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1 Samuel Chapter Six                            


1 Samuel 6

Chapter Contents

The Philistines consult how to send back the ark. (1-9) They bring it to Bethshemesh. (10-18) The people smitten for looking into the ark. (19-21)

Commentary on 1 Samuel 6:1-9

(Read 1 Samuel 6:1-9)

Seven months the Philistines were punished with the presence of the ark; so long it was a plague to them, because they would not send it home sooner. Sinners lengthen out their own miseries by refusing to part with their sins. The Israelites made no effort to recover the ark. Alas! where shall we find concern for religion prevail above all other matters? In times of public calamity we fear for ourselves, for our families, and for our country; but who cares for the ark of God? We are favoured with the gospel, but it is treated with neglect or contempt. We need not wonder if it should be taken from us; to many persons this, though the heavies of calamities, would occasion no grief. There are multitudes whom any profession would please as well as that of Christianity. But there are those who value the house, the word, and the ministry of God above their richest possessions, who dread the loss of these blessings more than death. How willing bad men are to shift off their convictions, and when they are in trouble, to believe it is a chance that happens; and that the rod has no voice which they should hear or heed!

Commentary on 1 Samuel 6:10-18

(Read 1 Samuel 6:10-18)

These two kine knew their owner, their great Owner, whom Hophin and Phinehas knew not. God's providence takes notice even of brute creatures, and serves its own purposes by them. When the reapers saw the ark, they rejoiced; their joy for that was greater than the joy of harvest. The return of the ark, and the revival of holy ordinances, after days of restraint and trouble, are matters of great joy.

Commentary on 1 Samuel 6:19-21

(Read 1 Samuel 6:19-21)

It is a great affront to God, for vain men to pry into, and meddle with the secret things which belong not to them, Deuteronomy 29:29; Colossians 2:18. Man was ruined by desiring forbidden knowledge. God will not suffer his ark to be profaned. Be not deceived, God is not mocked. Those that will not fear his goodness, and reverently use the tokens of his grace, shall be made to feel his justice. The number smitten is expressed in an unusual manner in the original, and it is probable that it means 1170. They desire to be rid of the ark. Foolish men run from one extreme to the other. They should rather have asked, How may we have peace with God, and recover his favor? Micah 6:6,7. Thus, when the word of God works with terror on sinners' consciences, they, instead of taking the blame and shame to themselves, quarrel with the word, and put that from them. Many stifle their convictions, and put salvation away from them.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on 1 Samuel


1 Samuel 6

Verse 1

[1] And the ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months.

Seven months — So long they kept it, as loath to lose so great a prize, and willing to try all ways to keep it.

Verse 3

[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.

It shall be known — You shall understand, what is hitherto doubtful, whether he was the author of these calamities, and why they continued so long upon you.

Verse 4

[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.

Emerods — Figures representing the disease. These they offered not in contempt of God, for they fought to gain his favour hereby; but in testimony of their humiliation, that by leaving this monument of their own shame and misery, they might obtain pity from God.

Mice — Which marred their land by destroying the fruits thereof; as the other plague afflicted their Bodies.

Verse 5

[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.

Give glory — The glory of his power in conquering you, who seemed to have conquered him; of his justice in punishing you, and of his goodness if he relieve you.

Verse 6

[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?

Wherefore, … — They express themselves thus, either because some opposed the sending home the ark, though most had consented to it; or because they thought they would hardly send it away in the manner prescribed, by giving glory to God, and taking shame to themselves.

Verse 7

[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:

Milch kine, … — In respect to the ark; and for the better discovery, because such untamed heifers are apt to wander, and keep no certain and constant paths, as oxen accustomed to the yoke do, and therefore were most unlikely to keep the direct road to Israel's land.

From them — Which would stir up natural affection in their dams, and cause them rather to return home, than to go to a strange country.

Verse 9

[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.

His own coast — Or Border, that is, the way that leadeth to his coast, or border, namely, the country to which it belongs.

Then he, … — Which they might well conclude, if such heifers should against their common use, and natural instinct, go into a strange path, and regularly and constantly proceed in it, without any man's conduct.

Verse 12

[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.

Beth-shemesh — A city of the priests, who were by office to take care of it.

Loving — Testifying at once both their natural and vehement inclination to their calves, and the supernatural power which over-ruled them to a contrary course.

The lords went — To prevent all imposture, and to get assurance of the truth of the event. All which circumstances tended to the greater illustration of God's glory.

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.

They — Not the lords of the Philistines, but the Beth-shemites, the priest that dwelt there.

