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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 5

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-12

III. The Ark and the Philistines. 1 Samuel 5:1 to 1 Samuel 7:1

1. The Chastisement of the Philistines for the Removal of the Ark

1 Samuel 5:1-12

1And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto 2Ashdod. When [And] the Philistines took the ark of God,1they [and] brought 3it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon. And when [om. when] they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow,2 [ins. and] behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the Lord [Jehovah]. And they took Dagon, and 4set him in his place again. And when [om. when] they arose early on the morrow morning,1 [ins. and] behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground [earth] before the ark of the Lord [Jehovah], and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of [om. the stump of3] 5Dagon was left to him. Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon’s house, tread on the threshold of Dagon unto this day.

6But [And4] the hand of the Lord [Jehovah] was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods [boils5], even [om. even] Ashdod 7 and the coasts6 thereof. And when [om. when] the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, [ins. and] they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us, for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god. [ins. And] they sent therefore 8[om. therefore] and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered [said], Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about [removed] unto Gath. And they carried [removed] the ark of the God of Israel about thither [om. about 9thither]. And it was so [And it came to pass] that, after they had carried it about [removed it], the hand of the Lord [Jehovah] was against the city with a very great destruction [; there was a very great consternation7]; and he smote the men [people] of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts [and boils broke out8 on them]. Therefore [And] they sent the ark of God to Ekron. 10And it came to pass, as the ark of God came to Ekron, that the Ekronites cried out, saying, They have brought about [om. about] the ark of the God of Israel to 11us [me9], to slay us [me] and our [my] people. So [And] they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go again [return] to his [its] own [om. own] place, that it slay us [me] not, and our [my] people; for there was a deadly destruction [consternation] 12throughout [in] all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there. And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods [boils]; and the cry of the city went up to heaven.


1 Samuel 5:1-5. Jehovah’s demonstration of power against the Philistine heathenism.

1 Samuel 5:1 sqq. From Ebenezer to Ashdod.—On the anticipatory use of the name Ebenezer, with reference to 1 Samuel 7:12, see 1 Samuel 4:1. Ashdod, ̓́Αζωτος, one of the capital cities of the five Philistine princes (Joshua 8:3), named in 1 Samuel 6:17 as that seat of Dagon-worship, which comes first to be considered in the course of this narrative—according to Jos. Ant. V. 1, 22 a border-city of Dan; according to Joshua 15:46-47, assigned to the Tribe of Judah (Judah was to receive “from Ekron on and westward all that lay near Ashdod, and their [Ashdod’s and Ekron’s] villages”), but never really held by the Israelites, though the Philistines were at times subject to the Israelites (Joshua 13:3)—a mile from the sea, now the little village Esdud, on an elevation on the road from Jamnia to Gaza, nine miles south of Jamnia, and about thirty-two miles north of Gaza.

1 Samuel 5:2. The house of Dagon is the temple of one of the chief Philistine deities, for which there were places of worship not only in Ashdod, but also, according to Jerome on Isaiah 46:1, in the other Philistine cities; but, according to Judges 16:23 sqq., there was certainly a central sanctuary in Gaza, where, after the capture of Samson, the princes and the people assembled to hold a sacrifice and feast in honor of Dagon as the supposed bestower of their victory over Samson. Along with the male deity, a corresponding female deity was, according to Diodorus, worshipped, called by the Syrians Derceto (=Atargatis). As this idol-image had the face of a woman, and terminated below the waist in the tail of a fish, so the statue of Dagon, which in 1 Samuel 5:3-4, is expressly represented as male, had a human head and hands, and a fish-body; he is thus characterized as a marine deity, the symbol of the fruitfulness which is represented in the element of water by the fish, like the Babylonian ’Ωδάκων. Comp. Movers, Religion der Phöniz. I. 143 sq., 590 sq.; Stark, Gaza und die philistäische Küste, Jena, 1852, p. 274 sq. The name is to be derived, not from דָּגָן, “grain” (Philo Bybl. in Eus. Prœp., pp. 26, 32, Bochart, Hieroz. I. 381, Movers in Evang. 1, 10, Sanchon., fragm. ed. Orelli, Ersch, Phöniz., p. 405 b) with Bunsen, Ewald and Diestel (Jahrb. für deutsche Theol., 1860, p. 726), according to which Dagon was the god of land-fruitfulness, of agriculture, but from dag דָּג, “fish” (Winer, s. v.). Compare Kimchi’s reference to an old tradition: “It is said, that Dagon had the form of a fish from the navel down, and was therefore called Dagon, and the form of a man from the navel up.” Comp. J. G. Müller in Herzog, R.-E. III. 255 sq. Thenius and Keil recognize this personage in a figure found by Layard at Khorsabad, the upper part of whose body represents a bearded man, adorned with a royal crown, the lower part of the body from the navel on running into the form of a fish bent backwards; that this is a marine deity is beyond doubt, since he is swimming in the sea and surrounded by all sorts of sea-beasts (Layard, Nineve und seine Ueberreste, Germ. ed. of Meissner, p. 424 sq. [Nineveh and its remains]).

