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God Is Willing To Cut Us Some Slack


1 When the ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, 2 the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.” 3 They answered, “If you return the ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.” 4 The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?” They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers. 5 Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land. 6 Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way? 7 “Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up. 8 Take the ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, 9 but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.” 10 So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. 11 They placed the ark of the Lord on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. 12 Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh.
(1 Samuel 6:1-12)


Today we read of the Philistines’ plan to return the ark to Israel. The plan consisted of building a new cart and hitching up to it two cows that have recently calved (given birth) and have never been yokedTheir calves were to be taken away and penned up.

The ark of the Lord was to be put on the cart with a chest beside it containing the gold objects (the tumors and rats) the Philistines were sending back to God as a guilt offering.

The Philistines knew they were guilty of stealing something that did not belong to them. They also knew they were guilty of not returning the ark sooner – after God had let them know many times, through their tumors and rat infestation, that they needed to return it.

The point of this plan was simple. These cows would pull the cart with the ark on it. There would be no human driving the cart or leading them. If they went to Beth Shemesh, the closest Israeli town to Ekron, then the Philistines would know that the Lord of Israel had brought the tumors and rats upon them.

These cows had never worn a yoke before – they were milking cows – and they didn’t know how to pull a cart while wearing one. Animals have to be trained to wear a yoke – a yoke can’t simply be placed on them with the expectation that the animal will be able to handle it. Farmers train their animals to wear yokes by hitching an experienced animal – one which has worn a yoke – with an inexperienced one. In this way the inexperienced animal learns how to be yoked to another and to do its job.

Also, these cows had recently given birth and would have been very attached to their babies. They would not be naturally inclined to go in the opposite direction from their children. Their maternal instincts would want to lead them back to them.

If all this seems rather convoluted, it is. There was really no reason to go through all these complications. As we’ll see tomorrow, the reason that the Philistines went to all this trouble is because they really didn’t want to give the ark back to Israel.

The Philistines’ plan would essentially “force” God to perform a miracle to demonstrate that it was really He who was the cause of all their recent problems. Interestingly, God performs the exact miracle this plan was meant to bring about as the cows went straight to Beth Shemesh [1 Samuel 6:12].

God commands us not to put Him to the test. Jesus told us this Himself when He said “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” [Luke 4:12]. Yet God accedes to the Philistine’s plan. Some may claim that the Philistines were able to manipulate God. But this isn’t really true because, as we’ll learn tomorrow, the Philistines were actually hoping that the cows would not take the ark to Israel.

God was not being controlled here. God is sovereign. He is not bridled by any man or angel. He chooses His own actions for Himself. And while He does have rules, He is willing to suspend them when those who violate them do so out of ignorance.

For example, God commanded that the ark only be transported by poles set in rings on the side of the ark [Exodus 25:14-15]. The ark was never to be transported on a cart. But the Philistines didn’t know this. So God did not punish them.

God is not unreasonable. He doesn’t hold people who are ignorant of His law accountable to that law. The Philistines didn’t know any better so God cut them some slack. As we’ll see in a few days, the Israelites mishandle the ark themselves upon its return and God does hold them accountable because they – being Jews who had been taught God’s law – should have known better.

Those who are outside of God’s family cannot be expected to know His rules. For that reason God will not hold them to the same standard He holds His own children to. This makes sense. Parents expect their own children to obey their rules and if they don’t, they’ll pay the consequences. Parents don’t hold their neighbors’ kids to the same standard because they aren’t part of their family and don’t know their rules.

Some may wonder then, why do people who don’t know God end up in hell for all eternity? How can those who claim not to know God be held accountable? The answer is simple. We are all created, by God, with a knowledge of Him. While we may not know all of His commands, we all do know that He exists. There is no one who doesn’t believe in God.

But, we need to remember that we are not condemned by God because of our unbelief. We are condemned because of our sin. No one ends up in hell because of unbelief. We end up there because of sin.