Offered the kine — There may seem to he a double error in this act. First, that they offered females for a burnt-offering, contrary to Leviticus 1:3. Secondly, that they did it in a forbidden place, Deuteronomy 12:5,6. But this case being extraordinary, may in some sort excuse it, if they did not proceed by ordinary rules.

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.

Villages — This is added for explication of that foregoing phrase, all the cities; either to shew, that under the name of the five cities were comprehended all the villages and territories belonging to them, in whose name, and at whose charge these presents were made; or to express the difference between this and the former present, the emerods being only five, according to the five cities mentioned, verse 17, because it may seem, the cities only, or principally, were pestered with that disease; and the mice being many more according to the number of all the cities, as is here expressed: the word city being taken generally so, as to include not only fenced cities, but also the country villages, and the fields belonging to them.

Abel — This is mentioned as the utmost border of the Philistines territory, to which the plague of mice extended. And this place is here called Abel, by anticipation from the great mourning mentioned in the following verse. It is desirable, to see the ark in its habitation, in all the circumstances of solemnity. But it is better to have it on a great stone, and in the fields of the wood, than to be without it. The intrinsic grandeur of divine ordinances ought not to be diminished in our eyes, by the meanness and poverty of the place, where they are administered.

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.

Had looked — Having now an opportunity which they never yet had, it is not strange they had a vehement curiosity to see the contents of the ark.

Of the people — In and near Beth-shemesh and coming from all parts on this occasion.

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?

Who is able, … — That is, to minister before the ark where the Lord is present. Since God is so severe to mark what is amiss in his servants, who is sufficient to serve him? It seems to be a complaint, or expostulation with God, concerning this great instance of his severity.

And to whom, … — Who will dare to receive the ark with so much hazard to themselves. Thus when the word of God works with terror on men's consciences, instead of taking the blame to themselves, they frequently quarrel with the word, and endeavour to put it from them.

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 — Whither they sent, either because the place was not far off from them, and so it might soon be removed: or because it was a place of eminency and strength, and somewhat farther distant from the Philistines, where therefore it was likely to be better preserved from any new attempts of the Philistines, and to be better attended by the Israelites, who would more freely and frequently come to it at such a place, than in Beth-shemesh, which was upon the border of their enemies land.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on 1 Samuel


06 Chapter 6


Verses 1-21

Verse 1

1 Samuel 6:1

And the ark of God was in the country of the Philistines.

Terrible aspects of God’s character

At last the ark leaves the land of the Philistines. For seven terrible months it had spread among them anxiety, terror, and death. Nothing but utter ruin seemed likely to spring from a longer residence of the ark in their territories. Glad were they to get rid of it, golden emerods, golden mice, new cart, milch kine, and all. It is a solemn truth that there are aspects of God’s character, aspects of the Saviour’s character, in which He is only a terror and a trouble. These are the aspects in which God is seen opposed to what men love and prize, tearing their treasures away from them, or tearing them away from their treasures. It is an awful thing to know God in these aspects alone. Yet it is the aspect in which God usually appears to the sinner. It is the aspect in which our consciences present Him when we are conscious of having incurred His displeasure. And while man remains a sinner and in love with his sin he may try to disguise the solemn fact to his own mind, but it is nevertheless true that his secret desire is to get rid of God. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)

Verse 3

1 Samuel 6:3

Send it not empty.

Superstition the ape of true devotion

These superstitious priests can counsel them not to send away the ark of God empty, but to give it a sin offering. They had not lived so far away from the smoke of Jewish altars, but that they knew God was accustomed to manifold oblations. No Israelite could have said better; superstition is the ape of true devotion, and if it look not to the ground of both many times it is hard, by the very outward acts, to distinguish them. Nature itself teacheth us that God loves a full hand. He that hath been so bountiful to us as to give us all looks for a return of some offering from us. If we present Him with nothing but our sins how can we look to be accepted? The sacrifices under the Gospel are spiritual; with these must we come into the presence of God if we desire to carry away remission and favour. (Bishop Hall.)

Verse 4

1 Samuel 6:4

What shall be the trespass offering?

Offerings to the gods

The idea of presenting offerings to the gods corresponding with the object in connection with which they were presented was often given effect to by heathen nations. “Those saved from shipwreck offered pictures of the shipwreck, or of the clothes which they had on at the time, in the Temple of Isis; slaves and captives, in gratitude for the recovery of their liberty, offered chains to the Lares, retired gladiators, their arms to Hercules; and in the fifth century a custom prevailed among Christians of offering in their churches gold or silver hands, feet, eyes, etc., in return for cures effected in those members respectively in answer to prayer. This was probably a heathen custom transferred into the Christian Church, for a similar usage is still found among the heathen in India.” (Speakers Commentary.)

