Ch. 5

 

 

THE ARK OF GOD IN PHILISTIA (vs. 1-12)

 

1 "And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer

unto Ashdod."  The Philistines took the ark of God. The silence of Scripture

is often as remarkable as what it tells us. From Psalm 78:60-64; Jeremiah 7:12;

26:9, we gather that from Aphek the Philistines marched upon Shiloh, and having

captured it, put all whom they found there to the sword, and leveled the buildings

to the ground. Especially their wrath fell upon the priests, in revenge for the

bringing of the ark to the camp, by which the war was made a religious one, and

the worst feelings of fanaticism aroused. Of all this the history says nothing, nor

of the measures taken by Samuel under these trying circumstances. From his

previous eminence, the government would naturally devolve upon him, especially

as Eli’s sons were both slain; and evidently he must have managed in some

way to save the sacred vessels of the sanctuary, and the numerous records

of the past history of the nation laid up at Shiloh. Whatever learning there

was in Israel had its seat there; it was probably the only school wherein

men were initiated in the knowledge brought out of Egypt; and it is one of

the worst and most barbarous results of war that it destroys so much

connected with human progress and civilization, overthrowing with its

violent hand as well the means of a nation’s culture as the results thereof.

Samuel evidently did all that was possible to counteract these evils; and as

the Philistine army withdrew into its own country immediately after the

destruction of Shiloh, probably to carry home the rich spoils obtained

there, he was apparently able to ward off the worst effects of the Philistine

invasion, and by rapidly reorganizing the government to save the people

from utter demoralization. But upon all this Scripture is silent, because it

concerns the history of Israel on its temporal side, and not as it exemplifies

God’s spiritual dealings with nations and men. From Eben-ezer (see on

ch. 4:1) unto Ashdod. This town, the Azotus of Acts 8:40,

was with Ekron and other Philistine cities, assigned to the tribe of Judah

(Joshua 15:47) but never actually conquered. It lay near the sea, about

thirty-two miles north of Gaza, and is now an unimportant village, still

bearing the name of Esdud. Of the five Philistine capitals Ashdod and Gaza

were of the most importance, as being the keys of Egypt, and the former

was also enriched by the sale of the produce of Arabia, of which it was the

emporium.

 

2 "When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of

Dagon, and set it by Dagon." When the Philistines, etc. The words are exactly the

same as those in v. 1, viz. “And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought

it,” marking the simplicity of ancient narrative. Dagon is derived by Philo

from dagan, “corn,” and is explained by him as an emblem of the earth’s

fertility; but as the shape of this national deity of the Philistines was

certainly that of a man to the waist, ending in the body and tail of a fish, the

true derivation is doubtless that from dag, “a fish.” It represented,

however, not so much the sea, on which the Philistines trafficked, as the

fruitfulness of water, which in the East is looked upon as the active

principle of life (compare Genesis 1:20). In one of the sculptures brought

from Khorsabad there is a representation of a battle between the Assyrians

and the inhabitants of the Syrian sea coast, and in it there is a figure, the

upper part of which is a bearded man with a crown, while from the waist

downwards it has the shape of a fish (Layard’sNineveh,’ 2:466).

Moreover, it is swimming in the sea, and is surrounded by a multitude of

marine creatures. Doubtless this figure represents Dagon, who,

nevertheless, is not to be regarded as a sea god, like Neptune; but as the

fish is the product of water, he is the symbol of nature’s reproductive

energy. Together with Dagon a female deity was commonly worshipped,

called Atergatis, half woman and half fish, whose temple is mentioned in

II Maccabees  12:26. In the margin there she is explained as being Venus; but

the ideas have only this in common — that Venus also, as rising out of the sea,

symbolizes life as springing out of water. As Dagon had a temple also at

Gaza (Judges 16:23), and at the other cities of Philistia (Jerome on

Isaiah 46:1), he was evidently the chief deity of the nation, and the

solemn depositing of the ark in his temple, and by Dagon, — literally, “at

his side,” — was intended as a public demonstration that the God of the

Israelites was inferior to, and had been vanquished by, the national deity of

the Philistines.

 

3 "And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold,

Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the

LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.

4 And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon

was fallen upon 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 upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him."

On the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face

to the earth before the ark of Jehovah. I.e. he was in the attitude of

adoration, and instead of triumphing over Jehovah, he was prostrate, as if

compelled to worship. But his priests perhaps thought that it was an

accident, and so they set the image in its place again. They also, we may be

sure, took due precaution against any one entering his temple by stealth;

but when early on the second morning they came with anxious minds to see

whether any new prodigy had happened, they found their god not only

prostrate, as before, but mutilated, and his head and both the palms of

his hands were cut off — not broken off by the fall of the image from its

place, but severed with deliberate care, and placed contemptuously upon

the threshold, i.e. upon the door sill, the place where all must tread. Only

Dagon was left to him. We cannot in English render the full

contemptuousness of this phrase, because Dagon is to us a mere proper

name, with no significance. In the original it conveys the idea that the head,

the emblem of reason, and the human hands, the emblems of intellectual

activity, were no real parts of Dagon, but falsely assumed by him; and,

deprived of them, he lay there in his true ugliness, a mere misshapen fish;

for dag, as we have seen, means a fish, and Dagon is here a diminutive of

contempt. In spite of his discomfiture the Philistines were true to their

allegiance to their god, because, believing as they did in “gods many,” he

was still their own national deity, even though he had been proved inferior

to the God of Israel, and would probably be rendered more particular and

exacting as regards the homage due to him from his own subjects by so

humiliating a defeat. For the gods of the heathen were jealous, fickle, and

very ill tempered if any slight was put upon them. After all, perhaps they

thought, he had done his best, and though worsted in the personal conflict,

he had managed so cleverly that they had gained in fair fight a great victory.