And all of us are sinners. And all of us know it.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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There Is Much To Be Learned From The Bible


1 When the ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, 2 the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.” 3 They answered, “If you return the ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.” 4 The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?” They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers. 5 Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land. 6 Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way? 7 “Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up. 8 Take the ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, 9 but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.” 10 So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. 11 They placed the ark of the Lord on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. 12 Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh.
(1 Samuel 6:1-12)


Yesterday we saw the Philistines consult their priests and diviners about what to do with the ark of the Lord. The priests and diviners mistakenly thought they needed to appease God with golden trinkets. They were wrong about this, as we learned. However, in today’s passage we see that they got something right.

The Philistines had heard how Israel’s God dealt harshly with the Egyptians who had hardened their hearts towards Him. Eventually they (the Egyptians) sent the Israelites out of their land.

This, of course, refers back to the ten plagues which God sent upon Egypt after Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites leave that country to go to their new homeland, which God had set aside for them [Exodus 7:14-11:10]. Pharaoh was exceedingly stubborn, allowing he and his country to be devastated by trouble after trouble until he finally relented, finally realizing that he could not defeat God.

The Philistines looked at their situation and realized that it was similar to that of Egypt. Their spiritual leaders, for all their faults and misunderstandings, wisely advised the people not to repeat Egypt’s mistakes.

It is always a good idea to learn from other people’s experiences rather than from your own. But to do that, we have to know some history.

Certainly people do this all the time. We learn about good or bad experiences our friends have at restaurants. We see news reports of people getting arrested for various crimes and (hopefully) we realize that we should not engage in similar behavior.

In the world of sports, teams use scouts to learn about another players’ tendencies by studying what that player did in the past. So when they find themselves on the other side of the field from him, they have an idea of what to expect and can plan accordingly.

Likewise, if we want to understand God we can look at His history. That history is found in the Bible.

We can learn all we need to know about God – but not all there is not know about Him – from the Bible. That is one of the reasons why God gave us the Bible: so we could learn about Him and use that knowledge to guide our lives.

By studying the Bible – which is what this blog is all about – we can see the attitudes and behaviors that will make our lives go well. We can also see which attitudes and behaviors will make our lives go poorly.

For example, God tells us to honor our father and mother so that it may go well with you. If we honor our parents God will honor us [Ephesians 6:2-3]. Just a few days ago, we learned that God will also honor those who honor Him [1 Samuel 2:30].

These are specific verses that tell us how we should live. To be sure, there are a lot of “do” and “don’t” verses in the Bible that tell us exactly what do to or not to do.

But there are also a lot of stories in the Bible from which we can learn. By studying the story of Joseph, for example, we can learn (among other things) how to conduct ourselves when confronted by a tempting, sinful situation [Genesis 39]. Although not a real-life story, by studying the various characters in the parable of the prodigal son we can learn how not to live [Luke 15:11-30].

The lives of people like Moses, David, and Jonah teach us a lot. Earlier in our study of 1 Samuel we saw a great example of a godly mother in Hannah that should teach us how to raise and love our children. There are dozens of such stories in the Bible.

And, of course, by studying the life of Jesus in the four gospels, we can learn the exact kind of humble, servant-oriented life God wants all His children to live.

God gave us the Bible so we could learn from it. If we study it – and the Bible should be studied, not simply read – we can live lives that avoid trouble and instead result in the joy that God wants for us.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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God Does Not Need To Be Appeased


1 When the ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, 2 the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.” 3 They answered, “If you return the ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.” 4 The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?” They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers. 5 Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land. 6 Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way? 7 “Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up. 8 Take the ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, 9 but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.” 10 So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. 11 They placed the ark of the Lord on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. 12 Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh.
(1 Samuel 6:1-12)


Yesterday we saw that the Philistines had grown tired of all the problems having the ark of the covenant in their land had brought. So they consulted their priests and diviners to determine how to return the ark to Israel. The priests and diviners were two different groups of people.

The priests were knowledgeable about static religious practices, including religions other than their own. Diviners, on the other hand, were less practical. They based their decisions on consultations with the “gods” through astrology, teraphim (sculpted figurines), and other methods.

Notice that there was apparently some hesitation about sending the ark back as the priests’ advice was prefaced by “if you return the ark of the god of Israel“. We’ll see more evidence that the people weren’t totally sold on the idea as we continue to study this passage over the next few days.

