The Golden Emerods and Golden Mice

TODAY’S ‘Bible in 90 Days’ Reading: I Samuel 2:30 – I Samuel 15:35

You know, I very nearly decided to write about Hannah’s prayer today, but instead I thought it better to discuss the emerods and the Philistines. Because of Eli’s failure to curb his sons’ wicked behavior, God declares a judgment upon the entire house of Eli and upon Israel. Consequently, the ark of the covenant is captured by the Philistines, with whom it resides, hopping from town to town, for seven months.

Why only seven months? And why the tour of Philistia? The ark, as God’s ‘dwelling’ on earth, brought God Himself into their camps, and the result was not pretty. Their chief god, Dagon, bowed to the ark again and again, which should have given them a clue. Finally, after numerous ‘rightings’ of the dagon statue (you can just picture these foolish Philistines, huffing and puffing as they lifted the heavy stone statue of their favorite god Dagon into place), God drove the message home by chopping off Dagon’s head and hands.

So, the ark went to a new town. God’s judgment was swift and painful: emerods. Now, emerods is an old English word, and it actually means ‘hemorrhoids’. Talk about a plague! All the men, young and old, were afflicted with this sensitive and private malady, bleeding and bursting and terrifically painful! How embarrassing! When the Philistines speak of this as a great destruction, even as ‘slaying’, then this type of hemorrhoid must have been sore indeed!

Now, there is an alternative translation of the Hebrew word ‘techor’. Some scholars prefer to render it as ‘a boil’. This translation makes a little more sense to me, because of the items chosen by the Philistines as offerings to Jehovah: five golden emerods (techor) and five golden field mice (akbar). Perhaps, the inclusion of the mice represents a plague not mentioned in our passage; perhaps, mice were over-running their houses and eating their grain. Or, perhaps, the mice reveal the disease behind the ‘boils’: bubonic plague.

In I Samuel 6:4, we read:

Then said they, What [shall be] the trespass offering which we shall return to him? They answered, Five golden emerods, and five golden mice, [according to] the number of the lords of the Philistines: for one plague [was] on you all, and on your lords.

The word translated ‘plague’ is ‘maggephah‘ which implies a slaughter. Normally, hemorrhoids don’t kill (although you could, presumably, bleed to death). Boils, mice, slaughter? This sounds like ‘black death’ or the bubonic plague to me, and it explains the mice, since mice and rats are known carriers of plague and other hemorrhagic diseases.

The Philistines concluded that the only way to end their plague was to return the ark to Israel–but how? They built a cart and set the ark upon it; next to it they placed a coffer (box) with the golden emerods and the golden mice inside. They found two cows who had never worn a yoke (which meant they didn’t know how to pull a cart). The Philistines then removed the cows’ calves (imagine a mom leaving her child without complaint). They included no driver, for this was a test. If the cows refused to pull, if the cows returned to their calves, if the cows pulled in any direction other than the road to Bethshmesh (back to the ark’s home), then the Philistines would assume that the plagues had been merely coincidental.

The woeful Philistines then sent the cart on its way, without a driver. Miraculously, the cows pulled the cart directly onto God’s highway, toward Bethshemesh, without deviating even once on their path and without one complaint (neither pulling to the left nor to the right). Interestingly, some men of the Philistines walked alongside the cart, just making sure the cows continued to Bethshemesh, which would definitely confirm that the plague had come from Jehovah! Of course, the Philistine men stopped short of the border, and then hightailed it back to their own towns to tell the story, much to the relief of their fellow townsmen–and to the relief of their towns’ gods as well, I suspect.