My first blog from First Samuel is on a story that I had forgotten about… But as I read through it, vague memories from my childhood returned to me regarding this story… Once again, the narrative is rather long (seems like my Friday blogs have been running long a lot lately), so I’m jumping right in…
When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place (I Sam 5:1-3 ESV).
The Ark of God would not be a blessing to unrepentant Israel, but it would be a curse to the mocking Philistines. The Philistines, knowing not a thing about the Ways of God nor caring, automatically thought that Israel was defeated because their god Dagon was more powerful than Israel’s God, Who was represented by the Ark.
But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (I Cor 2:14 KJV).
By putting the Ark of the Covenant by their fish-god Dagon, the Philistines were intending a public demonstration that the God of the Israelites was inferior to, and had been vanquished by, the national deity of the Philistines. The temple of Dagon, their national god, was at Ashdod, and their “god” falling over was Jehovah God telling the Philistines, in effect, “every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess” (Rom 14:11) that no other god stands in the Presence of the One True God. All other religions and spiritualties really have no god at all, and simply represent, worship, and serve demon spirits.
But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the lead of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. This is why the priest of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day (I Sam 5:4-5 ESV).
By severing the head and the hands of Dagon, Jehovah God was telling the Philistines that their god had no power against Him.
The hand of the LORD was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory. And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for his hand is hard against Dagon our god” (I Sam 5:6-7 ESV).
George Williams writes: “It is not at all a pleasant thing for the people of this world to have God in their midst. He keeps up a perpetual controversy with their sins and their idolatries; and as the Philistines were not willing to become His People, they determined that the best thing they could do was to get rid of Him.”
So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” They answered, “Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought around to Gath.” So brought the ark of the God of Israel there. But after they had brought it around, the hand of the LORD was against the city, causing a very great panic, and he afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them (I Sam 5:8-9 ESV).
In their superstition, the Philistines thought that a change of cities might solve their problems.
So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. But as soon as the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron fried out, “They have brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people.” They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.” For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there. The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven (I Sam 5:10-12 ESV).
The Philistines saw the great Power of Jehovah God but still would not yield to Him. Their only thought was, “Get rid of that Ark!” Many men were dying of these tumors, which appear to have buried themselves deep in the flesh.
The ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months. And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us with what we shall send it to its place.” They said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why his hand does not turn away from you” (I Sam 6:1-3 ESV).
When God evidenced His might Power before the Philistines, they were convinced, but not converted. They still wanted to hold on to their old spiritualties and pagan worship. And some were even still trying to convince themselves that their problems were not due to the Ark of God in their midst.
And they said, “What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?” They answered, “Five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines, for the same plague was on all of you and on your lords. So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you and your gods and your land. Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them did they not send the people away, and they departed? (I Sam 6:4-6 ESV).
Thinking that the giving of these images to the LORD would give Him glory indicated that the pagan priests and diviners were ignorant of the Holy God as well. They did not know God, nor anything about His Ways.
Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. And take the ark of the LORD and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way and watch. If it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth-shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm, but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it happened to us by coincidence” (I Sam 6:7-9 ESV).
Even though they knew that it was the stubbornness of the Egyptians which made their punishment so severe, they still would not recognize Jehovah God as the One True God.
The men did so, and took two milk cows and yokes them to the cart and shut up their calves at home. And they put the ark of the LORD on the cart and the box with the golden mice and the images of their tumors. And the cows went straight in the direction of Beth-shemesh along one highway, lowing as they went. They turned neither to the right nor to the left, and the lords of the Philistines went after them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh. Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. And when they lifted up their eyes and saw the ark, they rejoiced to see it (I Sam 6:10-13 ESV).
The separation of the cows from their calves was for the purpose of demonstrating whether the plague was supernatural after all. If the cows acted in a manner contrary to nature, their doubt would be removed. When the cows left their calves, going straight toward Beth-shemesh, it proved to the Philistines beyond any doubt that all of this was of the LORD.
The cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh and stopped there. A great stone was there. And they split up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD. And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD and the box that was beside it, in which were the golden figures, and set them upon the great stone. And the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices on that day to the LORD. And when the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned that day to Ekron (I Sam 6:14-16 ESV).
The Israelites had an inquisitive irreverence in respect to the Ark. God had commanded that it should be veiled by the curtains of the Tabernacle, and only approached through a Divinely appointed High Priest, with confession of sine, and the presentation of atoning blood. But the Israelites pushed all of the Word of the LORD aside and, assisted by the Levite Priests, exposed the Ark to public view. The Ark was not only the Throne of God on Earth but also a symbol of Christ and His essential Deity and sinless Humanity.
George Williams further writes: “Ever since He rose from the dead, many who profess to be His disciples not only deny Him in His Office as the Atoning Mediator between God and men, but, with bold impiety, try to subject His mysterious nature to the demonstrations of human wisdom, impelled by the same spirit which urged the men at Beth-shemesh to look into the Ark.”
These are the golden tumors that the Philistines returned as a guilt offering to the LORD: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron, and the golden mice, according to the number of the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both fortified cities and un-walled villages. The great stone beside which they set down the ark of the LORD is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh (I Sam 6:17-18 ESV).
The people of Israel, except for the soldiers in the previous battle lost, had never seen the Ark of God. And they had not been taught the proper respect and reverence for this which was the Holiness of God. The fact was, their casual curiosity was little different that of the Philistines’.
And he struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the LORD. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the LORD had struck the people with a great blow. Then the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God? And to whom shall he go up away from us?” So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the LORD. Come down and take it up to you” (I Sam 6:19-21 ESV).
Seeing what had happened, the men of this area, as well, wanted to rid themselves of the Ark. When the cover was pulled off and they were put to the test, the people of Beth-shemesh little wanted the LORD.
I heard this song the other day, and it’s been going through my mind ever since… So, I thought I’d share it with you in conclusion to this blog. Thanks for reading again today!
The earth can shake, the sky come down. The mountains all fall to the ground. But I will fear none of these things. Shelter me Lord underneath Your wings.
Dark waters rise and thunder pounds. The wheels of war are going round. And all the walls are crumbling. Shelter me Lord underneath Your wings.
Hide me deep inside of Your heart. Hide me deep inside of Your grace. In Your refuge cover me. The world can shake, but Lord I’m making You my hiding place.
The wind can blow, the rain can pour. The deluge breaks the tempest roars. But in the storm my spirit sings. When You shelter me Lord underneath Your wings.
Hide me deep inside of Your heart. Hide me deep inside of Your grace. In Your refuge cover me. The world can shake. But Lord I’m making You my hiding place.
Now on the day You call for me. Someday when time no more shall be. I’ll say, “O death, where is your sting?” When You shelter me Lord underneath Your wings. – Buddy Miller