In celebration of their apparent battlefield victory over Israel, the Philistines return to their city, the city of Ashdod. The “victory” of the recent battle with Israel had yielded the Ark of the Covenant as a spoil of war. Puffed up with the victory they bring the Ark into the temple of Dagon.
“Now the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the Ark of God and brought it to the house of Dagon and set it by Dagon” (1 Samuel 5:1-2).
The Ark, demonstrating the Presence of God, is placed in the Temple of Dagon, next to the god of the Philistines credited with the recent military conquest. In doing so it seems that the desire of the Philippines was to humiliate Yahweh in placing Him as captive or servant to the “superior” Dagon. But…
“When the Ashdodites arose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and set him in his place again” (verse 3).
As the Ashdodites enter into the temple at the time of worship the next morning, it is Dagon himself who is prostrate before the Ark, in a posture of worship, and submission. It was this silly little god, ascribed by the people to be so powerful who then needed to be placed back into right standing. But, again…
“But when they arose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. And the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off on the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him” (verse 4).
As a sign that the previous day’s event was not accidental, Dagon is found the following morning in the same position only this time decapitated, and hands removed in a fashion resembling gruesome military executions. Within the walls of his own temple, this silly little god had been humiliatingly “conquered” by the one true God. As a result, the Ashdodites, the Philistines, chose to avoid contact with the threshold of that temple.
“Therefore neither the priests of Dagon nor all who enter Dagon’s house tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day” (verse 5).
But, the Lord was not finished doling out His divine punishment…
“Now the hand of the LORD was heavy on the Ashdodites, and He ravaged them and smote them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territories. When the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, ‘The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for His hand is severe on us and on Dagon our god.’” (Verses 6-7).
Understanding the events to be divinely issued, they sought to rid themselves from the Presence of God, sending the Ark away to Gath, and then Ekron. But, the hand of God was heavy upon all those cities which would hold the Ark without right.
What is seen is that Israel’s God was never truly “captured”, rather, for His purposes He allows the Ark to be brought into the temple of a false god in order to reveal His unrivaled majesty.
This event may easily be taken as comedic, though it should not be. It is placed, I believe, within the walls of Scripture as a reminder of the great need to honor God. The Lord is a jealous God and does not take lightly any sort of behavior that would seek to deprecate His glory. As a cautionary reflection, I wonder, how many times do we attempt to place the God of all creation in subservience to the “divine” whims of our natures? How often we seek to bring the Presence of God into our temples of silly little gods.
Lord, forgive us!
May we place within the temples of our hearts the one and only, true God of an infinite glory, and only Him.
Lord, help us, we pray!