God Never Fails
1 Samuel 5:3–12
1st & 2nd Samuel Lesson #028
October 6, 2015
“Father, we are very grateful that we have had this time to get together, that we live in a nation that still has the freedom to proclaim the truth of Your Word. It still has the freedom to proclaim the truth of the gospel that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and that by believing in Him alone we have eternal life. Salvation is by faith alone.
Father, we are thankful for Your Word that when we are regenerate, when we become new creatures in Christ, we are not left like new born babes. We have Your Word to feed on. It nourishes us and strengthens us. It gives us the focus we need to make it through the challenges of life.
Father, we pray that as we study Your Word today, You will open our eyes to truth of Your Word to see the principles of Scripture that they may be applied to our lives. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to 1 Samuel 5.
We are going to continue our study. One question I got—I do not know where I made this statement in class, whether it was last Sunday, Tuesday night, or Thursday night—but sometime last week I did get one question that came in live streaming. Then I had somebody in the congregation ask me. I had made a statement last week about the fact that in the future we are not going to remember what has taken place in this life. That was a new thought for a lot of people. I thought, no, I have taught that before.
There is only one verse that I know of where that is stated. It is implied in Revelation 21—that there will be no more sorrow, no more tears, no more pain for the old things have passed a way. That is after the Millennial Kingdom. That is in eternity.
That indicates that a lot of the regrets, a lot of the things that happen in this life will not be remembered. There will not be any kind of source of heartache, remorse, guilt, or anything like that in eternity.
But in the Old Testament there is a promise given to Israel in Isaiah 65:17 where God says:
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” That also indicates that all of the evil, all of the pain, all of the heartache, everything that went on in this life is not going to be remembered.
How does that happens? Do not ask me. I do not have God in front of my name. I do not know how He is going to do that, but we are still going to have our identities. We will know the people we know. I do not know how that is going to work out.
Last time I titled our lesson “What Happens When it Seems that God has Failed?” And tonight it is “God Never Fails.” It only appears to us in terms of our finite understanding, because we expect God to do one thing, and something else happens. Then we are disappointed.
Sometimes it is so serious in our lives that what happens is people react. They become bitter and angry toward God only because they have assumed that God is going to perform according to their plans, their desires, and their wishes. The world is filled with people like that.
Israel at this time is in a situation like that. God has been captured. The Ark has been taken by the enemy, by the Philistines. In that culture, if that happens, you have not only been defeated militarily and culturally, but in terms of Israel’s hope in God, Yahweh as the living God, they have just been devastated.
The whole foundation for their existence, as having been called by the Creator-God, the God who created the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that is in them—this God has vanquished.
So Israel goes into a period of about 20 years of darkness as God takes them into a time of judgment. All of this is preparatory. That is what I want you to remember as we look at this. God is giving us an overview of how He is working through history to bring about this true reformation within the nation.
It takes time. Just as we look back on the time in Israel’s history, the time of the judges, it took time to turn things around. It is certainly going to take time to turn things around in this nation.
This nation did not get where we are in one or two presidential terms. It has been coming on for the last 110–120 years. God may have to take us through some very dark times as a nation (if we are going to survive as a nation), that we may have to go through to turn things around and to deal with the evil that has come to be accepted and to permeate our culture.
In this section in 1 Samuel 5:1–6:21, we are going to see how God, Yahweh, establishes the means for delivering Israel.
Remember the time frame. I keep going back to this. This is still the period of the judges.
Eli, who just died because he heard that the Ark was captured, is the last judge. Actually, he is not the last judge. Samuel is the last judge in the period of the judges. Eli was also a judge. This is near the end.
It is probably just a few years, if that, from the time that Samson destroys the temple of Dagon in Judges. As we get into this particular text, what we have seen is the battle of Aphek, which takes place at the base of the hill country of Samaria.
The area along the coast, the coastal plane of Canaan, or Israel, is called the Shephelah. Looking at the map, this is Joppa, and this area surrounding Joppa is where modern Tel Aviv is located. This battle area is right off of the interstate highway. It is all developed as suburbs of Tel Aviv now. This is where the Ark is captured.
The Ark is taken prisoner. It seems as if God has been defeated, but God never fails. We are going to see how God turns things around in 1 Samuel 5.
The principle we should remember is that at times we feel that God has let us down, that God has failed, that God is defeated, and that the Word of God does not seem to work. I have heard this so many times from people. They will ask me do you really believe that I can solve this problem in my life. Usually it is some sort of emotional problem, psychological problem, or some area of temptation.
That I can really solve this by trusting the Bible? I do not need to go through counseling? I do not need to go through all of these other things?
I’ve said that is the promise of God. God can sustain us. He has given us the spiritual skills in Scripture to be able to face and handle any and every situation. It does not mean it is going to be easy. It does not mean it is going to be simple. It does not mean that it is going to be solved just by a single prayer at night.
But like we saw the other Sunday morning with the casting out of the demon from the boy having seizures in Matthew 17, is that it takes faith. We have to learn to trust in God.
God is showing this here. He is teaching both the Philistines and the Israelites that He is in charge. There is no situation no matter how much it appears to overwhelm God, there is no problem, no difficulty, no situation that is too great for the Word of God.
