Poole on 1 Samuel 13:5: Philistine Might

Verse 5:[1] And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Beth-aven.

[Thirty thousands of chariots] Armed with scythes (Menochius, Martyr). But this appears incredible. Pharaoh had only six hundred chariots, Exodus 14:7; and Jabin, nine hundred, Judges 4:3; and Solomon, one thousand and four hundred, 1 Kings 10:26 (Mendoza). This is excessive in comparison with the number of horseman that follows (Grotius). Therefore, they say, 1. That great was the use of chariots among many nations (Mendoza), especially in the east (Martyr). Among the Syrians, and Arabs, etc. See Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library 6:1, 10; Xenophon, Cyropædia 6; Strabo, Geography 17; Herodotus, Histories 4, 7; Curtius, History of Alexander the Great 4; Pomponius Mela, Discription of the World[2] 3:6. 2. That not all those chariots were of the Philistines, but of allied and neighboring kings, who sent auxiliaries to them (Mendoza). Perhaps the Tyrians were with them, who in the war of 1 Samuel 7 are said to have brought help to them, Ecclesiasticus 46:18[3] (Menochius). 3. Or these chariots were of inferior value, or size (Mendoza). 4. Or chariots here are taken from the men in the chariots, and fighting from thence (Lyra, Carthusianus in Mendoza). 5. [Others discern an error.] That errors happen here and there in the numbers, no one would deny, who is not also rude and inexperienced in these books. It happens in this place; for thirty thousands of chariots, etc., is a matter altogether παράδοξα/incredible (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:9:156). And so there are those that think that the last two letters are to be deleted,[4] so that they might be three thousand, שָׁלֺשׁ אֶלֶף (Grotius, thus Cappel’s Sacred Criticism). And thus the Syriac and Arabic have it, as it is likely that they read it in the Hebrew exemplars, of which they made use; which is also itself a large number. But among these three thousand perhaps a great number of chariots were carrying baggage (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:9:156). And in this way the proportion of chariots and horsemen will be suitable; but never was there such an abundance of armored chariots fitted with scythes, as great as of horsemen (Cappel). But this conjecture, says Buxtorf, is audacious, and impious, scandalous, and leading to atheism. [But, with the leave of that great men, it appears much preferable sometimes to acknowledge a blemish in matters numerical, or historical (in which no article of our faith is affected), than to expose the Sacred Scripture to the mockery of the impious.]

[And six thousand horsemen[5]] Pineda here understands horses. For פָּרָשִׁים signifies this in 2 Samuel 1:6;[6] Joel 2:4.[7] But it more properly signifies horsemen; that is, those stinging, from פָּרַשׁ, to sting. But why did they gather such an army? Response: Against the new king. They were suspecting a future struggle for supremacy (Mendoza).

Thirty thousand chariots: this number seems incredible to infidels; to whom it may be sufficient to reply, that it is far more rational to acknowledge a mistake in him that copied out the sacred text in such numeral or historical passages, wherein the doctrine of faith and good life is not directly concerned, than upon such a pretence to question the truth and divinity of the Holy Scriptures, which are so fully attested, and evidently demonstrated. And the mistake is not great in the Hebrew, שָׁלֺשׁ/schalosh for שְׁלֹשִׁים/schelishim; and so indeed those two ancient translators, the Syriac and Arabic, translate it, and are supposed to have read in their Hebrew copies, three thousand. Nor is it necessary that all these should be military chariots, but many of them might be for carriages of things belonging to so great an army; for such a distinction of chariots we find Exodus 14:7. But there is no need of this reply. Chariots here may very well be put for the men that rode upon them, and fought out of them, by a figure called a metonymy of the subject for the adjunct, or the thing containing for the thing contained in it, than which none more frequent. In the very same manner, and in the very same figure, the basket is put for the meat in it, Deuteronomy 28:5, 17; the wilderness, for the wild beasts of the wilderness, Psalm 29:8; the nest, for the birds in it, Deuteronomy 32:11; the cup, for the drink in it, Jeremiah 49:12; 1 Corinthians 10:21. And, to come more closely to the point, a horse is put for a horse-load of wares laid upon it, 1 Kings 10:28; and an ass of bread is put for an ass-load of bread, both in the Hebrew text of 1 Samuel 16:20,[8] and in an ancient Greek poet. And, yet nearer, the word chariots is manifestly put either for the horses belonging to them, or rather for the men that fought out of them; as 2 Samuel 10:18, where it is said in the Hebrew that David slew seven hundred chariots; that is, seven thousand men which fought in chariots, as it is explained, 1 Chronicles 19:18; and 1 Kings 20:21, where Ahab is said to smite horses and chariots; and 1 Chronicles 18:4; Psalm 76:6, where the chariot and horse (that is, the men that ride and fight in chariots, or upon horses) are said to be cast into a dead sleep; and Ezekiel 39:20, where it is said, Ye shall be filled at my table with horses and chariots, (that is, with men belonging to the chariots; for surely the chariots of iron had been very improper food,) with mighty men, etc. And let any cavilling infidel produce a wise reason why it may not, and ought not, to be so understood here also. Add to all this, that the Philistines were not alone in this expedition, but had the help of the Canaanites and the Tyrians, as is very credible, both from Ecclesiasticus 46:18, and from the nature of the thing. If it be further inquired, Why the Philistines should raise so great an army at this time? the answer is obvious, That not only their old and formidable enemy Samuel was yet alive, but a new enemy was risen, even king Saul, who was lately confirmed in his kingdom, and had been flushed with his good success against the Ammonites, and was likely to grow more and more potent, if not timely prevented; and they thought that now the Israelitish affairs were come to some consistency, being put into the hands of a king; and therefore they thought fit, once for all, to put forth all their strength to suppress the Israelites, and to prevent that ruin which otherwise threatened them.