Keil rightly remarks: “As this relief, according to Layard, represents a battle between the inhabitants of the Syrian coast and an Assyrian king, probably Sargon, who had a hard struggle with the Philistine cities, especially Ashdod, it is scarcely doubtful that we here have a representation of the Philistine Dagon” (Comm. in loco).10—The Philistines ascribed their victory over the Israelites to Dagon; therefore they brought the ark as votive offering to his temple, where, by its position near his statue, it was to set forth for the Philistines the subjection of the God of Israel to the power of their “god” (1 Samuel 5:7).—But the overthrow of the image, and its recumbent position on its face before the ark (—Theodoret: they saw their God showing the form of worship, τής προσκυνήσως ἒπιδεικνῦτα τὸ σχῆμα—), was to be a sign to them that the God of Israel was not the conquered, but that before Him, who had temporarily delivered Israel into the hands of their enemies, every other power must sink into the dust. They set up the statue again under the impression that the cause of the overthrow was an accidental one. But in the following night not only is the prostration of the image at the feet of the ark repeated—it is besides mutilated; the head and the hands are cut off (not “broken off”). They did not lie “towards the threshold;” it is true, this is the proper meaning of אֵל, but it also signifies rest, instead of movement, and is =“on,” “at;” comp. 1 Samuel 18:3; Deuteronomy 16:6; 1 Kings 8:30. From 1 Samuel 5:5 it is clear that the parts cut off lay on the threshold, and this was not only destruction, but contempt, since what lies on the threshold is exposed to be trodden on, the extremest act of contempt. “To him,” that is, to the whole represented in the image, was left only the fish-stump, since what was human in him, head and hands, was cut off. Kimchi: “Only the form of a fish was left in him.” The “threshold” is without doubt the door-sill of the chamber in which the image stood. Nothing is said directly of a divine miracle. But the matter is so represented by the narrator that we must recognize a special arrangement of the God of Israel for the exhibition of the powerlessness and nothingness of the god of the Philistines.

1 Samuel 5:5 gives an account of a ceremonial custom derived from this occurrence: the threshold of Dagon was not trodden on by his priests, etc. The “threshold” of Dagon, that is, of the place where his statue was set up, is distinguished from the house of Dagon, into which they went. This threshold was considered as made especially holy to Dagon by that occurrence, because his head and hands had lain on it. Sept.: ὐπερβαίνοντες ὑπερβαίνουσι, “ they carefully step over it.” Comp. Zephaniah 1:9. According to this passage and 1 Samuel 6:2, there was a special body of priests for the worship of Dagon. The word kohen (כֹּהֵן) is used in the Old Testament also of heathen priests, Genesis 41:45. The formula “to this day” usually indicates a long time (comp. 1 Samuel 6:18; 1Sa 30:25; 1 Samuel 27:6; 2Sa 4:3; 2 Samuel 6:8; 2 Samuel 18:18), and establishes the remoteness of the narrator from the time of the occurrences described.