Verse 9

1 Samuel 6:9

It was a chance that happened to us.

The ministry of chance

The world believes in chance, and without doubt there is some ground for its belief, but whether that ground constitutes a real foundation we may doubt. What does chance mean? It means that it is something which happens, falls out, without being foreseen or intended. Nothing happens unforeseen by the Great Mind that rules over all. All chance is “direction which thou canst not see;” but though we do not see it the direction was not the less there.

1. The doctrine of chance has been applied to the formation of the world. It has been said that the world is the result of the interaction of the atoms through all the past Eternity, at last falling by chance into an orderly arrangement. Let us suppose an immense number of alphabets were thrown together--a sufficient number of them, for instance, to make up the Bible, say a million of letters or so--and that someone were to be appointed to throw them up every second through a hundred million of years, is there any likelihood that they would come down once in such an order as to make the Bible, or a single book of the Bible, or a single chapter of the Bible, or a single verse? Neverse Yet that is just what Lucretius supposed to happen with the making of the world from the interaction of the atoms. There must be intelligence; there must be design to elicit that which we call the world. The Greek word which we translate “world” signifies something arranged, something orderly, and hence beautiful.

2. Tendencies, that is, laws, are capable of being observed and provided for. And this is the great business of man, as Bacon observed, “Man the minister and interpreter of nature, does and understands as much as his observations on the order of nature, either with regard to things or the mind, permit him, and neither knows nor is capable of more.” That is, he is to find out just what order that is which God has given to nature, and guide himself accordingly. If things were only to fall out by chance it would be utterly impossible to foresee or to guide ourselves in view of any event. If we found that the hard brick of today was soft as its original clay tomorrow, and that without any perceptible reason; or the strong timber was attacked with a weakness at varying and uncertain intervals; or that the slate which threw oft the rain of yesterday was become a sieve to the torrent of today; or that the window which was translucent had suddenly become opaque; if we could assign no reason for these sudden changes, and all other things were alike in this, we should be utterly incapable of any useful work. If the human mind were powerful enough to take in and calculate all the various forces which enter into the movements of each, it would be able to show the reasons for the slightest change in the direction and force of the wind, of the smallest flock of the cloud, and of every flash of the aurora of the north sky, and of every variation in the health of the hypochondriac. It is yet possible that science may be able to predict what was, in former days, only possible to prophecy.

3. But it may be asked, “What do you make of a miracle? Is not that such a breach of the order and continuity of nature as would be equivalent to the intrusion of chance?” We say no, for a miracle is only the operation of a higher law--it is only the result of the influence of the Great Mechanic, who, surely, should not be left out of our calculation of what is possible in this complex world of ours. Science should modestly admit that there may be direction which she cannot see--that there is a Providence “which shapes our ends, rough hew them as we will”--that outside the framework of nature there is an intelligent Mind, and that there may be reasons for its interference just as strong as those which operate on the factory director to mend a broken wheel or to reduce a too violent motion. This sphere, called in our imperfect vocabulary that of miracle, is far removed from that of chance, where uncertainty, doubt, and incapacity ever reign. But it may be suggested here that we should enter into some inquiry about prayer, and about its power to resist the usual order of nature, and thus, as it were, to set aside the government of law. Now, here I would say that, in connection with prayer, we must bear in mind that with its answer, in the Scriptures, the ministry of angels is closely associated. Verily, it is a poor science which takes cognizance alone of the seen and tangible, the weighable and measurable, while there are around us in the ambient ether, or within us in the recesses of the mind, the ministering spirits, “sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation.” But it is to be observed, that whatever is done by these ministering spirits, is done, not to the production of confusion in the world, but in entire accordance with the lower laws which science observes. To our thought there can be no disorder introduced, when the superior forces are taken into account. Let us take the case of the resurrection of Christ. Science, which took no account of the Spirit of holiness, no account of the Spirit of God with which He was filled above measure, said it was not possible that He should rise again; but the Apostle tells us, it was not possible that He should be holden of death. God was in Him with such presence and power that death was overcome, and life, violently taken away, was restored. Without the Divine power in Christ, the scientific men of the day were perfectly right in assuming the impossibility of the resurrection; but (and here is no chance, but the presence of mighty cause) they were all astral in thinking that there was no resurrection for Him. It was absolutely certain that He should rise again; there was a cause mightier than death operating to His restoration. All this is certainly according to law, as Paul says: “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” It may be observed that, at least, in those cases which have been dwelt upon by pious persons as answers to prayers, naturalists have invariably reasoned that the same results would have happened without the intervention of prayer at all--which means that they, at least, did not find that any disorder occurred by any power which prayer exercised. These interventions in answer to prayer, by angelic agency or otherwise, seem to give no reason to affirm that chance has any scope or play in the world. This being understood, we may also say a word regarding the frequency of such spiritual agency’s operations. Are they of frequent, or only of casual and fitful occurrence? Were they confined to Palestine and prophetic periods, or are they in operation at all times and spheres of the world? It reply, we say, without doubt, they are always working as they are always living, and working according to law, that is, according to the direction of God. But we may surely affirm that they do not interfere with any law of nature, nor are they to be relied on in answer to any prayer offered up to guard us against calamities which we might have avoided, or which we have brought on ourselves by want of proper foresight.

