1 Samuel 5 Devotional
by Pastor Lawrence
It almost seems risky for the Lord to discipline his people by allowing their enemies to overcome them in battle, for those enemies always assume that it was the hand of their own god who gave them the victory. Clearly, that is the conclusion the Philistines reached after slaughtering thirty-four thousand Israelites on the battlefield as recorded in the previous chapter. They firmly believed that their own god Dagon was a greater god in the Lord. Nevertheless, they still believed that Yahweh had some power, which is why they brought his ark into their temple in Ashdod to claim some of his power as their own by adding him to their own collection of gods. Of course, they still regarded Dagon as supreme, and thus that night they placed the ark of the Lord at his feet to serve as his footstool.
However, in the morning, the Philistines came into the temple in order to give thank offerings to their god for helping them in battle, but his statue had fallen face down upon the ground before the ark of the Lord lying prostrate as if in worship unto the Lord. As strange and mysterious as this would have appeared, the Philistines thought it merely a chance occurrence, stood up his statue again and worshipped the god of their own making. Of course, as we all know, not even a hair of our head falls to the ground apart from the will of the Lord, so this was not merely an unfortunate occurrence but the first of many signs given unto the Philistines to demonstrate the Lord’s power and to instill fear within the hearts of the Philistines.
The next morning, the faithful few returned to Dagon’s temple to find his statue toppled once again before the ark of the Lord, but this time his head and hands had been severed from his fish body (the root of Dag means fish). They had not merely broken off as a result of the fall, but appeared to have been cut off and were lying near the door or threshold of the temple so that the worshippers would have step over them in order to get inside their house of worship. Assuredly, the Philistines would have secured the temple doors after the previous mishap to ensure that no mischievous person were up to no good. So this second sign would have undoubtedly shocked the Philistines. In ancient times, the king or leader of one’s enemies would often be dismembered after a loss in battle and publicly displayed to inspire fear in their enemies. That’s exactly what the Philistines would later do with King Saul and his sons a few years later. But in this case, it is not merely the limbs of a man that have been cut off, but the head and limbs of their god demonstrating his utter impotency and foolishness before the presence of the Lord, for now he had lost any resemblance to a god or even a man. Now he was just a dumb fish easily caught by the hands of men and bashed against the rocks.
Of course, this second sign was still not enough for the Philistines to fear the Lord. Instead they developed a superstitious tradition of jumping over the threshold in order to keep sacred the place where their god had fallen so as not to place their foot upon his neck and humiliate him. Strangely enough, it appears later on in Zephaniah 1:9 that some in Israel had taken up this pagan tradition of jumping the threshold showing their own eagerness for syncretistic man-made worship. It’s amazing to me how quickly God’s people are willing to add any novel component to their worship without even considering whether it is the Lord’s will or is in conformity with the Word of God.
After the second sign did not convince the Philistines in Ashdod of the power of the Lord and his wrath against his enemies, the third sign was implemented with Egyptian proportions. The Scripture records that the Lord then terrified them seemingly with some sort of plague killing many of them and also afflicted a number of others with painful tumors. Only then did they acknowledge the power of the Lord over them and over their god. But instead of repenting of their sins and crying out for mercy, they sought instead to send the Ark of the Lord away to their kin in the neighboring city of Gath. And when the Gathites came under the same judgment of God, they too desired to send it away to their neighbors in Ekron. But the Ekronites were no dummies; they had heard the horrible reports coming from the other cities and refused to receive the ark into their town. So the leaders of the Philistines gathered together to come up with a plan for how to get rid of it so that God’s judgment would also be removed.
What the Philistines did not understand was that God’s very presence was in their midst and that our holy God cannot dwell in the midst of iniquity without an acceptable sacrifice to atone for sin. Otherwise, the Lord’s judgment is certain. Of course, the Philistines would finally be able to send the ark away from them along with a sacrifice of some sort, but this wouldn’t’ change anything in the eternal scheme of things. Eventually, they, along with all men, would need to stand before a holy God in judgment, and without the sacrifice of Christ to cover their sins, there can be no escape from the wrath of the Lord.
In a similar manner, for all those who have trusted in Christ as savior and Lord, the Lord cannot dwell peacefully in a sinful temple. If in our hearts other idols are allowed to stand, the Lord will eventually topple them, and he will eventually discipline those He loves if they do not honor him as Lord, for the Lord reigns supreme over all the universe and He must reign supreme in our hearts as well.