1 Samuel 5:6-12. God’s chastising manifestation of power against the Philistine people by plagues and sickness. 1 Samuel 5:6. The hand of the Lord is here figuratively put for God’s might and power, as it made itself felt by the Philistines in the infliction of grievous severe sufferings as chastisement for the violation of His honor. The sufferings are viewed partly as an oppressive burden, in which God’s hand is felt to be heavy (comp. 1Sa 5:11; 1 Samuel 6:5; Psalms 32:4; Psalms 38:2; Job 23:2), partly as a grievous blow, in which it is felt to be hard (1 Samuel 5:7, comp. Job 9:34).—In two ways the hand of the Lord was heavy on the inhabitants of Ashdod: 1) it wasted, destroyed them, and 2) it smote them with boils. The one calamity fell on their land (De Wette: wasted their land); the other was a bodily disease which extended over Ashdod and all its district. The Sept. adds to 1 Samuel 5:6 : “and mice were produced in the land, and there arose a great and deadly confusion in the city;” but this does not furnish, as Thenius maintains, “the original, though somewhat corrupt, text, which contained this statement;” rather, as a second translation of this 1 Samuel 5:6 has been wrongly inserted at the end of 1 Samuel 5:3 by a copyist of the Greek, so the second part of this addition is taken word for word from 1 Samuel 5:11, and the first had its origin in an explanation (in itself appropriate enough) of 1 Samuel 6:4 sq. For from 1 Samuel 6:4-5; 1 Samuel 6:11; 1 Samuel 6:18, where, besides the expiatory or votive offering referring to the bodily disease, a second, the golden mice, is expressly mentioned, it is clear that, in addition to the corporal plague, another, a land-plague, had fallen on the Philistines. Taking into view the passages in 1 Samuel 6:0 the words: “he destroyed them” (like “destruction” [desolation] in Micah 6:13, used of persons) denote a wasting of the land, that is, of the produce of the fields, as the support of human life, by mice, “which destroy the land,” 1 Samuel 6:5. There is no gap in the Heb. text; but the expression “he destroyed them” is a brief description of the universal land-plague, the nature and cause of which appears from the after mention of the votive and expiatory present brought by the Philistines. “The most prominent characteristic of the field-mouse, especially in southern countries, is its voracity and rapid increase. At times these animals multiply with frightful rapidity and suddenness, ravage the fields far and near, produce famine and pestilential diseases among the inhabitants of the land, and have not seldom forced whole nations to emigrate” (see examples, cited from Strabo, Diodorus, Aelian, Agatharchides, and others, in Bo-chart, Hieroz. III., cap. 34). Sommer, Bibl. Abhandl., p. 263. The ravaging of the land by field-mice probably stood in causal connection with the second plague, the boil-sickness.—And he smote them with ophalim (עֳפָלִים), which, from the connection, must have been a bodily disease. The points of the word belong to the Qeri tehorim (טְחֹרִים), which was substituted for the Kethib (and in 1 Samuel 6:4-5, has even gotten into the text), because the word, which properly signifies “swelling,” “elevation,” “hill,” was supposed to designate the anus, and in its place tehorim, “posteriora,” as a more decent expression, was read. It was thence rendered: “He smote them on the anus;” and this view seemed to be supported by Psalms 78:66, where, in reference to God’s judgment on the Philistines after the removal of the ark, it is said: “And he smote his enemies ahor” (אָחוֹר), which was taken in the above sense particularly from the following word “reproach;” for ex. Vulg.: “and he smote his enemies in posteriora;” Luther: “in the hinder parts” [so Eng. A. V.]. But this rendering of the Psalm-passage is incorrect; the proper translation is: “And he smote his enemies back, and put everlasting reproach on them” (Geiger, Hengstenberg, Hupfeld). The above rendering has occasioned on the part of the expositors the suggestion of various affections of the hinder part of the body; some think of diarrhœa (Ewald), others of tumors, mariscæ, chancres (Keil), others of hemorrhoids [the “emerods” of Eng. A. V.], and the like. But, apart from the fact that no definite local disease of the sort is indicated, the verb (הִכָּח with בְּ), as Thenius conclusively shows, never means “to strike on something” (for ex., on a part of the body), but means in this connection “to strike with something” (with a disease or plague). According to the radical meaning of the word ophalim, we must render: he smote them with a skin-disease, which consisted in painful boils or large swellings, and was perhaps caused by the plague of field-mice, which Oken (cited by Thenius in loco) calls “the plague of the fields, often producing scarcity, and even famine.” This explanation is supported by Deuteronomy 28:27, where the word in question stands along with the names of two skin-diseases, of which one (שְׁחִין) is the Egyptian leprosy-like botch, and the other (גָּרָכ and חֶרֶם) “scab and itch.” Only by supposing such a plague-like disease, which became infectious on the breaking out of the boils (1 Samuel 5:9), can we explain its immediate universal spread (indicated by the words “and its coasts”), and its deadly effect (1 Samuel 5:11-12; 1 Samuel 6:19), facts not explained by the other suppositions. Comp. Win., Realw. II., s. v. Philister.