As was consistent with ancient pagan religions, the Philistines decide to appease God with gifts, thinking that is the only way to be healed. It seems the people had been wondering why their maladies had not been lifted.

Apparently they had tried various remedies over the preceding seven months including, most likely, praying to their god, and could not understand why nothing had worked. They had expected to be cured but had not been. Their “final hope” was to offer gifts to the true God – the God of Israel.

In ancient times, it was customary for offerings to the gods to depict the trouble the people had been saved from. To that end, the priests recommend that the people make five gold tumors and five gold rats. We know the people were afflicted with tumors [1 Samuel 5:6] but this is the first we’ve heard of rats.

It’s possible that the tumors were the actually the bubonic plague, which is known to be carried by rodents. Or, its possible that in addition to the tumors God also sent rats to devastate the agriculture of the Philistines during this time. The bottom line is we don’t know exactly where the rats came from or how they were involved in the Philistine’s problems. But apparently they were.

In any case the people were hopeful, but not 100% sure (perhaps) God would lift His hand from their gods and their land. Notice how the Philistines knew it was the God of Israel who was destroying their country. Notice also their admission that the God of Israel was more powerful than their own gods.

The Philistines were trying to do the right thing. They did not know the God of the Bible well enough though, and they got some things wrong here. Most importantly, they mistakenly believed that God needs to be appeased with sacrifices.

Many ancient religions such as those of Rome or Greece teach that their gods needed to be appeased. Appeasing God is  still very prevalent today in religions like Islam. Muslims believe that they must earn their way into Allah’s good graces by performing certain acts here on earth. Those acts are often violent, such as killing Christians or Jews.

Even some Bible-based religions like Catholicism have fallen into this trap with, for example, their ritual of candle lighting in order to get their prayer requests fulfilled or with their belief that one must be baptized with water to go to heaven.

All this amounts to one thing: people thinking they can obligate God through their own actions. They think they can control God. This, of course, is not true [Romans 8:8].

Moreover, there is no reason to control God. The whole idea of controlling God is based on a misunderstanding of God Himself. Many people – too many people – think God is an angry tyrant who needs to be, and can be, appeased (i.e. controlled) through our actions. But this is an inaccurate picture of God. And an inaccurate understanding of man.

The concept of appeasement puts man in control of his own god. When man can appease his god, then the god is no longer the god; man is. And, of course, we are not gods. And God cannot be controlled.

True, sin has separated us from God. But no man can close that gap on his own by making an offering to God. Only Jesus can reconcile God and man. This is precisely what Jesus did on the cross – He took on the penalty for sin so we don’t have to [2 Corinthians 5:18]. Therefore, none of us have to do anything to reconcile ourselves to God.

God is not angry with you. He does not need to be appeased. He loves you and desires to spend eternity with you regardless of the mistakes you’ve made with your life [John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10 et. al]. That is why He created you in the first place.

He doesn’t want gifts from you. He simply wants you.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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Attempts To Conquer God Will Backfire


1 When the ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, 2 the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.” 3 They answered, “If you return the ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.” 4 The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?” They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers. 5 Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land. 6 Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way? 7 “Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up. 8 Take the ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, 9 but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.” 10 So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. 11 They placed the ark of the Lord on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. 12 Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh.
(1 Samuel 6:1-12)


When the Philistines captured the ark of the Lord, they thought it was a great victory. They thought capturing the ark from Israel proved that their god, Dagon, was greater than Israel’s God.

But as time went on the Philistines came to realize just the opposite was true. Instead of being a trophy to be displayed proudly, the ark became a burden.

While the ark was in Philistia, God caused devastation in the land and afflicted the people with tumors [1 Samuel 5:6]. This happened every where the ark was moved to.

People today have the same philosophy. They think that they can “conquer” God. They mainly do this through man-made laws that legalize behaviors He had declared to be sin. Laws that legalize abortion, pornography, and same-sex marriage, for example, are man’s way of “conquering” God.

