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Sunday, June 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 6

Hawker's Poor Man's CommentaryPoor Man's Commentary

Verse 1


As it was impossible not to take interest in whatever concerned the ark of God, the contents of this Chapter becomes very pleasing, in that it relates to us the conduct of the Philistines in sending away the ark of God. The great joy of the men of Bethshemesh in beholding the return of the ark. The presumption of the Bethshemites in looking into the ark, is punished by the Lord: they send to the men of Kirjath-jearim to fetch the Ark. These are the contents of this Chapter.

1 Samuel 6:1

(1) ¶ And the ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months.

We ought to pause over this verse, and reflect on the state of Israel, deprived of the ark of the covenant of the Lord of Hosts, for no less a period than seven months. No doubt many a pious Israelite felt it, and lamented it in secret. And many of those who went up to Shiloh to worship God in public, openly deplored the vacancy in the tabernacle. Ah! how precious are our gospel mercies, in that we have not simply the outer tokens of God's presence, but the spiritual manifestations of him whom the ark prefigured, always present, wherever two or three are gathered together in his name; Matthew 18:20 .

Verse 2

(2) 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.

That which was a blessing to Israel became a snare to the Philistines, and the very ark which the Lord's people longed to posses again, the Lord's enemies longed to be freed from. So is the gospel, a savor of life unto some, and of death unto others. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 .

Verses 3-9

(3) 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. (4) 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. (5) 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. (6) 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? (7) 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: (8) 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. (9) 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.

There is somewhat very remarkable in this account. It is plain from what is here said, that the Philistines were well acquainted with Israel's history, in the Egyptian bondage and overthrow of Pharaoh. And it is as plain also that they had ideas, (and which they must have gathered from the law of Moses) of the doctrine of trespass-offerings. Alas! how many are there in the present hour, that possess an head knowledge of the glorious truths of the gospel, but who, like both the Egyptians and Philistines, remain forever strangers to the heartfelt influence of them. The experiment they made, by way of ascertaining the certainty that their affliction was from God, for taking and detaining the ark, was suited to the genius of the day, and hears an apt correspondence to carnal minds in all ages. But we must not confine such things to the mere carnal world of unbelievers only; God's people have been found to seek signs, by way of gaining conviction. Such for instance, as Abraham's servant, and Gideon the son of Joash. Genesis 24:12 , etc. Judges 6:36 , etc.

Verses 10-12

(10) ¶ And the men did so; and took two milch kine, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home: (11) 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. (12) 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.

Behold! when God works, how wonderful are his works. He ruleth over the minds of men. Here are God's enemies, and the enemies of his church and people, obliged to send home his ark without money and without price: nay, with gold and costly offerings of their own, to beg the acceptance of the very ark again, which seven months before they brought away in triumph, and no doubt concluded that Israel would give half their kingdom for its ransom. But this is not all. God ruleth over the instinct of beasts also. For here are the mulch kine going away from their young, unaccustomed to the yoke, without guide, or driver, or direction, and yet instinctively, as it were, travelling on with their burden to the distance of eight miles at least, neither once missing their way, nor seeking food: and though lowing as they went, by which they intimated their wish for their young, yet never once growing restive, or attempting to turn back to their own home, until that they had accomplished the service to which they were yoked. What but God himself, could have caused such influence? Well might the Prophet exclaim: This also cometh from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working. Isaiah 28:29 .

Verse 13

(13) 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.

Is there not a similarity here to that of the Jewish shepherds in the field of Bethlehem, to whom the first tidings were brought of the incarnation of our Jesus? Luke 2:8-14 .

Verse 14

(14) 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.

Whether the overruling providence of God directed the ark to this spot out of respect to Joshua, whose name corresponds to Jesus, or whether it was because of this great stone typical also of Jesus, I do not presume to say; but from the promptness of the sacrifice instantly offered by the Bethshemites, and the joy beyond the joy of harvest, in leaving their reaping to engage in this holy service, it may serve to teach us how much pious men of Israel longed for the return of the ark. Oh! Reader! if you have ever known the preciousness of our Jesus; and if you have ever known the absence of your beloved; you will better conceive, than I can possibly express, what kind of joy of the soul that is, when after a long night of Jesus's absence, you have heard his voice, and beheld him again leaping upon the mountains, and skipping upon the hills; Song of Solomon 2:8 .

Verse 15

(15) 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.

Probably some Levites were in the neighbourhood, and were therefore instantly sent for, as it was their office to minister to the ark of the Lord. It is somewhat singular, that the over-ruling providence of God should have directed the ark to Bethshemesh. For though Bethshemesh, strictly speaking, was in the portion of Dan, yet was it belonging to Judah. And ever after this period the ark rested in Judah. This event is celebrated in the Song. The Lord refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim: but chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved. And he built his sanctuary like high places, like the earth which he hath established forever. Psalms 78:67-69 .

