God taught His enemies to fear Him, but He also listened to their prayers for mercy.
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1 Samuel 5 (ESV)
1 When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod.
2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon.
3 And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord.
So they took Dagon and put him back in his place.
4 But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord,
and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold.
Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.
5 This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.
6 The hand of the Lord was heavy against the people of Ashdod,
and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory.
7 And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said,
“The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us,
for his hand is hard against us and against Dagon our god.”
8 So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said,
“What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?”
They answered, “Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought around to Gath.”
So they brought the ark of the God of Israel there.
9 But after they had brought it around,
the hand of the Lord was against the city,
causing a very great panic,
and he afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them.
10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron.
But as soon as the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out,
“They have brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people.”
11 They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said,
“Send away the ark of the God of Israel,
and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.”
For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city.
The hand of God was very heavy there.
12 The men who did not die were struck with tumors,
and the cry of the city went up to heaven.
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1 Samuel 5 Summary
The Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant after the Israelites had hauled it into battle as if it were some sort of good luck charm. The Philistines set the Ark up in the temple of their god, Dagon.
John Walton explains why in the IVP Bible Background Commentary:
The ark would have been placed in the temple to indicate that Yahweh, Israel’s God, was a defeated prisoner of Dagon. His inferiority had been demonstrated on the battlefield, and his subordination was represented in his humble servitude before his master Dagon.
The Philistines likely believed that continuing opportunities for humiliation would result.
Ironically, it's Dagon, not the Lord, that suffers humiliation, and each city that the Ark gets pawned off on suffers tremendously.
The chapter ends on an interesting note:
...the outcry of the city went up to heaven (v12)
The Philistines are the arch enemy of God's chosen covenant people, but isn't it amazing that God hears their cries for mercy as well!
God is not a god that can be kept.
Yesterday we read about the punishment that Israel suffered for attempting to use God like a genie in a bottle, and now today those who attempted to raise their own truth above God were so quickly humbled.
One of the most repeated imperatives in the Bible is that people are to fear God. The Philistines certainly demonstrated a proper fear of God as they passed the Ark around from city to city until the whole land was filled with panic (v11), but unfortunately they responded to this fear completely wrong. Rather than seeking to eliminate God's presence from their lives altogether, they should have humbled themselves before Him and asked to be included in His covenant blessing.
Passages like this are good to remind us of the absolute holiness of God, which very much ought to evoke a sense of fear, terror and dread in you as it did the Philistines.
But instead of making futile attempts to eliminate God's presence in your life, be sure to come to Him in humility, clinging to the cross of Christ, because in doing so you will experience His peace (Romans 5:1).
ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: All people and their contrived deities will bow down before our Father, the Lord God Almighty.
ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Humble yourself before God and pray for His continued grace in your life.
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: