1 Samuel 6

God’s chest is returned

1 The LORD's chest was in Philistine territory for seven months.
2 The Philistines called for the priests and the diviners. "What should we do with the LORD's chest?" they asked. "Tell us how we should send it back to its own home."
3 They replied, "If you are returning the chest of Israel's God, don't send it back empty, but be sure to return a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and it will become clear to you why God's hand hasn't left you alone."
4 "What compensation offering should we return to him?" they asked. The priests and diviners replied: "Five gold tumors and five gold mice, matching the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague came on all of you and your rulers.
5 You must make images of your tumors and the mice that have devastated the land. Honor Israel's God. Perhaps he will lighten the weight of his hand on you, your gods, and your land.
6 Why be stubborn like the Egyptians and Pharaoh? After God had dealt harshly with them, didn't they send the Israelites on their way?
7 So get a new cart ready along with two nursing cows that have never been yoked before. Harness the cows to the cart, but take any of their calves that are following back home.
8 Next, take the LORD's chest and put it in the cart. Set the gold items that you are giving God as a compensation offering in a box next to the chest. Then send it on its way.
9 Then watch what happens: If the cart goes up the road to its own territory toward Beth-shemesh, then Israel's God has brought this great disaster on us. If the cart goes another way, then we'll know that it wasn't God's hand that struck us. It happened to us randomly."
10 The rulers did just that. They took two nursing cows and harnessed them to the cart, penning their calves up at home.
11 They put the LORD's chest on the cart along with the box containing the gold mice and the images of their tumors.
12 The cows went straight ahead, following the road to Beth-shemesh. They kept to one route, mooing as they went, without turning right or left. The Philistine rulers followed them as far as the territory of Beth-shemesh.
13 Now the people of Beth-shemesh were harvesting wheat in the valley. When they looked up and saw the chest, they were overjoyed at the sight.
14 The cart entered the field belonging to Joshua of Beth-shemesh and stopped right by a large stone. They chopped up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as an entirely burned offering to the LORD.
15 The Levites unloaded the LORD's chest and the box that was with it that contained all the gold items, and they set them on the large stone. That very day the people of Beth-shemesh offered entirely burned offerings and made sacrifices to the LORD.
16 When the five Philistine rulers witnessed this, they went straight back to Ekron.
17 These are the gold tumors that the Philistines returned as a compensation offering to the LORD: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, and one for Ekron.
18 The gold mice matched the number of Philistine cities belonging to the five rulers, from fortified cities to country villages. And the large stone they set the LORD's chest on is a witness even now in the field that belongs to Joshua of Beth-shemesh.
19 But God struck down some of the people from Beth-shemesh because they looked into the LORD's chest. God struck seventy people, and the community grieved because the LORD had struck them so severely.
20 The people of Beth-shemesh said, "Who can stand before the LORD, this holy God? Where can he go that is away from us here?"
21 They sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim. "The Philistines returned the LORD's chest!" they said. "Come down and take it back with you."

1 Samuel 6 Commentary

Chapter 6

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)

Verses 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!

Verses 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.

Verses 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, De. 29:29 ; Col. 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 micah 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.

Footnotes 7

  • [a]. Or be sure to return it with a compensation offering.
  • [b]. Kethib; Qere hemorrhoids (cf Deut 28:27); also in 6:5; see note at 6:11.
  • [c]. LXX lacks and five gold mice.
  • [d]. See 6:12; MT men.
  • [e]. Or hemorrhoids; also in 6:17, the Qere form for the Hebrew written form of tumors used in 6:4-5
  • [f]. LXX
  • [g]. LXX; MT adds fifty thousand people.

Chapter Summary

INTRODUCTION TO FIRST SAMUEL 6

In this chapter we are told the Philistines advised with their priests what to do with the ark, and wherewith to send it home, 1Sa 6:1,2 whose advice was to send with it a trespass offering, golden images of emerods and mice, and to put it on a new cart, and the images in a coffer on the side of the ark, and draw it with two cows, 1Sa 6:3-8, and gave them a token whereby they might know whether they had been smitten by the God of Israel or not, 1Sa 6:9 which advice they took, and acted in all things according to it; and the lords of the Philistines accompanied the ark to the border of Bethshemesh, 1Sa 6:10-12, where they of Bethshemesh received it with joy, and offered the kine for a burnt offering to the Lord, and the Levites took care of the ark and presents in it, and the lords of the Philistines returned home, 1Sa 6:13-18, but they of Bethshemesh looking into the ark were smitten of God, upon which they sent to the men of Kirjathjearim to fetch it from them, 1Sa 6:19-21.

1 Samuel 6 Commentaries