Site hosted by Angelfire.com: Build your free website today!

IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?

If so please EMail us with your question and we will do our best to give you a satisfactory answer.EMailus. (But preferably not from aol.com, for some reason they do not deliver our messages).

FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.

THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH--- ESTHER--- PSALMS 1-50--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS

Commentary on SAMUEL (or 1 & 2 Samuel) 2

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

B). The Ark As The Focal Point Of The Kingship Of YHWH (4.1b-7.14).

The emphasis in this subsection is on the Kingship of YHWH as revealed by the Ark which is the symbol of His Kingship. Because of His people’s disobedience and sinfulness as revealed through their priesthood YHWH refuses to act to deliver Israel, and allows the Ark to be taken. But when the Ark is brought to Ashdod the idol Dagon falls before YHWH and is smashed to pieces. Thus even in Ashdod YHWH is revealed as King. Then through plague, and a multiplying of vermin, YHWH brings His judgment on them because of the disrespect that they have shown to the Ark, so that in the end the Philistines recognise that they must return it to Israel along with suitable homage in the form of Gifts.

But those who receive it in Israel also treat it with disrespect, even though they are priests, demonstrating that their hearts are not right towards YHWH, and they too are therefore smitten and punished, and the Ark is then placed in a household where it is respected and honoured, and where it will remain for many years.

The King being therefore once again among His people they learn, after a twenty-year period of mourning during which He is silent, that if they will turn from their idols and seek Him, He will deliver them from the Philistines. And, as a result of the prayers of His prophet Samuel, the Philistines are then driven from the land.

We are not to see the Ark as forgotten. It is its very presence in Israel that evidences the fact that YHWH has not finally deserted His people, and the writer intends us to see its presence as indicating that YHWH is still there as Israel’s King, overseeing their future both for good and bad.

Analysis.

  • a The Philistines defeat Israel and capture the Ark of God (4.1b-22).
  • b The Ark of God is taken to Ashdod and the idol Dagon falls before YHWH and is smashed in pieces (5.1-5).
  • c The Ark of God brings misery and plague on the Philistines who disrespect it (5.6-12).
  • d The Ark of God is returned to Israel with reparations (6.1-16).
  • c The Ark of God brings misery on the Israelites who disrespect it (6.17-7.2).
  • b The Ark of God is suitably re-established in Israel and they are promised that if they return to YHWH and put away their idolatry they will be delivered from the Philistines (7.3-4).
  • a The Ark having been restored, Israel defeat the Philistines through the prayers of Samuel (7.5-14).

Note that in ‘a’ the Philistines defeat Israel and the Ark of God is defiled, while in the parallel the Ark of God is re-established and Israel defeat the Philistines. In ‘b’ the Ark is taken to Ashdod and the idol Dagon falls before it and is smashed in pieces, and in the parallel, on the restoration of the Ark Israel are called on to denounce their idols. In ‘c’ the Ark bring misery on the Philistines who disrespect it and in the parallel it brings misery on the people of Israel who disrespect it. In ‘d’ the Ark of God returns in triumph to Israel, being duly honoured by the Philistines.

Chapter 4.

There can be little doubt that in this chapter we are being brought back to a period before Samuel’s full influence began to be felt. Eli was now even more infirm, and his sons were no doubt in full command. Samuel as a youth was still serving faithfully in the Tabernacle. Israel was now once again experiencing powerful pressure from the Philistine overlords who were wanting to carve out an empire for themselves. The Philistines had seemingly got over their losses brought about by Samson’s martyrdom. And Israel had no one to look to but two decadent priests.

The Battle of Aphek: The Philistines Defeat Israel And Capture the Ark of God (4.1b-22).

Not long after God had spoken to the young Samuel the Israelites rose against the dominance of their Philistine masters in order to cast off their yoke. This may have occurred around the time of the death of Samson, when the Philistines would be in some disarray at the loss of many of their leaders, an event which may well have stirred Israel to think that it could free itself. It is noteworthy that they did not consult the young Samuel. His reputation was not yet established. Nor did they seek to YHWH. They were acting on their own initiative. Whatever their outward profession they were not in submission to the Kingship of YHWH.

The call to the tribes would go out from the central sanctuary at Shiloh, and the consequence was that Israel gathered an army in order to gain their freedom from having to submit to the Philistines and pay tribute. But Israel had no experienced military leader and were mainly farmers gathered together to defend their lands, and worst of all at this stage, they had no one to guide them in their decisions, for the young Samuel was still developing, and Eli’s sons ruled in the Tabernacle. The Philistines on the other hand were an experienced military aristocracy who had arrived from Crete and from the Aegean a hundred or so years before and had settled in the Coastal Plain and they were accompanied by Canaanite farmers over whom they ruled and whom they had conscripted to service, the Canaanites probably hoping for a share in great booty.

It will be noted that there was no preparation of heart on the part of Israel, no seeking to YHWH. Their priests were not the kind who genuinely sought YHWH’s guidance about anything. They simply had a vague hope that YHWH would help them, and a superstitious trust in the Ark.

The chapter divides into two parts, the first part describes the actual battle itself and the bringing into service of the Ark, followed by its capture, the second part describes the after effects on Israel.

The Battle of Aphek (4.1b-10).

This battle may have resulted from Israel’s attempt to avenge the death of Samson, in the hope that the loss of many leaders at the catastrophe at Dagon’s Temple may have weakened the Philistines. Or it may have resulted from a Philistine recovery from that catastrophe and a determination to reassert their power. Either way it was probably somewhere in the middle of the forty year period of the Philistine dominance mentioned in Judges 13.1.

Analysis.

  • a Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and encamped beside Eben-ezer: and the Philistines encamped in Aphek. And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel, and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines, and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men (4.1b-2).
  • b And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, “What is the reason that YHWH has smitten us today before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of YHWH to us out of Shiloh, that it may come among us, and save us out of the hand of our enemies” (4.3).
  • c So the people sent to Shiloh, and they brought from there the ark of the covenant of YHWH of hosts, who sits above the cherubim, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God (4.4).
  • d And when the ark of the covenant of YHWH came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout (4.5a).
  • e And the earth rang again (4.5b).
  • d And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, “What does the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And they understood that the ark of YHWH was come into the camp (4.6).
  • c And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God is come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! for there has not been such a thing prior to this” (4.7).
  • b “Woe to us! Who will deliver us out of the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with all manner of plagues in the wilderness. Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O you Philistines, that you be not servants to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Quit yourselves like men, and fight” (4.8-9).
  • a And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man to his tent. And there was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen (4.10).

Note that in ‘a’ the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel and smite them, and in the parallel a similar things happens. In ‘b’ the Israelites decide to bring the fearsome Ark of the covenant from Shiloh into battle, and in the parallel the Philistines recognise its potential and decide how they will cope with it. In ‘c’ the Ark of the covenant arrives, being brought from Shiloh accompanied by the two priests who will bear it into battle and in the parallel the Philistines panic saying that nothing like it has ever happened before. Centrally in ‘d’ the Ark arrives in the camp and is acclaimed by the shouts of Israel, and in the parallel the Philistines ask what the shout is about, and are informed that the Ark has arrived in the camp of Israel. Centrally in ‘e’ the earth rings again.

4.1b ‘Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and encamped beside Eben-ezer: and the Philistines encamped in Aphek.’

The impression given is that the initiative was taken by the Israelites, and if this is so it would suggest that it was because they felt that Samson’s final effort had weakened the Philistines and because they wanted to avenge him. If that be the case the Philistines had therefore gathered in Aphek in order to defend ‘their’ territory. The name Aphek means ‘stronghold’. It was a favourite Philistine name for their strongholds.

The place where the Israelites gathered was possibly not actually called Eben-ezer (‘the stone of help’) at this time (although there may have been a number of places called Eben-ezer). It was given the name later when the Philistines were defeated there (7.12). But it was used here in order to identify the site to the readers. There is some irony in it in that there was no help for them there at this stage.

4.2 ‘And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel, and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines, and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men.’

Unlike the Israelites, the Philistines were trained warriors, and when battle was joined Israel were smitten before the Philistines, losing in the field about four military units of men (four eleph - the word for ‘thousand’ also means a military unit). However, they were not put totally to flight, and therefore re-gathered in their camp, deflated but not defeated, with a view to further battle.

4.3 ‘And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, “What is the reason that YHWH has smitten us today before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of YHWH to us out of Shiloh, that it may come among us, and save us out of the hand of our enemies.” ’

Unable to understand why they should have been beaten when it was clear that YHWH had weakened the Philistines through what Samson had achieved, the elders of Israel, once the defeated Israelites had arrived back in the camp, asked themselves why it should be so. (Notice the description as ‘people’, They were not trained soldiers). Their spiritual condition comes out in that what they decided was not that they needed to examine their hearts before God, but was that it must be because they had not taken the Ark with them into battle. It was the Ark which had gone before Israel when they had travelled through the wilderness, and when it had been borne before them they had declared, ‘Rise up YHWH and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate them flee before them’ (Numbers 10.35-36). That was precisely what they wanted now. Perhaps therefore, they thought, that was why YHWH was offended, because He had simply been ignored. In a similar situation in the time of Joshua, Joshua had sought YHWH (something which the elders seemingly failed to do) and had discovered that the reason for failure had been sin in Israel, and after dealing with that sin and proper repentance he had gone forward to victory. But Israel was in such a parlous state at this time that all they could think of was some religious method of twisting YHWH’s arm. They did not consider the possibility of their own sin. This was the kind of thinking that had resulted from the ministry of Eli’s sons.

Taking the Ark into battle may seem somewhat strange to us, but we do know that at a later time some Arab tribes did have an ancient sacred chest which they regularly took with them into battle. Thus it may be that at this time something like this was seen as common practise among tribal peoples, with the result that it made Israel think in terms of the Ark which had been so effective in bygone days. They did not stop to consider that in those days their bearing of the Ark had been under the command of God, their King, and in a condition of great faith as a result of the activity of their leaders, Moses and Aaron. So it was a sign of their spiritual condition that they looked to what was in effect a religious gimmick, rather than to the need for repentance before God. They thought that God could be manipulated into helping them.

This is not to doubt their great sense of feeling about the Ark. It was to them a most sacred object. They probably really believed that with the Ark among them they could not lose. Surely God would never allow the Ark to be taken? But in that hope lay their folly, for the truth is that God is not moved by sacred objects or rites, unless they are accompanied by true repentance and rightness of heart. And what was more, by bringing the Ark into the camp they would also be bringing among them their own ‘Achans’ (Joshua 7), for it would be borne by the two sons of Eli. And we know what YHWH thought of the two sons of Eli.

4.4 ‘So the people sent to Shiloh, and they brought from there the ark of the covenant of YHWH of hosts, who sits above the cherubim, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.’

The result was that they sent to Shiloh and brought from there the Ark of the covenant borne by the two sons of Eli. This bearing by the priests was not unusual as at times of crisis the Ark was always borne by the priests. We can compare the situation when the Ark led the way into Canaan and was also borne by the priests (Joshua 3.3, 8). Note the emphasis on the details of the Ark. It was seen as the throne of ‘YHWH of hosts’ and the chest holding His covenant as He sat above the cherubim. It was therefore a most serious covenant object. Surely it would mean that now ‘YHWH of the armies of Israel’ (compare Exodus 7.4; Psalm 44.4-5), their covenant God, would lead them into battle.

‘The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the Ark of the covenant of GOD.’ The use of the alternative ‘Ark of the covenant of GOD’ (instead of ‘of YHWH of hosts’) may have arisen in order not to overload the use of ‘the Ark of the covenant of YHWH of hosts’ in the one sentence. But it may equally have arisen because of the connection in the circumstances with the two blasphemous priests who had despised the covenant. In relation to them therefore YHWH was merely ‘God’. They were cut off from the covenant. It is noteworthy that in every case in the passage where GOD (elohim) is used in relation to the Ark there is a connection with someone of the house of Eli.

4.5 ‘And when the ark of the covenant of YHWH came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, and the earth rang again.’

At the arrival in the camp of the sacred Ark, the throne of the mighty YHWH, a great shout went up as if they were hailing a King. And indeed they were hailing a King. Now they would surely be victorious, for was this not the throne of YHWH of hosts, the great deliverer from Egypt? Had Samuel been consulted, of course, he might well have reminded them that without obedience to YHWH this would make no difference (compare 15.22-23, and see the salutary words in 3.14), but he was still too young for anyone to consider consulting him.

