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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 6

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-21

The seven months during which the Philistines had possessor of the ark was a full time in which to prove the severity of God's hand in solemn displeasure. How could they bear it any longer? There is a question in their minds, however, as to how to send it back. If, as they discern, it has been an offense to God that they have taken the ark, how is that offense to be paid for? For this they consult their idolatrous priests and diviners, who tell them they must return it with a trespass offering.

Yet, how ignorant they are of what a true trespass offering is! For this God required a blood sacrifice, which is totally foreign to the unbelieving mind. They conceive the rather amusing notion (thinking it wise, no doubt) of sending five golden images of hemorrhoids and five of mice. Here we are told also that an infestation of mice had damaged their land, and they connected this also with God's dealing with them on account on the ark. In this the five cities of the Philistines were represented. Men of the world are the same today, in spite of God's having shown clearly that only the blood of Christ shed at Calvary can possibly atone for man's sins. They think that some gift of their own temporal possessions ought to ingratiate God toward them, as though God, the Maker of the universe, possesses the same selfish nature as man does, grasping for material things! But God thinks no more of this than He did of Cain's offering of the fruit of the ground (Genesis 4:3-5). Still, these were not Jews, and God made no issue of it with the Philistines: the question of the ark's return was the matter of greatest importance.

Verse 6 shows they were well acquainted with Israel's deliverance from Egypt in the face of Pharoah's cruel opposition, and that Pharoah's stubbornness was eventually broken by God's many miracles that caused great suffering in Egypt. So history warns them that if they harden their hearts they will prolong their suffering.

Though fully purposed to return the ark to Israel, the Philistines know nothing of God's ways as to this, and resort to the natural expedient of sending it back to Israel on a new cart. Of course they might have invited the Jews to come and take it back to their land by means of the priests carrying it, as was God's order. But God makes no issue of this with the Philistines. The cows they chose to pull the cart were not accustomed to this, and also were milk cows having new-born calves. They propose to give them no driver, but let them go as they will. With their calves locked up at home, their natural bent would have been to return directly to them. The images of gold were put in a coffer beside the ark.

This was to be the one last clear evidence to the Philistines of whether or not it was God who had plagued them because of the ark. If the cattle would go straight toward Beth-shemesh in Israel (the most direct route), then they would know that this affliction had been from God's hand: if not, they would consider that only chance had been involved in the whole ordeal. Even though the previous evidence had been very clear, men are extremely slow to give God the honor that is rightly His.

But God allows no slightest question to remain. The cows take the straight road toward Beth-shemesh, in spite of their natural aversion to doing so, protesting all the way by lowing for their calves. The rulers of the Philistines followed them all the way to the border of Israel to make sure they did not turn back.

Of course the men of Beth-shemesh, busy at the time of harvest, were astonished and joyful to see the ark. The cows turned into a field of a certain man named Joshua and stopped beside a great stone. Levites came and removed the ark and the coffer of golden jewels from the cart to the stone, then cut up the wood of the ark and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. As to the five rulers of the Philistines, it is said only that they witnessed this and returned to Ekron. No mention is made of whether or not the plague was immediately eased in their land.

Verses 17 and 18 record the names of the five Philistine cities represented by the golden images of the hemorrhoids and mice, including their adjacent villages, and the fact that the great stone in Joshua's field was still remaining when this record was written.

However, God proves again that He is no respecter of men. If the Philistines had suffered for their having the ark among them, the Israelites of Beth-shemesh suffer for daring to look into the ark. This would not have been allowed while the ark was in the temple, but men's foolish curiosity evidently moved them to open the ark and look into it, at Beth-shemesh. The Lord Himself smote a large number of them, though Hebrew scholars consider that 50,000 is not a correct translation, and that 70 seems more likely. The spiritual significance of this is most important. The ark was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold, the wood speaking of the humanity of the Lord Jesus, and the gold of His eternal deity. We must simply adore Him, not daring to speculate as regards how He can be God and Man in one Person. This would be looking into the ark.

Those who remained were rightly subdued with awe at this contemplation of the holiness of God. Of course the ark, the very representation of the throne of God, was rightly held in sacred esteem by Israel, and it was gross negligence for the men of Beth-shemesh to ignore this. They may have been greatly blessed if they had given it the solemn respect that was due, but being smitten as they had, they want the ark taken elsewhere. Apparently Kirjath-jearim was the closest town of any size, and was in the direction of Jerusalem, but they send messengers there to ask that someone from there should come down and bring the ark to Kirjath-jearim. Of course the ark should have been where a priest could care for it, but there is no mention of priests at all at this time, and evidently no-one was in the position of high priest. As to Shiloh and what had been called the temple there, we have no word whatever, or of anyone taking Eli's place in the priesthood. How disordered everything had become in Israel, the priesthood having so failed that it held no apparent influence over the people at all.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 6". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/1-samuel-6.html. 1897-1910.
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