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.
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