4. There being no such thing, then, as chance, and no violation of the laws of matter by higher power, it is clearly our duty to know what those laws are--especially those which regulate the business, trade, profession, or calling of each. It may be that, after we have done our best, we shall still be ignorant of many things which it greatly concerns us to know, our ignorance of the same bringing to us loss, disaster, even death. But that we might, by exercising foresight, avoid great calamities is certain. One-half, two-thirds, three-fourths of the accidents that occur, destructive of life and limb, should have been avoided. Why should scaffolds be continually falling, dashing human beings to the earth shattered corpses, when a rope of sufficient thickness, or a pole of sufficient firmness, would have prevented the catastrophe? Why should the shop fall under its load, when a trifling bond would have hem its walls perpendicular? Why should a house be burned, when a little care would have cured a defective flue? Why should the ship sink in the ocean, when a good lookout would have avoided collision with the iceberg or the other ship crossing the course. Be it observed, not one of these nor similar accidents but might have been foreseen and prevented. In every case the material employed followed explicitly the laws of its own being. The falling scaffold, the sinking building, the burning city, all took place according to law. When any great disaster happens to a building, we cannot, on that account, say that Heaven is enraged against it, or that it is a judgment on it for the immoralities there nurtured. The judgment is against the folly, the perverseness, the sin of imprudence, carelessness, want of foresight, or wickedness implied in the faulty construction for the sake of gain. Say not that those on whom the tower of Siloam fell were greater sinners than the others in Jerusalem on whom no such judgment came. What we are concerned with is the vast importance of prudence and care in regard to every building where human lives might, with such provision, be imperilled.

5. But still there is one thought which it is important for us to impress upon you. Place yourselves in no peril to which duty does not call--nay, let us broaden the injunction, walk in no path to which duty does not beckon the way, though absolutely safe. We have no promise that we shall have safety save in the paths of right--nay, not even of bodily safety there. Though the outer man perish the inner man will live unhurt amid the war of elements, the wrack of matter, and the crash of worlds. (J. Bonnet, D. D.)

Verse 12

1 Samuel 6:12

Lowing as they went.

The heart going toward heaven

How many, many times have men gone by their tears to the gate of heaven who never could have been drawn there by the mere presentation of truth. As the kine went lowing with the ark, so the heart goes lowing toward heaven, seeking its own, and finding them, in hope, in imagination, and resting only when by faith it is brought again consciously near to them in the kingdom of the Eternal Father. (H. W. Beecher.)

Verse 13

1 Samuel 6:13

And they of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley.

The harvest field

The words of the text give a harvest scene.

I. Signs from God. Every harvest scene is a new Divine revelation. Thousands of years have rolled away since He promised that “while the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest shall not fail.” In the fulfilment of that promise, how much of God is seen!

1. There is His goodness. Provision is made for man and beast.

2. There is His power.

3. There is His faithfulness.

4. There is His eternity.

He who fulfils today in fields of ripened corn a promise made thousands of years ago, must be independent of the revolutions of times and circumstances. It is said that Dr. Johnson took off his hat whenever he passed a steeple. But he must have a dull soul who feels no reverence when walking through ripened cornfields. In the harvest fields we see--

II. Life from death. The grain which the sower dropped into the soil in spring underwent the process of dissolution and death. For weeks it lay buried in the dust. All this exuberance of the harvest field has come out of apparent death.

1. It symbolises spiritual labour. The true Christian teacher, philanthropist, reformer, minister, like the husbandman, has his seed buried for a time. However, though he dies, the seed lives, and will rise, grow, and ripen to perfection.

