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).