Poole on 1 Samuel 4:6-9: The Philistines' Superstitious Fear of the Ark

Verse 6:[1] And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of the LORD was come into the camp.



[What then is this voice, etc.] See what a warlike cry before battle does; it warns the enemy, so that they might deliberate, and take precautions (Mendoza).


They understood, by information from the Israelites, who would readily tell them of it to affright them.

Verse 7:[2] And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore (Heb. yesterday, or the third day[3]).


[And the Philistine feared, saying, כִּ֣י אָמְר֔וּ] When they said (Piscator). For they, understanding, spies, reported. That is, the Philistines began to fear, hearing the spies saying, the Lord has come, etc. (Vatablus).



[God is come] They call the Ark God, either, because the Ark was the throne of God, as it were; or these idolaters were thinking the Ark to be God, or an idol of the Hebrews; or they were thinking that God’s power was enclosed in the Ark (Lapide out of Tostatus). By a misunderstanding the Philistines were attributing to God corporal motion and members; although that expression is not foreign to the Sacred Scripture (Estius). They attribute to the Ark, which was a sign of God, the name of the thing signified. Thus the Israelites in Exodus 32:1, make for us gods (Martyr). God is said to come; because the Ark was representing Him, and was a symbol of His presence (Drusius).


God is come, to wit, in and with his ark; or they give the name of God to the ark, before which he was worshipped, as they used to do to the images of their false gods.


[Woe unto us] That is to say, This has been done concerning us (Vatablus). And they actually foretell true things concerning themselves (Martyr).


[For there was not such exultation, לֹ֥א הָיְתָ֛ה כָּזֹ֖את] For there was not any such thing (Junius and Tremellius), as this (Vatablus). Such, understanding, a matter, or exultation, was not done. It is a Hebraism. In the place of the neuter gender, which they lack, the Hebrews make use of only the feminine pronoun, with no other substantive expressed; as in Psalm 27:4, one thing have I desired;[4] and in Psalm 118:23, this has been done by the Lord;[5] and in Psalm 119:56, this I had[6] (Mendoza). That is to say, yesterday there was not such exultation in the camp of the Hebrews. The manner of fighting has changed: for previously they were fighting with men; now they will be fighting with God (Vatablus).


[Yesterday and the third day] Before now (Junius and Tremellius). It is a Synecdoche of species (Piscator).


There hath not been such a thing heretofore; not to our knowledge, or not in our times; for the forementioned removals of the ark were before it came to Shiloh.

Verse 8:[7] Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods? these are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness.


[Who shall deliver us?] That is, no one (Mendoza).


[From the hand of those exalted Gods, מִיַּ֛ד הָאֱלֹהִ֥ים הָאַדִּירִ֖ים[8]] From the hand of the Gods illustrious (Montanus), or στερεῶν/firm (Septuagint), excellent (Castalio), most magnificent (Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, similarly Munster), or mighty (Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, similarly the English). Not obscurely do they give preference to Israel’s God over their own gods (Mendoza). Question: But why do they, who previously made use of the singular number, now make use of the plural number? Response 1: Pagans, speaking after their manner, were also attributing multiple Gods to the Israelites. Now, the spies of the Hebrews, if any were sent, who were relating these words to them, perhaps emended the speech of the infidels for the use of believers. Rendering it in the singular number (Mendoza). They call Him Gods, according to the common error of the Nations, which attribute individual Gods to individual Functions. Therefore, when they had heard that so many and so great things had fallen out to the Hebrews or to their enemies, they thought that all these things were not able to have been done by one God (Sanchez). Response 2: אֱלֹהִים signifies both God and Gods. Therefore, some translate it in the singular: thus Jonathan. From the hand of the Word of God, to whom belong those great works. [Thus the Arabic, of the most mighty God.] Although they were foreigners, they appear to have had some sense of the one God of the Hebrews (Drusius).



