1 Samuel 6

The Ark Brought to Beth-Shemesh

Ancient Priests

And the Philistines called for the priests (6:2).

It is commonly thought that the Philistines originated in the west, with roots in the islands of the Aegean. This fresco depicts a Minoan priest from the palace complex at Knossos on the island of Crete. Although it is several centuries earlier than the time of 1 Samuel 6, it may represent an ancestral group of the Philistines and perhaps earlier religious practices of the Philistines. Other scholars have suggested that the Minoan civilization was distinct and may have been brought to an end by the Sea Peoples. This fresco was photographed at the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford.

Votive Mice

And they said, “Five golden tumors, and five golden mice” (6:4).

The choice of mice as one of the two kinds of golden items sent as a guilt offering may indicate one of the ways in which God plagued the Philistines. Mice were ubiquitous in ancient Israel, and a surplus of them would have wreaked havoc in the Philistine towns. This bronze mouse from the Roman period was photographed at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University.

Draft Cattle

Now therefore take and prepare a new cart, and two milk cows, who have not been yoked (6:7).

It is probably significant that two animals were chosen and that they had not previously been used as draught animals. Where one cow might pull the cart wherever it wished, two would not be expected to maintain any kind of recognizable route without being guided. The fact that they had not previously been yoked would have added to the unlikelihood that they would pull in unison for any length of time. These specifications were intended to be a test of the Israelite God. This American Colony photograph was taken between 1898 and 1946.

Harvest Time at Beth-Shemesh

Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat in the valley (6:13).

Wheat is harvested in this region in late April or early May. Given that the ark was in Philistine territory for seven months (1 Sam 6:1), the battle of Aphek must have taken place in late October or early November. This photo from Beth-shemesh, looking down the Sorek Valley in the direction from which the ark came, was taken in May, about the same time of year as the return of the ark.

Looking into the Ark

And He struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had looked into the ark (6:19).

Although the Philistines had probably also looked into the ark, they had not known Yahweh or the requirements associated with the ark, and thus God was apparently gracious to them. The Israelites, on the other hand, knew that this was forbidden, and God did not let them go unpunished. As Beth-shemesh was a Levitical city, the inhabitants were particularly responsible to know the proper way to handle the Lord’s ark. This model of the ark of the covenant contains the items listed in Hebrews 9:4—Aaron’s rod, a bowl of manna, and the stone tablets of the covenant.

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