1 Samuel 5:7. In consequence of “its being so,” under such circumstances (כֵּן here as Genesis 25:22), the people of Ashdod recognized the fact that the power of the God of Israel was here manifested on them and their god, and resolved to get rid of the medium of this manifestation, for so they regarded the ark.

1 Samuel 5:8 furnishes a contribution to the history of the political constitution of the Philistines. The princes (סְרָנִים, seranim) of the Philistines are the heads of the several city-districts (Joshua 13:3), which formed a confederation, each one of the five chief cities holding a number of places, “country-cities” (1 Samuel 27:5), “daughter-cities” (1 Chronicles 18:1), as its special district. The constitution was oligarchical, that is, the government was in the hands of the College of princes, whose decision no individual could oppose, comp. 1 Samuel 29:6-11. Grotius: “the Phil, were under an oligarchy.” The resolve of the princes is: “the ark shall be carried to Gath,” and is forthwith executed. According to this there was no Dagon-temple in Gath; for the purpose was to remove the ark from the sanctuary of Dagon, who, in their opinion, called forth the power of the God of Israel, without being able to make stand against him. The location of Gath, also one of the five princely cities—Gitta (Joseph.), Getha (Sept.), Getha (Euseb.)—is doubtful. In this passage (1 Samuel 5:8-10) the connection points merely to the fact that it is to be sought for in the neighborhood of Ashdod and Ekron; but it does not thence necessarily follow (Ewald) that it lay between these two. Jerome’s statements indicate a location near Ashdod and near the limits of Judea: “Gath is one of the five cities of Palestine, near the border of Judea, on the road from Eleutheropolis to Gaza, and still a very large village (on Micah 1:0); Gath is near and bordering on Ashdod (on Jeremiah 25:0).” Comp. Pressel in Herzog, R. E. s. v.,11 The Sept. takes Gath as subject, inserts “to us” (אֵלַי or אֵלֵינוּ) after Israel, and translates: “And the Gittites said, Let the ark of God come to us.” But this addition is uncalled for. Thenius indeed prefers this reading on the ground that such a voluntary offer to receive the ark in order to show that the calamity was merely accidental, is completely in accordance with the whole narrative; but, on the other hand, we may conclude from 1 Samuel 5:6 that they regarded as the cause of the evil the relation of the God of Israel to their god. Dagon, and the object of the transportation of the ark was to remove it from the region of Dagon-worship.

1 Samuel 5:9. The same scourge was repeated in Gath; the plague of boils fell upon all, small and great. Its painful and dangerous character is here more precisely indicated by the once-occurring word (hapaxleg.) sathar (שׂתר) which means, following the corresponding Arabic verb (Niph. findi, erumpi), the bursting of the plague-boils. The Acc. “great consternation” (מה׳ גד׳), giving a sensible representation of the direction and motion, in which an action reaches a definite aim or end, sets forth the final effect or result in the minds of the Philistines of this new manifestation of God’s power; generally, where the point reached is to be indicated, the pref. “to” (לְ) is used (as in 1 Samuel 4:9). “The hand of the Lord was on the city unto great consternation.12

