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Saul was in his earlier reign of Israel and he was in a battle against the Philistines. His son Jonathan and his armor-bearer went into the camp of Philistines and caused a turmoil. Saul discovered it and said to Ahijah in 1 Samuel 14:18

“Bring the ark of God.” (At that time it was with the Israelites.) NIV

This verse troubles me in a sense that Saul as if asked the Lord "you come here". I don't think Saul dared to speak to the Lord in such attitude. Further research indicate that this is not the only translation. A few other such as the NLT, Brenton Septuagint Translation, Good News translation, New American Bible, NET, New Heart English Bible are using "ephod" to replace "ark".

There was also a hypothesis that there might have a scribble error because the Hebrew of ark "אָרוֹן" and ephod "אֵפוֹד" are somewhat close. (Forgive me if I had the wrong Hebrew)

The Biblical record during the time of Saul's reign had many issues that most of them were already been discussed in this forum. I would like to have a discussion specific to the above question.

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Here are the undisputed facts:

  1. The Hebrew has "ark of God" as shown by the faithful rendering of most versions, eg, NASB:

Then Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here.” For at that time the ark of God was with the sons of Israel.

Note that the phrase "ark of God" is repeated twice to remove doubt. Further, the ephod was never absent from Israel so the latter sentence would be redundant if the ephod were mentioned.

  1. The LXX has a quite different text for this verse

And Saul said to Achia, Bring the ephod; for he wore the ephod in that day before Israel.

A few versions prefer the LXX text such as NLT, GNT, NET, NHEB.

  1. The Latin Vulgate follows the Hebrew text

  2. It is understandable to question the Hebrew text here for the following reasons

  • It was extremely unusual to bring the ark of God to a battlefield away from it place of safe-keeping. The previous time this had occurred (1 Sam 4) resulted in the ark of God being captured by the Philistines
  • The ark of God was not used for divination, as the ephod was with its Urim and Thummim stones for decision making
  • The procedure for making decisions was to have the priest cover the stones and then "withdraw his hand" to see which stone had been lighted or darkened. Such a procedure appears to have been used in 1 Sam 14:19 with the "ark of God" - very strange!! In any case, no one was permitted to touch the ark on pain of death (note the experience of Uzzah in 2 Sam 6:5-7).
  • At this time, the ark of God was kept at Kiriath-jearim and there is no evidence that it was ever moved until David moved it to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6)
  • As Ellicott correctly observes, the verb נָגַשׁ (bring hither) is never used in connection with the Ark of God.
  • Further, fetching the ark of God all the way from Kiriath-jearim to the battlefield would have taken some time - much more than available in one day or an afternoon.

All this makes the reading of the Hebrew extremely unlikely

  1. The two nouns for Ark אָרוֹן (aron) and Ephod אֵפוֹד (ephod) are easily distinct apart from their first letter, and do not even sound similar. In any case, the word "ephod" does not occur in the phrase "ephod of God" and so must be "ark of God if the rest of the Hebrew text is correct. In any case, different letters/fonts were used for the ancient Hebrew which would have made these words even more distinct.

The Cambridge commentary sums this problem verse well:

Bring hither the ark of God. Saul wished to “inquire of God” before going to battle. See Numbers 27:21. But apart from the fact that we have no mention of the transportation of the Ark from Kirjath-jearim, it was not the Ark, but the Ephod with Urim and Thummim which was the proper instrument for ascertaining the will of God. Moreover “bring hither” is a term applied to the Ephod (1 Samuel 23:9, 1 Samuel 30:7) but not to the Ark. It seems best therefore to follow the reading of the Sept.; “And Saul said to Ahia, bring hither the Ephod: for he wore the Ephod at that time before the children of Israel.”

Thus, the LXX is very likely the correct reading.

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  • I don't think its correct to say it was "extremely unusual to carry the ark into battle. " Numbers 10:35 says "Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say, 'Arise, O Lord, let your enemies be scattered and your foes flee before you.” Joshua 3 says, “[God] without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: 11 the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan." I take your point about it being less likely during the period of judges than during the conquest or wilderness. Aug 14, 2022 at 1:51
  • @DanFefferman - the passage you quote was from the wilderness wanderings when the Israelites had to take everything with each time they moved. Moses words were then essentially a paryer for divine protection from enemies. However, apart from the disaster with Eli's two sons taking the ark into battle, we have no other instance.
    – Dottard
    Aug 14, 2022 at 1:55
  • No, actually we do, at Jericho in Joshua 6.3 'You shall march around the city, all the warriors circling the city once. Thus you shall do for six days, 4 with seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark." I think based on Numbers 10:35 this was the standard practice until after the conquest. [of course, this is a minor point in the context of your answer] Aug 14, 2022 at 2:07
  • @DanFefferman - Ah! Yes. I forgot about that one. However, that was not a battle in the usual sense of the word - God did most the damage supernaturally and the people simple "cleaned up the mess". The collapsing walls, etc, would have killed most people.
    – Dottard
    Aug 14, 2022 at 2:16
  • @Dottard Nice answer, but what is your source for the divination method? I've read that it's unknown and it's unknown even what (exactly) the Urimm and Thummin were - I've read everything from three dice with hebrew letters on them to generate root words when cast to sticks
    – Robert
    Aug 15, 2022 at 4:35

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