Poole on 1 Samuel 6:20-21: Dismissal of the Ark of the Covenant

Verse 20:[1] And the men of Beth-shemesh said, (2 Sam. 6:9; Mal. 3:2) Who is able to stand before this holy LORD God? and to whom shall he go up from us?


[And they said] Either by murmuring in public circles and gatherings, as in Numbers 17:12, 13, or by deliberating in Council (Mendoza).


[Who will be able to stand, etc.?] Similar interrogations signify fewness, or rarity, as in Job 4:7; Psalm 15:1; Isaiah 33:14; that is, the rare man, or no one (Mendoza): that is to say, He appears to require the greatest holiness from us (Vatablus). The cause of the evils they transfer to God, thinking nothing of their sins. They complain that He is hard, difficult, hard to please, and severe, as if they themselves had been guilty of no evil (Martyr). [Others thus:] They confess the divine holiness, even when they are punished; and so they do not deny their iniquity. Which is no small commendation of those that endure divine chastisement. Moreover, from the divine holiness they rightly gather the great difficulty in exercising obedience according to divine dignity (Mendoza).


[מִ֚י יוּכַ֣ל לַעֲמֹ֔ד לִפְנֵ֙י יְהוָ֧ה] Who shall be able to stand (to take position [Syriac, Drusius]) to the face of the Lord? (Montanus), or to pass before the Lord? (Septuagint), to stand before the Ark of the Lord? (Jonathan). Who is able to accomplish the service of the Lord? (Arabic). Under the name of the Lord, understand either the Ark (Mendoza, Drusius, Piscator), which is a symbol of Jehovah. It is a Metonymy of subject (Piscator). Or God Himself, indeed not absolutely, but to the extent that He was operating from the Ark, and was worshipped in that. As if they should say, The Lord is most holy, and so He requires His servants to be altogether holy, and most grievously punishes the more negligent; but men are involved in many imperfections. Therefore, who shall be able to stand, etc.? (Mendoza).


To stand before this holy Lord God, that is, to minister before the ark where the Lord is present. Since God is so severe to mark whatsoever is amiss in his servants, who is sufficient and worthy to serve him? who dare presume to come into his presence? It seems to be a complaint, or expostulation with God, concerning this last and great instance of his severity.



[And to whom shall He go up from us?וְאֶל־מִי] To whom? (Munster, Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius, Pagnine, Vatablus), to what place? (Jonathan), to what people? (Vatablus). And who might take the Ark from us? (Syriac, Arabic). As if they should say: We are certain of the sending away of the Ark: but uncertain concerning destination to which it might be sent. They doubt, and not without cause; who could worthily receive it? and who would be willing to expose himself to the danger of receiving it? (Mendoza).


To whom shall he go up from us? who will dare to receive the ark with so much hazard to themselves?



Verse 21:[2] And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of (Josh. 18:14; Judg. 18:12; 1 Chron. 13:5, 6) Kirjath-jearim, saying, The Philistines have brought again the ark of the LORD; come ye down, and fetch it up to you.


[And they sent messengers, etc.] For two reasons: 1. Out of prudence, and modesty. They were unwilling (after the likeness of the Philistines) to try to escape their injury in such a way that they would transfer that to their neighbors, especially unwilling and unconsulted. 2. Because they themselves, having experienced that bitter slaughter, were not daring to approach nearer to the Ark, and to bear that upon their shoulders. Moreover, perhaps they were alleging that the city of Beth-shemesh was too small, too little safe, and close to enemies (Mendoza).


[To the inhabitants of Kirjath-jearim] Whether, because they were closer; to whom accordingly the Ark could more swiftly be transferred: or, because they were stronger; who accordingly might more easily protect the Ark from the Philistines, if they should be pleased to return: or, because they were more noble; among whom accordingly the Ark would be kept with greater service and veneration (Lapide out of Mendoza). The city of Kirjath-jearim was also more fortified, being located on a hill. But concerning the plague of Beth-shemesh they are said to have reported nothing, either, because it was known to all: or, so that it might not deter them. Question: But why did they not take care to have the Ark returned to Shiloh? Response: Because that place was farther away; but they hastened to remove the Ark. 2. It was done in this way in the Divine providence, because Shiloh was infected with many sacrileges and sins. See Jeremiah 7:12 (Mendoza).


They sent to Kirjath-jearim, either because the place was not far from them, and so it might soon be removed, which they mainly desired; or because it was a place of eminency and strength, and somewhat further distant from the Philistines, where therefore it was likely to be better preserved from any new attempts of the Philistines, and to be better attended by the Israelites, who would more freely and frequently come to it at such a place, than in Beth-shemesh, which was upon the border of their enemies’ land; or because they thought they would gladly receive it, being a pious and zealous people; or because it was in the way to Shiloh, its ancient habitation, and whither they might suppose it was to be carried by degrees and several stages, whereof this was one.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּֽאמְרוּ֙ אַנְשֵׁ֣י בֵֽית־שֶׁ֔מֶשׁ מִ֚י יוּכַ֣ל לַעֲמֹ֔ד לִפְנֵ֙י יְהוָ֧ה הָאֱלֹהִ֛ים הַקָּד֖וֹשׁ הַזֶּ֑ה וְאֶל־מִ֖י יַעֲלֶ֥ה מֵעָלֵֽינוּ׃ [2] Hebrew: וַֽיִּשְׁלְחוּ֙ מַלְאָכִ֔ים אֶל־יוֹשְׁבֵ֥י קִרְיַת־יְעָרִ֖ים לֵאמֹ֑ר הֵשִׁ֤בוּ פְלִשְׁתִּים֙ אֶת־אֲר֣וֹן יְהוָ֔ה רְד֕וּ הַעֲל֥וּ אֹת֖וֹ אֲלֵיכֶֽם׃