[Who smote the Egyptians with every plague in the desert, בְּכָל־מַכָּ֖ה בַּמִּדְבָּֽר׃] In every plague (Pagnine, Montanus, Septuagint, Vatablus, similarly Jonathan), that is, with multiple plagues (Vatablus). With so many plagues (Munster, Tigurinus); with plagues of every kind (Syriac, Arabic); with the individual plagues (Junius and Tremellius). They understand that tenfold plague in Egypt (Mendoza). But how are those plagues said to have been בַּמִּדְבָּר, in the desert? Responses: 1. It is not strange that these and other foreigners (who either were slow of nature, or were not very careful in exploring the truth) relate many things falsely. The same was done by Justinus,[9] Tacitus,[10] Achior in Judith 5,[11] and Josephus frequently. Therefore, is it so strange, if in this most ancient history concerning the plagues of the Egyptians they should err so severely, that they should believe that those hanppened in the desert? (Sanchez). 2. By that smiting in the desert they understand the drowning in the Red Sea, to which the desert was adjacent (Mendoza, similarly Drusius). This plague was the sum of all. And the remaining ten plagues concluded in this, and are not able to be compared with it (Drusius). In the desert; that is, in the Red Sea, which was adjacent to the wilderness (Vatablus). Others translate it, near, or next to (or toward [Drusius]) the desert (Piscator, Dutch). Thus, בִּירִיחוֹ, near Jericho.[12] בְּקִרְיַת יְעָרִים, near Kirjath-jearim.[13] To this could be referred that from this chapter, verse 1, they pitched בַאֲפֵק, near Aphek (Drusius). Understand the wilderness of Etham,[14] out of Exodus 13; 14. And בְּכָל־מַכָּה I translate, with a complete slaughter. Hebrew: with all or total, or complete smiting (Piscator). 3. [Others supply a ו/and, and translate it:] And in the desert (Septuagint, Syriac, Vatablus, Glassius). For, just as sometimes a prefixed ו is superfluous, so also sometimes it is wanting and must be supplied (Glassius’ “Sacred Grammar” 693). 4. Since this passage appears to be incompatible with these things as they are in the Law; others add words (Vatablus). And for His people He did many miracles in the desert (Jonathan in Vatablus). And He performed miracles in the desert (Arabic, similarly Osiander). 5. [Others translate בַּמִּדְבָּר, in the wilderness, otherwise:] Namely, understanding, by His word alone; which beautifully agrees: that is to say, who by His word alone smote the Egyptians. They maintain that מִדְבָּר/wilderness signifies דָּבָר/word (Vatablus). Thus it is taken by Joseph Camius [or Kimchi], the father of David [Kimchi]; who takes this interpretation from that in Song of Solomon 4:3, וּמִדְבָּרֵ֖יךְ נָאוֶ֑ה, and thy speech is comely (Drusius). Moreover, they speak of the God of the Hebrews, not as of the God of all, but as of the God of that people. Compare 1 Kings 20:23, 28; 2 Kings 19:12 (Grotius).


These mighty Gods; they secretly confess the Lord to be higher and greater than their gods, and yet against their knowledge presume to oppose him. They mention the wilderness, not as if all the plagues of the Egyptians came upon them in the wilderness, but because the last and sorest of all, which is therefore put for all, to wit, the destruction of Pharaoh and all his host, happened in the wilderness, namely, in the Red Sea, which having the wilderness on both sides of it, Exodus 13:18, 20; 14:3, 11; 15:22, etc., may well be said to be in the wilderness. Although it is not strange if these heathens did mistake and misreport some circumstance in a relation of the Israelitish affairs, especially some hundreds of years after they were done, such mistakes being frequent in divers heathen authors treating of those matters, as Justin, and Tacitus, and others.

Verse 9:[15] (1 Cor. 16:13) Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, (Judg. 13:1) as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men (Heb. be men[16]), and fight.