1 Samuel 5:10 sqq. Further removal of the ark to a third princely city, Ekron, according to Robinson (Pal. III. 229 sq. [Amer. Ed. II. 227 sq.]) three miles east of Jamnia and five miles south of Ramleh on the site of the present village Akir, that is, in a northerly direction from Gath. Comp. Tobler, 3 Wand., 53; Joshua 13:3. “Although first assigned to the Tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:45), and for a time held by it (Judges 1:18, on which see Bertheau), then made over to Dan (Joshua 19:43), it could not be retained permanently by the Israelites, but, when the Philistines advanced, fell again into their hands, and continued in their possession (Joshua 15:11; 1 Samuel 6:17; 1 Samuel 7:14).” Rüetschi in Herzog s. v. In 1 Samuel 5:10 is related how the inhabitants of Ekron, when the ark was brought to them, thinking of the late occurrences, made complaint and protest against its entrance.

1 Samuel 5:11-12. The failure of their protest is here silently assumed, and the universal prevalence, and particularly the deadly effects of the plague described. There was every where a “deadly consternation,” that is, a consternation produced by the sudden death of many persons from the plague, which was connected with the boil-sickness. Observe the climax in the triple description of the plague; in Gath it is severer than in Ashdod; in Ekron it has reached its greatest height. The words at the end of the description—And the cry of the city went up to heaven—assume that the Philistines saw clearly that in this plague the almighty hand of the God of Israel was revealed. A second council of princes, it is expressly stated (1 Samuel 5:11, beginning), was called to consult in reference to the restoration of the ark to the Israelites. The proposition of Ekron (as yet undecided on) is indeed based on the deadly effects of the plague on its inhabitants (1 Samuel 5:11), but at the same time it takes for granted that the removal of the ark to other Philistian places would be attended with the same results, and that the punishment of the God of Israel would of necessity continue so long as the insult offered Him by the abduction of the ark was not done away with. [Bib. Comm. compares this scourge in its object and effects with the plagues of Egypt. See Exodus 12:33, and also Numbers 17:12. With the phrase “went up to heaven” Bp. Patrick compares the classical expressions (Virg. Æneid. II. 223, 338, 488): Clamores simul horrendos ad sidera tollit; Sublatus ad œthera clamor; Ferit aurea sidera clamor.—Tr.]


1. Though God brings the judgment on His house and people through world-powers without His kingdom and hostile to His name, He yet shows Himself towards these hostile powers a God that judges righteously in the punishment of the evil they do to the honor of His name in their purpose (though it be by His will or His permission) to oppose His kingdom and hinder its coming. The Philistines, by His counsel and will victorious over the children of Israel, had with His permission taken away the sign of His presence with His people, and brought it into the presence of the idol, that Israel might be right sorely humbled and punished; yet they are chastised as having refused to honor Him as the living God, though the manifestation of His might and glory was set before their eyes.
2. The downfall of the idol-image before the ark and the excision of its most important parts (head and hands) is not merely a symbol, but also a type13 of the truth which is illustrated in the history of God’s kingdom, even in its gloomiest periods, namely, that the powers of the world must sink again into the dust before His glory, after they, in truth taken into His service, have done their work, and that the time appointed by Him comes, when His enemies are made His foot stool. Comp. the declarations in Exodus 9:16; Exodus 14:18 in reference to Egypt. “Where God comes with His ark and His testimony, there He smites the idols to the ground; idolatry must fall, where His gospel finds a place” (Berlenb. Bible).

3. The heavy pressure and the hard blows of the hand of God, to which repeated and significant reference is made in connection with the severed hands of the idol-image, was intended not only as a deserved punishment for the Philistines, but also as a disciplinary visitation. All suffering is punishment, but also (as a chastisement of God’s hand) an instrument of correction; that is, under suffering and affliction, as the outflow and result of sin, man is not merely to recognize the causal connection between His sin and the divine punitory justice on the one hand, and the affliction on the other, but also to have His eyes opened to the purposes of God’s holy love, which by adversity and tribulation will draw him to itself, and humble him under God’s powerful hand to reverence His name.

