What does 1 Samuel 6:8 mean?
ESV: And take the ark of the Lord and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way
NIV: Take the ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way,
NASB: Then take the ark of the Lord and place it on the cart; and put the articles of gold which you return to Him as a guilt offering in a saddlebag by its side. Then send it away that it may go.
CSB: Take the ark of the Lord, place it on the cart, and put the gold objects that you’re sending him as a guilt offering in a box beside the ark. Send it off and let it go its way.
NLT: Put the Ark of the Lord on the cart, and beside it place a chest containing the gold rats and gold tumors you are sending as a guilt offering. Then let the cows go wherever they want.
KJV: And take the ark of the Lord, and lay it upon the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which ye return him for a trespass offering, in a coffer by the side thereof; and send it away, that it may go.
NKJV: Then take the ark of the Lord and set it on the cart; and put the articles of gold which you are returning to Him as a trespass offering in a chest by its side. Then send it away, and let it go.
Verse Commentary:
The priests have instructed the leaders of the Philistines on how best to send the ark of the Lord (Exodus 25:10–16) back to Israel. Their plan also includes testing whether the plague ravaging their land was truly from the Lord (1 Samuel 6:1–7). First, they are to include a guilt offering (1 Samuel 6:3–4). Then they must get the ark back to the land of Israel. To do so, the priests have instructed the leaders to have a new cart built and to yoke the cart to two milk cows who have never been yoked before while their calves remain back home (1 Samuel 6:7).

Now the priests instruct the leaders to place the ark of the Lord on the cart, along with a box containing the guilt offering. That offering consists of five gold tumors and five gold mice, or perhaps five gold tumors shaped as mice (1 Samuel 6:4). These gold pieces are being sent to the Lord as the Philistine version of a guilt offering in which the representation of a bad thing would be sent away in hopes of an angry god taking the actual bad thing away from them, as well.

Finally, the priests instruct the leaders to release the cows and let them go in whatever direction they will. Since the cows have never been harnessed, they won't be influenced by any human instruction. Nature would lead the un-trained animals back home to their calves. Divine influence would lead them straight to Israel. The course they take will reveal to the priests the true cause of the plague upon the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:9).
Verse Context:
First Samuel 6:1–18 describes the Philistine plan to send the ark of the Lord back to Israel. They hope to stop the plague and panic with which God d afflicted them (1 Samuel 5). At the advice of their priests and diviners, the Philistines place the ark and a guilt offering of five golden mice and five golden tumors on a new cart pulled by two milk cows. The cows head straight for the Israelite town of Beth-shemesh. There, the rejoicing people offer the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. The Levites living in the town place the ark and the golden images on a large rock. The lords of the Philistines see the sacrifice and return to Ekron.
Chapter Summary:
The Philistine religious leaders advise the five lords of the Philistines to send the ark of the Lord back to Israel with a guilt offering to stop the plague of tumors ravishing their land (1 Samuel 5:6–12). The Philistines place the ark along with five golden mice (or five golden tumors and five golden mice) on a new cart hitched to two untrained milk cows whose calves are shut up at home. The cows head straight for the Israelite border town of Beth-shemesh. There, the people rejoice and offer the cows before the ark as a burnt offering to the Lord. The Lord kills seventy men of the town because the people looked at the ark. Frightened, the people send to Kiriath-jearim and ask them to take the ark.
Chapter Context:
First Samuel 6 finds most of the Philistines convinced that the plague and panic (1 Samuel 5:6–12) are from the Lord. They place the ark of the Lord and a guilt offering of golden mice on a cart pulled by two milk cows. The cows pull the ark straight to the Israelite town of Beth-shemesh, where the rejoicing people offer the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord before the ark. The Lord kills seventy men of the town for looking at (or in) the ark. The people of Beth-shemesh send word to those in another town to take the ark away.
Book Summary:
First Samuel introduces the key figures who led Israel after the era of the judges. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel were originally part of a single text, split in certain translations shortly before the birth of Christ. Some of the Bible’s most famous characters are depicted in this book. These including the prophet Samuel, Israel’s first king, Saul, her greatest king, David, and other famous names such as Goliath and Jonathan. By the end of this book, Saul has fallen; the book of 2 Samuel begins with David’s ascension to the throne.
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