[At the east of Beth-aven[9]] Thus he calls it on account of the worship of idols in it:[10] it is elsewhere called Beth-el,[11] because there God appeared to Jacob[12] (Vatablus). But Vatablus errs. For he here treats of the Benjamite Beth-aven, no the Ephraimite (Mendoza out of Tostatus and Sanchez). They had ascended to this place, because they had learned that Saul lingered in it, verse 2, whom doubtlessly they would have intercepted, if he had not moved to Gilgal. Thus the flight of Saul from obedience rendered to the precept of Samuel is apparent (Mendoza).

[1] Hebrew: וּפְלִשְׁתִּ֞ים נֶאֶסְפ֣וּ׀ לְהִלָּחֵ֣ם עִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל שְׁלֹשִׁ֙ים אֶ֤לֶף רֶ֙כֶב֙ וְשֵׁ֤שֶׁת אֲלָפִים֙ פָּרָשִׁ֔ים וְעָ֕ם כַּח֛וֹל אֲשֶׁ֥ר עַל־שְׂפַֽת־הַיָּ֖ם לָרֹ֑ב וַֽיַּעֲלוּ֙ וַיַּחֲנ֣וּ בְמִכְמָ֔שׂ קִדְמַ֖ת בֵּ֥ית אָֽוֶן׃ [2] Pomponius Mela was perhaps the first Roman geographer, producing De Situ Orbis around 43 AD. [3] Ecclesiasticus 46:13-18: “Samuel, the prophet of the Lord, beloved of his Lord, established a kingdom, and anointed princes over his people. By the law of the Lord he judged the congregation, and the Lord had respect unto Jacob. By his faithfulness he was found a true prophet, and by his word he was known to be faithful in vision. He called upon the mighty Lord, when his enemies pressed upon him on every side, when he offered the sucking lamb. And the Lord thundered from heaven, and with a great noise made his voice to be heard. And he destroyed the rulers of the Tyrians, and all the princes cf the Philistines.” [4] The Hebrew reading: שְׁלֹשִׁ֙ים אֶ֤לֶף. [5] Hebrew: וְשֵׁ֤שֶׁת אֲלָפִים֙ פָּרָשִׁ֔ים. [6] 2 Samuel 1:6: “And the young man that told him said, As I happened by chance upon mount Gilboa, behold, Saul leaned upon his spear; and, lo, the chariots and horsemen (וּבַעֲלֵ֥י הַפָּרָשִׁ֖ים, and the lords of the horses) followed hard after him.” [7] Joel 2:4: “The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses (כְּמַרְאֵ֥ה סוּסִ֖ים); and as horsemen (וּכְפָרָשִׁים), so shall they run.” [8] 1 Samuel 16:20: “And Jesse took an ass of bread (חמ֥וֹר לֶ֙חֶם֙), and a bottle of wine, and a kid, and sent them by David his son unto Saul.” [9] Hebrew: קִדְמַ֖ת בֵּ֥ית אָֽוֶן׃ [10]אָוֶן/aven signifies trouble or wickedness. [11] That is, the house of God. [12] Genesis 28:10-22.

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