1 "And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer
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
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
the past history of the nation laid up at
were initiated in the knowledge brought out 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
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
God’s spiritual dealings with nations and men. From Eben-ezer (see on
with Ekron and other Philistine cities, assigned to
the tribe of
(Joshua 15:47) but never actually conquered. It lay near the sea, about
thirty-two miles north of
bearing the name of Esdud. Of the five
were of the most importance, as being the keys of
also enriched by the sale of the produce of
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’s
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
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
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
3 "And when they of
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
ancient, persistent, and enormous evil. And we, like
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.”
When the ark was defended with carnal weapons, it was carried away by
heathen, and placed in the
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
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
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
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
“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).
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
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.
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)
pulled down the
idol. When the Philistines got possession of the ark of Jehovah, they placed
it in another
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
smote the Egyptians in the days of Moses. They were filled with dismay,
yet they would not restore to its place in
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
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.
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
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
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
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
There is another bondage than that of
of Dagon and the ark. Here are two powers in collision, and we have given us:
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
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
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
that this has been the process.
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)
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
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
of Christ won for Him the
eighteenth century sank into obscurity as the great evangelical impulse of
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
destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even
coasts thereof." But the hand of Jehovah was heavy upon them
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
though rendered “emerods” in the Authorized Version, is possibly, as translated by
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 the God of
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
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
carried about unto
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
vs. 3-4, 9, sarim, “princes.” Let the ark of the God 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
but little is known; but Jerome describes it as still a large village in his days,
as situated near the border of Judaea, on the road
from Eleutheropolis to
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
“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
every household in
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
and strange surroundings. It is first of all taken to
from the sea coast, the chief seat of the worship of Dagon, the national god
the Philistines (I Chronicles 10:10); afterwards to
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,
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
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:
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
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
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.
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
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
“smote them with emerods” (vs. 9, 12; either boils or hemorrhoids,
bleeding piles — Psalm 78:66).
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.
evidently the prevailing feeling of the men of
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”
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).
effect of their sufferings on the people of
resolve, “The ark of the God of
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
more severely afflicted than
“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.
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).
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
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).
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.
They did not cease
from their oppression of
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
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
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
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
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
captivity. The influences were at work in
Hence there arose a need for a turn in the course of
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
The coercive action of
as we turn from sin or harden our hearts. “The way of transgressors is
hard.” (Proverbs 13:15)
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