Just like happened in Philistia, our lives have not been made better by these actions. Over the past several decades as man has pushed God out of their lives life has gotten undeniably more difficult.

The world is clearly a less safe place than it was just a few decades ago. Corruption in business and government has increased and continues to increase. The very act of “conquering” God has increased our problems.

But notice how long it took the Philistines to realize this. They were suffering physical maladies for seven months before they decided to do something about it. Now if you or I had a physical problem we likely wouldn’t wait seven months before we made a doctor’s appointment. We’d go as soon as we realized the problem wasn’t going away.

But people who don’t know God and who don’t want to know God draw out their own pain by obstinately refusing to submit to Him. The plagues of Egypt would have been fewer than ten if Pharaoh hadn’t been so stubborn. But his defiant attitude towards God made the problems of his country much worse than they could have been otherwise.

After seven months the Philistines finally cried “Uncle!” and decided to send the ark back. Unfortunately, no such cry seems to be coming from people today.

The world continues to think that God – specifically the God of the Bible – is the cause of our problems. They associate Christians’ opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion as “hate” so they go to great lengths to remove God from society not realizing that doing so only makes things worse.

God sent devastation and plagues on the Philistines in order to get their attention so they’d give the ark back to Israel, its rightful owner. God gives us problems today for the very same reason. He’s trying to get our attention so that we turn to Him instead of turning to other human beings to lead us, such a politicians and business leaders.

God is not out to get us. His goal is not to make our lives more difficult. He doesn’t want to see us unhappy. In fact, just the opposite.

God loves us. He created us so that He could bless us with every spiritual blessing [Ephesians 1:3]. God cares for us and does not want us to have a difficult life [Psalm 55:22; 1 Peter 5:7].

If we want to make the world a better place we should stop trying to “conquer” God. Any attempt to “conquer” God will only backfire. Instead, we should submit to Him.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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Sinful Nations Export Their Sin To Other Nations


1 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. 5 That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold. 6 The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors. 7 When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god.” 8 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and asked them, “What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?” They answered, “Have the ark of the god of Israel moved to Gath.” So they moved the ark of the God of Israel. 9 But after they had moved it, the Lord’s hand was against that city, throwing it into a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, both young and old, with an outbreak of tumors. 10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. As the ark of God was entering Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.” 11 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, “Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.” For death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy on it. 12 Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.
(1 Samuel 5:1-12)


The Philistine leaders thought they had made a good decision to move the ark of God to Gath. But that decision backfired on them. So they sent the ark to Ekron.

Ekron was another of the five city-states of the Philistines. It has been positively identified as the modern-day city of Tel Miqne which lies about 11 miles north of Gath.

Notice that unlike the previous time, this time there was no meeting to discuss the situation. The ark was simply sent, apparently against the wishes of the people of Ekron. Even before the ark entered their city, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.” 

The people of Ekron had heard about the travails of the people of Ashdod and Gath and wanted nothing to do with the ark. They called together all the rulers of the Philistines and demanded they send the ark of the god of Israel away. Specifically, they wanted it to go back to its own place (Israel).

Yesterday we learned that leaders who do not know God make decisions that make life worse. Today we see that not only do ungodly leaders make life tough for their own citizens, but they make life tougher for those nations they bully into accepting their bad decisions.

I’m sorry to say that the country most guilty of doing this is the United States.

Over the past few decades, the leaders of the United States have arrogantly declared that practices such as abortion and same-sex marriage are acceptable, despite the clear teaching of God to the contrary. And we’ve forced other countries to adopt these same sinful policies in order to get our financial aid.

The Philistines likewise ignored the truth about God and in so doing brought trouble upon other peoples. After the ark was moved to Ekron God’s hand was very heavy on it for death and panic had filled the city. The same thing had happened in Gath.

The Philistine leaders used their power to force other peoples to do something they didn’t want to do. And those people paid the price. Similarly, the United States has done the same.

When any country adopts sinful policies they will face God’s discipline. And if that country has been forced into those policies against their will, like Ekron was, the responsibility for their troubles lies with the country that forced them into that situation.