4. When man’s heart will not give up its worthless idols, though God’s hand draws it to Himself by affliction and suffering, then the distance between Him and the God that offers to be with him becomes greater in proportion to the severity and painfulness of the suffering felt by the soul alienated from God and devoted to idolatry. We shall at last desire to be entirely away from God, as the Philistines at last resolved to carry the ark over the border, that they might have nothing more to do with the God of Israel, while, on the contrary, the ark should have warned them to give glory to the God of Israel, who had so unmistakably and gloriously revealed Himself to them.

5. The cry that ascends to heaven over sufferings and afflictions that are the consequences of wickedness is by no means a sign that need teaches prayer; it may be made from a wholly heathen point of view. The cry that penetrates into heaven is “Against thee have I sinned,” and is the expression of an upright, earnest penitence which is awakened in the heart by the chastisement of God’s hand.

6. The Philistines do not deride and scorn the sanctuary of the Israelites, but from their standpoint show it reverence and treat it with forbearance and awe; and herein is exemplified the truth that even the enemies of God’s kingdom and the opponents of the honor of His name in the affairs of His kingdom stand involuntarily and unconsciously under the influence of His power and glory, and a restraining higher power is near, from which they cannot withdraw. “They cannot advance, whom the Lord’s greater power restrains. The supreme controller of affairs so orders all things that the wicked are restrained by fear—though their souls are haughty and they swell with pride and arrogance; and they cannot execute what their minds purpose. For God fetters and holds captive, as it were, their hands, and suffers not. His glory to be obscured” (Calvin).
7. Often in the history of His kingdom, amid frightful victories by the hostile powers of the world, God’s hand seems bound, and His people fall into the deepest affliction, so that even the most sacred possessions seem to have fallen into the rapacious hands of the world, which is contending against God and His kingdom; yet even then He knows how to maintain His honor inviolate, and His hand is yet free, and (as in the history of this war between Israel and the Philistines) in secret makes the preparation for the liberation and redemption of His people, and the restoration of the sanctuary and the possession of His kingdom, while human eyes do not see it, and human thought does not suspect it. The Lord is mighty and powerful even in the sorest defeats of His kingdom in the battle with the world. He brings every thing to glorious accomplishment.

8. Calvin: “The Philistines seek hiding-places from God’s presence. Let us learn that the same thing happens to all God’s enemies when they are given over to a reprobate mind. For though they are under the dominion of the lethargy of sin, yet, when God urges them more closely, and their own conscience presses them, they seek hiding-places against the majesty of God, and would save themselves by flight.”

9. [This chapter, with the following, strikingly illustrates the non-missionary character of the Old Dispensation. For centuries the Israelites were near neighbors of the Philistines, and had some acquaintance (apparently not much) with their political and religious institutions. Yet the Philistines had at this time only a garbled and distorted account (1 Samuel 4:8) of the history of the Israelites, derived probably from tradition, and seemingly no particular knowledge at all of their religion, nor did the Israelites ever attempt, though they were in the times of Samson and David in close connection with Philistia, to carry thither a knowledge of what they yet believed to be the only true religion. This religious isolation was no doubt a part of the divine plan for the development of the theocratic kingdom, guarding it against the taint of idolatry, and permitting the chosen people thoroughly to apprehend and appropriate the truth which was then to go from them to all the world. But if we look for the natural causes which produced this moral isolation in ancient times, we shall find one in the narrowness of ancient civilization, where the absence of means of social and literary communication fostered mutual ignorance and made sympathy almost impossible, and another in the peculiarly national local nature of the religion of Israel, with its central sanctuary and its whole system grounded in the past history of the nation, presenting thus great obstacles to a foreigner who wished to become a worshipper of Jehovah. These might be overcome, as in Naaman’s case, but it was not easy to throw off one’s nationality (as was necessary for the convert) either at home or by going to live in the land of Israel. All this may palliate the unbelief of the ancient heathen peoples—palliate, but not excuse it, for Jehovah revealed Himself in mighty works which ought to have carried conviction (comp. 1 Samuel 6:6) and led to obedience and love. On the other hand, the Israelite ought to have tried to bring the heathen to the true God, and indeed in the Pss. we find exhortations to them to come and acknowledge Him. But the Jews, as a nation, never freed themselves from the narrowness to which their institutions trained them.—Tr.]