 

 

The Overthrow of Idolatry (v. 3)

 

“Behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the

Lord.” Idolatry still prevails over by far the larger portion of the earth. It is

an ancient, persistent, and enormous evil. And we, like Israel of old, are

called to be witnesses to the heathen of the living and true God; not,

indeed, by keeping outwardly separate from them, nor for that purpose,

and the preservation of the truth entrusted to us, by contending against

them with the sword; but by going into all the world, and preaching the

gospel to every creature. Our only weapons are those of truth,

righteousness, and love.

 

“Nor do we need

Beside the gospel other sword or shield

To aid us in the warfare for the faith.”

(Dante.)

 

When the ark was defended with carnal weapons, it was carried away by

the heathen, and placed in the temple of Dagon; but He whom the sacred

symbol represented smote the idol to the ground (vs. 1-5).  Wherever He

comes with the ark and the testimony, there He smites the idols to the

ground. Idolatry must fall where the gospel finds a place. Concerning

idolatry, notice:

 

  • THE NATURE OF THE EVIL.

 

Ø      False and unworthy conceptions of God. The instinct of worship was

possessed by the Philistines; but their worship was rendered to a monstrous

image, which was wholly destitute of, and opposed to, the perfections of

the true God. It is the same with other idolatrous nations. Of the

innumerable gods of India it has been said, “What a lie against His supreme

majesty!

 

o        Their number is a lie against His unity;

o        their corporeal nature is a lie against His pure, invisible spirituality;

o        their confined and local residence a lie against His omnipresence and

immensity;

o        their limited and subdivided departments of operation a lie against His

universal proprietorship and dominion;

o        their follies and weaknesses a lie against His infinite wisdom;

o        their defects, vices, and crimes a lie against His unsullied purity and

perfection.”

 

“Having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

 

Ø      Great corruption of life and manners; gross sensuality, incessant strife,

oppression, cruelty, etc. (Psalm 74:20). “The land is defiled, and

vomiteth out her inhabitants” (Leviticus 18:25).

 

Ø      A downward tendency towards still greater darkness, corruption, and

misery. The true evil of idolatry is this. There is one sole idea of God

which corresponds adequately to His whole nature. Of this idea two things

may be affirmed, the first being that it is the root of all absolute grandeur,

of all truth, and all moral perfections; the second, that, natural and easy as

it seems when once unfolded, it could only have been unfolded by

revelation; and to all eternity he that started with a false conception of God

could not through any effort of his own have exchanged it for the true one.

All idolatries alike, though not all in equal degrees, by intercepting the idea

of God through the prism of some representative creature that partially

resembles God, refract, and splinter, and distort that idea. And all

experience shows that the tendency of man, left to his own imaginations, is

downwards. Many things cheek and disturb this tendency for a time; but

finally, and under that intense civilization to which man intellectually is

always hurrying, under the eternal evolution of physical knowledge, such a

degradation of God’s idea, ruinous to the moral capacities of man, would

undoubtedly perfect itself, were it not for the kindling of a purer standard

by revelation. Idolatry, therefore, is not an evil, and one utterly beyond the

power of social institutions to redress; but, in fact, it is the fountain of all

other evil that seriously menaces the destiny of the human race” (De

Quincey, ‘Leaders in Lit.,’ p. 308).

 

  • THE MEANS OF ITS OVERTHROW.

 

Ø      The proclamation of Divine truth, of which the ark may be accounted a

symbol; the revelation of the righteous and merciful purposes of God

toward men in His Son Jesus Christ.

 

Ø      The operations of Divine providence, by which heathen lands are

rendered accessible, and their inhabitants disposed to pay attention to the

truth; not only those which are afflictive, but also those which are benign

(v. 6).

 

Ø      The influences of the Divine Spirit, by which false systems are shaken as

by a “mighty rushing wind,” and consumed as with fire, and lost souls are

enlightened, purified, and saved. “By my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts”

(Zechariah 4:6). He works in silence and secrecy; but the effects of His

working become manifest to all. The light of the morning reveals them.

 

  • THE CERTAINTY OF ITS DOOM; from:

 

Ø      The adaptation of the means.

 

Ø      2. The work which has been already accomplished, and which is an earnest

of and preparation for “greater things than these.”

 

Ø      3. The predictions of the word (Numbers 14:21; Isaiah 2:18;

        Jeremiah 10:11; Malachi 2:11).