Verses 16-17

(16) And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day. (17) 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;

Is the Reader astonished to see such over-ruling events of the God of Israel's power, so exactly corresponding to the Philistines proposal, verse the 9th, (in which they had said, they should know thereby, that it was Israel's God that had done them so great evils): and yet no greater or better conviction wrought upon their minds? Doth the Reader wonder at this? Alas! doth not every day's experience demonstrate the same in the world at large? Is not the world frequently overawed, and frequently compelled to confess, from what is going on around them, that this hath God wrought: and yet how indisposed their minds are truly to honour him.

Verse 18

(18) 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.

This stone of memorial was made similar to others of God's people; Jacob's Bethel and Gideon's Oprah. But were not all these considered, yet more particularly in faith, with an eye to Jesus? that stone which God had laid in Zion. Isaiah 28:16 .

Verse 19

(19) ¶ 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.

In order to have a right apprehension of the sense of this verse, we must consider in the first place, the sin of the Bethshemites in looking into the ark. If the Reader will consult the scriptures of God upon this point, he will see that the ark was made as a token of a meeting place between Jehovah and his people. See Exodus 25:8-9 . That Aaron never was permitted to approach within the vail but once in a year, on the great day of atonement, and this not without blood: evidently teaching thereby the sanctity to be observed towards the ark. See Leviticus 16:2-13 , etc. And we have authority from the apostle Paul to explain all this, in reference to the Lord Jesus Christ; the Holy Ghost (he tells us) thus signifying: See Hebrews 9:1-13 . From this view of the subject, we immediately learn in what the sin of the men of Bethshemesh consisted; namely, presumptuously drawing nigh to God without an eye by faith to a Mediator. See the awfulness of such an approach, represented in another place. Exodus 19:16 to the end. Concerning the numbers stated in this verse, that God smote of the people, fifty thousand and threescore and ten men; if it be read, (and which without violence to the original it might be read), he smote of the fifty thousand of the people, threescore and ten men; then it will follow, that only seventy persons perished for this presumption of looking into the ark, out of the fifty thousand of the men of Bethshemesh. Josephus is of this opinion.

Verse 20

(20) 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?

If this question of the men of Bethshemesh be the humble enquiry of souls under divine visitation, the question is gracious indeed: and in a gospel sense it may be thus answered. None but souls who approach this Holy Lord God in the holiness and sin-cleansing blood of the Mediator. But in him and his all-sufficient righteousness, the poorest sinner hath boldness to enter within the vail by his blood. See Hebrews 10:19-22 . But if the question was the language of displeasure, perhaps it was like that of David upon a similar occasion, in the instance of Uzzah. 2 Samuel 6:6-9 .

Verse 21

(21) 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.

Kirjath-jearim means the city of woods: and it belonged to Judah. It was one of the cities of the Gibeonites originally, see Joshua 9:17 . Alas! for the men of Bethshemesh, had they known the preciousness of the presence of him whom the ark represented, how reluctantly would they have parted with the ark. We meet with a yet more striking instance of ignorance and blindness in the Gergesenes in the days of our Lord, who having given such a decided demonstration of his power and Godhead in the dispossessing of devils, the whole city besought him to depart out of their coasts. Matthew 8:34 . Precious Jesus! how sweet the thought! that neither my ingratitude for all thy mercies, nor all my neglect of thee, which seemed to wish thy departure from me, hath provoked thee to leave me. No, dear Lord! thou wilt never leave me nor forsake me.


THINK my soul, how awful the state of Israel was during the seven months God was pleased to punish them for their transgressions, in depriving them of the ark. Truly awful indeed, is the condition of all men who live without God, and without Christ in the world. But chiefly ye people of God, whose backslidings make barren your ordinances and leave them but as the mere shell and carcase of religion. Let such determine what it is to visit ordinances, and find not the God of ordinances. To have the form, but not the power of godliness. Oh! for the unceasing presence of God in Christ, in the assemblies of his people.

But behold my soul in what is here represented of the bringing back the ark, how the Lord works when as he saith himself, I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies. It is all of divine grace. Not our merit, not our exertions, not our prayers, not our labours; but thy right hand and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, O Lord, are the sole cause for which thou savest and redeemest thy people, for thy name's sake.

Precious Jesus! thou everlasting ark of thy church and people, thou art eternally fixed in Zion. And oh! how divinely reared for the security of my soul. Never, like the men of Beth-shemesh, would I presumptuously look into the secret things which belong unto the Lord our God. But with an eye unto thee and all thy suitableness, and all-sufficiency for the sinner's security, would I come unto thee in the way appointed. Surely, blessed Jesus, thou art thyself the very throne of grace, the very ark and mercy-seat, from whence all tokens of salvation come, and in whom Jehovah is accessible to all the humble requests of my soul. In thy blood and righteousness I find the removal of guilt, and the confidence of justification. In thy dear person I have all I need, both for security and comfort. Thou art my dwelling place whereunto I may always resort. Lord Jesus! cause me never to lose sight of thee in all my approaches. In thy name would I rejoice all the day, and in thy righteousness make my boast; for thou art both the ark and the glory of our strength, and in thy favor our horn shall be exalted.

Bibliographical Information
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 6". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pmc/1-samuel-6.html. 1828.
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