It will always be that those with more power will control those with less. But when those with financial, military, and economic power are sinful their sinful practices are exported to the rest of the world. For this reason, the world cannot get better.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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Leaders Who Don’t Know God Make Life Worse


1 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. 5 That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold. 6 The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors. 7 When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god.” 8 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and asked them, “What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?” They answered, “Have the ark of the god of Israel moved to Gath.” So they moved the ark of the God of Israel. 9 But after they had moved it, the Lord’s hand was against that city, throwing it into a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, both young and old, with an outbreak of tumors. 10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. As the ark of God was entering Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.” 11 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, “Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.” For death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy on it. 12 Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.
(1 Samuel 5:1-12)


In yesterday’s passage, we saw God afflict the people of Ashdod with tumors. The people recognized that it was God who was afflicting them yet they decided the best thing to do was not to submit themselves to Him and replace their god Dagon with Him. They decided the best thing to do was to send God away.

So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and asked them “What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?”. Notice that the people turned to their leaders – human leaders – for guidance. They didn’t turn to God and ask Him what they should do. They relied on the same leaders who caused their problems in the first place by making the mistaken decision to bring the ark to their town.

Predictably, the leaders come up with a solution that doesn’t help. It only made the situation worse.

They decide to have the ark of the god of Israel moved to Gath. Gath was one of the five city-states of the Philistines. Each of these city-states had it’s own leader and these five leaders are apparently the rulers who were asked to decide what to do with the ark.

There was no temple to Dagon in Gath, which might be why they chose it. For whatever reason, the Philistine leaders thought that the problems they had been facing would be abated by moving the ark. So they moved the ark of the God of Israel. Bad idea.

Moving the ark to Gath only made the situation worse. After they moved it, the Lord’s hand was against that city. Notice that we are not told that things got better in Ashdod. Perhaps they did. But there is no reason to think that was the case.

Not only did God afflict the people of the city of Gath with an outbreak of tumors, the city was thrown into a great panic. In addition to suffering physically, they were now suffering emotionally. And the entire town was in chaos.

Such is the case when leaders doesn’t know God. They, of course, don’t turn to Him for answers. They instead turn to their own wisdom and to so-called experts. But those people, being human, are not going to make good decisions [Proverbs 3:7]. Not only will their solutions not solve anything, they almost assuredly will make things worse.

The entire point of problems is to make us aware of God and His benevolent wisdom. God allows problems in our lives to draw us closer to Him [Psalm 55:22; Matthew 11:28; Thessalonians 1:5]. But that only works if we believe God exists and actually turn to Him in our times of need.

Those who do not fear God cannot be wise [Proverbs 1:7]. For it is through His discipline that He teaches [Proverbs 19:20]. If we don’t recognize God’s discipline for what it is – as the Philistines did not – then we cannot learn. And if we cannot learn, then we will continue to make bad decision after bad decision.

All those compounding bad decisions – the ones that we think will make life better – will actually keep making life more difficult.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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Despite The Evidence, People Choose To Reject God


1 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. 5 That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold. 6 The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors. 7 When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god.” 8 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and asked them, “What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?” They answered, “Have the ark of the god of Israel moved to Gath.” So they moved the ark of the God of Israel. 9 But after they had moved it, the Lord’s hand was against that city, throwing it into a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, both young and old, with an outbreak of tumors. 10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. As the ark of God was entering Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.” 11 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, “Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.” For death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy on it. 12 Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.
(1 Samuel 5:1-12)


Yesterday we read the story of how the Philistine god, Dagon, fell on his face before the ark of the covenant of the Lord not once, but twice. The ark had been captured from Israel by the Philistines and had been taken by them to their temple to Dagon in Ashdod.

After Dagon fell the first time the Philistines probably thought it was just an accident. But after it fell again the very next day, it could no longer be considered an accident. Furthermore, when he fell the second time his head and hands broke off and were lying on the threshold.

Now at this point, the Philistines should have realized that their god, Dagon, was not only weak and unable to defend himself but that he didn’t even exist. They should have realized that following him was a waste of time. But that is not what they did.

The first thing they did was to create a new religious rule. They made the threshold a sacred place that could not be stepped on. Neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod could step on the threshold. If you think about it, all this did was to perpetuate the fallacy of Dagon as a god.