 

 

Infatuation (v. 3)

 

  • OF THE HEATHEN. Samson, calling on the name of Jehovah God,

pulled down the temple of Dagon at Gaza, and showed the weakness of the

idol. When the Philistines got possession of the ark of Jehovah, they placed

it in another temple of Dagon at Ashdod, in order to re-establish the credit

of their god. Great must have been their chagrin when they found the god

of the victors prostrate before a sacred symbol connected with the God of

the vanquished. But it was no easy thing to break their confidence in their

own god. They set the idol up again, trying to persuade themselves,

perhaps, that the fall had been accidental. The restoration of Dagon,

however, only prepared for him and his worshippers a greater discomfiture.

As the Philistines would learn nothing from the humiliation of their god,

they had to behold with horror his mutilation and destruction. A plague fell

at the same time on the people of Ashdod, like the plague of boils that

smote the Egyptians in the days of Moses. They were filled with dismay,

yet they would not restore to its place in Shiloh that ark which, as they

owned, had brought such distress upon them (v. 7). They carried it from

city to city, though in each place the Lord punished them. For some

months they continued in this infatuated course. The lesson of the

weakness of their own gods they learned very slowly, very reluctantly;

indeed, they never turned from their idols. Dreading the judgments of

Jehovah, they at last sent back the ark to the land of Israel; but their minds

and hearts were not changed. All that they cared for was to be free of this

terrible ark, that they might cleave undisturbed to their own gods and their

own heathen usages.

 

  • OF UNGODLY MEN IN ALL NATIONS. An evil habit is reproved,

an error refuted, or a vain hope in religion exposed; yet men will not

abandon it. They have some excuse for it, and after it has been thrown

down they “set it up again in its place.” The lesson is repeated with

emphasis more than once, and yet it is not learned. Ungodly and self-willed

men fall on one excuse after another, rather than give up errors which suit

their minds and evils to which they are addicted. They have no objection to

keep religion as a talisman; but rather than be called to account concerning

it, or compelled to choose between it and their own devices, they will send

it away. They prefer even a weak Dagon, who lets them sin, to the holy

God, who requires his people to be holy too. The Philistines continued to

be heathens, notwithstanding the reproof and humiliation inflicted upon

them, just as the Egyptians remained in heathen blindness after all the

proofs given to them of the power of Jehovah over their gods and their

Pharaoh. Alas! many persons in Christendom have solemn reproofs from

God and exposures of their helplessness when He rises up to judgment, yet

never turn to Him. In their infatuation they first treat the ark with

disrespect, then send it away. They dismiss God from their thoughts, and

are as mad as ever on their idols.

 

This chapter, with the following, strikingly illustrates the non-missionary

character of the Old Dispensation. For centuries the Israelites were near

neighbors of the Philistines, and yet the Philistines had no particular

knowledge of the religion of the Israelites, and only a garbled and distorted

account of their history. This religious isolation was, no doubt, a part of

the Divine plan for the development of the theocratic kingdom; but if we

look for the natural causes, we shall find one in the narrowness of ancient

civilization, when the absence of means of social and literary

communication fostered mutual ignorance, and made sympathy almost

impossible; and another in the national local nature of the religion of Israel,

with its central sanctuary, and its whole system grounded in the past

history of the nation, thus presenting great obstacles to a foreigner who

wished to become a worshipper of Jehovah.

 

 

5 "Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into

Dagon’s house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day."

Henceforward, therefore, his priests and other worshippers

carefully abstained from treading on the door sill, where his nobler

members had lain, unto this day. Apparently the Books of Samuel were

written some time after the events recorded in them took place, and we

have remarkable evidence of the permanence of the custom in

Zephaniah 1:9, where the Philistines are described as “those that leap

on,” or more correctly over, “the threshold.” The custom, so curious in

itself and so long continued, bears strong testimony to the historical truth

of the narrative.

 

 

Foreshadowings (vs. 1-5)

 

The facts given are:

 

1. The Philistines, acting on polytheistic principles, place the ark in their

heathen temple, thus ascribing to it Divine honor, and yet indicating its

inferiority to Dagon.

2. During the night their god Dagon falls to the ground.

3. Supposing the fall to be the result of some unaccountable accident, they

replace their god, and on the next day find him even broken to pieces.

4. The event is memorialized by the establishment of a superstitious

custom. The supernatural and ordinary events connected with Israel’s

history have a prophetic significance for future ages. The record is “for our

admonition, on whom the ends of the world have come.”  (I Corinthians

10:11)  There is another bondage than that of Egypt, another conflict than that

of Dagon and the ark. Here are two powers in collision, and we have given us:

 

  • A FORESHADOWING OF THE FALL OF HEATHENISM.

 

Ø      The fact is established that heathenism is doomed to perish. The

occurrence in the house of Dagon is a single instance, in palpable form, of

what has taken place in many lands, and will recur till every idol is

abolished. No prediction in Scripture is more clear than that the day will

come when PAGANISM WILL CEASE TO EXIST!  (Psalm 2:8; Isaiah

2:18; 11:9). Events daily point on to it. Dagons fall in many lands. History is

really but the completion of processes set in operation by God in ages past.

Destruction is inherent in the essential falsehood of heathenism. The truth

of God cannot be converted into a permanent lie (Romans 1:25). It is a

mercy that God has so ordained things that ONLY TRUE WORSHIP

CAN ENDURE!

