A brother asked me about a textual variant in 1 Samuel 6:19 right as I was packing up after I spoke at the Jeremiah Cry conference in Brooklyn this afternoon. I did not have time to get him the needed information, so, here it is!

1 Sam. 6:19—7:1. Disposal of the Ark of God.—V. 19. As the ark had brought evil upon the Philistines, so the inhabitants of Bethshemesh were also to be taught that they could not stand in their unholiness before the holy God: “And He (God) smote among the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked at the ark of Jehovah, and smote among the people seventy men, fifty thousand men.” In this statement of numbers we are not only struck by the fact that the 70 stands before the 50,000, which is very unusual, but even more by the omission of the copula ו before the second number, which is altogether unparalleled. When, in addition to this, we notice that 50,000 men could not possibly live either in or round Bethshemesh, and that we cannot conceive of any extraordinary gathering having taken place out of the whole land, or even from the immediate neighbourhood; and also that the words חֲמִשִּׁים אֶלֶף אִישׁ are wanting in several Hebrew MSS, and that Josephus, in his account of the occurrence, only speaks of seventy as having been killed (Ant. vi. 1, 4); we cannot come to any other conclusion than that the number 50,000 is neither correct nor genuine, but a gloss which has crept into the text through some oversight, though it is of great antiquity, since the number stood in the text employed by the Septuagint and Chaldee translators, who attempted to explain them in two different ways, but both extremely forced. Apart from this number, however, the verse does not contain anything either in form or substance that could furnish occasion for well-founded objections to its integrity. The repetition of וַיַּךְ simply resumes the thought that had been broken off by the parenthetical clause כִּי רָאוּ בַּאֲרֹון יי׳; and בָּעָם is only a general expression for בְּאַנְשֵׁי ב׳ שׁ׳. The stroke which fell upon the people of Bethshemesh is sufficiently accounted for in the words, “because they had looked,” etc. There is no necessity to understand these words, however, as many Rabbins do, as signifying “they looked into the ark,” i.e., opened it and looked in; for if this had been the meaning, the opening would certainly not have been passed over without notice. רָאָה with ב means to look upon or at a thing with lust or malicious pleasure; and here it no doubt signifies a foolish staring, which was incompatible with the holiness of the ark of God, and was punished with death, according to the warning expressed in Num. 4:20. This severe judgment so alarmed the people of Bethshemesh, that they exclaimed, “Who is able to stand before Jehovah, this holy God!” Consequently the Bethshemeshites discerned correctly enough that the cause of the fatal stroke, which had fallen upon them, was the unholiness of their own nature, and not any special crime which had been committed by the persons slain. They felt that they were none of them any better than those who had fallen, and that sinners could not approach the holy God. Inspired with this feeling, they added, “and to whom shall He go away from us?” The subject to יַעֲלֶה is not the ark, but Jehovah who had chosen the ark as the dwelling-place of His name. In order to avert still further judgments, they sought to remove the ark from their town. They therefore sent messengers to Kirjath-jearim to announce to the inhabitants the fact that the ark had been sent back by the Philistines, and to entreat them to fetch it away. (Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (2002). Commentary on the Old Testament. (1 Sa 6:19—7:1). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.)

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