‘And the earth rang again.’ Even the earth rejoiced at the coming of the throne of YHWH into the camp (compare 1 Kings 1.45 where the city ‘rings again’ at the coming of the king).

4.6 ‘And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, “What does the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And they understood that the ark of YHWH was come into the camp.’

Meanwhile the Philistines had heard the shouts in the Israelite camp and were asking what it meant. Their spies quickly informed them that it was because the Ark of the great YHWH had arrived in the Israelite camp.

‘The camp of the Hebrews.’ This description of the Israelites as ‘Hebrews’ was typical of foreigners. When Israelites are called ‘Hebrews’ it is almost always on the lips of, or in connection with, foreigners. This may well have been because foreigners linked them with ‘the Habiru’, a name originally connected with landless peoples and often used loosely of those who were seen as roving tribesmen.

4.7 ‘And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God is come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! for there has not been such a thing prior to this.’

The news of the arrival of the Ark shook the Philistines to the core. They were not used to having to fight directly against gods. They had never before experienced being actually faced by a god in battle, especially one like YHWH of hosts. They saw it as a catastrophe.

4.8-9 ‘Woe to us! Who will deliver us out of the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with every kind of slaughtering in the wilderness. Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O you Philistines, that you be not servants to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Quit yourselves like men, and fight.’

Here we are given full details of their fears. They were aware of the history of Israel (see Exodus 15.14-15), and had a garbled view of what their deities (they would assume that Israel had a number of gods like they had) had done in the past against the Egyptians (having heard about their destruction at the Red Sea) and they wondered who could deliver them from such gods. But rather than making them desire to withdraw it made them grit their teeth all the harder and determine to face up to what was coming. Anything was better than becoming subject to the Israelites who had been subjected to them for so long. Note their threefold determination, ‘be strong, quit yourselves like men, and fight’, and their dual repetition of ‘quit yourselves like men’. The threefold completeness, along with the double encouragement, gave them the courage to face up to what was coming.

4.10 ‘And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man to his tent. And there was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty units of footmen.’

So the Philistines went determinedly into battle and fought all the harder because of the strength of the opposition, and the result was that Israel were smitten before them and fled to their homes, deserting the Ark, and at the same time losing thirty units of footmen in ‘a great slaughter’. The whole thing was a total disaster.

‘They fled every man to his tent.’ This could mean that they fled to their camp, but the saying is probably reminiscent of life in the wilderness so that they are calling their homes their ‘tents’. They were so utterly defeated that there was no question of regrouping, and so they fled for the comparative safety of their homes. They hoped that the Philistines would not pursue them there. They would probably be satisfied with requiring tribute from the elders.

News Is Brought To Shiloh Of The Capture Of The Ark Of YHWH And The Death Of Eli’s Two Sons (4.11-17).

The devastating news now comes to Shiloh of the capture of the Ark of YHWH and the deaths of the two sons of Eli. The prophecy in 2.34 had been fulfilled. It was all inconceivably dreadful for Israel. Their most sacred object, the very throne of YHWH, was now in the hands of their enemies, and that could only mean that YHWH would be humiliated before the gods of the Philistines, just as Samson had been. And at the same time both of the heirs to the High Priesthood had been killed

In this passage the main purpose is to bring out the total humiliation of the house of Eli, and the depths to which Israel had fallen because they did not seek YHWH. But the reader also sees it as in contrast with the previously described glorious rise of Samuel. He recognises that it is the young Samuel who now ‘sees’, and that the corrupt and blind house of Eli has necessarily withered and died. And because of Israel’s folly God had allowed the Ark of YHWH to be taken by the enemy. The priests had proved themselves not to be fit keepers of the Ark. But underneath the reader is aware, not of despair but of hope. For while he sees the humiliation of the house of Eli, he knows that out of the ashes of defeat God will bring victory through the man whom He has raised up, through Samuel. He already knows that YHWH has a man available whom he has chosen. He also knows that YHWH is well able to look after the Ark.

Analysis.

  • a And the ark of God was taken, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain (4.11).
  • b And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn, and with earth on his head. And when he came, lo, Eli was sitting on his seat by the wayside watching; for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out (4.12-13).
  • c And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, “What does this tumultuous noise mean?”
  • d And the man ran hurriedly, and came and told Eli.
  • e Now Eli was ninety eight years old, and his eyes were set, so that he could not see (4.14-15).
  • d And the man said to Eli, “I am he who came out of the army, and I fled today out of the army” (4.16a).
  • c And he said, “How went the matter, my son?” (4.16b).
  • b And he who brought the tidings answered and said, “Israel is fled before the Philistines (4.17a).
  • a “And there has been also a great slaughter among the people, and your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken” (4.17b).
4.11 ‘And the ark of God was taken, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.’

The humiliation of the house of Eli continues. God’s judgment is being wrought upon them to the full. The Ark of God for which they were responsible is now in the hands of the enemy, and the two blasphemers are dead. The house of Eli is in total disarray because of their deep sin and blasphemy.

4.12 ‘And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn, and with earth on his head.’

Meanwhile a messenger, a man of Benjamin, flees from the battlefield and prepares to take the news of the lost battle to Shiloh. He tears his clothes and puts earth on his head so that as he approaches they will know that the news is bad. The distance from Shiloh was about twenty miles, a distance that he was therefore able to accomplish ‘on the same day’.

4.13 ‘And when he came, lo, Eli was sitting on his seat by the wayside watching; for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out.’

As the messenger approached Shiloh the aged Eli was sitting on his usual seat outside the gate of the Temple, trembling with apprehension at what might happen to the Ark of God. He had clearly not been happy at its being taken, but had presumably been overruled. Then he heard the cries that rang throughout the city when the messenger had told them the woeful news.

4.14 ‘And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, “What does this tumultuous noise mean?” And the man ran hurriedly, and came and told Eli.’

When the blind old man heard the tumultuous cries he called out and asked what the noise meant. Meanwhile the man was making all speed to come to Eli to inform him as High Priest of the bad news.

4.15 ‘Now Eli was ninety eight years old, and his eyes were set, so that he could not see.’

The sad state of Eli is brought out in that he was now ninety eight years old and blind. His blindness was a true portrayal of his house. They were all worn out and spiritually blind.

4.16 ‘And the man said to Eli, “I am he who came out of the army, and I fled today out of the army.” And he said, “How went the matter, my son?” ’

The messenger explains to Eli that he is the one who has caused the tumult. He had that very day left the army and fled from the battlefield. Trembling the old man, who in his blindness could not see his dishevelled state, asked the question that was weighing so heavily on his mind. Perhaps there was still hope of something good coming out of the battle?. He was soon to be disillusioned.

4.17 ‘And he who brought the tidings answered and said, “Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there has been also a great slaughter among the people, and your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken.”

The one who brought the news did not mince matters. He knew that things could hardly be worse. He informed Eli that Israel had fled before the Philistines, and that there had been a great slaughter. That Hophni and Phinehas were dead, and that the Ark of God had been taken. It was the worst of all possible news. All was lost. Note the order in which the information is given. For Eli each blow was worse than the last, and the last was the worst of all. Judgment had come on his house to the full, and the Tabernacle was bereft of its most sacred object, the very symbol of their covenant with YHWH.

The Tragic Aftermath Of The News From The Battlefield (4.18-22).

The shattering news from the battlefield caused the blind old man to fall backwards and break his neck, while his daughter-in-law, who was pregnant, went into premature labour at the news, bearing a son, and then dying after first naming the child Ichabod because ‘the glory had departed’ from Israel. The reader would note the contrast between the name of Ichabod (‘where is the glory’ or ‘no glory’) and the name of Samuel (Shemuel), ‘name of God’ or ‘God hears’. It will be noted that in both cases the news that disturbed them most was that the Ark of God had been taken. That was something that was almost inconceivable to them. The most sacred possession in the Tabernacle, the very throne of YHWH and guarantee of His presence, and it had been lost to the enemy. What was Israel to do now? (The readers know the answer. It lies in God’s new prophet Samuel. They know that he is the one who will still bring the word of YHWH to Israel).

Analysis. .

  • a And it came about that when he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell from his seat backwards by the side of the gate, and his neck broke, and he died. For he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years. (4.18).
  • b And his daughter-in-law, Phinehas’ wife, was with child, near to the time of delivery, and when she heard the news that the ark of God was taken, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and bore her child, for her labour pains came on her (4.19).
  • c And about the time of her death the women who stood by her said to her, “Don’t be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer, nor did she regard it”.
  • b And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory is departed from Israel,” because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father-in-law and her husband (4.20-21).
  • a And she said, “The glory is departed from Israel, because the ark of God is taken” (4.22).

    Note that in ‘a’ Eli dies because the Ark of God is taken, and in the parallel the dying wife of Phinehas declares that ‘the glory is departed because the Ark of God is taken’. In ‘b’ the wife hears that the Ark of God was taken and that her father-in-law and husband are dead, and bows herself and bears a child, and in the parallel she names the child Ichabod because the Ark of God is taken and because her father-in-law and husband are dead. In ‘c’ and centrally she is in such trauma at the news that she finds no joy in the birth of her son.

    4.18 ‘And it came about that when he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell from his seat backwards by the side of the gate, and his neck broke, and he died. For he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.’

    When the old man heard the news about the Ark he fell backwards at the side of the gate, and because he was an old man and heavy he broke his neck and died. He had judged Israel for ‘forty years’, that is, for over a generation. Presumably his father, the previous High Priest had died when Eli was around sixty to seventy years of age.

    4.19 ‘And his daughter-in-law, Phinehas’ wife, was with child, near to the time of delivery, and when she heard the news that the ark of God was taken, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and bore her child, for her pains came on her.’

    When the pregnant wife of the dead Phinehas heard the news that the Ark of God was taken, and that her father-in-law and husband were dead, it was all too much. She went into premature labour and bore a son. She had lost everything she had lived for at one go. But the nature of the birth was such that it killed her. She survived just long enough to name the child.

    4.20 ‘And about the time of her death the women who stood by her said to her, “Don’t be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer, nor did she regard it.”

    The women around her tried to encourage her. They pointed out that she had borne a son, the dream of every Israelite woman. But she was so traumatised that it meant nothing to her. She was totally unmoved.

    4.21 ‘And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory is departed from Israel,” because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father-in-law and her husband.

    Her last act was to name the child ‘Ichabod’ which means ‘no glory’ or ‘where is glory?’ declaring that the glory was departed from Israel. This was for a threefold reason. Firstly because the Ark of God was taken. Secondly because the High Priest was dead. And thirdly because her own husband was also dead.

    4.22 And she said, “The glory is departed from Israel,” for the ark of God was taken.’

    The writer then draws attention to what was for Israel the most dreaded news of all. She had said ‘the glory is departed from Israel’ BECAUSE THE ARK OF GOD WAS TAKEN. The ‘glory’ of a nation indicated its most treasured possessions (see Isaiah 17.3). And it had lost its most treasured and revered possession. Israel must have been stunned at this news. It was now clear that YHWH had deserted them. He had preferred to go with the Philistines. All was lost.

    But what was the truth of the matter? Why has YHWH removed the Ark from Israel? Surely it is because the priesthood, who gained such prestige from the Ark and the worship related to it, had proved to be unworthy. Thus YHWH has removed the Ark from Israel as an indication that He is no longer their King because of their evil ways, while being at the same time about to demonstrate to the Philistines His essential superiority as Lord over all.

    But He will eventually replace it with another symbol of His presence, the mighty prophet Samuel. The glory has not departed. It is growing up amongst them. And YHWH will also restore the Ark to Israel in order to demonstrate that His offer to be their King is still open, awaiting its due time, although it will be put into suitable storage until that time comes.

    For Samuel will eventually be followed by the true king of Israel, archetype of the coming everlasting King. It is thus only once Samuel has brought the people back to God and to true faith in YHWH, and when the true archetype of God’s future blessing is on the throne, that the Ark will be reinstated for public worship. Meanwhile it will still be the symbol of YHWH’s Kingship over His people, demonstrate practically by the Spirit anointed deliverers that He will provide for them.