 

Ø      Heathenism is doomed to perish by contact with God’s truth. Dagon

might stand erect and receive the homage of men when he and they are left

to themselves; but in presence of the ark, the visible manifestation of God’s

will to the world, he must fall on his face to the earth. Doubtless corruption

in men, if left long enough on earth, WOULD CAUSE THEM TO

BECOME EXTINCT!  In the nature of things it tends to utter ruin of morals,

society, health, and life. (Just look at the United States and the World today!

CY - 2016)  It is the purpose of God to extinguish it without extinguishing

the race of men, and that too by HIS REVEALED TRUTH! . Events

prove that this has been the process. Britain ceased to be idolatrous when

the light of life came to her shores. Hence the missionary enterprise; hence

the need of “holding forth the word of life.”  (Philippians 2:16)

 

Ø      The downfall of heathenism is brought about by the secret, silent power

of God exercised through HIS TRUTH! There is suggestiveness in the hint

that the fall of Dagon occurred during the silence of night. The fall was

through the unseen power of God, operating by ways men could not trace,

and that revealed its existence in its effects. The conquests of the gospel are

instrumental. It is not history, though pure and impressive; nor precept

clear and useful; nor sublime thought for the intellect; nor mere influence of

character, though holy and elevating; but the quickening Spirit, who, in the

depths of human nature working by means of the instrument, turns men to

God. There is a profound secrecy and mystery in every soul’s regeneration.

 

Ø      The final down fall of heathenism by means of the truth is brought

about after repeated efforts to revive it. They placed Dagon on his seat

again, and rejoiced once more in his sufficiency; but the Unseen Power

wrought on with greater energy, till the head and hands, the seat and

instruments of power, were cut off. Beautifully does Scripture thus indicate

the ebbs and flows of the stream of truth in process of subjugating every

principality and power to Christ. (I Corinthians 15:24-28)  A thousand years

with God are as one day. (II Peter 3:8)  He gives free scope to men and

principles. Yet the truth will prevail until the earth is “filled with the

knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the deep.”  (Isaiah 11:9)

 

  • THE FRUSTRATION OF ALL EFFORTS TO DISHONOUR GOD’S

REVELATION OF HIMSELF. The placing of the ark in the presence of

Dagon was intended to indicate a belief in it as a power among men, but as

a power inferior to that exercised by the Philistines’ god. Jehovah was a

deity, but yet a conquered deity. Hence the glory due to Dagon. Now the

ark represented at that time the specific revelation which God had given for

bringing to pass His purpose in the deliverance of the world from the curse

of sin. The practical effect, therefore, of the Philistines’ conduct was to rob

revelation of its supremacy. The tendencies of human nature are constant;

and now that the full revelation has been given in Christianity, there is the

same effort to dishonur and discredit it before men by placing it in

unwarrantable positions.

 

Ø      The insult offered to Christianity. There are two forms of insult.

 

o        That offered by persons who simply recognize Christianity as one

among the many and equally authorized powers for promoting the good

of mankind. Human society is regarded as a whole, needing, for its

intellectual, moral, and material development, a wise use of various

educational appliances which God has provided. Religions, philosophies,

statecraft, productions of men of genius, are all of God, and equally

demand the respect and deference of men. An inspiration from the

Almighty runs through them all, since they are His agents. Hence

Christianity is just one of the religions of the world, doing its part in

common with them. As a philosophy it may have a place among other

systems. As useful in the management of peoples, statesmen may lay hold

of it in support of other agencies; Christ may adorn the Pantheon in

company with other heroes in thought and action.

 

o        That offered by persons who regard Christianity as a power inferior to

other agencies for influencing human destiny. There are few who would

esteem it inferior as a religion, when compared with prevailing forms in

non-Christian lands; but by some it is held to be inferior as compared with

a pure theism and the higher philosophies. Its supernaturalism is branded

as the crude product of unphilosophical minds. Its cardinal doctrine of

atonement is declared to be at variance with first principles in morality.

Unless divested of its outward garb, it is supposed to be unsuited to the

higher order of intellect. Its power as a supreme authority is said to be on

the wane, and pride is felt in placing its pretensions side by side with those

of the modern Dagon.

 

Ø      The rebuke of those who offer the insult. Without dwelling on the sure

disappointment and sorrow which come on those who dishonor

Christianity by regarding it as merely one of the various powers equally

deserving of respect, it may suffice to point out how:

 

o        Facts show that all systems in rivalry with Christianity lose their

vaunted pre-eminence; and this too, on the one hand, by the loss of their

influence, and on the other by the permanent and growing power of

Christianity. The wisdom of the Greek ceased to be a ruling force, while

the truth of Christ won for Him the Roman empire. The cold theism of the

eighteenth century sank into obscurity as the great evangelical impulse of

the Church of God developed its force. The men who pride themselves in

antagonism to Christ have never done anything to regenerate the savage,

or to make the dying-bed peaceful.

 

o        It is in the nature of the case that such a result should always ensue.

No other religion is so fully attested as Divine. Every other system partakes

of the imperfection of its authors; fails in motive power; is more of a

criticism on man and his position in the world than a solvent of the deep

spiritual cravings of the soul; and is liable to pass out of influence under the

analysis of succeeding minds. The policy that would suggest to a statesman

the use of Christianity as a tool for government thereby proves its moral

instability. The unseen power of the “jealous God” will work in silence,

and cause the “Name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9) to have

in all things the preeminence.’’  (Colossians 1:18)  A refuge of lies

means trouble and anguish.

