturally connected in the Hebrew text, is evident; and they do not stand better in the versions.

1. The VULGATE renders it thus: - Et percussit de populo SEPTUAGINTA viros; et QUINQUAGINTA MILLA plebis; "And he smote of the (chief) people SEVENTY men, and FIFTY THOUSAND of the (common) people." This distinction, I suppose, St. Jerome intended between plebis and populus; which he might think was warranted by the אנשים anashim, and איש ish, of the Hebrew text.

2. The TARGUM of Jonathan is something similar to the Vulgate: - "And he smote עמא besabey amma, of the elders of the people SEVENTY men; ובקהלא ubekahala, and of the congregation FIFTY THOUSAND men."

3. The SEPTUAGINT follow the Hebrew text: Και επαταξεν εν αυτοις ἑβδομηκοντα ανδρας, και πεντηκοντα χιλιαδας ανδρων; "And he smote of them SEVENTY men; and FIFTY THOUSAND men." εκτουλαου, of the people, is added by some copies.

4. The SYRIAC has forty-five thousand less! It is as follows: [-----Syriac-----] wamacho Morio beamo chamesho alapin weshabein gabrin; "And the Lord smote among the people FIVE thousand and SEVENTY men."

5. The ARABIC is nearly similar: "And the LORD smote among the people; and there died of them [---Arabic---] FIVE thousand and SEVENTY men."

We have no other versions from which we can receive any farther light.

6. JOSEPHUS is different from all the rest, and has fifty thousand less, for he renders the place thus, Antiq. Jud. libe. vi., cap. i., sect. 4: Θργη δε και χολος του Θεου μετεισιν, ὡστε ἑβδομηκοντα των εκ της Βηθσαμης κωμησ-βαλων απεκτεινεν "But the displeasure and wrath of God pursued them so, that SEVENTY men of the village of Beth-shemesh, approaching the ark, which they were not worthy to touch, (not being priests,) were struck with lightning." Here we find the whole fifty thousand is omitted.

7. Rabbi Solomon Jarchi, giving the opinion of other rabbins as well as his own, says, "Our rabbins say SEVENTY men, and each of them was worth fifty thousand men; or fifty thousand, every one of whom was worth the seventy of the Sanhedrin." This only shows embarrassment, but gives very little light.

All these discordances, together with the utter improbability of the thing, lead us to suppose there must be a corruption in this place, either by adding or omitting.

Dr. Kennicott has found three very reputable MSS. in which the words חמשים אלף איש chamishshim eleph ish, fifty thousand men, are wanting. The 1st, No. 84, a MS. from Holland; the 2d, No. 210, one of the Parisian MSS.; the 3d, No. 418, a MS. belonging to Milan; all three written about the beginning of the twelfth century, and numbered as above in Dr. K's Bible.

Perhaps the omission in these MSS. was occasioned by a mistake of the transcriber, which might have easily happened, because of the word איש ish, which occurs both after שבעים shibim and after אלף eleph; for, having written the first, and taking his eye off, when he recommenced he might have supposed he had written the latter, and so proceed, leaving the words in question out of his copy. Two, three, or more persons might have been thus deceived, and so produce the above MSS.; or the mistake once made, all the MSS. copied from that would show the same omission. The common reading may be defended, if we only suppose the omission of a single letter, the particle of comparison כ ke, like, as, or equal to, before the word חמשים chamishshim: thus כחמשים kechamishshim; the passage would then read: "And he smote of the people SEVENTY men, equal to FIFTY THOUSAND men;" that is, they were the elders or governors of the people.

Some solve the difficulty by translating, "He slew SEVENTY men OUT OF fifty thousand men." There are various other methods invented by learned men to remove this difficulty, which I shall not stop to examine; all, however, issue in this point, that only SEVENTY MEN were slain; and this is, without doubt the most probable. The FIFTY THOUSAND, therefore, must be an interpolation, or be understood in some such way as that mentioned above. But the omission of the particle of similitude solves every difficulty; and this would account for the reading in Josephus, who in his recital would naturally leave out such an explanation of the worth of the seventy men, as his Roman readers could not easily comprehend such comparisons.

With a great slaughter. — Seventy men slain, out of an inconsiderable village in a harvest day, was certainly a great slaughter.

Verse 20

Verse 1 Samuel 6:20. Who is able to stand — Why this exclamation? They knew that God had forbidden any to touch his ark but the priests and Levites; but they endeavoured to throw that blame on God, as a Being hard to be pleased, which belonged solely to themselves.

