1-Samuel 6:7 (NKJV)

"Now therefore, make a new cart, take two milk cows which have never been yoked, and hitch the cows to the cart; and take their calves home away from them.

1-Samuel 6:10 (NKJV)

Then the men did so; they took two milk cows and hitched them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home.

  • It is striking to note that the wise men of Philistia wanted Milk Cows for the appeasement of the ark.

  • They also required that the calves be "shut at home away from their mothers".


a) This would cause the calves to cry out after their mothers.

b) It would also starve the calves of the milk that they required for growth and nourishment.


1) Why is a milk cow required in this case as opposed to a heifer or any other female cow?

2) Is starving the calves of milk and motherly care a part of the appeasement ritual?

  • 1
    How would you know the appeasement was accepted if two cows just wandered off with the ark? It was handicapped. The milk cows would naturally return to their calves. It was a testimony of God, not merely a claim made by a man that was unverifiable.
    – Bob Jones
    Dec 8 '17 at 23:09
  • @BobJones if you can compile this into an answer, it would be accepted.
    – user20490
    Dec 8 '17 at 23:51
  • I would be tempted to preach lol ;)
    – Bob Jones
    Dec 8 '17 at 23:53

Using the JPS translation throughout:

Therefore get a new cart ready and two milch cows that have not borne a yoke; harness the cows to the cart, but take back indoors the calves that follow them. Take the Ark of the LORD and place it on the cart; and put next to it in a chest the gold objects you are paying Him as indemnity. Then watch: If it goes up the road to Beth-shemesh, to His own territory, it was He who inflicted this great harm on us. But if not, we shall know that it was not His hand that struck us; it just happened to us by chance. (1 Samuel 6:7-9)

The plan was to return the Ark and to know if the problems they experienced were from the hand of the LORD or simply coincidence. Using milk cows which had been separated from their calves to pull the cart sets up a natural conflict since by nature, the milk cows will be drawn to their calves; they will not go straight up the road. Of the test Robert Alter says:

their calves back inside. This, of course, is the crux of the test: the milking cows will have to go against nature in plodding forward into Israelite territory with their calves behind them, shut up in the manger waiting to be fed.1

The description of how the cows pulled the Ark also makes this point:

The cows went straight ahead along the road to Beth-shemesh. They went along a single highroad, lowing as they went, and turning off neither to the right or the left; and the lords of the Philistines walked behind them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh. (1 Samuel 6:12)

Of this description Alter says:

lowing as they went. This small but vivid descriptive detail is an even more striking exception to the stringent economy that governs biblical narrative. The last thing one would expect in a biblical story, where there is scant report of the gestures of the human actors, is a specification of sounds made by draft animals. The point, however, is that the milch cows - more driven by the Ark than hauling it - are going strenuously against nature: their udders full of milk for their calves they have been forced to leave behind, they mark with maternal lowing their distress over the journey they cannot resist. There is a peculiar resonance between this episode and Hannah's story in Chapter 1. There, too, a nursing mother does not want to be separated from her young, and, as we noted, special emphasis is placed on the physical acts of nursing and weaning. (The connection between the two episodes is underscored in the Hebrew, which literally calls the cows' young their "sons," not their calves.) In both stories, sacrifice is offered after the mother and young are separated. Here, of course, the mothers become the objects of the sacrifice; in Hannah's story, it is a bull, and, in symbolic rather than literal fashion, the son as well. Though all these correspondences seem too pointed to be coincidental, it is unclear whether they represent the literary artifact of the redactor, or an allusion by the author of the Samuel story to the Ark Narrative.2

One could draw an additional allusion to Samuel with the Ark. After weaning Samuel, the bull is sacrifice and the boy is returned to location where Hannah made the promise. The milk cows were sacrificed after returning the Ark to Israel.