 

6 "But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and He

destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the

coasts thereof."  But the hand of Jehovah was heavy upon them of Ashdod.

I.e. His power and might were exercised in smiting them with severe

plagues. A question here arises whether, as the Septuagint affirms, besides

the scourge of emerods, their land was desolated by swarms of field mice.

It is certain that they sent as votive offerings golden images of “the mice

that mar the land” (ch. 6:5); but the translators of the Septuagint

too often attempt to make all things easy by unauthorized additions,

suggested by the context; and so probably here it was the wish to explain

why mice were sent which made them add, “and mice were produced in the

land.” Really the mouse was a symbol of pestilence (Herod., 2:141), and

appears as such in hieroglyphics; and by sending golden mice with golden

emerods the lords of the Philistines expressed very clearly that the emerods

had been epidemic. This word, more correctly spelt haemorrhoids, has this

in its favor, that the noun used here, ophalim, is never read in the

synagogue. Wherever the word occurs the reader was instructed to say

tehorim, the vowels of which are actually attached to the consonants of

ophalim in the text of our Hebrew Bibles. In Deuteronomy 28:27

tehorim is mentioned as one of the loathsome skin diseases of Egypt, and

though rendered “emerods” in the Authorized Version, is possibly, as translated by

Aquila, “an eating ulcer.” Ophalim need only mean turnouts, swellings, its

original signification being “a hill” (II Chronicles 27:3); yet as the word

was not thought fit for public reading in the synagogue, we may feel sure

that it means some such tumors as the Authorized Version describes.

 

7 "And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark

of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for His hand is sore

upon us, and upon Dagon our god." His hand is sore upon us. The epidemic

was evidently very painful, and, as appears from v. 11, fatal in numerous

instances.  Connecting this outbreak with the prostrate condition and subsequent

mutilation of their god, the people of Ashdod recognized in their affliction

the hand, i.e. the power, of Jehovah, and determined to send away the

ark, the symbol of His ill-omened presence among them.

 

8 "They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines

unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of

Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be

carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of

Israel about thither." The lords of the Philistines. Philistia was governed by a

council of five princes, but whether they were elective or hereditary in the

several towns is by no means clear. They are called “seranim,” from seren,

a hinge,” just as the cardinals of the Church of Rome take their name from

the Latin word cardo, which has the same meaning. There is no ground for

connecting the word with sar, “a prince.” When Ewald did so he probably

forgot that the two words begin with different letters — seren with

samech, and sar with shin. Seranim is the word constantly used of the lords

of the Philistines (Joshua 13:3; Judges 3:3; 16:5, 8, etc.; I Chronicles 12:9),

though after being correctly so styled in ch. 29:2, they are popularly called

in vs. 3-4, 9, sarim, “princes.” Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about

unto Gath. Unwilling to part with so signal a proof of their victory, the lords of

the Philistines determine to remove the ark to another locality, but thereby only

made the miraculous nature of what was taking place more evident to all. Of Gath

but little is known; but Jerome describes it as still a large village in his days,

and as situated near the border of Judaea, on the road from Eleutheropolis to Gaza.

 

9 "And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the

LORD was against the city with a very great destruction: and he

smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in

their secret parts." And they had emerods in their secret parts. The verb used

here, sathar, is found in Hebrew only in this place, but is of common

occurrence in Syriac and Arabic. Its ordinary meaning in both these

languages is to “cover,” “conceal,” and the Authorized Version, taking it in this

sense, supposes that the boils were hidden, and translates as above. But the root

has a double meaning, and signifies also “to destroy,” though in this sense

the Arabic has a slight difference in spelling, namely, shatara instead of

satara. The old versions were evidently at a loss in understanding the

meaning, though their renderings are suggestive, except the Syriac, which

translates quite literally, but leaves thereby the difficulty untouched of the

twofold meaning of the word, and the Syro-Arabic lexicons are uncertain

which to choose. Some give, “and the emerods hid themselves in them,” in

the sense of gnawing and burrowing into the flesh, i.e. they became

cancerous. Others take the alternative sense, and render, “and the emerods

were burst upon them,” i.e. became fissured and rent, and turned into open

sores. Another translation has been proposed, namely, “the tumors or

emerods brake out upon them;” but as the verb, both in the Hebrew and

the Syriac, is passive, this rendering can scarcely be defended. Upon the

whole, the most probable sense is that the tumors buried themselves deep

in the flesh, and becoming thus incurable, ended in causing the death of the

sufferers.

 

 

The Ark among the Heathen (v. 1- ch. 6:9)

 

“And the ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven

months (ch. 6:1). The scene is now changed. Whilst there arises

in every household in Israel a cry of mourning for the dead, Shiloh is

ravaged and burnt with fire, and the yoke of oppression made heavier than

before, the hosts of the Philistines return to their own country elated with

victory. They carry with them the ark of the Lord, which had never before

been touched by unconsecrated hands, or for ages exposed to the gaze of

any but the priests; and the interest centers on the sacred symbol amidst its

new and strange surroundings. It is first of all taken to Ashdod, three miles

from the sea coast, the chief seat of the worship of Dagon, the national god

of the Philistines (I Chronicles 10:10); afterwards to Gath, ten miles

distant (the native place of Goliath, and twice the temporary residence of

David); and then to Ekron (ch. 7:14), the most northerly of their

cities. Although the other two cities of the Philistine Pentapolis, Gaza, the

scene of Samson’s death (Judges 16:21-30), and Askelon (ch. 31:10;

II Samuel 1:20), were deeply concerned in the events which attended its

presence (ch. 5:8; 6:17), it does not appear to have visited them.

