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.
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