From that day forward future generations would ask “Why don’t we step on the threshold?” And the older generation would tell them the story of how Dagon fell down before the ark of the God of Israel and his head and hands broke off. The superstitious custom of stepping over the threshold would be a permanent reminder of the weakness of Dagon and the power of the God of Israel. Just another example of how the plans of man are often not well thought out.

By knocking down Dagon, God was giving the people of Ashdod an opportunity to switch sides and choose Him as their God. But they did not do this. So God started turning up the heat. He did this by afflicting them with tumors.

Exactly what these tumors were we don’t know. Based on the Hebrew word, they could be hemorrhoids. Since mice seem to be involved (we’ll see this in a few days) the tumors could also be the bubonic plague. Whatever they were, they were devastating.

Once again the people of Ashdod could have reacted wisely when they saw what was happening. But they didn’t. They knew that God’s hand was heavy on them. This would have been a good time to change their minds about who their god was. But they stuck with Dagon despite his inability to remain standing before God as well as his inability to relieve the people of their tumors.

People today are the same way. Despite the overwhelming evidence that the God of the Bible exists, they reject Him. Despite the overwhelming evidence that their own life choices – their own “gods” – aren’t working, they reject Him. How sad.

God did all these things in Ashdod not because He is evil and enjoys hurting people. He did them because He wanted the people to see that He was more powerful than their existing god. He operates the same way today.

Too many people reject God because they see the bad things that happen in this world and they blame Him for not stopping them. But that is the wrong way to look at it. God allows these things to happen so we don’t put our hopes in ourselves or in our leaders. God allows these things to happen in the hopes that they will drive us to Him.

After weeks of repeated troubles, the people of Ashdod sent God away. They pushed Him out of their lives despite the evidence of who He is. Hundreds of years later, people would do the same thing to Jesus [Matthew 8:28-34].

After thousands of years of repeated troubles, the world is doing the very same thing today. Despite the evidence, people reject the real God and instead knowingly hold fast to false gods. This will not end well.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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God Will Destroy Our False Gods


1 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. 5 That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold. 6 The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors. 7 When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god.” 8 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and asked them, “What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?” They answered, “Have the ark of the god of Israel moved to Gath.” So they moved the ark of the God of Israel. 9 But after they had moved it, the Lord’s hand was against that city, throwing it into a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, both young and old, with an outbreak of tumors. 10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. As the ark of God was entering Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.” 11 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, “Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.” For death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy on it. 12 Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.
(1 Samuel 5:1-12)


After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Ashdod was one of the five major cities of Philistia along with Ashkelon, Gath, Ekron and Gaza. They operated like a consortium, with each having their own leader. The ancient city of Ashdod existed just south of the modern day Ashdod and has been heavily excavated.

The main god of the Philistines was Dagon. He was a fertility god possibly of grain or fish (its possible that he was half-man and half-fish). There are many extant documents of Dagon outside the Bible dating as far back as 2,500 BC.

There was a temple to Dagon in Ashdod and it was in this temple that the Philistines placed the ark. It seems that the ark was a trophy of sorts – it was evidence of the Philistines victory over Israel and, more importantly, of the Philistine’s god over Israel’s God.

Also, it was customary for a victorious nation to dedicate the spoils taken from an enemy to their gods. When the Philistines had conquered Saul, they hung up his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth [1 Samuel 31:10]. When David slew Goliath, he laid up Goliath’s sword in the tabernacle of the Lord [1 Samuel 21:8-9]. Perhaps placing the ark in Dagon’s temple was the Philistine’s way of giving the ark to Dagon.

In any case, when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day their statue of Dagon had fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord. When the Philistines entered the temple of Dagon, it appeared that Dagon was humbling himself before God.

Bowing down or laying prostrate on one’s face is a position of humility often adopted in prayer [Numbers 20:6; Luke 5:12; Revelation 7:11 et. al]. Even Jesus fell on His face before God the Father when He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane [Matthew 26:39]. Such a position is still common even today when people pray.

