1 Samuel 6 – “The Ark is Returned”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The Philistines return the ark to the people of Beth-shemesh. After being punished by God for looking inside the ark, the people of Beth-shemesh ask the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim to remove the ark from their midst.

II. Photo
The people of Beth-shemesh are pleasantly surprised: “The people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. They looked up and saw the Ark, and they rejoiced when they saw [it].” (v. 13)

III. Important Verses
3: They answered, “If you are going to send the Ark of the God of Israel away, do not send it away without anything; you must also pay an indemnity to Him. Then you will be healed, and He will make Himself known to you; otherwise His hand will not turn away from you.”
4: They asked, “What is the indemnity that we should pay to Him?” They answered, “Five golden hemorrhoids and five golden mice, corresponding to the number of lords of the Philistines; for the same plague struck all of you and your lords.
6-9: Don’t harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts. As you know, when He made a mockery of them, they had to let Israel go, and they departed. Therefore, get a new cart ready and two milch cows that have not borne a yoke; harness the cows to the cart, but take back indoors the calves that follow them. Take the Ark of the LORD and place it on the cart; and put next to it in a chest the gold objects you are paying Him as indemnity. Send it off, and let it go its own way. Then watch: If it goes up the road to Beth-shemesh, to His own territory, it was He who has inflicted this great harm on us. But if not, we shall know that it was not His hand that struck us; it just happened to us by chance.”
13-14: The people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. They looked up and saw the Ark, and they rejoiced when they saw [it]. The cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh and it stopped there. They split up the wood of the cart and presented the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD. A large stone was there;
19: [The LORD] struck at the men of Beth-shemesh because they looked into the Ark of the LORD; He struck down seventy men among the people [and] fifty thousand men. The people mourned, for He had inflicted a great slaughter upon the population.

IV. Outline
1-9. The Philistines devise a plan to return the ark
10-12. The ark is returned
13-15. The Israelites accept the ark
16-18. The Philistine offering
19. Seventy people of Beth-shemesh are struck down for looking into the ark
20-21. The people of Beth-shemesh summon the people of Kiriath-jearim

V. Comment
Chapter 6 relates how the Philistines return the ark to the people of Beth-shemesh. Verses 4-5 alludes to the fact that the Philistines were struck with both hemorrhoids (‘ofalim) and mice: “They asked, ‘What is the indemnity that we should pay to Him?’ They answered, ‘Five golden hemorrhoids and five golden mice, corresponding to the number of lords of the Philistines; for the same plague struck all of you and your lords. You shall make figures of your hemorrhoids and of the mice that are ravaging your land; thus you shall honor the God of Israel, and perhaps He will lighten the weight of His hand upon you and your gods and your land.’” What was the exact nature of this plague? Sussman believes that it was a form of the bubonic plague. He writes: “The plague that struck the Philistines at Ashdod (1 Samuel 5 and 6) has frequently been diagnosed as an outbreak of hemorrhoids. This is, however, an unacceptable diagnosis. In the first place, hemorrhoids do not occur in epidemics, and secondly, the association with mice (1 Sam 6:5) may suggest an epidemic of an infectious disease. Preuss (1923: 175) argues powerfully that the text represents an account of bubonic plague. The word ‘ofalim, which has been translated as “emerods” (AV) or as “tumours” (JB), derives from the root ‘fl, “swell.” If it is assumed that we are dealing with an objective account, then we have an epidemic of swellings associated with mice and a high mortality rate. The diagnosis of plague, however, requires the presence of rats, since it is the latter that carry the fleas that spread the infection from the rat to man (see Cecil, 1661–63). We must also, therefore, assume that the author either did not know the difference or did not distinguish between mice and rats. Another difficulty is that plague was not reliably reported in the ANE until much later than the OT period (McNiell 1976: 79). Shrewsbury (1964: 33–39) has suggested that the epidemic was one of a severe form of tropical dysentery.” (Sussman, Max. “Sickness and Disease” Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. 6, pp. 6-15)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 15 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr. “1 Samuel,” Anchor Bible vol. 8 (New York: Doubleday, 1980)

Sussman, Max. “Sickness and Disease” Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. 6, pp. 6-15

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