 

1. The time of its abode among the Philistines was for them a time of

judgment. Although the ark when among the people of Israel seemed to be

abandoned by God and destitute of power, it was now defended by Him

and clothed with might. The difference arose from the different

circumstances in which it was placed; and in both cases it was shown that

the possession of institutions appointed by God does not profit those who

refuse to stand in a right relation to God Himself, but rather serves to

increase their condemnation. Judgment also is executed in many ways.

 

2. Judgment was mingled with mercy. The afflictions which they endured

were “less than their iniquity deserved” (Job 11:6), and were

established for the correction” (Habakkuk 1:12) of their sins and the

prevention of their ruin (Ezekiel 18:30). The God of Israel has supreme

dominion over the heathen, “chastises” them (Psalm 94:10) for their

good, and never leaves Himself “without witness” (Acts 14:17).

 

3. The design of the whole was the furtherance of the purpose for which

Israel was called, viz. to bear witness to the living and true God, and to

preserve His religion separate and distinct from the idolatry and superstition

of the heathen.

 

4. The effect of the display of His power in connection with the presence of

the ark among them appears here and in their subsequent history. Consider

these Philistines as:

 

  • TRIUMPHING IN THE CAPTURE OF THE ARK (vers. 1, 2). “They

brought it into the house (or temple) of Dagon, and set it by Dagon,” as a

trophy or a votive offering, ascribing their victory to him, and magnifying

him as superior to Jehovah. The process described by the Apostle Paul

(<450118>Romans 1:18-23) had taken place in them. Their worship was a nature

worship, joined with the embodiment of their “foolish” imaginations in an

image with which their god was identified. Dagon was “the god of natural

power — of all the life-giving forces of which water is the instrument; and

his fish-like body, with head and arms of man, would appear a striking

embodiment of his rule to those who dwelt near the sea.” When men have

fallen away from the knowledge of the true God they —

 

1. Do honour to a false god; impelled by the religiousness of their nature,

which will not let them rest without an object of worship.

 

2. Dishonour the true God, by declaring him inferior and subject to the

false, and by “despising his holy things.” The Philistines did not deny the

existence of Jehovah; they were willing to account him one among “lords

many and gods many,” and regarded him as having a local and limited

dominion. But the fundamental idea of the religion of Israel was that

Jehovah is God alone, and demands the supreme and entire affection of

man (<234208>Isaiah 42:8). “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” i.e. in

my presence.

 

3. Give glory to themselves; are proud and boastful of .their wisdom,

power, and success. Self is really the idol of all who forsake the Lord. But

the triumph of the ungodly is short.

 

  • SMITTEN BEFORE THE PRESENCE OF THE ARK (vers. 2-4).

Almost as soon as they obtained possession of it, the victory which they

thought they had obtained over him whose presence it represented was

turned into disastrous defeat.

 

Ø      Their god was cast down and broken in pieces.

 

o        Mysteriously. In the night.

o        Significantly. “Fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the

Lord,” as if in subjection, or rendering worship to the Lord of all.

o        Irresistibly. Unwilling to lay the lesson to heart, they set him in his

place again, but only to prove that their efforts on his behalf were abortive

(Isaiah 45:9).

o        More and more signally. Their very efforts affording occasion for a

greater manifestation of Divine power, and one which could not be, as the

first may possibly have been, attributed to accident. “The face, as a sign of

its worthless glory and vain beauty, struck down to the earth; the head

also, as the seat of the wisdom which is alienated from God and opposed

to God; the hands, as a symbol of the powers of darkness which work

therein, cut off” (Lange).

o        Contemptuously. “Upon the threshold,” as if fit only to be trodden

under foot, Such, however was the blindness of his votaries, that they

henceforth accounted the spot as peculiarly sacred (v. 3).

o        Completely. “Only the fish stump was left.” “Thus the kingdom of

Satan will certainly fall before the kingdom of Christ, error before

 truth, profaneness before godliness, corruption before grace

in the hearts of the faithful.”

 

Ø      Their sustenance was wasted and destroyed (v. 6; ch. 6:4-5). “Mice were

produced in the land, and there arose a great and deadly confusion in the

city(Septuagint). The cornfields, the chief means of their subsistence and

the source of their prosperity, rendered fertile, as they deemed, by the

power and favor of Dagon, were wasted by a plague of field mice (not

unknown in the history of other lands) under the special arrangement of

Divine providence, that they might learn the vanity of their idol and the

supremacy of Jehovah.

 

Ø      Their persons were afflicted with disease. “The hand of the Lord was

heavy upon them of Ashdod and “the coasts (territory) thereof,” and

smote them with emerods (vs. 9, 12; either boils or hemorrhoids,

bleeding piles — Psalm 78:66).