[Henry: God will show of how little account the ark of the covenant is, if the covenant itself be broken and neglected; even sacred signs are not things that either He is tied to, or we can trust to.—Tr.]

1 Samuel 5:1-5. The ruinous folly of the idolatrous mind: 1) It places God beside the idols, as if one could serve two masters (1 Samuel 5:1-2; Matthew 6:24); 2) It does not allow itself to be pointed to the living God by the nothingness of its idols in contrast with Him (1 Samuel 5:3); 3) In spite of the destruction of its idols through the power of the Lord before its eyes, it always sets up again the old idolatrous service, and carries it still further (1 Samuel 5:4); 4) Sinking from one degree of superstition to another, it gives itself up, and is given up by God ever deeper and deeper into selfish idolatry.—Dagon before the ark, or Heathenism conquered at the feet of the living God: 1) In the domain of its power, its own abode (1 Samuel 5:1-2); 2) Through the secret demonstration of the power of the Lord (1 Samuel 5:3-4); 3) Amid the destruction of its power and glory (the face as a sign of its worthless glory and vain beauty struck down to the earth, the head also as the seat of the wisdom which is alienated from God and opposed to God, the hands as a symbol of the powers of darkness which work therein, cut off) (1 Samuel 5:3-5).—The fall of heathenism: 1) It is thrown down before the power of God manifesting Himself as present in His word (the law and the testimony in the ark) (1 Samuel 5:1-3); 2) Its power (head and hands) is broken and destroyed through the secretly working power of the Spirit of God (1 Samuel 5:3-4); 3) There is an ever more and more glorious revelation of the power of God which casts down heathenism in the light of the day of salvation, which overcomes the darkness of heathenism.—The defeat which the kingdom of the world suffers in its victory over the kingdom of God: 1) In quiet concealment; 2) Through the miraculous action of God; 3) In open publicity.

1 Samuel 5:6-7. Calvin: Here it is clearly shown how great is the stiff-neckedness of unbelievers in their error, that when the manifest signs of the divine judgments press ever nearer, and there is no more room at all for excuses, and when they can no longer conceal their fear of the judgment and the power of God, yet they do not recognize their contumacy, and lay aside their hardness of heart, but only seek hiding-places and places of refuge, in order to withdraw themselves as far as possible from the divine power that it may not reach them. What sort of effect do unbelievers let the experience and apprehension of the infinite power of God produce in them? Not a change of disposition, not a zealous striving after the knowledge of the truth in His word, and willingness to give Him the honor which belongs to Him, not humility of heart in subjection to the majesty of God, but rather fear and terror at His presence, and the striving to fly as far from Him as possible, and to keep God removed as far as possible from them.—God avenges Himself on the enemies of His people, in that, even when they have obtained a victory over the people of God, it yet turns out worse for them than for the people of God who are defeated, Job 20:5-7.—Cramer: God can even with ease constrain His enemies to confession.

1 Samuel 5:8. Starke: Foolish men, to think that the almightiness of God can be thwarted by change of place.—Seb. Schmidt: Against God the devices of men, even the wisest, avail nothing. [1 Samuel 5:9. “Boils.” There are many other passages in our English version of the Bible in which an apparent indelicacy is due to erroneous translation.—Hall: They judge right of the cause; what do they resolve for the cure? .… They should have said: Let us cast out Dagon, that we may pacify and retain the God of Israel; they determine to thrust out the ark of God, that they might peaceably enjoy themselves, and Dagon.—Tr.]

1 Samuel 5:10. God has the hearts of all men in His hands (Proverbs 21:1), and can speedily turn them to change their will and purposes, so as to promote His honor and the best interests of the Church.

1 Samuel 5:12. Calvin: We should not imitate the Ekronites, who fill heaven with their cry, but with their heart are far from God; rather should we, when the ark of God comes so near us, come with our heart to God. To Him should we cry, when He comes in His judgments, and beg Him for help without complaining, while we confess to Him our sins, and acknowledge that we receive from Him righteous punishment, and that the sufferings which He has inflicted on us are wholesome for us.—Schlier: Then could Israel clearly see what an almighty God they had, stronger than the gods of all the heathens and that this strong God wished to be their God, and had interested Himself in behalf of His people.