    And there is another reason for what has happened here. And that is that YHWH wants to bring home to the Philistines the terror of YHWH. This terror must have shaped their attitude towards Israel and its God for a long while to come.

    Chapter 5.

    The Philistines Discover The Folly Of Taking Possession Of The Ark Of YHWH.

    Full of exaltation at having defeated not only the Israelites but their powerful gods as well, the Philistines triumphantly bore off the Ark of YHWH from where it had been abandoned on the field of battle, and set it up as a trophy in the Temple of one of their own gods, Dagon, which was in Ashdod, one of their chief cities. Dagon was seen by Jerome and some later writers as a fish god with the head and the hands of a man, but this idea has no foundation in any factual information and is probably due to the likening of the name to the Hebrew word ‘dag’ (fish). In actual fact we have no reliable information about what the god looked like. It is probable that it was a grain god, and thus connected with the Hebrew word ‘dagan’, which means grain or corn. This god appears to have been taken over by the Philistines on their arrival (as they took over so much) presumably in the hope that it would prosper their grain harvests. It had long been worshipped throughout Mesopotamia and is identified at Ugarit as the father of Baal. It is mentioned in the Ebla tablets of 2300 BC where there are a number of Dagans including a ‘Dagan of Canaan’. There were a number of shrines to Dagon in Canaan (note for example Beth-dagon in Joshua 15.41; 19.27). Most of the examples of ‘fish gods’ discovered by archaeology were rather representations of the goddess Atargartis.

    But the Philistines were soon to become aware of the fact that they had ‘taken a tiger by the tail’. For when next day they went to the Temple to gloat, they discovered that the statue of Dagon had fallen from its plinth and was lying on its face before the Ark of YHWH. It was as though it had fallen before YHWH in obeisance. They were not too perturbed, however, and replaced the statue on its plinth. They were somewhat more disturbed, however, when on the following day they discovered that not only had Dagon fallen from its plinth again, but that it had also been shattered in pieces. The head and the palms of its hands had come off, and were lying by themselves and only the central body was left whole. Dagon had disintegrated!

    Among the Philistines the severing of the head was the symbol of a defeated foe. Later David would cut off Goliath's head in order to demonstrate his victory (17.51), and the Philistines would cut off King Saul's head for the same reason (1 Chronicles 10.10). Thus YHWH was here portraying the total defeat of Dagon.

    But worse was to follow, for within a short while a plague began to sweep through Ashdod to such an extent that the people demanded that the Ark be removed It was therefore decided to transfer it to Gath. However, when it arrived in Gath they also experienced a sweeping plague, so they determined to transfer it to Ekron which they hoped would be safer. But the people of Ekron wanted none of it and demanded that it be immediately returned to Israel. They recognised that YHWH was just too much for them. Their seeming ‘triumph’ over Him had simply resulted in disaster. The Israelites were welcome to have Him back. Thus did God reveal His overall power over the Philistines and their gods. Whatever would happen in the future it would not be due to any lack of power in YHWH.

    The Ark of God is Taken to Ashdod and The Idol Dagon Falls Before YHWH and Is Smashed in Pieces (5.1-5).

    Analysis.

    • a Now the Philistines had taken the ark of God, and they brought it from Eben-ezer to Ashdod. And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon (5.1-2).
    • b And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was found to have fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of YHWH (5.3a).
    • c And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again (5.3b).
    • b And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of YHWH, and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands lay cut off on the threshold, only the stump of Dagon was left to him (5.4).
    • a That is why neither the priests of Dagon, nor any who come into Dagon’s house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod, to this day (5.5).

    Note that in ‘a’ is brought to Ashdod and into the house of Dagon and set before Dagon as a trophy, and in the parallel, as a direct result, none in Ashdod tread on the threshold in the house of Dagon in Ashdod to this day. It was a permanent evidence of the power of YHWH. In ‘b’ Dagon had fallen on its face to the ground before the Ark of YHWH, and in the parallel the same had happened. Centrally in ‘c’ Dagon had to be lifted up and replaced on his plinth. So much for the might of Dagon.

    Strange Happenings In The House Of Dagon (5.1-5).

    5.1 ‘Now the Philistines had taken the ark of God, and they brought it from Eben-ezer to Ashdod.’

    As already described in the previous chapter, the Philistines had ‘taken the Ark of YHWH’. They were no doubt delighted. Here indeed was a trophy that revealed the power of their gods. The gods of Israel had clearly been unable to do anything against them, and they intended to put the Ark on triumphal show in all their Temples so that the worshippers would see what their gods had done. And the first place where they intended to do this was in Ashdod, one of the five main cities of the Philistines. Each of these cities was ruled over by one of the five ‘Tyrants’ (seren) who together formed the overall leadership of the Philistines. The cities were Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, Ekron and Gaza. (See Joshua 13.3). Ashdod, Ashkelon and Gaza (in that order from north to south) were situated on the trade route that ran down the coastal plain of Palestine connecting Egypt in the south with Syria and other nations to the north. Ashdod was directly west of Jerusalem.

    5.2 ‘And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.’

    So the Philistines brought the Ark of God to Ashdod and set it up as a trophy in the Temple of Dagon, who was seemingly a god with a human face and hands. We know little else about him except that he was probably a grain god (Hebrew dagan=grain).

    5.3 ‘And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was found to have fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of YHWH. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.’

    Next morning the people woke early and hurried to the Temple of Dagon so as to bask in their triumph. But what they found there could only rather have perturbed them, for they discovered that the statue of Dagon had fallen on its face before the Ark of YHWH. It almost seemed as though Dagon had had to bow down to YHWH.

    Shrugging off such an idea as ridiculous they ‘took Dagon and set him in his place again’. They no doubt comforted themselves with the thought that there must have been a brief earth tremor. They then engaged in their victory celebrations.

    5.4 ‘And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of YHWH, and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands lay cut off on the threshold, only the stump of Dagon was left to him.’

    However, next morning when they gathered early in the morning to celebrate they discovered to their horror that not only had Dagon fallen on its face before the Ark of YHWH, but also its head and its hands had broken off and lay on the threshold of the inner sanctuary where the statue had been erected. Only the central ‘Dagon’ was left intact. Now what had happened was not so easy to shrug off. The cutting off of the head signified to the Philistines a defeated foe (1 Chronicles 10.10). It was clear that when it came to facing YHWH Dagon was no match for Him.

    5.5 ‘That is why neither the priests of Dagon, nor any who come into Dagon’s house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod, to this day.’

    So YHWH left a permanent reminder of His presence in the house of Dagon, for from that day onwards neither priest nor worshipper ever trod on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod because it was where their god’s head and hands had lain. Instead they would reverently step over it.

    ‘To this day.’ This behaviour in the house of Dagon was still the practise in the writer’s own day. These words are simply an indication of something permanent and lasting. They give no idea how long a period is in mind. As far as the phrase itself indicates it could be six months, or six hundred years.

    The Ark of God Brings Misery and Plague On the Philistines Who Disrespect It (5.6-12).

    What happened in the house of Dagon was not the only thing that was to trouble the Philistines. Soon a dreadful plague was sweeping through Ashdod, and the result was that the people of Ashdod pleaded that the Ark be removed from Ashdod. The situation was seen as serious enough to bring together the five Tyrants of the Philistines, and they decided to remove it to Gath, where it was paraded through the streets in celebration. They still had not learned their lesson that it was not wise to claim victory over YHWH. The result was that a great plague also swept through Gath.

    Then they sent the Ark to Ekron. This was not a centre of Dagon worship, but was famed for the worship of Baal-zebub. Perhaps then there would be no problem there. But the people of Ekron wanted none of the Ark and protested. Their fears proved only too right for soon the plague was sweeping through Ekron with the result that they pleaded with their Tyrants to return it to Israel. The Ark of the God of Israel was clearly not happy in Philistia.

    It is possibly significant that when the Ark was returned to Israel it was accompanied by an offering of five golden tumours (or plague boils) and five golden rodents. This might be seen as suggesting that the plague was in fact caused by flea infected rats. Whether they were actually in the Ark in the first place (there was no plague in the Israelite army, and although they would not of course have looked into the Ark, it is difficult to think that the plague ridden rats would not have got out and infected others had they been there), or whether they entered it while it was on its way to the house of Dagon (the Ark might well have been set down in the fields after it had been opened by curious soldiers while the Philistine army rested) we do not know, but the rats must have rapidly multiplied and spread their fleas among the local population of rats in order to bring about these dreadful effects. We must remember that these events did not all take place in a few days. The Ark was among the Philistines for seven months (6.1).

    Analysis.

    • a But the hand of YHWH was heavy on those of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with tumours, even Ashdod and its borders. And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us, for his hand is sore on us, and on Dagon our god” (5.6-7).
    • b They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines to them, and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” And they answered, “Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about to Gath.” And they carried the ark of the God of Israel there. And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of YHWH was against the city with a very great discomfiture: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great; and tumours/boils brake out on them (5.8-9).
    • c So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. And it came about that, as the ark of God came to Ekron, the Ekronites cried out, saying, “They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people (5.10).
    • b They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and they said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go again to its own place, that it slay us not, and our people.” For there was a deadly discomfiture throughout all the city. The hand of God was very heavy there (5.11).
    • a And the men who did not die were smitten with the tumours/boils, and the cry of the city went up to heaven (5.12).

    Note that in ‘a’ tumours smote men throughout Ashdod so that they cried for the Ark to be removed, and in the parallel tumours/boils smote men in Ekron so that they too cried, this time to Heaven, for its removal. In ‘b’ they called together the Tyrants of the Philistines to deal with the matter, and meanwhile the city suffered great discomfiture and in the parallel they did the same, and the same thing occurred. Centrally in ‘c’ the people of Ekron declared their recognition of the power of the God of Israel to slay them.

    5.6 ‘But the hand of YHWH was heavy on those of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with tumours/boils, even Ashdod and its borders.’

    Now not only Dagon but the whole people were made aware that YHWH was among them, for many died, and many others were smitten with tumours/boils, and the effects of the plague reached out to its very borders. The hand of YHWH was heavy upon them. This idea of YHWH’s hand being heavy upon the Philistines is continually stressed. See 4.8 (prophetically by the Philistines who thought it limited to the battlefield); 5.6, 7, 9, 11; 6.3, 5, 9; 7.13. Compare also Exodus 9.3; Deuteronomy 2.15; Judges 2.15. YHWH was intervening personally in the situation.

    5. 7 ‘And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us, for his hand is sore on us, and on Dagon our god.”

    The result of this was that they determined to get rid of ‘the Ark of the God of Israel’. They recognised what He was doing both to them and their god. It is a sign of the blindness and darkness of men’s hearts that instead of this making them realise how useless it was to trust in Dagon and how wise they would be to trust in the God of Israel, they instead sought to expel Him from their country. They did not seek to propitiate Him. They did not want a God Who would actually do things. They were no doubt aware of the demands that the God of Israel made on His people. After all a good number of Israelites were their vassals.

    5. 8 ‘They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines to them, and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” And they answered, “Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about to Gath.” And they carried the ark of the God of Israel there.’

    So their leaders called on the Tyrants of the Philistines to determine what should be done. This was a matter that had to be decided at the highest level. After all the Ark was there at the direct command of the five Tyrants and it represented their great victory. The Tyrants consulted together and determined that the Ark should be sent to Gath. Perhaps they considered that the gods of Gath would put up a better show. So they carried the Ark of Israel there.

    5.9 ‘And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of YHWH was against the city with a very great discomfiture: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great; and tumours/boils brake out on them.’

    They still prided themselves on having captured the Ark so it was paraded through the streets in a victory celebration, but the only result was that YHWH smote the men of the city ‘both small and great’ so that none was exempt. Many died, and others were smitten with tumours or plague boils.

    5. 10 ‘So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. And it came about that, as the ark of God came to Ekron, the Ekronites cried out, saying, “They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people.’

    This time the decision was made more quickly and the Ark was transferred to Ekron, whose main god was Baal-zebub who had somewhat of a reputation (2 Kings 1.2). Perhaps the God of Israel would find it more difficult to cope with Baal-zebub. The people of Ekron, however, were not convinced, and protested at the idea of the Ark coming to Ekron. Their leaders cried out that the Ark of the God of Israel had been sent among them to slay them and their people. However the decision of the five Tyrants had been made and the Ark duly arrived in Ekron.

