The year 1122 BC did not close well for the people of Israel. The last chapter detailed how the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant was captured, how Eli the high priest died, and how the town of Shiloh was apparently brought to ruin. But the Lord’s glory was not to be weakened simply because the Ark of the Covenant had been taken by the enemy! Jehovah speedily taught the idolators of Philistia that His power remained undiminished, and that their idols were utter vanity!
When the Philistines took the Ark of God back to their own country, it was first taken to the city of Ashdod. In this place, there stood a famous temple for their idol Dagon – a “god” that was in the form of half-fish and half-man. During the night, the image of the idol fell prostrate before the Ark of Jehovah, which had been placed near it. The people stood the image upright again; but on the following night, the idol had again fallen on its face. And this time, it was also broken in pieces. Its head and hands were found upon the threshold of the building, which the Philstines superstitiously regarded as a spot too sacred to tread upon from that time forward.
See the triumph of the Lord over Dagon! Thus the kingdom of Satan will most assuredly fall before the kingdom of our Lord Jesus! Error will be struck down before truth, profaneness before godliness, and corruption before grace in the hearts of the faithful. When the cause of Christ seems to be ready to sink forever – even then, we may be confident that the day of its triumph will come! When Jesus – the true Ark of the Covenant – enters the hearts of fallen human beings (which have been taken by Satan as his temple), all idols therein will fall! And every endeavor to set them up again will be in vain. Sin will be forsaken, unrighteous gain will be restored, and the Lord will claim and possess the throne of the heart. But alas! Pride, self-love, and worldly lusts – although they are dethroned and crucified – still remain within us, like the stump of the idol Dagon. Let us watch and pray that they may not prevail over us! Let us seek to have them more and more destroyed, until that happy and blissful day comes when we will be forever and entirely freed from the powers of sin and Satan!
The lesson that was taught by the fall of Dagon was understood by the Philistines, but it was followed by a judgment from the Lord that was even more severe. The men of the city of Ashdod were struck with a painful disease. However, the Philistine lords were unwilling to part with the trophy that they had taken from the Israelites; and so they sent the Ark to the city of Gath – hoping that the supposed “territorial power” of Israel’s God might not reach that far. But the same affliction fell upon the inhabitants of Gath as well. So the Ark was sent on to the city of Ekron, where it excited alarm – which was soon justified as they, too, were smitten with the disease.
Seven months of this suffering and humiliation made the haughty captors of the Ark only too desirous of being delivered from the dreaded symbol of Jehovah’s power and presence. The hand of the Lord was heavy indeed upon the Philistines; He not only convinced them of their folly, but He also severely chastised them for their insolence. Yet the Philistines would not renounce Dagon; and instead of seeking God’s mercy, they desired to get rid of His Ark. When carnal and unregenerated hearts smart under the judgments of God, they would rather (if possible) put Him far away from them, instead of entering into covenant with Him and seeking Him for their Friend. But their attempts to escape Divine judgments only increase them. Those who fight against God will soon have enough of doing so!
As we read this chapter, we are taught that there is woe to the oppressor when our God arises to judgment! Secret punishments will be their lot in this life, and an open display of His anger will be given them for all eternity. But on the other hand, how very precious it is for us to observe the attention which God has over His own cause! Although the nation of Israel had sunk so low and lethargic that they did not even try any attempt of recovering the Ark, yet the Lord was jealous of His own honor. And do we not see a sweet instruction veiled under this? Poor sinners are bound in Satan’s chains, and they have fallen asleep and are unconscious of their impending ruin. However, when they neither send forth a cry for help, nor are aware that they even need help – it is then that the eye of Jesus is upon them! He Himself undertakes their cause and graciously goes forth to deliver them from their captivity.
Lord, You are the one and only God, Who will not share Your glory and Your honor with any other. We repent of times when we have been guilty of setting up idols in our own hearts, in opposition to You. But we thank You that our Savior’s eye is upon us poor captive sinners – even when we are unconscious of our impending ruin – and that He works out our deliverance. We also pray for those who are still like the unregenerated Philistines, who fight against You to their own destruction. Let Your judgments cause them to seek You as their Friend, instead of attempting to put You far away from them! Amen.
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illustration by Charles Foster, 1873 | Wikimedia Commons