1 Samuel 13:5 MEANING

1 Samuel 13:5
(5) And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel.--The figures here, again, of the numbers of this vast army are perfectly untrustworthy. In the rolls of ancient armies (and we possess many a one in the sacred records) the number of war chariots is always smaller than that of the horsemen; here the chariots are represented as four times as numerous. In the rolls of the most famous armies there never appear anything like this number. For instance, Jabin (Judges 4:3) had 900 chariots. Pharaoh pursued Israel with 600. When David defeated Syria, the great Syrian army had 40,000 horsemen and 700 chariots. King Solomon is only reported (1 Kings 10:26) to have possessed 1,400 chariots. Zerah the Ethiopian had but 300 in his vast army, and the Pharaoh Shishak 1,200. Here the more probable reading would be "300" not 30,000. Bishop Wordsworth endeavours to explain the vast array by a reference to Josephus, who relates that this Philistine force was composed of various nations; but this would never account for the incredible number of chariots. The Philistines evidently lost no time. While Saul was endeavouring to rally at Gilgal a Hebrew army, Philistia at once, with the aid of foreign allies, took the field, and with a large army--for it is clear their host on this occasion was very large--encamped no great distance from Gilgal, evidently determined once and for all to crush their enemies and their recently-elected daring king.

Verse 5. - Long before Saul could gather Israel the Philistines had completed their preparations, and invaded the country in overwhelming numbers; but thirty thousand chariots compared with six thousand horsemen is out of all proportion. Possibly the final l in Israel has been taken by some copyists for a numeral, and as it signifies thirty, it his changed 1000 into 30,000. Or, simpler still, shin, the numeral for 300, has been read with two dots, and so changed into 30,000. They came up, and pitched in Michmash. Saul had withdrawn eastward to Gilgal, and the Philistines had thus placed themselves between him and Jonathan. There is a difficulty, however, in the words eastward from Beth-aven; for as this, again, was east of Bethel, it puts the Philistines' camp too much to the east. As it is not, however, the regular phrase for eastward, some commentators render, "in front of Beth-avon." "It means 'the house of naught,' and was the name originally given to the desert east of Bethel, because of its barren character" (Conder, 'Tent Work,' 2:108). The Philistines, however, had come in such numbers that their camp must have occupied a large extent of ground.

13:1-7 Saul reigned one year, and nothing particular happened; but in his second year the events recorded in this chapter took place. For above a year he gave the Philistine time to prepare for war, and to weaken and to disarm the Israelites. When men are lifted up in self-sufficiency, they are often led into folly. The chief advantages of the enemies of the church are derived from the misconduct of its professed friends. When Saul at length sounded an alarm, the people, dissatisfied with his management, or terrified by the power of the enemy, did not come to him, or speedily deserted him.And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel,.... To prevent their further encroachments on them, and designs against them; for they perceived they intended to cast off their yoke, and free themselves entirely from them:

thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen; it may seem incredible that so small a people as the Philistines were, who only were possessed of five cities, or lordships, with the villages belonging to them, except what they had taken from Israel; and even if assisted by the Tyrians, the author of Sirach in the Apocrypha says:"And he destroyed the rulers of the Tyrians, and all the princes of the Philistines.'' (Sirach 46:18)though he seems to have respect not to this time, but when Samuel discomfited them, 1 Samuel 7:10. I say it may seem incredible that they should bring such a number of chariots into the field; wherefore this must either be understood of 30,000 men that fought in chariots, as Lyra interprets it, and in which sense it is plain and certain the word chariots is sometimes used, as in 2 Samuel 10:18, or else of some sort of carriages, not chariots of war, at least not all of them; but what were brought to carry the baggage of their infantry, which was very large, and to carry away the goods and substance of the Israelites; some have thought that there is a mistake of the copier, who instead of "three", read "thirty": so Capellus; and the rather because in the Arabic and Syriac versions it is only "three thousand"; but even this is too great a number, understood of chariots of war; for never any people in the world was known to have so many chariots of war; Pharaoh in his large host had but six hundred, Exodus 14:7 Jabin king of Canaan had indeed nine hundred, Judges 4:3 and David took from the king of Zobah one thousand chariots; but whether they were all chariots of war is not certain, 2 Samuel 8:4. Solomon indeed had one thousand and four hundred chariots, but they do not appear to be chariots of war, but some for use, and some for state and grandeur. Wherefore, if a mistake in the copy is admitted of, and this can be confirmed by some MSS, yet we must recur to one or other of the above senses; some of them must be understood of other sort of carriages, or of men that fought in these chariots; and allowing ten men to a chariot, which seems to be the usual number by comparing 2 Samuel 10:18 with 1 Chronicles 19:18 then 3000 men would fill three hundred chariots, which are as many as it can well be thought the Philistines had Zerah the Ethiopian, who brought into the field an army of million men, had no more than three hundred chariots, 2 Chronicles 14:9, and no more had Antiochus Eupator in his army,"And with him Lysias his protector, and ruler of his affairs, having either of them a Grecian power of footmen, an hundred and ten thousand, and horsemen five thousand and three hundred, and elephants two and twenty, and three hundred chariots armed with hooks.'' (2 Maccabees 13:2)Darius in his vast army had but two hundred (a), and in the very large one which Mithridates brought against the Romans there was but one hundred; and now 3000 men in three hundred chariots were but a proportion to 6000 horsemen, which in those times and countries was a large cavalry:

and the people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude; the infantry was so large as not to be numbered; however, the phrase denotes a great multitude of them; Josephus says (b) there were 300,000 footmen:

and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Bethaven; where Saul, before he went to Gilgal, had his quarters, 1 Samuel 13:2. Bethaven was a place near Bethel, on the east of it, Joshua 7:2 though Bethel itself was afterwards so called when Jeroboam had set up the worship of the calves there, Hosea 4:15 it signifying the house of vanity or iniquity.

(a) Curtius, l. 4. c. 9. (b) Antiqu, l. 6. c. 6. sect. 1.

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