The Philistines didn’t know why Dagon had fallen over. They simply took Dagon and put him back in his place. They probably didn’t think any more of it than just a one-time accident.

But the following morning when they rose there was Dagon, fallen again on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord. Only this time his head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body (perhaps his fishy tail) remained standing.

Falling once could have been an accident. Falling twice on two consecutive days was no accident. At this point the Philistines should have started to understand what was happening – the God of Israel was causing Dagon to fall as a way of sending them a message that their god was not as strong as He and, furthermore, that their god did not exist at all.

A god who needs the help of the people is no god [Isaiah 46:7]. Dagon was a false god. Not only was Dagon a false god, he was an impotent god as symbolized by the breaking off of his head and hands. He had neither the wisdom (head) or strength (hands) to defend himself against the God of Israel.

In the ancient Middle East armies chopped off the heads and hands of their enemies as proof of their victory. We see this even in the Bible when David cut off Goliath’s head and the Philistines cut of King Saul’s head [1 Samuel 17:51; 1 Chronicles 10:10]. God toppled Dagon and broke off his hands and feet as a demonstration of His superiority.

These events took place almost 3,100 years ago. And God is still in the business of destroying people’s gods – those things we live for but which can do nothing for us except keep us from knowing Him.

Any activity that takes up our time and energy to the point where we become reliant on it is a false god. A job. A hobby. Money. Another person. Sex. Alcohol. Drugs. Notice that not all these things are inherently bad. We need to have a job. We need to have money. We need to have friends. But even good things can take over our lives. And when they do they distract us from our eternity which is secured only through God.

Notice that those who don’t know God definitely have one or more other “gods” they live for. We all live for something. But even Christians, members of God’s eternal family, can have other gods. None of us are immune.

God cares about people [1 Peter 5:7]. All people. And He knows that life on this earth is temporary. While there are things on this earth that we need to spend our time on, there is nothing more important than spending time with Him.

Getting to know God is more important than anything else. And if God sees that something else is taking up too much of your time and is detrimentally affecting your relationship with Him, don’t be surprised if He destroys it.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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There’s Nothing More Devastating Than Not Having God’s Presence


19 Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. 20 And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention. 21 And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”
(1 Samuel 4:19-22)


Yesterday saw Eli’s reaction to the capture of the ark of the covenant by the Philistines. Today God tells us about the reaction of Eli’s daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas.

At the time she was pregnant and was very close to her due date. When she heard the news that the ark had of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead she went into labor. Sadly, she died while giving birth.

While she was dying the women attending her tried to comfort her because she had borne a son. For a Jewish woman having a son was considered a great blessing. But this did not console her. The national tragedy was too great for her.

Certainly this was a bittersweet moment for this woman. She had a new child but the tragic news of the day overshadowed what should have been a joyous occasion. As such she names the child Ichabod which means “no glory” or “no greatness”.

This woman believed that the glory had departed from Israel. She, like the others in town whose reaction we saw yesterday, believed that God had abandoned Israel as evidenced by the ark of God having been captured.

As we’ll see as we continue our study of 1 Samuel, this was not true. God had not departed Israel. He was still very much with them. And He had great things in store for them. Things for Israel will get better – much better. But first God had to humble them and get them to return to Him so He could bless them.

But people often misunderstand. They don’t see God’s discipline for what it is. Rather than admit that it was necessary and change our sinful ways, we often see it as a devastating event. But God doesn’t look at it this way. God disciplines those He loves [Hebrews 12:6]. God disciplines so that we will correct our behavior.

In this case, as we’ve seen, Israel was no longer a godly nation. They didn’t seek His council. They simply did what they wanted [Judges 21:25]. As such God couldn’t bless them.

God isn’t going to bless those who aren’t walking with Him. This includes individuals and nations. If He did then people would give the credit for such blessings to other human beings or to karma and they would never come closer to God.

God first has to get the people to recognize Him for who He is. So He disciplines in the hopes that we will learn. If we don’t then things will get worse until we do (assuming we ever do).

The ultimate definition of “hell” is “life without God”. God will not be present in hell. That is why hell will be so bad. The only ones there will be sinful angels and people. There will be nothing good there because good only comes from God [James 1:17].

