1 Samuel 6 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of 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.