    5. 11 ‘They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and they said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go again to its own place, that it slay not me, and my people.” For there was a deadly discomfiture throughout all the city. The hand of God was very heavy there.

    And there again there was a great plague, and many died, and many others were covered in tumours/plague boils, and the plague was even more deadly than in Ashdod and Gath. ‘The hand of God was very heavy there.’ And they petitioned the five Tyrants to remove the Ark from among them and send it back to Israel so that no more may die. For their hope was that once He was back in His own place the God of Israel would cease to demonstrate His anger.

    ‘That it slay not me, and my people.’ The words are put into the mouth of a spokesman (or the Philistine Tyrant) for effect.

    5.12 ‘And the men who did not die were smitten with the tumours/boils, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.’

    Meanwhile large numbers died, and even those who did not die were smitten with tumours/plague boils, and the cry of the city went up to heaven. This may simply be a general vague description indicating that their own gods had proved useless, or it may be intended to indicate that they prayed to the God of Heaven for mercy (compare Exodus 2.23).

    There were a number of important lessons to be learned from these experiences. To the Israelites it had been made clear that while they were living in disobedience it was no use trying to manipulate YHWH by ritual methods. His protection depended on their true worship. To the Philistines and later to the Israelites it was being made clear that in spite of the Philistine victory it was still YHWH Who ruled over the affairs of men, and that it was dangerous to seek to trifle with what was His. Was His throne offered as a trophy to Dagon? Dagon would fall before it in obeisance and suffer utter defeat. Would the Philistine cities parade His throne among the people so that they could deride the God of Israel? Then the God of Israel would smite them with the plague. For while Israel may have been defeated, YHWH had not. He was merely biding His time.

    Chapter 6.

    The Ark of God Is Returned to Israel With Due Tributes and Reparations (6.1-16).

    Having determined to return the Ark to Israel the Philistines had a problem. How were they going to propitiate the God of Israel for what they had done in bringing His Ark to Philistia? They wanted to ensure that they did not antagonise Him further. So they consulted their own priests and diviners.

    The solution was that they would return the Ark with a trespass ( or ‘guilt’) offering, admitting that they had trespassed and making compensation. If healing then took place in the land it would indicate that it was YHWH Who had done it.

    But the question then was, what would be a suitable offering? Their solution is interesting in indicating the common customs that were shared in the Ancient Near East. The golden tumours and the golden rodents were an indication that they recognised that the tumours and the rodents in their land had been sent by YHWH, and acted as a plea that they be removed from the land in the same way as these golden replicas were being. We can compare how when the earlier Israelites had been judged by having poisonous snakes sent among them, their remedy was to make a replica of the snakes in gold and offer it to YHWH in recognition of the fact that their judgment had come from Him. Then whoever looked to it as something that was now the possession of YHWH lived. That replica was still in the Tabernacle to that day. Similarly it was the custom in India for a pilgrim who visited a pagoda seeking healing to take with him a gift offering of gold, shaped into the fashion of the diseased part, indicating their recognition that their disease had been inflicted by the gods.

    The next thing was to take a new, unused cart and attach to it two milch cows which had never been under the yoke, and use them to bear the Ark. This would then make them the possession of YHWH, as the Israelites recognised when they used them for sacrificial purposes. For the use of a new cart compare 2 Samuel 18.18. For the use of beasts never before under the yoke as a kind of offering compare Numbers 19.2; Deuteronomy 21.3, 4.

    The final test would then be whether two cows who had never borne the yoke, and whose calves had been taken from them, would willingly pull the cart and head straight for an Israelite town. If they did this it would be a sign that YHWH wanted His Ark to return home. On the other hand if they returned to where they expected their calves to be, or refused to draw the cart, it would indicate that no god was involved at all.

    Analysis.

    • a And the Ark of YHWH was in the country of the Philistines seven months. And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, “What shall we do with the Ark of YHWH? Show us by what method we shall send it to its place” (6.1-2).
    • b And they said, “If you send away the Ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty; but whatever you do return Him a trespass-offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why His hand is not removed from you” (6.3).
    • c Then said they, “What shall be the trespass-offering which we shall return to him?” And they said, “Five golden tumours/boils, and five golden rodents, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines; for one plague was on you all, and on your lords” (6.4).
    • d For this reason you shall make images of your tumours, and images of your rodents that mar the land; and you shall give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps He will lighten His hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land” (6.5).
    • e “Why then do you 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?” (6.6).
    • f “Now therefore take and prepare for you a new cart, and two milch cows, on which there has come no yoke; and tie the cows to the cart, and bring their calves home from them, and take the ark of YHWH, and lay it on the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which you return him for a trespass-offering, in a container by its side, and send it away, that it may go” (6.7-8).
    • g “And watch. If it goes up by the way of its own border to Beth-shemesh, then He has done us this great evil, but if not, then we will know that it is not His hand that smote us. It was a chance that happened to us” (6.9).
    • f And the men did so, and took two milch cows, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home, and they put the ark of YHWH on the cart, and the container with the rodents of gold and the images of their tumours/boils (6.10-11).
    • e ‘And the cows took the direct way by the way to Beth-shemesh. They went along the highway, lowing as they went, and did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them to the border of Beth-shemesh (6.12).
    • d And they who were of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley, and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it (6.13).
    • c And the cart came into the field of Joshua the Beth–shemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they split the wood of the cart, and offered up the cows for a burnt-offering to YHWH (6.14).
    • b And the Levites took down the ark of YHWH, and the container that was with it, in which the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone, and the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt-offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day to YHWH (6.15).
    • a And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day (6.16).

    Note that in ‘a’ the Philistines wanted to know how they could satisfactorily return the Ark, and in the parallel they were satisfied that they had succeeded. In ‘b’ they were informed that they must return a trespass offering, and in the parallel the offering is put on the great stone, and burnt offerings and sacrifices were offered to YHWH. In ‘c’ whatever they did they must send a trespass offering, and in the parallel their cart and milch cows are offered as a burnt offering to YHWH. In ‘d’ the Philistines were to give glory to the God of Israel, and in the parallel the Israelites rejoiced before God at the return of the Ark. In ‘e’ reference is made to the fact that Israel had to let God’s people go, and in the parallel the Philistines let God’s Ark go. In ‘f’ the Philistines were told how to send off the Ark in a new cart with unyoked milch cows, with the golden treasure on the cart, and in the parallel they do precisely that. Centrally in ‘h’ the successful operation will reveal that it was truly YHWH Who had smitten them.

    6.1 ‘And the ark of YHWH was in the country of the Philistines seven months.’

    It is possible that this should be seen as the ending of chapter 5. The point is to emphasise the drawn out sufferings of the Philistines, and it bring out why the plague had time to spread.

    6.2 ‘And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, “What shall we do with the ark of YHWH? Show us by what method we shall send it to its place.” ’

    The plagues had made the Philistines recognise that they had offended YHWH. And having decided to send the Ark back they wanted to ensure that they did not offend Him even more. So they called together their priests and their diviners in order to obtain their advice on precisely how to do it so as to pacify YHWH. The fear of YHWH had taken hold of them. Philistine soothsayers and diviners appear to have been especially well known and highly thought of (Isaiah 2.6)

    6.3 ‘And they said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty; but whatever you do return him a trespass-offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why his hand is not removed from you.”

    Their advice was that YHWH should be given a trespass offering, in order to atone for their trespass against Him. (We must not directly interpret this in terms of the Israelite trespass offering which had its own significance). Thus they must not send the Ark away just on its own, but must include a trespass offering with it. Then their land would be healed. And as a result they would know why YHWH was continuing to plague them at this point in time.

    6. 4 ‘Then said they, “What shall be the trespass-offering which we shall return to him?” And they said, “Five golden tumours/boils, and five golden rodents, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines; for one plague was on you all, and on your lords.” ’

    The next question was as to what would be a suitable offering. The reply was that they must atone for the behaviour of all five Philistine Tyrants, together with their cities, by sending to YHWH five golden tumours or plague boils, and five golden rodents. Nothing has previously been said about rodents. It was the plague that had really upset the people. But clearly they had also noticed an increase in rodents which they had also attributed to YHWH. (They had, of course, not connected the two, but these may well have been flea-covered rats who were spreading the plague. Alternatively it might have been a separate plague of mice which were eating up their crops. Such mice can multiply rapidly and destroy huge areas of land).

    The golden tumours and the golden rodents were an indication that they recognised that the tumours and the rodents in their land had been sent by YHWH, and acted as a plea that they be removed from the land in the same way as these golden replicas were being. We can compare how when the earlier Israelites had been judged by having poisonous snakes sent among them, their remedy was to make a replica of the snakes in gold and offer it to YHWH in recognition of the fact that their judgment had come from Him. Then whoever looked to it as something that was now the possession of YHWH lived. That replica was still in the Tabernacle to that day. Similarly it was the custom in India for a pilgrim who visited a pagoda seeking healing to take with him a gift offering of gold, shaped into the fashion of the diseased part, indicating their recognition that their disease had been inflicted by the gods.

    6.5 ‘For this reason you shall make images of your tumours, and images of your rodents that mar the land; and you shall give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land.”

    So these were to be made and offered to the God of Israel indicating that they recognised that it was He Who had punished them, and by this means they would give glory to the God of Israel. The hope was that He would then leave them, and their gods, and their land alone. Note how their words exalt YHWH over the Philistine gods, as the writer intends us to recognise.

    (This very fact suggests that the Philistines did not in fact destroy YHWH’s Sanctuary at Shiloh around this time. Having had one experience of YHWH they would tend to be more wary how they treated what belonged personally to Him. This would not deter them from attacking His people. That would not have been seen by them as sacrilegious, for they did not realise how YHWH felt about His people when they were being faithful to the covenant. But to desecrate YHWH’s own sanctuary would have been something that they would think twice about. Possibly when the effects of this experience of YHWH died down they decided to take revenge. But we are in fact nowhere told that it was the Philistines who destroyed Shiloh. For what information we have see Psalm 78.60; Jeremiah 7.12, 14; 26:6, 9. All we know from this is that YHWH deserted it and that it fell into ruin, perhaps because Israel itself decided to move the Tabernacle elsewhere. It was later to be found at Nob (1 Samuel 21.1-4) which was less accessible to the Philistines. But that was many years later).

    6. 6 “Why then do you 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?”

    The priests and diviners now revealed their knowledge of Israel’s history for they suggested to the Philistine leaders that they should get a move on and not harden their hearts as the Egyptian Pharaoh had done. The only result for Egypt had been that the plagues had got worse. And in the end they had had to let the Israelites go anyway. So delay could only be seen as foolish.

    6. 7-8 “Now therefore take and prepare for you a new cart, and two milch cows, on which there has come no yoke; and tie the cows to the cart, and bring their calves home from them, and take the ark of YHWH, and lay it on the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which you return him for a trespass-offering, in a container by its side, and send it away, that it may go.”

    The trespass offering to YHWH was to be sent under suitable conditions. It should be sent on a new cart that had never been used, drawn by two milch cows (cows used specifically for providing milk) that had never known the yoke. Nothing that had been defiled by daily activities must bear the Ark of YHWH (compare 2 Samuel 18.18; Numbers 19.2; Deuteronomy 21.3, 4).

    But there was to be a test. The calves of the two milch cows should be returned to their homes. The natural thing for the milch cows to do would therefore be to return home to their calves. If they did so, it would demonstrate that YHWH could not even control two milch cows, and would show that YHWH had not been responsible for all that had happened.

    6. 9 “And watch. If it goes up by the way of its own border to Beth-shemesh, then he has done us this great evil, but if not, then we will know that it is not his hand that smote us. It was a chance that happened to us.”

    So they were to watch. If the cart with the milch cows drawing it made for Bethshemesh it would prove that YHWH was responsible for their misfortunes. On the other hand if it did not then it would demonstrate that He was powerless and had not smitten them. It would demonstrate that everything that had happened had happened by chance.

    6.10 ‘And the men did so, and took two milch cows, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home, and they put the ark of YHWH on the cart, and the container with the rodents of gold and the images of their tumours/boils.