2. This exuberance in the harvest field illustrates human life on earth. The harvest field reminds us of the true education of man. Like the seed sown, it is the bringing out of what is in the soul--the moral ego. Some teachers speak of the mind as a vessel, some as a stone. And the idea is to fill up the vessel, to polish the stone. But it is neither stone nor vessel; it is a seed. You cannot fill it, you cannot polish it. You must bring it out. Man at birth is sown into the earth, like seed, in two respects. The seed existed before it was sown. Man existed before he was born into this world. The seed required sowing in order for its development. Man required birth into this world in order for the development of his powers. As a seed, man differs from other germinant existences in two respects:--

III. Like from like. Each seed has come forth in its own kind. Man reaps like what he sows.

1. It is thus in spiritual things.

2. It is thus in bodily development. In the harvest field we see--

IV. Much from little. Each seed is multiplied, some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred fold. So wondrously prolific is the seed that one single grain in the course of time will cover continents. One thought has formed a character and one character has changed the destiny of a nation. Much from little characterises all God’s operations. In the harvest field we see--

V. Blessings from labour. The crops would never have appeared had man not cultivated the soil and sowed the precious grain. Every harvest field is a testimony to the importance of human agency. In the harvest field we see--

VI. Maturity from progress. From the commencement of germination, the seed went on until it appeared in the multiplied grains of harvest. All things tend to ripeness:--

1. All things in nature.

2. All things in society.

3. All classes of character. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Verse 19-20

1 Samuel 6:19-20

And He smote the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had Looked into the ark of the Lord.

Irreverent curiosity

The prying men of Beth-shemesh have had their counterparts many a time in more recent days. Many men, with strong theological proclivities, have evinced a strong desire to pry into the “secret things which belong to the Lord our God.” Foreknowledge, election, free will, sin’s punishment--men have often forgot that there is much in such subjects that exceeds the capacity of the human mind, and that as God has shown reserve in what He has revealed about them, so men ought to show a holy modesty in their manner of treating them. And even in the handling of sacred things generally, in the way of theological discussion, a want of reverence has very often been shown. It becomes us all most carefully to beware of abusing the gracious condescension which God has shown in His revelation, and in the use which He designs us to make of it. It was an excellent rule a foreign theologian laid down for himself, to keep up the spirit of reverence--never to speak of God without speaking to God. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)

Uncurbed curiosity perilous

Men may soon be too bold with hidden mysteries; he that modestly looks upon the sun, sees a glorious torch, and receives a comfortable light; but he that fixeth his eyes too earnestly upon it, is struck blind, and because he will see more than he should, comes in the end to see nothing at all. (T. Adams.)

Dangerous prying into secret things

He that pryeth into every cloud may be stricken with a thunderbolt. (Eliza Cook.)

The severity and mercy of God

The city of Beth-shemesh (which signifies the House of the Sun) was now under such an eclipse and darkness, as peevishly to think that God was over strict, laying the blame all upon God, and none upon their sins (1 Samuel 6:20), and therefore desire to dismiss the ark as the cause of this rigour. David himself had something of this sin (2 Samuel 6:8-9), and the Gadarins much more (Matthew 8:54). God always shows most severity in punishing His own people, especially in matters that immediately concerned His worship, and men are not competent judges, because we understand not the unsearchable reasons of His judgments. Who hath been God’s counsellor, etc? (Romans 11:33-34), we ought not to search into God’s secrets, which belong to Him only (Deuteronomy 29:29). It is as unmannerly a trick to spy into another man’s house with his eyes, as to press into it with his feet: How much more unlawful was this prying and peeping into the secrets of God, so expressly against God’s Law? (Numbers 4:15; Numbers 4:18-20). As it is a learned ignorance not to know what is unrevealed, so it is a sort of madness to pry into them. It is a wonder that the Philistines were not all cut off (as the Beth-shemites were here, 1 Samuel 6:19) when they first laid their foul hands upon it, when they first took it captive; and now again, when they carted the ark (though upon a new cart), seeing the Lord made a breach upon David for his doing the very self-same thing (2 Samuel 6:8). No reason can be rendered for this severity of God against His servants, and His indulgency towards His enemies, but this, God confers greater privileges upon His own people, and therefore if they transgress against all their light and love, etc., He infers greater punishments upon them (Amos 3:2). David and the Beth-shemites had the light of the law of God by them, and therefore sinned more against knowledge than those poor blind ignorant Philistines could do: Therefore God did not only spare them in carting His ark, but also condescended to work this miracle for their conviction. (C. Ness.)

──The Biblical Illustrator