 

o        Painful.

o        Reproachful, because of the moral corruption sanctioned in connection

with idolatrous worship (Romans 1:24-32).

o        Instructive — concerning the self-control and moral purity which the

true God requires in men. These things were adapted to show:

§         the folly of idolatry,

§         the majesty of God, and

§         the necessity of humiliation before Him.

Nor were they wholly without effect.

 

  • INSPIRED WITH DREAD OF THE ARK (v. 7), for such was

evidently the prevailing feeling of the men of Ashdod, and of others

subsequently, as more fully expressed in vs. 11-12. They attributed their

afflictions to its presence — “His hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon

our god;” and feared a continuance of them. Hence they wished to get rid

of it, as the Gergesenes desired Jesus to “depart out of their coasts”

(Matthew 8:34).

 

Ø      The religion of the heathen is a religion of fear.

 

Ø      The fear of man in the presence of the supernatural bears witness to the

sinfulness of his nature, or of his disturbed relations with the Divine.

 

Ø      It springs from a conviction or instinct of retribution, which, however, is

often mistaken in its applications.

 

Ø      A servile, selfish fear drives away the soul from God instead of drawing

it near to Him, and is contrary to the reverential, filial fear in which true

religion has its root (II Timothy 1:7).

 

  • STRIVING FOR THE RETENTION OF THE ARK (vs. 8-12). The

effect of their sufferings on the people of Ashdod was to lead them to

resolve, “The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us;” but its

removal was deemed a matter of such importance that they called a council

of the lords (or princes) of the confederacy to determine what should be

done with it. Whilst they may have felt toward Jehovah a like fear to that

with which they regarded Dagon, they were unwilling to render honor to

Him by “letting it go again to its own place” (v. 11), still less to renounce

their idolatry. They wished to retain the ark for their own honor and

glory; and so indisposed were they to desist from their attempt, and

acknowledge their fault, that even their own priests found it necessary to

admonish them against “hardening their hearts as the Egyptians and

Pharaoh” (v. 6; ch.  4:8). They sought to effect their purpose by

sending it to Gath; and it was only when both Gath and Ekron were still

more severely afflicted than Ashdod, many died, and the cry of distress

went up to heaven” (v. 12), that in a second council they consented to

let it go.

 

Ø      The devices of men against the Lord are foolish and vain (Proverbs 21:30).

 

Ø      Their continued resistance to His will causes increased misery to

themselves and others.

 

Ø      Their efforts against Him afford opportunities for a wider and more

signal display of His power.

 

Ø      What they are unwilling to do in the beginning they are, after much

suffering, constrained to do in the end.

 

  • INQUIRING ABOUT THE RETURN OF THE ARK (ch. 6:2-9).

The Philistine princes, having resolved to send it back, called “the

priests and soothsayers” together, to show them in what manner it should

be done; and the answer they received, though not unmingled with the

caution generally exhibited by heathen priests, was wise and good.

 

Ø      Men in all ages have had need of special guidance in Divine things.

The very existence of a priesthood is a confession of such need.

 

Ø      Conviction often forces itself upon the most reluctant.

 

Ø      There is in men generally a deep feeling of the necessity of a propitiatory

offering in order to avert Divine wrath — “trespass offering” (ibid. v. 3).

 

Ø      Even the light which shines upon the heathen indicates the need of the

higher light of revelation. Their wisest advisers exhibit uncertainty and

doubt (ibid. vs. 5, 9).

 

  • RENDERING HOMAGE TO THE GOD OF THE ARK.

 

Ø      By sending it back to its own place.

 

Ø      By the open acknowledgment of their transgression in the trespass

offerings they present on behalf of the whole nation. “Give glory unto the

God of Israel (ibid. v. 5).

 

Ø      By providing the most appropriate and worthy means of making their

offerings. “A new cart” (II Samuel 6:3). “Two milch kine on which

there hath come no yoke” (Numbers 19:2).

 

Ø      By the humble attendance of their chief men (vs. 12, 16).

 

Ø      By confessing the incompatibility of the worship of Jehovah with the

worship of Dagon. “And from this time we hear no more of the attempts of

the Gentile nations to join any part of the Jewish worship with their own”

(Warburton). Imperfect as their homage was, it was not unacceptable to

Him “who is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and of great

kindness, and repents Him of the evil” (Jonah 4:2; Acts 17:27, 30).

 

  • PERSISTING IN THEIR ATTACHMENT TO IDOLS.  We know

not all the beneficial effect of the presence of the ark among them, in

restraining them from evil and inciting them to good; but we know that:

 

Ø      They did not renounce their idolatry.