[And be men] Hebrew: for men. It is a Hebraism. Thus, I shall be to them for a God.[17] And, to be for a wife.[18] Now, vir/man is a name ἀρετῆς/virtutis, of manliness. Thus, present thyself as a man. Cicero in Brutus 71:250: Vidi Mitylenis virum, et vidi plane virum, I saw him at Mitylene a man, and I saw him a thorough man. The Book Aboth: In a place where are no men, give attention that thou be a man (Drusius). In a proverb, the Spartans alone are said to prepare men. And in Herodotus,[19] Multi sunt homines, pauci viri, Many are human, few are men[20] (Mendoza). Hence those unfit for war are wont to be called women. The Greeks in Homer are called Ἀχαίιδες, Achaian women, not Ἄχαιοι, Achaian men. And the Trojans in Virgil’s Æneid 9 are called Phrygiæ, Phrygian women, not Phryges, Phrygian men (Sanchez). The sense of the passage is, Be of manly courage; or, show yourselves men (Vatablus). Those that were hitherto bewailing themselves, suddenly rouse one another to fight, and resume their valor and courage. Either, 1. By a divine instinct. Or, 2. Out of martial fury and desperation. Thus Curtius,[21] in his History of Alexander the Great[22] 5, Necessity roused from inaction; and desperation is often the cause of hope (Mendoza).


Quit yourselves like men; since you can expect no relief from your gods, who are not able to resist theirs, it concerns you to put forth all your strength and courage, and once for all to act like brave and valiant men.


[Just as also they have served you] For, it is a great mortification, when one is cast down unto the service of his servants; for he is handled most cruelly by them, avenging former injuries (Mendoza).


[And fight] Understanding, against them fiercely (Vatablus).