    So the Philistines did precisely as they were advised. It should be noted that this was seen as so important that the Philistine tyrants themselves took a personal interest in the matter, for they would accompany the cart to the border (verse 11).

    6.12 ‘And the cows took the direct way by the way to Beth-shemesh. They went along the highway, lowing as they went, and did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them to the border of Beth-shemesh.’

    To their partial astonishment (they had not been sure what would happen) the cows on being released made straight for Beth-shemesh. They went directly along the highway as though they were being driven by an invisible rein. They lowed as they went. This may have been because they were calling for their calves, but the writer probably wants us to see them as praising YHWH. And more importantly they did not turn aside to either the right hand or the left. What was more they were followed by the entourages of the five Philistine Tyrants. The matter was being treated very seriously.

    Beth-shemesh means ‘house of the sun’. No doubt its previous inhabitants had been sun-worshippers. But that was in the past. It was now a priestly city (Joshua 21.16). It would later be captured by the Philistines in the time of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28.18).

    6.13 ‘And they who were of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley, and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it.’

    The priests and their families in Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest. Men and women would both be spread widely in the fields singing and laughing as they reaped the harvest. When they saw the cart containing the Ark of the covenant of YHWH coming towards them they would hardly have been able to believe their eyes. It would have seemed like a miracle (which of course it was). And once they had got over the shock they came together and broke out in rejoicing and praising YHWH.

    6.14 ‘And the cart came into the field of Joshua the Beth–shemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they split the wood of the cart, and offered up the cows for a burnt-offering to YHWH.’

    And the cart came into the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite and stood by the great stone. The watching Philistines must have been impressed. The great stone was suitable for use as an altar, and the cows had gone straight up to it. And as they watched, the Israelite priests took the cart and cut it up and used the wood to light a sacrificial fire. Then they took the milch cows and offered them up as a burnt-offering. (This was quite legitimate because it was ‘before the Ark of YHWH’ which symbolised the legitimate Sanctuary).

    Note how, having described the arrival of the cart, we are immediately told what they did with it, and this prior to telling us about taking down the Ark. (They could hardly have cut the cart up without taking the Ark down). This is a typically Hebrew way of presenting things that is also found elsewhere.

    6.15 ‘And the Levites had taken down the ark of YHWH, and the container that was with it, in which the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone, and the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt-offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day to YHWH.’

    Prior to this the Levites (that is, the priests, who were of the tribe of Levi) had previously taken down the Ark of YHWH together with the container containing the trespass offering, and placed them on the great stone. And they now proceeded to offer up further burnt-offerings and to sacrifice sacrifices. The burnt offerings were an indication of their total dedication to YHWH. The sacrifices would be freewill and thanksgiving sacrifices, the meat from which would enable them to celebrate in a feast of rejoicing.

    6.16 ‘And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day.’

    Meanwhile the five Tyrants, having satisfied themselves that it really was the God of Israel Who was responsible for their problems, returned with their retinues to Ekron.

    The Ark of God Brings Misery On The Israelites Who Disrespect It (6.17-7.2) (6.17-7.2).

    The rejoicing of Israel turned to lamentation as a result of the irreverent behaviour of the priests who had grown careless in respect of holy things, due no doubt to the influence of the two sons of Eli. The trophies sent by the Philistines and the Ark of YHWH were set down on the great stone, but it became a ‘stone of lamentation’ (Abel) when instead of fulfilling their duty and covering the Ark, which they knew should not have been exposed to public gaze (see Numbers 4.5), they stood and stared at it in its uncovered state. The result was that seventy men died, of whom fifty were chief men. (It may be that they went too close and thus became flea infected although no mention is made of plague). The result was that all the people ‘lamented (abel). Their rejoicing had become lamentation.

    So they talked together and decided to call on the principle town of the area to send men to fetch the Ark of YHWH, and it was taken to the house of Abinadab on the hill, and there it was put under the care of Eleazar his son who was sanctified for the task, where it remained for over twenty years, while the voice of YHWH was silent. And the whole nation lamented after YHWH. They were slowly being brought to see how deeply they had failed Him.

    Analysis.

    • a And these are the golden tumours which the Philistines returned for a trespass-offering to YHWH: for Ashdod one, for Gaza one, for Ashkelon one, for Gath one, for Ekron one, and the golden rodents, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fortified cities and of country villages, even to the great stone of lamentation (or ‘Abel’), on which they set down the ark of YHWH, which stone remains to this day in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite (6.17-18).
    • b And He smote of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had gazed irreverently at the ark of YHWH. He smote of the people seventy men, fifty of them chief men, and the people mourned (abel) , because YHWH had smitten the people with a great slaughter (6.19).
    • c And the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before YHWH, this holy God? and to whom shall He go up from us?” And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-yearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of YHWH, you come down, and fetch it up to you” (6.20-21).
    • b And the men of Kiriath-yearim came, and fetched up the ark of YHWH, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of YHWH (7.1).
    • a And it came about, from the day that the ark abode in Kiriath-yearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after YHWH (7.2).

    Note that in ‘a’ the great stone is called ‘the great Abel’, the stone of great lamentation, and in the parallel the people lament (nahah) after YHWH. In ‘b’ the Ark is treated with irreverence, and in the parallel it is treated with great reverence. In ‘c’ they ask what they are to do with the Ark now that they have been faced up with their error and then answer their own question

    6.17-18 ‘And these are the golden tumours which the Philistines returned for a trespass-offering to YHWH: for Ashdod one, for Gaza one, for Ashkelon one, for Gath one, for Ekron one, and the golden rodents, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fortified cities and of country villages, even to the great Abel, on which they set down the ark of YHWH, which stone remains to this day in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite.’

    Sadly the triumph and rejoicing of the Israelites turn to lamentation due to the casual treatment of the Ark by the priests. They knew full well that it ought to have been immediately covered up so that men could not gaze on it. That had been the strict instruction of YHWH to the sons of Aaron (Numbers 4.5, 19- 20). No doubt even the two sons of Eli had covered it before they brought it into battle. But instead the priests set it on the great rock which stood in the field of Joshua the Bethshemite, naked for all to look on, along with the trophies that had come along with it. And the result was that ‘the great stone (eben)’ (verse 15) became ‘the great Abel (lamentation)’ (verse 18). (Note the play of words between ‘bn and ‘bl) Compare verse 19 where the people do ‘mourn’ (abel) because of what would follow.

    The trophies are described in detail and indicate the level of devastation that the Philistines had experienced. Their advisers had recommended five golden tumours and five golden rodents, but the Philistines had been so affected by the wideness of the devastation by the rodents that they had sent golden rodents ‘according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fortified cities and of country villages’. They wanted to make sure. Clearly the plague of rodents had been even more widespread than the physical plagues, which it seems had been confined to the cities.

    6.19 ‘And he smote of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had gazed irreverently at the ark of YHWH. He smote of the people seventy men, fifty of them chief men, and the people mourned, because YHWH had smitten the people with a great smiting.’

    We now learn why the great stone (eben) has been called ‘the great Abel (‘lamentation’)’. It was because the people had gazed irreverently on the Ark so that some had been smitten. Fifty of those smitten were chief men (’lph), leaders among the priests who were therefore the most culpable. Probably the remainder were some of their wives or chief servants who should also have known better. The point here was that Israel had yet to learn the lesson which had been taught to the Philistines. YHWH as Lord over all had to be treated with due reverence.

    The number seventy indicated a divinely perfect number as chosen by YHWH (seven intensified). The number fifty indicated covenant responsibility (five intensified). It was of the mercy of YHWH that those whose guilt was less were not punished.

    The result was that the people mourned and lamented (abel), because YHWH had inflicted so many deaths among the priests. (Compared, however, with the number of military units that had been slaughtered because of Israel’s ineptness, sinfulness and failure to truly look to YHWH the number is minimal).

    6.20 ‘And the men of Beth–shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before YHWH, this holy God? and to whom shall he go up from us?” ’

    What had happened had brought the people back to their senses. It had reminded them of the holiness of YHWH. And so they began to ask themselves who could possibly stand before this holy God, and to whom they should commit the Ark so that it could be properly looked after? The fact that they did not consider Shiloh may have been because the Sanctuary had been destroyed, but it may equally have been because they considered that the Ark had been defiled by its sojourn among the uncircumcised Philistines. Possibly they recognised that just as a person who had become ritually ‘unclean’ had to wait for a period before YHWH (e.g. ‘they shall not be clean until the evening’), so it was necessary for the Ark to be kept somewhere safe while the defilement wore off. 3.21 appears to suggest that Shiloh continued for some time.

    6. 21 ‘And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-yearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of YHWH, you come down, and fetch it up to you.” ’

    Their considerations brought them to one conclusion. There was only one man in the area fitted to look after the Ark, and that was Abinadab who lived ‘on the hill’ in Kiriath-yearim. So they sent to the inhabitants of Kiriath-yearim and informed them that the Philistines had returned the Ark and that they should come and fetch it and take it to Kiriath-yearim. Kiriath-yearim was one of the frontier cities of Judah (Joshua 15.9).

    7.1 ‘And the men of Kiriath-yearim came, and fetched up the ark of YHWH, and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of YHWH.

    Clearly the people of Kiriath-yearim also recognised that Abinadab was the most suitable person, for they came and ‘fetched up the Ark of YHWH’, bringing it into the house of Abinadab on the hill. While Kiriath-yearim was not a priestly city we can safely assume that those who brought up the Ark were either priests or Levites, for the priests in Beth-shemesh, having learned their lesson the hard way, would not otherwise have permitted it to go in their care. Indeed the probability must be that Abinadab was himself a priest, or at least a Levite (so Josephus), and was chief man of the area (which, if he was a priest, would be why he lived in Kiriath-yearim), and that he had priestly servants who performed the function described of bringing up the Ark. It would also explain why his son was ‘sanctified’ in order to care for the Ark, although there is no suggestion that he performed priestly functions. It is probable that at this stage there was no one old enough in the High Priestly families to act as High Priest. The deaths of Eli’s successor in battle had denuded the line. It would not be until Ahijah became of age that a successor to the High Priesthood would become available. Ahijah’s father appears for some reason not to have been available. Perhaps he died before he became of the right age, or perhaps he had some disablement. (See 14.3).

    The position of Abinadab’s house ‘on the hill’ would also have been seen as a suitable place for the Ark. In Israel the Sanctuary was regularly set on hills, as it would finally be on Mount Zion. It gave them a certain isolation, and lifted them nearer to the heavens (compare Isaiah 2.2-4). Hills were often seen as sacred because of their remoteness. Compare Genesis 22.

    7. 2 ‘And it came about, from the day that the ark abode in Kiriath-yearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after YHWH.’

    Following the arrival back of the Ark Israel’s problems were not solved, for they had not repented and turned from their sin. And thus for a period of twenty years the Ark remained in the house of Abinadab, while the people ‘lamented after YHWH’. It was necessary for them to face up to their failures and sins before YHWH would again speak to them and act on their behalf.

    The ‘twenty years’ (a round number indicating a good number of years) did not mark the length of time that the Ark was to stay in the house of Abinadab, for it would be there a good while longer. It rather indicated the period during which Samuel was growing up to take his position as the prophet of YHWH, so that Israel would once again hear YHWH’s voice once it had had time to consider its ways. It was a period of darkness for Israel, for there was apparently no one yet available to take the High Priesthood, and those living in the lower hill country were therefore still partly under the control of the Philistines. This is the second half of the forty years mentioned in Judges 13.1. (Philistine control would be loose in the hills and seemingly never reached Transjordan. It would also not necessarily have affected some of the tribes in the north, except when they were called on for fulfilment of their covenant duties by providing fighting men in accordance with the requirements of the amphictyony). As the darkness grew idolatry seems to have abounded (7.3). However, for those who were faithful in Israel there was the young Samuel still seemingly residing at a rather bereft (no Ark, no High Priest) Shiloh (3.21).

    Chapter 7.

    Samuel Successfully Begins His Public Ministry And Establishes His Rule Over Israel Under YHWH, Finally Driving The Philistines Back To Their Own Territory And ‘Judging’ Israel From Then On (7.3-17).

    Once Samuel had grown to manhood he began his ministry and called on Israel to turn to YHWH from all their idolatry, something which met with great success. The people were tired of being subservient to the Philistines.