Verse 21

Verse 1 Samuel 6:21. To the inhabitants of Kirjath-jearim — They wished the ark away out of their village, but why they sent to this city instead of sending to Shiloh, does not appear: probably Shiloh had been destroyed by the Philistines, after the late defeat of Israel. This is most likely, as the ark was never more taken back to that place.

IT was a very ancient usage, when a plague or other calamity infested a country, city, c. for the magicians to form an image of the destroyer, or of the things on which the plague particularly rested, in gold, silver, ivory, wax, clay, c., under certain configurations of the heavens and to set this up in some proper place, that the evils thus represented might be driven away. These consecrated images were the same that are called talismans, or rather telesms, among the Asiatics. Mr. Locke calls the diviners talismans, but this is a mistake the image, not the fabricator, was called by this name.

I have seen several of these talismans, of different countries; and such images were probably the origin of all the forms of gods which, in after times, were the objects of religious worship. It is well known that Ireland is not infested with any venomous creature; no serpent of any kind is found in it: -

"No poison there infects, no scaly snake

Lurks in the grass, nor toads annoy the lake."

This has been attributed to a telesm, formed with certain rites under the sign Scorpio. Such opinions have been drawn from very ancient pagan sources: e.g.: A stone engraved with the figure of a scorpion, while the moon is in the sign Scorpio, is said to cure those who are stung by this animal. Apollonius Tyaneus is said to have prevented flies from infesting Antioch, and storks from appearing in Byzantium, by figures of those animals formed under certain constellations. A brazen scorpion, placed on a pillar in the city of Antioch, is said to have expelled all such animals from that country. And a crocodile of lead is also said to have preserved Cairo from the depredations of those monsters. See Calmet.

Virgil refers to this custom, Eclogue viii., ver. 80, where he represents a person making two images or telesms, one of wax, another of clay, which were to represent an absent person, who was to be alternately softened or hardened, as the wax or clay image was exposed to the fire: -

Limus ut hic durescit, et haec ut cera liquescit

Uno et eodem igni: sic nostro Daphnis amore.

"As this clay hardens, and this wax softens, by one and the same fire, so may Daphnis by my love."

This thought is borrowed from Theocritus, Idyl. ii., ver. 28.

A beautiful marble figure of Osiris, about four inches and a quarter high, now stands before me, entirely covered with hieroglyphics; he is standing, and holds in each hand a scorpion and a snake by the tails, and with each foot he stands on the neck of a crocodile. This I have no doubt was a telesm, formed under some peculiar configuration of the heavens, intended to drive away both scorpions and crocodiles. This image is of the highest antiquity, and was formed probably long before the Christian era.

Tavernier observes that something like what is mentioned in the text is practiced among the Indians; for when a pilgrim goes to one of the idol temples for a cure, he brings the figure of the member affected, made either of gold, silver, or copper, according to his circumstances, which he offers to his god. This custom was common among the heathens, and they consecrated to their gods the monuments of their deliverance. From heathenism it was adopted by corrupt Christianity; and Theodoret informs us that in his time there might be seen about the tombs of the martyrs figures of eyes, hands, feet, and other parts of the body, which represented those of the offerers which they supposed had been healed by the intercession of those holy persons! This degrading superstition is continued among the papists to the present day: I have seen at St. Winifred's well, in Holywell, Flintshire several staves, crutches, and handbarrows, hung up in different places, which were reported to be the votive offerings of the maimed, the halt, the withered, c., who had received their cure by the virtue of the saint! It is true the crutches are such as no man or woman could ever walk with and the barrows are such as most evidently never carried any human being. But they serve the purpose of superstition, and keep up an idolatrous reverence for the well and the legendary virgin.

After all, I need not say that the system of judicial astrology is vain, unfounded, absurd, and wicked. It in effect presumes to take the government of the world out of the hand of an all-wise God, and to abandon it to the most fortuitous and unconnected occurrences of life; for the stars have their influences according to this pretended science, conformably to the occurrences here below: e.g., if a child be born but one hour sooner or later than a particular configuration of the heavens, his destiny will be widely different from what it otherwise would have been; and as an almost infinite number of casualties may accelerate or retard a birth, consequently the whole destiny of man is influenced and ruled by these casualties: to say nothing of the absurdity, that those omnipotent stars ever can affect the infant while invested with a thin covering of flesh in the womb of its parent. But the whole science is a tissue of absurdities.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 6". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/1-samuel-6.html. 1832.
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