[1][1 Samuel 5:2; 1 Samuel 5:4. This verbal repetition is quite after the manner of Hebrew historical writing.—Tr.]

[2][1 Samuel 5:3. Here Sept. inserts: “and went into Dagon’s house and saw.”—a very natural explanation, but, for that very reason, suspicious as the probable addition of a copyist or annotator.—Tr.]

[3][1 Samuel 5:4. It seems better to omit this explanatory phrase, which is not found in the Heb., and to leave the word “Dagon” to be explained in the exposition; for, though the phrase is probably correct (see Erdmann’s account of Dagon), it is still an interpretation rather than a translation.—Tr.]

[4][1 Samuel 5:6. The text of the Sept. here deviates decidedly from the Heb.; for attempts to reconcile the two see Thenius and Wellhausen, in loco. There is no good ground, however, for departing from the Heb.—Tr.]

[5][1 Samuel 5:6. The versions here all follow the Qeri tehorim, which word most of them take to mean a part of the body (posteriora), and not a disease. Chald. and Syr. have this very word. Chald. “mariscæ,” Syr. “posteriora,” Arab. “sedes,” Vulg. “in secretiori parte natium,” Philippson “schambeulen.” Geiger thinks that the Kethib means “posteriora,” and the Qeri a disease of that part of the body, the change of reading having been made for decency’s sake. This was probably the reason of the change, but the Kethib seems to mean the disease, while the Qeri means both a disease and a part of the body. No explanation has yet been given of the reading of the Sept. “ships” (ναῦς); it may be simply an error of transcription for ἕδρας, which is found in 1 Samuel 5:9.—Tr.]

[6][1 Samuel 5:7. The word “coasts,” not now used in its original sense of “sides,” has here been retained because of the difficulty of finding another equally good rendering of the Heb. word (גבוּלים).—TR.

[7][1 Samuel 5:9. Erdmann: “zu grossem schrecken,” but it is better, with the versions, to take it as an independent sentence.—Tr.]

[8][1 Samuel 5:9. Eng. A. V. takes the verb שתר as =סתר, “concealed,” but the connection does not favour this. Gesenius’ suggestion “broke out” is adopted by Erdmann, and seems best, but Philippson, from the Arab. root which Gesen. compares, shatara,ruptus fuit,” prefers “broke,” as indicating the culmination of the disease—auforechen instead of hervorbrechen. Philippson’s rendering is etymologically better founded, but does not so well suit the connection.—Tr.]

[9][1 Samuel 5:10. The Sing. here points to the prince or other person who was spokesman for the people.—Tr.]

[10][Dagon was probably originally an old Babylonian fish-deity.—Tr.].

[11][Eusebius (Onom.) mentions two places called Gath, one between Antipatris and Jamnia (which cannot be the place here meant), the other five miles from Eleutheropolis (identified by Robinson, II. 59 sq., with Beit Jibrin) towards Diospolis. Mr. J. L. Porter, Art. “Gath,” in Smith’s Bib. Dict., accordingly identifies Gath with the hill called Tell-es-Safieh, ten miles east of Ashdod, and about the same distance south by east of Ekron.—Tr.]

[12][But on the reading of this verse see “Textual and Grammatical” note.—Tr.]

[13][Dr. Erdmann here uses the word type, not in the scientific theological sense of a fact of the Old Dispensation, which is intended to set forth the corresponding (spiritually identical) fact of the New Dispensation, but in the general sense of a representative or specimen fact. It is a method of the divine providence inferred from the Scripture and illustrated in history, rather than a spiritual fact of God’s spiritual kingdom prefigured by an outward object or fact in His ancient people or service. The ark symbolized God’s presence in law and mercy, but was not in itself a type, except as a part of the Tabernacle which typified God’s people. The lesson from the punishment of the Philistines, then, is the same as that contained in the slaughter at Samson’s death, the plagues of Egypt, the destruction of Babylon (Psalms 137:8), and other cases in which God has interfered to save His cause; only here the procedure is more dramatically striking.—Tr.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 5". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/1-samuel-5.html. 1857-84.
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