    Eventually, satisfied with their genuineness he called an assembly at Mizpah, which means ‘the watchtower’, possibly because there was at this stage no Tabernacle to gather at, although it had been a gathering place in the past, see Judges 20, and belonged to the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18.26). And there he was appointed ‘judge’ of Israel. Whether it was his intention to proceed against the Philistines, or whether it was simply a gathering for the spiritual purposes which unfolded we are not told, but it was sufficient to alarm the Philistines whose five Tyrants took it as a declaration of war for the purposes of gaining their freedom. They gathered their army and advanced on Mizpah. In the face of this reality the Israelites were filled with fear. They pleaded with Samuel to intervene with YHWH on their behalf.

    Samuel indicated to them that they should not be afraid by offering up a further burnt offering and calling on YHWH for His aid, and the result was that the advancing Philistine troops experienced the most appalling weather conditions, impeding their chariots and horsemen and demoralising their troops. Thus when Israel attacked the Philistines could do nothing but retreat, and were totally defeated. The consequence was that while Samuel was judge of Israel the Philistines no longer encroached on Israel (although they may have tried to), and the Israelite lands as far as Ekron and Gath were returned to them.

    There are interesting parallels between Israel’s defeat in chapter 4, and their triumph here. Thus in chapter 4 it was Israel who were ‘smitten, struck down’ by the Philistines (4.2, 3, 10), here the Philistines are ‘smitten, struck down’ by Israel (7.10). In 4.3 Israel look in vain to the Ark to save them from their enemies, in 7.8 they look to YHWH to save them from their enemies. In 4.21 the result is the naming of Ichabod (for she said, ‘the glory has departed), in 7.12 the result is the naming of Ebenezer (for Samuel said ‘YHWH has helped us’). Chapter 7 is thus a reversal of the whole situation.

    The Ark of God Having Been Suitably Re-established in Israel They Are Promised That If They Return to YHWH and Put Away Their Idolatry They Will Be Delivered from the Philistines (7.2-4).

    Analysis.

    • a And Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to YHWH with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you, and direct your hearts to YHWH, and serve him only.”
    • “And he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”
    • Then the children of Israel did put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and served YHWH only (7.3-4).

    7.3 ‘And Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to YHWH with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you, and direct your hearts to YHWH, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.’

    We should here remind ourselves of the words in 3.19-4.1. Samuel has now grown to mature manhood and begins his ministry as a prophet of YHWH, calling on the house of Israel to put away their foreign gods and their Ashtaroth and to direct their hearts towards YHWH, and serve Him alone. Then, he assures them, He would deliver them out of the hands of the Philistines.

    The foreign gods are defined in verse 4 as the Baals. The plural may refer to the fact that Baal images were found everywhere, or it may indicate the differing Baals worshipped in different places (Baal-zebub, Baal Melchart, and so on). The Ashtaroth (-oth is a plural ending) were poles or Asherah images representing the consort of Baal which were placed alongside the Baals in the sanctuaries and high places. After the death of Joshua many Israelites succumbed to the appeal of the gods of Canaan, and Israel were never fully free of them during the whole period of the Judges. So the prophetic call now comes to finally put them away.

    7.4 ‘Then the children of Israel did put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and served YHWH only.

    So the children of Israel who were within the sphere of Samuel’s prophetic ministry obeyed him, and put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and served YHWH only.

    The Ark Having Been Restored, Israel Defeat the Philistines Through The Prayers of Samuel, YHWH’s Representative (7.5-14).

    Analysis.

    • a And Samuel said, “Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray for you to YHWH. And they gathered together to Mizpah, and drew water, and poured it out before YHWH, and fasted on that day, and said there, “We have sinned against YHWH.” And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpah (7.5-6).
    • b And when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines (7.7).
    • c And the children of Israel said to Samuel, “Cease not to cry to YHWH our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines” (7.8).
    • d And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a whole burnt-offering to YHWH, and Samuel cried to YHWH for Israel, and YHWH answered him (7.9).
    • c And as Samuel was offering up the burnt-offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel, but YHWH thundered with a great thunder on that day on the Philistines, and discomfited them, and they were smitten down before Israel (7.10).
    • b And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came under Beth-car (7.11).
    • a Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, “Up to now has YHWH helped us”. So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more within the border of Israel, and the hand of YHWH was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. And the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even to Gath; and its border did Israel deliver out of the hand of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites (7.12-17).

    Note that in ‘a’ the people fast and pray and admit their sinfulness and Samuel act as their Judge in Mizpah, and in the parallel they are seen to be living in peace under Samuel’s judgeship with all their lands restored. In ‘b’ the Philistines invade Israel, and in the parallel the Israelites defeat the Philistines. In ‘c’ the children of Israel ask Samuel not to cease praying for them that YHWH will deliver them out of the hands of the Philistines, and in the parallel Samuel offers up a burnt offering and YHWH does deliver them. Centrally in ‘d’ Samuel offers up a burnt offering and cries to YHWH and YHWH answers him.

    7.5 ‘And Samuel said, “Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray for you to YHWH.

    Then Samuel gives the command that all Israel might be gathered to Mizpah, where he would pray for them. This was probably a call to all the tribes to provide warriors in order that they might defeat the Philistines. It was a requirement of the tribal league (the amphictyony) that all tribes who could would respond to such a call. If it was so then it was a clear act of war. The word of the newly arrived prophet, and his promise to pray for them was clearly sufficient to gain a reasonable response to the call. At last there was a recognised prophet who could intervene with YHWH on their behalf. Samuel is elsewhere constantly seen as a mighty man of prayer. See 8.6; 12.17-19, 23; 15.11. Compare also Psalm 99.6 and Jeremiah 15.1 where the power of Samuel’s intercession is emphasised.

    7.6 ‘And they gathered together to Mizpah, and drew water, and poured it out before YHWH, and fasted on that day, and said there, “We have sinned against YHWH.” And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpah.’

    So Israel gathered at Mizpah. And there they drew water and poured it out before YHWH, and fasted and declared how they had sinned before YHWH. The pouring of water may have been intended to denote a recognition of their dependence on YHWH (indicating that the very water on which their lives depended came from Him, and was being returned to Him in symbolic gratitude) or it may have symbolised the pouring out of their weeping hearts in repentance before YHWH (compare Psalm 22.15; Lamentations 2.19), or it may have indicated a cry for YHWH to open the heavens on the enemy, as He had on Sisera (Judges 4.15; 5.20-21; compare Joshua 10.10-11) and subsequently did on the Philistines. We can compare with the example here how David poured out ‘to YHWH’ the water that brave men risked their lives for, because he would not ‘drink their blood’ (2 Samuel 23.16-17). It is clear from the example here that by this act David was not just getting rid of the water, even by giving it to YHWH, but was to be seen by all as making an actual offering to YHWH Who alone was worthy of such sacrifice. The Aramaic Targum paraphrases the verse here as, ‘and they poured out their heart in repentance before YHWH’. Whichever it was, it was a plea to YHWH to recognise their need. The fasting was an indication of their mourning for sin, along with which went their confession of sin (compare Judges 10.10), which would go well with a symbolic act of repentance.

    ‘And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpah.’ For the first time Samuel was appointed as their ‘judge’ and ‘war leader’, and acted in sorting out their differences and taking up the leadership role in readiness for what lay ahead. They would need a lot of guidance and a lot of encouragement, as well as organisation for the battle ahead. Perhaps they went through the ritual of Deuteronomy 20.1-9. He has become their general and their acknowledged spiritual and moral guide.

    7.7 ‘And when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines.

    When the Philistines heard that the call had gone out to the tribes of Israel to gather at Mizpah they naturally took alarm and the Philistine Tyrants gathered an army and set off for Mizpah. When scouts arrived at Mizpah warning of their approach, the children of Israel were terrified. It was one thing to plan a military operation, and another to face a Philistine fighting force. They had been hoping to take the Philistines by surprise, not to find them on their doorstep.

    7.8 ‘And the children of Israel said to Samuel, “Cease not to cry to YHWH our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines.” ’

    In panic they came to Samuel and called on him to continually intercede for them before YHWH, asking YHWH their God to deliver them out of the hand of the Philistines. They seemingly had great faith in their new prophet and his God, even if they had little faith in themselves .

    7.9 ‘And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a whole burnt-offering to YHWH, and Samuel cried to YHWH for Israel, and YHWH answered him.’

    Samuel’s response was to take a lamb of over seven days old, and offer it for a whole burnt offering before YHWH. This was an act of total consecration. Perhaps such a young lamb was chosen in order to symbolise that the nation had just been ‘reborn’. Then Samuel prayed to YHWH for Israel, and YHWH answered him.

    7.10 ‘And as Samuel was offering up the burnt-offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel, but YHWH thundered with a great thunder on that day on the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten down before Israel.’

    As Samuel offered the burnt offering the Philistines approached Mizpah, arrayed for battle. But then to their great horror the heavens thundered with a great thunder. God had spoken. But the mention of the thunder would seem to indicate that it was accompanied by an equally great storm, with plenty of lightning, and the result was that the Philistines were discomfited and put into a panic (compare the use of the word in Exodus 14.24; Joshua 10.10; Judges 4.15; 2 Samuel 22.15). The awesome thunder may well have reminded them of previous experiences of YHWH, and the driving rains soaking the ground would clog up their chariot wheels and encumber their horsemen, whose horses may well also have been terrified at the continual thunder and difficult to control. Thus the Israelites, arriving on foot, were easily able to smite them down.

    7.11 ‘And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came under Beth-car.’

    The men of Israel then pursued the fleeing Philistines in their clogged chariots and on their encumbered horses and smote them all the way to Beth-car (‘the house of the lamb’, a name which would remind the reader of the sacrificed lamb).

    7.12 ‘Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, “Up to now has YHWH helped us.” ’

    Victory assured Samuel set up a memorial stone between Mizpah and Shen (‘the tooth’). This latter may have been a conspicuous spire of rock (compare 14.4). Thus at the very spot where the Philistines had previously humiliated them in chapter 4 (see 5.1), the Israelites gained their revenge, and Samuel named the spot ‘Eben-ezer’ signifying ‘the stone of help’, acknowledging that ‘up to now YHWH has helped us’.

    7.13 ‘So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more within the border of Israel, and the hand of YHWH was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.’

    The victory was so final, and Samuel’s leadership from then on so effective, that all the while that he was the Judge of that part of Israel the Philistines did not again succeed in crossing the border. Whether actual attempts were made we do not know, but if so they were driven back because ‘the hand of YHWH was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel’. Against that hand they could do nothing.

    7.14 ‘And the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even to Gath; and its border did Israel deliver out of the hand of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.’

    And not only that but Samuel was also able to free the cities which had been taken over by the Philistines and permanently held by them, right up to the borders of the districts of Ekron and Gath. Furthermore he was strong enough to be able to make peace with the Amorites who dwelt in the hill country and had no doubt taken advantage of Philistine oppression to constantly spoil Israel. Compare the problems that they had caused to Dan in Judges 1.34-35. Thus peace was maintained with all their enemies. All recognised that while Samuel ruled Israel they were invulnerable.

    C). The Judgeship of Samuel At The End Of Which The People Seek And Are Granted A Human King (7.15-12.25).

    In this subsection from 7.15-12.25 the writer describes the desire of the people for a king and the way in which that king is appointed. Such an appointment would inevitably be a tricky one in Israel, for Israel was comprised of a number of semi-independent tribes, each of which was jealous for its own position, with Judah and Ephraim, the two largest, being especially protective about their rights. And yet someone had to be found who once appointed would have the support of them all. Furthermore, on top of this, Samuel would want to ensure that whoever was appointed was YHWH’s choice.

