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1 Samuel 6:9

ESV and watch. If it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth-shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm, but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it happened to us by coincidence.”
NIV but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the LORD has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.'
NASB But watch: if it goes up by the way of its own territory to Beth-shemesh, then He has done this great evil to us. But if not, then we will know that it was not His hand that struck us; it happened to us by chance.'
CSB Then watch: If it goes up the road to its homeland toward Beth-shemesh, it is the Lord who has made this terrible trouble for us. However, if it doesn't, we will know that it was not his hand that punished us--it was just something that happened to us by chance."
NLT If they cross the border of our land and go to Beth-shemesh, we will know it was the Lord who brought this great disaster upon us. If they don’t, we will know it was not his hand that caused the plague. It came simply by chance.'
KJV And see, if it goeth up by the way of his own coast to Bethshemesh, then he hath done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that smote us; it was a chance that happened to us.

What does 1 Samuel 6:9 mean?

The priests and diviners of the Philistines have recommended the best way to appease Israel's angry God. They are also determined to confirm whether He is the one who caused the plague which struck their nation (1 Samuel 5:6–12; 6:1–8). Apparently, some Philistines were not convinced their suffering was punishment for capturing the ark of the Lord (Exodus 25:10–16). Perhaps they had never seen any god demonstrate actual power and control over nature in such a way.

The priests have recommended the leaders of the Philistines place the ark on a new cart, along with a guilt offering to Israel's God. They should then harness the cart to two untrained milk cows who have been separated from their calves (1 Samuel 6:7–8).

Now they tell the leaders to simply let the cows go and then watch to see what happens. The idea seems to be that if the Lord of the Israelites was powerful enough to bring the "great harm" against them because of the ark, He will be powerful enough to cause the milk cows to head toward the nearby town of Beth-shemesh, just across the Israelite border. If, instead, the cows turn and head toward their own home and their calves, as expected, it was all just a coincidence. Nature and common sense would predict the cows will go home.

Beth-shemesh was located west of Jerusalem and is today identified with Tel er-Rumeilah. Excavations of the site have revealed artifacts from the time of Samuel that show Philistine influence, which fits with its precarious spot inside Israelite territory but near to the Philistine town of Timnah (Judges 14:1).
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