Ø      They did not cease from their oppression of Israel. And,

Ø      They were not permanently deterred from making fresh attacks upon

them (ch. 7:7), and by their opposition to the God of Israel “bringing

upon themselves swift destruction.”  (II Peter 2:1)

 

10 "Therefore they sent the ark of God to Ekron. And it came to pass,

as the ark of God came to Ekron, that the Ekronites cried out,

saying, They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us,

to slay us and our people.  11 So they sent and gathered together all the

lords of the Philistines, and said, Send away the ark of the God of Israel,

and let it go again to his own place, that it slay us not, and our people: for

there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God 

was very heavy there."  The Ekronites cried out. Convinced by this second

and more fatal plague that the ark was the cause of their punishment, the

people of Ekron, when it was passed on to them from Gath, protested

loudly against its presence. Compelled to receive it until the lords of the

Philistines could be convened in council to decide upon its ultimate

destination, the plague broke out so heavily among them that they were in

utter dismay. For the rendering deadly destruction is untenable. Literally

the words are, “a dismay of death;” but in Hebrew death added to a word

of this sort simply means “very great.” So “terrors of death” in Psalm

55:4 are very great terrors. In the next verse we learn that many did die,

but the words used here describe the mental agony and despair of the

people as they saw the ark, which had wrought elsewhere so great misery,

brought unto them.

 

12 "And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods: and the

cry of the city went up to heaven."  The cry of the city went up to heaven.

Not the word used in v. 10, where it is an outcry of indignation, but a cry for

help, a cry of sorrow and distress. Though in v. 10 Ekronites is in the plural,

yet in all that follows the singular is used. “They have brought about the ark to

me, to slay me and my people… That it slay me not and my people.” It is the

prince of Ekron who, as the representative of the people, expostulates with

his fellow rulers for the wrong they are doing him. But finally all join in his

lamentation, and the whole city, smitten by God’s hand sends up its prayer

to heaven for mercy.

 

 

 

Coercive Providences (vs. 6-12)

 

The facts given are:

 

1. God visits the men of Ashdod with severe affliction.

2. In their perplexity they remove the ark to another locality.

3. The device proving a failure, and the men of Ekron refusing to receive

the unwelcome symbol, a council of authorities decides to return it to

Israel.

 

Providence had so ordered events for high moral ends as to bring the ark into

captivity. The influences were at work in Israel to issue in the result desired.

Hence there arose a need for a turn in the course of Providence.

 

  • THE NEED FOR COERCIVE PROVIDENCES ARISES CHIEFLY

FROM TWO CAUSES.

 

Ø      Imperfect acquaintance with the Divine will. These men had some

knowledge of the Divine power in the ark, but could not learn the precise

will of the strange god. One of the first things, therefore, is to prompt to an

inquiry as to what is desired. But man, especially when grossly ignorant, is

indisposed to search for light, and cannot bear very clear light. If men will

not act because they do not know, they must be aroused to learn, or to do

without knowing; for God’s great ways must not be barred and blocked by

man.

 

Ø      Unwillingness to be convinced of the Divine will. The fall of Dagon on

the first night aroused the thought of a superior power, and the danger of

keeping it from its natural place. This first gleam of light was extinguished

by a new trial of Dagon’s power to stand. A second failure brought more

light, but the expedient of change of abode was adopted to evade the new

and clearer suggestion. Men often do not like to know the path of duty.

There is much ingenuity spent in evading the force of DIVINE TEACHING!

 If they will not follow increasing light when their doing so is necessary to the

realization of a Divine purpose, pressure must be brought to bear. Pharaoh,

Balaam, and Jonah are instances of this.

 

  • THE KIND OF COERCION EMPLOYED WILL DEPEND ON THE

MENTAL AND SOCIAL CONDITION OF THE PEOPLE. Men are

influenced strongly by events which touch their interests, and which come

in such shape as to be adapted to their ordinary modes of thought and

views of things. The people of Ashdod were highly susceptible to religious

impressions, and their religious associations were entirely with the honor

of their god. Philosophical arguments and high-toned reasons suited to

pure Hebraism or Christianity would not have touched them. Moreover, by

education and inheritance they were governed by the habit of associating

bodily sufferings, when great, with a positive Divine purpose. Now, God

governs men according to their capabilities, and reveals His will in ways

conformable to their ruling ideas. Whether by miracle or natural

coincidences, there is always adaptation to the minds to be influenced. This

principle solves many events in Old Testament history, and shows the

perfect reasonableness and even propriety of the pressure brought to bear

on the benighted Philistines. God fits every rod to the back of the fools He

smites, and speaks to every ear in accents suited to its delicacy or obtuseness.

 

  • THE COERCION IS PROGRESSIVE IN INTENSITY. The select

body of priests of Dagon first feel the hand of God, then the people as

individuals, and then the entire community as such. Also, there was first a

rude blow to the religious prejudices of the priestly body, and through

them of the people; then an assault on the physical condition of multitudes;

and finally a disastrous blow on the prosperity of the state. Men will

answer religious arguments by religious arguments, and evade truth if

possible; but touch their bodies and their fields, and some earnest inquiry as

to the cause and intent will be evoked. Especially does material disaster

induce effort to learn the truth when authorities are compelled to deliberate

on possible remedies. In national providences the pressure at last reaches

the rulers.

 

  • GENERAL LESSONS:

 

Ø      God uses pressure on each of us when our inclination runs against our

true interest and his glory. Lot was led urgently out of Sodom.

 

Ø      The pressure used never crushes the will, but develops thought, and

opens out lines of conduct for adoption.

 

Ø      It is important to study the meaning of events in our lives which are

inevitable and disagreeable.

 

Ø      The coercive action of Providence will become less or more according

as we turn from sin or harden our hearts. “The way of transgressors is

hard.”  (Proverbs 13:15)

 

 

 

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