    Samuel clearly recognised the dangers and therefore waited on YHWH’s guidance, and it is the reconciling of these different problems that explains the slow process towards the appointment of the king, a process which in fact went as follows:

    • 1). Samuel waits and prays for YHWH to indicate the right man for the position. When YHWH brings that man to him he must have been relieved to discover that the man was a Benjaminite. They were only a small tribe (which would serve to prevent tribal jealousy among the larger tribes) and were famed for their warlike ability. So he first interviews him, and then secretly anoints him with oil as YHWH’s chosen appointee. The man’s name is Saul. This satisfies Samuel that he has found the right man (9.1-10.1).
    • 2). He subsequently arranges for Saul to prophesy among the prophets indicating both to him and to others his suitability as a man of God, and that he is acceptable YHWH. This will serve to satisfy the righteous in Israel, and the prophets themselves, who seemingly had an important part to play in the running of affairs. They too are now satisfied that this is their man (10.5-13).
    • 3). The next step is to have him accepted in the eyes of popular opinion. So Samuel arranges for the assembly of the tribes of Israel to be called together and in view of the fact that there was no precedent for choosing a king, choice is then made by sacred lot in the sight of all. As expected by Samuel the lot falls on Saul. This method of choice by sacred lot was an accepted one in Israel and was seen as revealing the mind of YHWH. We can compare its use under different circumstances in Joshua 7.16-18. In view of the fact that the choice by sacred lot was seen as publicly revealing the mind of YHWH, was carried out before their eyes, and was accepted as a standard way of making such decisions in Israel, it would be enough to satisfy the people that Saul was their man. Thus this would satisfy the common people (10.17-24).

      However, there was inevitably some dissension, from some ‘worthless men’ who did not see how this upstart from a small tribe could ‘save Israel’. Nevertheless the vast majority were with Saul, and preparations would begin for having him officially enthroned and acclaimed in accordance with practise elsewhere.

    • 4). Meanwhile an Ammonite invasion across the Jordan in Transjordan provides an opportunity for Saul to prove his suitability by gaining a victory over the invading Ammonites. This quells the dissension and makes him acceptable to all (11.1-13).
    • 5). Having been fully established as the right candidate Saul is then acclaimed as king at Gilgal before YHWH (11.14-15).
    • 6). Samuel resigns his judgeship and YHWH expresses His anger at the people’s decision with a storm at harvest time (12.1-25).

    By these means the acceptability of Saul as king was established, both among the prophets and throughout all the tribes. This would ensure that there would only be minimal dissension in the future, because Saul was now seen as ‘YHWH’s anointed’. All recognised that Samuel had selected him, that YHWH was pleased with him, that the lot had confirmed his acceptability to God, that he had proved himself a suitable war-leader (a most necessary qualification in those days), and that he had been finally and officially crowned and acclaimed.

    The whole subsection may be analysed as follows:

    • a Samuel judges Israel faithfully and well (7.15-17).
    • b Samuel’s sons prove unworthy and the people call for a King (8.1-6).
    • c The manner of the King that they will receive (8.7-22).
    • d Saul is brought to Samuel by God and is revealed and greeted by him as the new king (9.1-21).
    • e Saul is feasted and then secretly anointed, and learns that the asses have been found (9.22-10.2).
    • f The signs of Saul’s acceptance and his coming enduing with the Spirit of YHWH (10.3-7).
    • g Saul is to go to Gilgal and wait seven days for Samuel to come in order to offer offerings and sacrifices and to show him what he is to do (10.8).
    • f The promised signs are fulfilled and the Spirit of YHWH comes on Saul (10.9-13).
    • e Saul returns to his uncle and informs him that Samuel had told him that the asses had been found, but maintains the secret of the kingship (10.14-16).
    • d Saul is brought before the people, revealed as their king by lot and greeted by them as the king (10.17-24).
    • c Samuel records ‘the manner of the kingship’ and writes it in a book (10.25-27).
    • b YHWH delivers His people from the Ammonites through Saul and the kingship is finally confirmed at Gilgal (11.1-15).
    • a Samuel hands back the judgeship to the people and charges the people to be faithful to YHWH (12.1-25).

    Samuel Judges Israel Faithfully And Successfully (7.15-17).

    Samuel’s judgeship after the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines is passed over very briefly, for the book is not a history of Samuel or of Saul but of the deliverances and kingship of YHWH. Note the twofold stress on justice and godliness, Samuel judged Israel and he built an altar to YHWH. This latter would be as a stand-in for the Tabernacle.

    Analysis.

    • a And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life (7.15).
    • b And he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel and Gilgal, and Mizpah (7.16a).
    • c And he judged Israel in all those places (7.16b).
    • b And his return was to Ramah, for there was his house (7.17a).
    • a And there he judged Israel, and he built there an altar to YHWH (7.17b).

    7.15 ‘And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.’

    And Samuel’s judgeship then continued ‘all the days of his life’. This was firstly as sole Judge, then in association with his sons (8.1) and then finally in his old age as prophetic guide to Saul, until Saul fell. Compare verse 6. Here the emphasis is more on his activity as their spiritual and moral guide,

    7.16 ‘And he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel and Gilgal, and Mizpah; and he judged Israel in all those places.’

    In pursuance of his judgeship he performed a regular circuit to Bethel, Gilgal and Mizpah. Bethel was about 8 miles north of Jerusalem, Gilgal was in the Jordan Valley not far from Jericho, and was seemingly the place where for a while the Tabernacle was later erected when Philistine incursions had begun again under the reign of Samuel’s sons and of Saul, (see 10.8. This was probably because it was well out of reach of the Philistines who did not venture that far) and Mizpah was probably about 4 miles north west of Jerusalem. It will therefore be observed that while many of the tribes had responded to his call for arms, and saw him as their prophet, Samuel did not act overall as direct judge over them. He was there to guide and arbitrate if they needed it. His direct judgeship appears to have been over a fairly limited area, although, of course, being available to all if they wished (compare Deborah in Judges 4.4-5 where she judged ‘between Ramah and Bethel’ to ‘all Israel’, and called on Barak to act as war-leader for Zebulun and Naphtali, assisted by some of the other tribes).

    7.17 ‘And his return was to Ramah, for there was his house, and there he judged Israel, and he built there an altar to YHWH.’

    But his main base was in Ramah where he now lived. And it was there that he judged Israel when not on circuit, and it was there that he built an altar to YHWH. In the absence of the Tabernacle this was very necessary. (The Tabernacle had clearly ceased to operate at this time, for Samuel had been bound by a vow to serve it while it was still in existence). Indeed he may well have established a tent sanctuary around the altar to act as a substitute all the while that he was judge.

    Chapter 8.

    While Samuel was fit and well and did not flag in looking after the people they remained fully loyal to him and to YHWH. It was a minor golden age. All fear of the Philistines had gone, and they knew the way in which they should walk, and responded to Samuel’s authority. There was no question of ‘every man doing what was right in his own eyes’ as they often had during the period preceding his arrival (Judges 21.25). All responded to the prophet Samuel.

    But as he grew older they became wary. For he had appointed his sons as judges over a section of Israel in the territory of Judah which was almost due west of the southern end of the Dead Sea. Its main town was called Beersheba, the southernmost city in Israel, and beyond it lay the semi-desert of the Negev. They had probably applied to him for help in finding suitable oversight, and who better than his sons? They had had no objection to the appointment of his sons, but his sons then proved unsuitable and took advantage of their positions to further their own wealth by unscrupulous means.

    This rang alarm bells in the minds of the people of Israel, for they could foresee trouble once Samuel was gone. They did not want a repetition of what had happened with the sons of Eli. What this should have done, of course, was to turn their thoughts towards seeking YHWH. But that required continual repentance, and genuine trust and obedience and they were not really ready for either.

    So, probably without fully realising it (so dark is man’s heart), they were rejecting their heritage. Perhaps they remembered back to stories about the period of the Judges, when, in between YHWH’s successful appointees, there had always been those dreadful periods of humiliation which were made clear in their history. Those days were something that they did not want to go back to. They conveniently overlooked the fact that each time those humiliations had occurred it was because the people had fallen away from YHWH. What they really wanted was a stable and permanent government under a king who could fight their battles for them and which would not be dependent on the ups and downs of history (in other words would carry on whether they were totally loyal to YHWH or not). So they came to Samuel pleading with him to set a king over them. After all, had not God promised that one day they would have such a king (as the writer has already made us aware - 2.10)? Let Him then appoint one for them now. They were sure that this would then solve all their problems. They would never have to worry about leadership again.

    Unknown to them YHWH had already been planning a king for them, but as yet he was too young to take up the position, and had not yet been shaped by YHWH. Thus YHWH would provide them with a king who would both teach them a lesson about kingship and would in the end have to make way for David. They could have no complaint. They had asked for a king like all the nations round about, and that was what God gave them, a kingly figure who fought well for them, but also manoeuvred things to his own advantage, and had not been especially prepared by YHWH. We must presume that YHWH gave them the best that was available.

    The People Seek For The Appointment of a King Over Them (8.1-6).

    Outwardly the desire of the elders for a king appears reasonable, but what they ignored was the fact that once there was a dynasty there could be good kings followed by bad kings. It was a lesson that they should have learned from Eli’s sons and Samuel’s sons. What they should therefore rather have done was to trust in YHWH, and fully follow Him, for while they did so His appointees would always be dependable. Unfortunately, however, their desire arose from an evil heart of unbelief, and it was thus a rejection of YHWH’s kingship.

    Analysis.

    • a And it came about that when Samuel was old, he made his sons judges over Israel (8.1).
    • b Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abijah. They were judges in Beer–sheba. And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after ill-gotten gain, and took bribes, and perverted justice (8.2-3).
    • c Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel to Rama (8.4).
    • b And they said to him, “Behold, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (8.5).
    • a But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to YHWH (8.6)

    Note that in ‘a’ Samuel makes his sons judges over Israel, and in the parallel they seek rather for a king to be judge over them. In ‘b his sons do not walk in his ways, and in the parallel that is the complaint of the elders about them. In ‘c’ all the elders gather in an assembly of the tribes at Rama in order to settle the future leadership question.

    8.1 ‘And it came about that when Samuel was old, he made his sons judges over Israel.’

    Samuel had been mainly responsible for judgeship in the central part of Israel, but as a prophet of YHWH his influence would have reached much further throughout the whole of Israel. Thus when he was growing old he assigned to the judgeship of his sons the southernmost region of Israel to his sons. The fact that he did so when he had not been acting there himself would suggest the probability that the people around Beersheba had come to him asking for suitable ‘judges’ to rule over them. In response to their request he had felt that he could trust his sons. No father likes to feel that his sons cannot be trusted, and he felt that they were now ready to take independent authority. Unfortunately he was to be proved wrong. Perhaps it was because he had been neglectful over the bringing up of his own sons. Many a man who blesses many fails to be the blessing to his own family that he should be

    8.2 ‘Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abijah. They were judges in Beer–sheba.

    The names of his sons are given. His firstborn was Joel, while his second son was called Abijah. It will be noted that both names compound with the name of YHWH, Yo-el (Yah is God) and Abi-yah (My divine father is Yah), and witness to Samuel’s faith. In 1 Chronicles 6.28, however, they are named ‘the firstborn Vashni and Abijah’. This is quite possible because it was not unusual in Israel for a man to have two names. They were appointed as joint judges in Beersheba which was the southernmost region in Israel (compare 3.20).

    (Many, however, think that in 1 Chronicles 6.28 the name Joel has somehow slipped out of the text, and that it should read, ‘the firstborn Joel and the second Abijah’, for vashni could be pointed to signify ‘and the second’. There is, however, no textual evidence to support the suggestion. LXX reads ‘the first-born Sani, and Abia’ which supports MT).

    8.3 ‘And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after ill-gotten gain, and took bribes, and perverted justice.’

    Sadly, as so often happens, their authority went to their heads and instead of walking in their father’s ways they used their positions for their own ends. Thus they used their new positions in order to build up personal wealth. They sought to obtain ill-gotten gains, accepted bribes and perverted justice. And it was not a momentary lapse. For this to come to the notice of all Israel it must have gone on for a few years.

    8.4 ‘Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel to Ramah’

    The behaviour of Samuel’s sons clearly had a profound effect on many of the elders of Israel who were no doubt watching to see how the sons got on. And it was seemingly that that brought them to a decision, for it was soon clear to them that the sons were not walking in the prophetic tradition of their father, and would not be able to follow in his footsteps. So summoning all the elders of the tribes together, and no doubt discussing the matter thoroughly, they came to Samuel at Ramah.