1. Robert Alter, The David Story, W.W Norton and Company, 1999, p3 31
2. Ibid, pp. 32-33

  • Thanks revelation lad. This is a profound answer with many insights that I missed. "Lowing"... +1
    – user20490
    Jan 11 '18 at 21:39
  • @user20490 At first I thought the answer was obvious but after spending some time, I have a new appreciation for what I thought was a pretty simple event. Thank you for asking the question. Jan 11 '18 at 21:51

The appeasement is explained in verse 9 there:

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. (KJV)

The reason for using specifically nursing cows is explained by various commentaries as follows. Weak, nursing cows, who have never been yoked, and can see their recently born calves (still being nursed!) being taken away from them, are highly unlikely to pull a heavy cart in the exact opposite direction. This was part of the test proposed in verse 9, to make it less likely that the ark would be returned, and yet, in verse 12, it states:

And the kine took the straight way to the way of Bethshemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them unto the border of Bethshemesh. (KJV)


I agree with everything that has been said above about the Philistines' test of whether the illnesses they experienced were in fact the action of the God of Israel. I would just like to add that it is and was not customary for items set apart for sacred use to be first used for a profane purpose--so a trained oxen team, which might be more likely to pull a cart, would not be appropriate. A dairy cow would not ordinarily be used for this purpose, so it fits the bill from this viewpoint too. Another, similar example, is Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on a donkey that had never before been ridden. Carrying the Messiah of Israel, the donkey was as tame as a well-trained animal, even in the face of people waving palm branches and throwing their clothes on the ground; this is apparently another case of the divine Presence affecting the behavior of an animal.


To get the whole thing correctly:

1 Samuel 6:2,3,6-8,10,14,15,19,20

2 And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, What shall we do to the ark of the LORD? tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place.
3 And they said, If ye send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty; but in any wise return him a trespass offering: then ye shall be healed, and it shall be known to you why his hand is not removed from you.
6 Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed?
7 Now therefore make a new cart, and take two milch kine, on which there hath come no yoke, and tie the kine to the cart, and bring their calves home from them:
8 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.
10 And the men did so; and took two milch kine, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home:
14 And the cart came into the field of Joshua, a Bethshemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they clave the wood of the cart, and offered the kine a burnt offering unto the LORD.
15 And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD, and the coffer that was with it, wherein the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone: and the men of Bethshemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto the LORD.
19 And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.
20 And the men of Bethshemesh said, Who is able to stand before this holy LORD God? and to whom shall he go up from us?

First the ark of the covenant was not supposed to be carried in a Cart according to the provision of the law but on the shoulders of the Levites

Deuteronomy 10:8

8 At that time the LORD separated the tribe of Levi, to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister unto him, and to bless in his name, unto this day.

David made great mistake when he tried to bring the ark of the covenant on a new cart and the wrath of God fell upon him. He consulted the captain's and elders in so doing but he failed to consult the prophet Nathan:

1 Chronicles 13:1,3,7-10

1 And David consulted with the captains of thousands and hundreds, and with every leader.
3 And let us bring again the ark of our God to us: for we inquired not at it in the days of Saul.
7 And they carried the ark of God in a new cart out of the house of Abinadab: and Uzza and Ahio drave the cart.
8 And David and all Israel played before God with all their might, and with singing, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with cymbals, and with trumpets.
9 And when they came unto the threshingfloor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled.
10 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzza, and he smote him, because he put his hand to the ark: and there he died before God.

1 Chronicles 13:12

`12 And David was afraid of God that day, saying, How shall I bring the ark of God home to me?

He latter realized his mistake.
 The cart was to be carried on the shoulders of Levites.

1 Chronicles 15:2

2 Then David said, None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them hath the LORD chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister unto him for ever.

You can search for the rest of the scripture on this. Way given to the Phillistines was provisional, after they had humbled themselves to the Lord, they were to do it also by offering trespass offering. I hope that helps. The milch kine were offering for reconciliation. We can get this type from the story of Jacob and Esau. When Jacob wanted to be reconciled to his brother he went to him with Milch camel:

Genesis 32:9-17

9 And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee:
10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.
11 Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.
12 And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.
13 And he lodged there that same night; and took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother;
14 Two hundred she goats, and twenty he goats, two hundred ewes, and twenty rams,
15 Thirty milch camels with their colts, forty kine, and ten bulls, twenty she asses, and ten foals.
16 And he delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by themselves; and said unto his servants, Pass over before me, and put a space betwixt drove and drove.
17 And he commanded the foremost, saying, When Esau my brother meeteth thee, and asketh thee, saying, Whose art thou? and whither goest thou? and whose are these before thee?

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