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּשְׁמְע֤וּ פְלִשְׁתִּים֙ אֶת־ק֣וֹל הַתְּרוּעָ֔ה וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ מֶ֠ה ק֣וֹל הַתְּרוּעָ֧ה הַגְּדוֹלָ֛ה הַזֹּ֖את בְּמַחֲנֵ֣ה הָעִבְרִ֑ים וַיֵּ֣דְע֔וּ כִּ֚י אֲר֣וֹן יְהוָ֔ה בָּ֖א אֶל־הַֽמַּחֲנֶֽה׃ [2] Hebrew: וַיִּֽרְאוּ֙ הַפְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים כִּ֣י אָמְר֔וּ בָּ֥א אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶל־הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֑ה וַיֹּאמְרוּ֙ א֣וֹי לָ֔נוּ כִּ֣י לֹ֥א הָיְתָ֛ה כָּזֹ֖את אֶתְמ֥וֹל שִׁלְשֹֽׁם׃ [3] Hebrew: אֶתְמ֥וֹל שִׁלְשֹֽׁם׃. [4] Psalm 27:4: “One thing (אַחַת, in the feminine gender) have I desired of the Lord, that (אוֹתָהּ, in the feminine gender) will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.” [5] Psalm 118:23: “This (זֹּאת, in the feminine gender) is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.” [6] Psalm 119:56: “This (זֹּאת, in the feminine gender) I had, because I kept thy precepts.” [7] Hebrew: א֣וֹי לָ֔נוּ מִ֣י יַצִּילֵ֔נוּ מִיַּ֛ד הָאֱלֹהִ֥ים הָאַדִּירִ֖ים הָאֵ֑לֶּה אֵ֧לֶּה הֵ֣ם הָאֱלֹהִ֗ים הַמַּכִּ֧ים אֶת־מִצְרַ֛יִם בְּכָל־מַכָּ֖ה בַּמִּדְבָּֽר׃ [8] אַדִּיר signifies majestic. [9] Junianus Justinus was a Roman historian of the third century. [10] Publius Cornelius Tacitus (c. 56-c. 117) was a Roman historian. The information that he preserves about his era and its emperors is invaluable. [11] Judith 5: “Then was it declared to Holofernes, the chief captain of the army of Assur, that the children of Israel had prepared for war, and had shut up the passages of the hill country, and had fortified all the tops of the high hills and had laid impediments in the champaign countries: Wherewith he was very angry, and called all the princes of Moab, and the captains of Ammon, and all the governors of the sea coast, and he said unto them, Tell me now, ye sons of Chanaan, who this people is, that dwelleth in the hill country, and what are the cities that they inhabit, and what is the multitude of their army, and wherein is their power and strength, and what king is set over them, or captain of their army; and why have they determined not to come and meet me, more than all the inhabitants of the west. Then said Achior, the captain of all the sons of Ammon, Let my lord now hear a word from the mouth of thy servant, and I will declare unto thee the truth concerning this people, which dwelleth near thee, and inhabiteth the hill countries: and there shall no lie come out of the mouth of thy servant. This people are descended of the Chaldeans: And they sojourned heretofore in Mesopotamia, because they would not follow the gods of their fathers, which were in the land of Chaldea. For they left the way of their ancestors, and worshipped the God of heaven, the God whom they knew: so they cast them out from the face of their gods, and they fled into Mesopotamia, and sojourned there many days. Then their God commanded them to depart from the place where they sojourned, and to go into the land of Chanaan: where they dwelt, and were increased with gold and silver, and with very much cattle. But when a famine covered all the land of Chanaan, they went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, while they were nourished, and became there a great multitude, so that one could not number their nation. Therefore the king of Egypt rose up against them, and dealt subtilly with them, and brought them low with labouring in brick, and made them slaves. Then they cried unto their God, and he smote all the land of Egypt with incurable plagues: so the Egyptians cast them out of their sight. And God dried the Red sea before them, and brought them to mount Sina, and Cades-Barne, and cast forth all that dwelt in the wilderness. So they dwelt in the land of the Amorites, and they destroyed by their strength all them of Esebon, and passing over Jordan they possessed all the hill country. And they cast forth before them the Chanaanite, the Pherezite, the Jebusite, and the Sychemite, and all the Gergesites, and they dwelt in that country many days. And whilst they sinned not before their God, they prospered, because the God that hateth iniquity was with them. But when they departed from the way which he appointed them, they were destroyed in many battles very sore, and were led captives into a land that was not their’s, and the temple of their God was cast to the ground, and their cities were taken by the enemies. But now are they returned to their God, and are come up from the places where they were scattered, and have possessed Jerusalem, where their sanctuary is, and are seated in the hill country; for it was desolate. Now therefore, my lord and governor, if there be any error against this people, and they sin against their God, let us consider that this shall be their ruin, and let us go up, and we shall overcome them. But if there be no iniquity in their nation, let my lord now pass by, lest their Lord defend them, and their God be for them, and we become a reproach before all the world. And when Achior had finished these sayings, all the people standing round about the tent murmured, and the chief men of Holofernes, and all that dwelt by the sea side, and in Moab, spake that he should kill him. For, say they, we will not be afraid of the face of the children of Israel: for, lo, it is a people that have no strength nor power for a strong battle. Now therefore, lord Holofernes, we will go up, and they shall be a prey to be devoured of all thine army.” [12] See, for example, Joshua 5:13: “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho (בִּירִיחוֹ), that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?” [13] See, for example, Judges 18:12: “And they went up, and pitched in Kirjath-jearim (בְּקִרְיַ֥ת יְעָרִ֖ים), in Judah: wherefore they called that place Mahaneh-dan unto this day: behold, it is behind Kirjath-jearim.” [14] Exodus 13:20; Numbers 33:6-8. [15] Hebrew: הִֽתְחַזְּק֞וּ וִֽהְי֤וּ לַֽאֲנָשִׁים֙ פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים פֶּ֚ן תַּעַבְד֣וּ לָעִבְרִ֔ים כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר עָבְד֖וּ לָכֶ֑ם וִהְיִיתֶ֥ם לַאֲנָשִׁ֖ים וְנִלְחַמְתֶּֽם׃ [16] Hebrew: וִהְיִיתֶ֥ם לַאֲנָשִׁ֖ים. [17] For example, Jeremiah 31:33: “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be to them for a God, and they shall be to me for a people (וְהָיִ֤יתִי לָהֶם֙ לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים וְהֵ֖מָּה יִֽהְיוּ־לִ֥י לְעָֽם׃).” [18] For example, Deuteronomy 22:19: “And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be to him for a wife (וְלֽוֹ־תִהְיֶ֣ה לְאִשָּׁ֔ה); he may not put her away all his days.” [19] Herodotus (c. 484-c. 425) was a Greek historian, sometimes called “The Father of History”. [20] Histories 7. [21] Quintus Curtius Rufus (died 53) was a Roman and a historian. History of Alexander the Great is his only surviving work. [22] Historiæ Alexandri Magni.

ABOUT US

Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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