    ‘The elders of Israel.’ Israel had been run by a group of ‘elders’ while in Egypt (Exodus 3.16), and ‘elders’ were appointed from among the tribal elders to support Moses in judging Israel in the wilderness (Numbers 11.16, 24, 25). Elders of the different cities were responsible for jurisdiction in that city (Deuteronomy 21.3; Joshua 20.4; Judges 8.16; Ruth 4.2). So ‘elder’ was the name given to those in authority both at a local and a tribal level. The elders mentioned here would be the ‘senior’ elders who ruled over the different tribes and sub-tribes. While not all old, the tendency would be for them to be older men, simply because it was such who would be ‘fathers’ of wider families, and because age was thought to bring wisdom.

    8.5 ‘And they said to him, “Behold, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” ’

    And there they announced the decision that they had made. In view of the fact that Samuel was ageing, and that his sons had proved unsuitable, they wanted a king to act from now on as their judge and war-leader, a king ‘like all the nations round about’. Outwardly they were simply asking for what Moses had said that they would one day want to ask in Deuteronomy 17.14. But they were doing it in the wrong way, and in the wrong circumstances. Their request was not that YHWH provide them with another prophetic man or a man of God, nor that He appoint a suitable replacement for Samuel. It was not even a request for a king in line with YHWH’s intentions as expressed in Genesis 49.10; Deuteronomy 17.14-20, someone appointed alongside a suitable prophet (Deuteronomy 18.15). There was no spiritual basis for their request at all. Basically they were indicating that they no longer wanted to go along in the same old way of having to look to YHWH every time they wanted a ‘judge’. They wanted something more permanent, just as the other nations had.

    They had had plenty of opportunity to study other kings, for each city state in Canaan had its own king, as had the Philistine cities (even if the Philistines did call them ‘seren’), and they were envious at the way that this appeared to ensure a relatively smooth transition of leadership, and provide a war-leader when trouble lay ahead. They had seen how they could also set up efficient standing armies. (They only noted the successful ones). And with the danger of the Philistines ever looming once Samuel had gone they wanted to be prepared. They felt that having a king appointed while Samuel was still alive would take away the uncertainty. And that was what they wanted, at whatever cost. YHWH did not come into it except to help them in choosing a king.

    8.6 ‘But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to YHWH.’

    But their words displeased Samuel when they said ‘give us a king to judge us’. He recognised it for what it was, an unwillingness to continue trusting in YHWH to provide them with leadership. They wanted a more independent regime, not totally dependent on YHWH, and to depend on a man and his descendants. And so Samuel did the only thing that he could think of. He took the whole matter before YHWH. Godly man that he was, he knew that it was not for him to make the decision.

    YHWH’s Response To Their Call For A King Was To Warn Them What Having A King Might Mean For Them (8.7-22).

    It is typical of sinful human beings that they did not recognise that having a king would involve a similar experience to the one that they had already experienced. Their very problems in the past had resulted from failing successors who had followed on after successful leaders. And they should have recognised that with kings that would happen constantly. But they were near sighted, and they were revealing that Canaanite traditions had taken possession of their hearts. They no longer thought theocratically. This Canaanite influence was seen elsewhere in the way in which they so easily turned to the worship of foreign gods. And it was also seen here in the way that they wanted a king. They did not like being shepherds. They wanted to be sheep.

    Analysis.

    • a And YHWH said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not be king over them”. In accordance with all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, in that they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also to you” (8.7-8).
    • b “Now therefore listen to their voice. However, you shall protest solemnly to them, and shall show them the manner of the king who will reign over them” (8.9).
    • c And Samuel told all the words of YHWH to the people who asked of him a king, and He said, “This will be the manner of the king who will reign over you. He will take your sons, and appoint them to him for his chariots, and to be his horsemen, and they will run before his chariots” (8.11)/
    • d “And he will appoint them to him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties, and to plough his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots” (8.12).
    • e “And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers” (8.13).
    • f “And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants” (8.14).
    • f “And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants” (8.15).
    • e “And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your finest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work” (8.16).
    • d “He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you will be his servants” (8.17).
    • c “And you shall cry out in that day because of your king whom you will have chosen for yourselves, and YHWH will not answer you in that day” (8.18)
    • b But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles” (8.19-20).
    • a And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he repeated them in the ears of YHWH. And YHWH said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice, and make them a king.” And Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Go you every man to his city” (8.21-22).

    Note that in ‘a’ Samuel was to listen to the voice of the people in all that they said to him (their request for a king) and in the parallel he was to listen to their voice and make them a king. In ‘b’ they are to be shown what manner of king they will discover that they have, and in the parallel they declare that they do know, for he will be like the kings of all the nations round about. In ‘c’ He begins to describe the glories that the king will take for himself, and in the parallel warns that they will groan under his requirements. In ‘d’ He describes the service that will be required of them, and that he will take of their time to plough his fields, and in the parallel tells that they will be his servants, and that he will take a tenth of their flocks. In ‘e’ he will set their daughters to work and in the parallel he will take their servants and their young men. In ‘f’ He will take their best fields and vineyards and oliveyards and will give them to his courtiers, and in the parallel he will take a tenth of their seed and of their vineyards and give them to his officers and courtiers.

    8.7 ‘And YHWH said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not be king over them.”

    YHWH knew the true heart of the people. The ‘golden age’ under Samuel had resulted in their again becoming apathetic in their attitude towards Him. They felt that things were good now, and they wanted to keep them that way, and yet not be too restricted in the way that they lived. They felt that they had found the right balance between keeping YHWH satisfied and at the same time enjoying the good things of life. And like many societies after them, they had a dream that once they had the right leadership in place things would go well. They were naturally unaware of the adage, ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ which might have acted as a warning to them. Thus they were rejecting their long tradition of decentralised leadership for a leader who would bind them together as one whole, but who could become corrupt

    They overlooked the fact that the system of decentralised leadership, inherited from the tribal system combined with YHWH’s provision of the covenant, had kept them a free people, at least within their own society. But that system of decentralised leadership had only been successful because YHWH Himself had been its centre through the Tabernacle and its priesthood, and through His prophets. All had looked to Him as their King. And it only worked when they did so. Now that that was to be set aside things would be different. And they did not realise what they were losing.

    But YHWH knew what they were losing. And He knew that the reason for it was because they were rejecting the essential heart of the covenant, and in essence were rejecting His overlordship. From now on they would have divided loyalty, and God knew that in such a circumstance He would come off second best. Thus, as He reluctantly acquiesced with their request, He made clear to Samuel that it was not he, Samuel, whom they were rejecting, it was Himself. The problem was that they no longer wanted to be under His rule. They no longer wanted Him as their king. Their religious dedication was half hearted.

    8.8 “In accordance with all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, in that they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also to you.”

    And He pointed out that this was not new. Indeed it had been the tendency of the hearts of His people ever since He had brought them out of Egypt. Since then they had constantly forsaken Him and served other gods. And in a similar way they were now rejecting all that Samuel had brought them (‘so they do also to you’). And they were replacing YHWH’s authority with that of a man’s. From now on their response to YHWH would on the whole very much depend on who was their king.

    8.9 “Now therefore listen to their voice. However, you shall protest solemnly to them, and shall show them the manner of the king who will reign over them.”

    So Samuel was to listen to them and grant their request. However, before doing so he was to reveal to them exactly what will be involved in having ‘a king like the nations’.

    8.10 ‘And Samuel told all the words of YHWH to the people who asked of him a king.’

    So Samuel returned to the elders who had asked of him a king and told them all the words of YHWH. He pointed out that YHWH was giving them a choice, and was warning them of the consequences of making the wrong choice.

    8.11-12 ‘And he said, “This will be the manner of the king who will reign over you. He will take your sons, and appoint them to him for his chariots, and to be his horsemen, and they will run before his chariots (see 2 Samuel 15.1; 1 Kings 1.5), and he will appoint them to him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties. And he will set some to plough his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots.” ’

    The first requirement that this king will have will be concerning his own splendour. The picture is firmly based on the lifestyle of Canaanite kings. He will want ceremonial chariots, and horsemen, and it will be their sons who will drive his chariots and be his horsemen, ever at his beck and call. And some will be appointed to run before the chariots proclaiming that the king is coming. Others will be made captains of military units, both large and small. Still others will be called on to plough his fields and reap his harvests, thus either losing their own land, or having far less time to work on it. And yet others would be set to making his instruments of war and all the requirements for his chariots. It would introduce a totally new subservient lifestyle, along with any punishments that the king decided to mete out.

    8.13 “And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.”

    And the splendour of his court will require their daughters to become perfumers, cooks and bakers. They will become lower palace servants, again subject to his discipline, and all the temptations of a royal court.

    8.14 “And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.”

    But worse. He will want to reward his favourites. And in order to do this he will take the very best of their fields, and their vineyards, and their oliveyards, and will give them to his favourite courtiers. They will not have any choice in the matter. It will be required of them. And they will have no one to whom to appeal.

    8.15 “And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.”

    And he will put a tax on them and require one tenth of the product of their seed and their vineyards so that he can pay his officers and reward his favourite courtiers.

    8.16 “And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your finest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.”

    And he will take their servants for himself, and especially their finest young men (as he has previously taken their daughters - verse 13), and also their asses and set them to work for him.

    LXX has ‘cattle’ instead of ‘young men’ which requires only a slight change in the Hebrew text and would be more in line with Deuteronomy 5.14. On the other hand ‘young men’ is a good parallel for ‘your daughters’ in the chiasmus, and is the more difficult reading. Thus we should retain ‘young men’.

    8.17 “He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you will be his servants.”

    And he will want a tenth of their flocks, and will make them his slaves. They will have lost their rights as free men under YHWH. All will be subject to the king.

    8.18 “And you shall cry out in that day because of your king whom you will have chosen for yourselves, and YHWH will not answer you in that day.”

    And when in the midst of their distress they cry out, as they inevitably will, they will have no one to cry to. For YHWH will no longer be their King, and will no longer answer them and interfere between them and the king. They will have chosen the rod for their own backs.

    Part of what is said might not sound so bad to us. We might even compare it to our own society and look on it favourably. But we must remember that the working conditions, and the length of time that they would have to work daily, and the amount that they would be paid (if at all), would not be regulated except by the king, and scant regard would be had to many of them. And above all that they could not resign and walk away. We must measure their total loss of freedom by the freedom that was once theirs and was guaranteed to them by YHWH, and which while they were obedient to YHWH made life so worth while. All the miseries of the future are in fact being described in these words. And they could all be observed by looking more carefully under the surface at the Canaanites round about them.

    It would in fact not be quite so bad for Israel as for other nations because they would still have the covenant Law, and heed would be taken to the priests and the elders, but it would certainly gradually become a different, and harsher, type of society.

    8.19 ‘But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.” ’

    However, the people were quite adamant, in spite of the fact that it was being made clear to them that at this time He did not desire them to have a king. They blatantly refused to listen to Samuel’s words, and said, ‘No, we will have a king over us so that we can be like all the other nations and so that he may judge us (rule over us) and go out before us and fight our battles.’ Fear of the Philistines once Samuel was dead may well have been partly at the root of their request. Without Samuel they were not quite so sure that YHWH would intervene for them, whereas they could be sure that a king would always be there. But there was clearly also a desire to be like the other nations. They envied the sophisticated nations around them who seemed to be doing so well (they did not look at the failures. That was for pessimists) and they wanted to be like them.

    8.21 ‘And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he went over them in the ears of YHWH.’

    Having heard what they had to say Samuel went back to YHWH and went over with Him all that they had said (there was clearly much more that had been said than is recorded for us above).

    8.22 ‘And YHWH said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice, and make them a king.” And Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Go you every man to his city.”

    YHWH then instructed Samuel to give them their wish. If they would not listen they must learn the lesson the hard way. So He tells Samuel to listen to what they are saying and give them a king. And He no doubt already had His man in mind.

    The question that as far as Samuel was concerned would now have to be resolved was as to whom that king would be. Upset though he was Samuel wanted to do his best for them. So he told the elders to return to their cities while he took the matter in hand. He would consult with YHWH on the matter.

    Return to Home Page

    Further free Bible articles and commentaries

    Commentary on Samuel - Contents

    Introduction and Samuel 1.1-4.1a - The Rise of Samuel

    Samuel 9.1-12 25 - Israel Seek and Find a King

    IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?

    If so please EMail us with your question and we will do our best to give you a satisfactory answer.EMailus. (But preferably not from aol.com, for some reason they do not deliver our messages).

    FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.

    THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH--- ESTHER--- PSALMS 1-50--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS