THE BOOK OF 1 SAMUEL
Idols groveling before the Lord
1 Samuel 5:1-7 SCC 10/26/14
This passage represents the centuries old differences between polytheism vs. exclusive worship of a deity. Today modern paganism, gaining a huge global foothold, especially since the 70’s with the rise of feminism, drug culture, inclusiveness, gender expression, environmentalism, occultism, sexual orientation, religious diversity, pluralism, and interfaith initiatives, represents the modern version of polytheism and its strands of initiation. Christianity represents exclusive biblical worship of the God of a face value, reasonably literal reading of the Bible. We can watch how God reacts to the pagan polytheistic version of worship then, now, and in the future.
POLYTHEISTIC WORSHIP IS WORSHIP OF REPLICAS OF GOD IMAGINED TO BE REAL 5:1-5
1. Having captured the ark, the Philistines brought it from Ebenezer to their main city, Ashdod, which stood about 30 miles to the southwest and three miles from the Mediterranean coast v 1. Dagon was the principle deity of the Philistines. From a merely human point of view, it looks as though the Philistines are holding God hostage. From the perspective of the Israelites, the anguish of Eli, his dying daughter-in-law, and other Israelites at the capture of the Ark, is understandable chp 4. But Israel’s God is not an idol. He does not have a need for men to carry Him about.
2. In their minds, defeating the Israelites and capturing the Ark was defeating God. The Philistines carry the Ark of God into the house of one of their principle gods, Dagon. Here, placed before Dagon in some symbolically subordinate position, is the Ark of God v 2. Dagon now prevails over God as the Philistines prevailed over Israel but they are in for a rude awakening. What a shock early the next morning when people arrive to praise and worship their god, Dagon, for the victory it has given over Israel. There, in its own temple, their idol lies prostrate in the dirt before the Ark of God v 3.
3. When they arrive early the following morning, things are even more distressful. Dagon has fallen before God once again, but this time its hands and head are broken off as the idol strikes the threshold. The symbol of Dagon toppled again before the ark, the symbol of the Lord with Dagon beheaded, suggestive of his sovereign control, and his palms, suggesting his power, are each broken off v 4. He is impotent.
4. The breaking of Dagon’s head and hands on the threshold of his temple rendered the threshold especially sacred v 5. From then on the pagan priests superstitiously regarded the threshold as holy. This incident involving Dagon made the threshold to his sanctuary even more sacred. This is another ironical testimony to the utter folly of idolatry and to the Lord’s sovereignty. It’s sacred even though Dagon was beheaded—an obvious testimony to his imagined reality. The Ark of God is not an idol. The Ark of God is not Israel’s God. The Ark is a symbol of God’s presence among His people. It plays an important role in Israel’s worship but it is not an idol. Dagon is an idol simply fashioned to be their god.
NB: Pagans will defiantly worship their Gods in contradiction to the evidence of their imagined reality.
The writer clarified that the Philistines regarded the fact that the image representing Dagon had fallen on its face before the ark as indicating the Lord’s superiority. Falling on one’s face was a posture associated with worship. The fact that the Philistines had to reposition the idol is another allusion to Dagon’s inferiority. He could not act on his own. Later Goliath, the Philistine champion, would also fall on his face before David, the Lord’s champion 17:49.
GOD’S POWERFUL HAND, EVIDENCE OF EXCLUSIVE SUPERIORITY, MAKES HIM WORTHY OF ONE’S WORSHIP 5:6-12
1. God afflicted the Philistines with tumors, swellings caused by new tissue growth. This was the conclusion of Ashdod’s leaders who attributed their recent calamities to the Lord v 6. Evidently the men of Ashdod believed that it was particularly with their city that the Lord felt displeasure. The Philistine leaders know that the plague the Ashdodites are suffering is due to the presence of the Ark of God in their midst. They also know it is the hand of God heavily upon them and surmise their territory is threatened with this presence. He is judging them and their “god,” Dagon.
2. Consequently, they reason that the only way to be rid of the plague is to be rid of the Ark. The leaders reach a political decision: send the Ark of God on to Gath, the next major Philistine city. The implied result is a cessation of the plague at Ashdod. Sending the Ark to Gath is followed by an outbreak of the plague in and around the city of Gath. The plague follows the Ark v 7-8. Dagon could not prevent the tumors and death with which the Lord afflicted the Philistines. The “Hand of the Lord’ was against the city with very great confusion. Tumors broke out among the people v 9.
3. The people of Ekron feel much more strongly about being selected to receive the Ark of God next v 10. It becomes obvious that if no Philistine city will take the Ark, then it will have to be sent back from whence it came. Ekron stood about six miles north of Gath. The reputation of the ark preceded it to that town, and its residents did not welcome it as a trophy of war. They saw it instead as a divine instrument of death v 11. The Philistines repeatedly were forced to acknowledge the Lord’s superior power over themselves and Dagon. This is another testimony to the Lord’s sovereignty in the narrative.
4. The conclusion is to return to Ark or the warriors and the people of Philistia could expect death v 11. In other words, it would be hopeless for them. Neither could their god protect them. They know that the Ark means trouble, and that this trouble is God’s judgment upon them and their “god,” Dagon. What they do not do is reject their heathen idolatry and their impotent “god.” Neither do they trust in the God of Israel and worship Him. They simply want God to “get out of their town.”
PT: The people who lived in the country of the Geresenes, as described in Mark 5 had a similar response when Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee and casts the demon from the dreaded and powerful demoniac. The people of that place are terrified. They ask Jesus to leave town as soon as possible. They do not want one this good and this powerful among them. He is too threatening. The Ark of God is too holy and too hot to handle, and they want only to be rid of it.
5. The cry that went up to heaven from Philistia v 12 recalls the death cry that went up to heaven earlier from Egypt when God afflicted that enemy. Through the seven months that the ark was in Philistia 6:1 the Philistines learned the Lord is the sovereign God. Yet they refused to bow before Him and so experienced death, though the Lord mixed mercy with judgment and did not kill all the Philistines v 12.
1. The consistent testimony of scripture is of a God who demands exclusive devotion. This God will not tolerate facsimiles created in the minds of belligerent, rebellious, stubborn, unbelieving people.
2. Unbelievers will defiantly have their gods rejecting the evidence in nature, in conscience, in science, in history, and in revelation otherwise. Just like the ancient Philistines, the modern pagans manufacture an alternate reality to justify their polytheism (co-opting morality, sexuality, science, history, shaping culture based on their own presuppositions of reality).
3. Both the Israelites and the Philistines tend to take the Ark too lightly. They have no appreciation for the holiness of God and these sacred objects. Both tend to look upon the Ark as an idol. Both seek to control God, rather than to trust in Him and obey His commands.
4. The Philistines appear to be scientific, but they do not want to go where the evidence points. When all the evidence points to Israel’s God being alive, all-powerful, and actively engaged in caring for His people, the Philistines nevertheless choose to “send God out of town,” and at the same time, continue to serve their dead, broken-down “god,” Dagon. They prop him up, glue him back together, and even sanctify the threshold on which he comes apart, but they will not forsake him as a dead idol to worship and serve the living God.
5. In the end you cannot control or resist His will. We cannot manipulate God. We must follow Him rather than expecting Him to follow us. Had the Israelites learned this lesson they probably would not have demanded a king like the other nations but waited for Him to provide His choice for them.
6. God does not need defending. He desires proclaiming and witnessing and testifying. God can defend Himself. We proclaim Him and see who responds.