Even though the woman in our passage misunderstood what had happened, her thought process is correct: there is nothing more devastating than not having God’s presence.

This is certainly true on earth. Having God with us results in a better life. But it will be much more true in eternity.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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Nations Are Ruined By Leaders Who Don’t Know God


12 A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head. 13 When he arrived, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out. 14 When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, “What is this uproar?” Then the man hurried and came and told Eli. 15 Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see. 16 And the man said to Eli, “I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.” And he said, “How did it go, my son?” 17 He who brought the news answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” 18 As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.
(1 Samuel 4:12-18)


Over the past few days we’ve been studying two battles between the Philistines and Israel after the Philistines had invaded Israeli territory. We saw the devastating results suffered by Israel and learned the causes behind those results. In today’s passage the news of Israel’s dramatic defeat reaches Shiloh.

There was no live-streaming back then. News and information were carried from place to place via messengers who traveled on foot. When the news was important, as in this case, they ran.

This messenger also had his clothes torn and dirt on his head. These were signs of mourning. When ancient peoples were in mourning they would tear their clothes and put dirt on their face as an external sign of the internal pain they were feeling. Other people would see these signs and know something was wrong.

When the messenger arrived into town, Eli, the chief priest, was sitting on his seat by the road watching. Eli was concerned for the ark of God. He was so concerned that his heart trembled.

Towns had walls and gates back then for protection. Notice that to bring the news of the battle into the town the messenger would have had to pass right by Eli who was sitting by the side of the gate.

But he was ninety-eight years old at this point and his eyes were set (he was blind; his eyes didn’t move in response to activity as those of a sighted person would) so that he could not see. Eli had actually been losing his sight for some time [1 Samuel 2:2].

When the messenger told the news all the city cried out. The loss of 34,000 men and the capture of the ark was devastating news. Everyone was shocked, just like God predicted they would be [1 Samuel 3:11]. No one could ever have imagined such a thing happening.

Eli heard the sound of the outcry and requested to know what was the matter. Notice how the messenger tells him. He starts off with the least shocking event (Israel fled) and built up to Hophi and Phinehas dying and finally that the ark of God had been captured.

We’ve already seen Eli’s attitude towards God sovereignty [1 Samuel 3:18]. He understood that God will do what God will do and there’s no point in arguing. So he does not react to the first few news items delivered by the messenger, not even the fact that his sons are dead.

Eli knew that his sons would die as he was told this would happen [1 Samuel 2:34]. He probably anticipated it happening on this day once Hophni and Phinehas left Shiloh to go to the battle site. So their death probably comes as no surprise.

But when the messenger mentioned the ark Eli was shocked, falling over backward from his seat, dying from a broken neck. His worst fears were realized.

This was a sad end to a man who had judged Israel for forty years. As the high priest he was the leader of the nation. It was his job to enforce God’s law. But he was too weak of a leader to do that.

As a result, Israel lacked courage and ran away in battle. Tens of thousands of men died. His own sons died. And worst of all, the ark of God was now in the hands of the heathen enemy.

All this tragedy could have been avoided if Eli had just had the wherewithal to do the right thing. Instead he gave in to the demands of the people and the elders who had less knowledge than he.

Today we have a similar situation in the United States. Our leaders are weak. They give in to the demands of the people even when those demands go against God. The people wanted abortion to be legal, so our government legalized it. The people wanted pornography to be legal so our government legalized it. The same with same-sex marriage and other sins.

When leaders don’t lead people according to God’s commands – either because they are too weak to do so or because they don’t even know God’s commands themselves – disaster ensues.

It’s interesting to note that the town of Shiloh never recovered from these events. The ark was returned to Israel a few months after being captured but it was not returned to Shiloh. The city faded away over time and eventually became nothing. This was a deliberate act of God [Psalm 78:60; Jeremiah 7:12].

The United States is on a similar path. Slowly but surely we are declining as an economic and military leader. The reason for this is simple: we have deliberately abandoned God and are losing His blessing and protection as a result.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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