He is the One who will provide the solution. His solution is the only permanent solution because ultimately the Bible teaches that all of our personal problems, all of our problems that relate to what we classify today as emotional problems, psychological problems, or behavior problems, are all traced back to the sin nature.
We live in a corrupt body that too often has been controlled habitually by this body of sin, as Paul puts it in Romans 6. We are to learn how to put to death the deeds of the flesh.
The principles that we see here and the warfare events that we see in the Old Testament, often are pictures for us of principles related to our individual spiritual warfare when we get into various New Testament passages.
What we see here in 1 Samuel 5:1–5 is that God is showing that He is superior to all cultures and all religious systems and all political systems.
In 1 Samuel 5:1–2 we read, “Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon and set it by Dagon.”
The first thing we see here is a reminder of who the Philistines are.
This was an ancient group that is described in ancient texts as the sea peoples. They are described that way by the Egyptians. They came from the area of Crete and Caphtor. They had a combination of Hamitic background, plus some influence from the Greeks. They initially came to the area of Canaan after being defeated by the Egyptians.
In the period just prior to the time of Abraham, the Philistines tried to set up colonies along the coast of Egypt on the Mediterranean and were defeated by the Egyptians. They went further east to the coastal plain of Canaan. There were a few points of contact between Abraham and Isaac and Abimelech and the Philistines at that time.
By the time we get into the period of the book of Samuel, we have gone from the time of Abraham, which is 2000 BC, to the time of Samuel, which is about 1100 BC.
We are 900 years later. By this time the Philistines are well established in that territory that was known as Canaan.
There have been a number of conflicts with Israel and the Philistines. In fact Shamgar defeated them. He is raised up by God to defeat them in Judges 3:31.
Samson was raised up to be a deliverer, but he failed because he is never obedient to the Lord. He disobeyed categorically every aspect of his Nazarite vow. But God used him in spite of his disobedience, in spite of his carnality, in order to just cause trouble, to keep things stirred up between the Israelites and the Philistines. Otherwise, the Israelites in their disobedience to God would have accepted the religious system of the Philistines. They would have absorbed it and assimilated.
That has been a trend off and on through the history of the Jewish people—this tendency. We saw it with the sons of Jacob back in Genesis when they settled in Shechem. They were intermarrying with the Canaanites, which was a violation of God’s command. We see it again and again in the period of the judges. We will see it later when they come back.
You would think they had learned their lesson after the Babylonian captivity, but when they come back from Babylon they start intermarrying with the people who are settled in the land during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.
They had to enforce a divorce decree so that the men would divorce the Canaanite women. Otherwise, it would lead to a point where the Israelites would be completely absorbed and assimilated into that pagan culture, and they would disappear.
It has happened in modern times. Under a very strict Jewish orthodoxy, the Jews were isolated often because of Christian anti-Semitism, which was terribly wrong, but it isolated them, which protected them during much of the early and middle part of the Church Age.
Once they began to move out of the ghettos and out of the towns with what was known as the Haskalah, the Jewish enlightenment that began in the middle part of the 19th century, they began to assimilate again.
They began to think of themselves first as Germans, French, Russians, Italians, or Brits. The Jews began to be absorbed again.
This ultimately gave rise to an anti-Semitic backlash, which was seen in the Dreyfus trial in France. That led to Theodor Herzl realizing that there was never going to be a successful assimilation. The only hope for Israel’s survival was for them to have a national homeland and go back to their national homeland.
That was the birth of modern Jewish Zionism. You have always had this kind of problem with assimilation.
Samson was stirring up trouble, so that did not happen.
Another thing that happened with the Philistines is they placed the Ark of God in the Dagon temple, which is in Ashkelon. But it was the temple of Dagon down in Gaza that Samson destroyed.
So the Philistines are finally defeated. They are not wiped out, but they are defeated militarily. They are no longer a significant problem for Israel by the end of David’s life.
1 Samuel 13:19. The Philistines kept Israel under control by limiting their access to armament. This is a great verse today in terms of all the talk related to gun control. It is to realize that the way tyrants control people is to limit their access to weapons.
The Philistines enacted this kind of policy in the ancient world. They would not let the Israelites have iron. They would not let them have blacksmiths. They could not make swords or spears.
In 1 Samuel 5:1–2, we see the Philistines are taking the Ark of God to Ashdod.
1 Samuel 5:1–5. The Philistines are making a theological statement. They understand what is happening here religiously. Their god has defeated the God of Israel. Their god is superior to the God of Israel. This means that Israel is now completely vanquished because their God has been completely vanquished. This means that they are set to completely defeat and dominate Israel.
In the ancient world, something that is very different from the modern world is that all of the governments’ politics were completely entwined with their religious system.
In Egypt the Pharaoh was divine. In the area of the Fertile Crescent, Assyria and Babylon, those areas, the kings were thought to be the sons of god. There is this deeply embedded religious rational for government and for power, not unlike the relationship of legal theory in Islam, Sharia Law to Islam.
Islam is as much a political system and a legal system as it is a religious system. Because we live in the West, it has become so secularized that people no longer understand the connection between religion and these profoundly deep political and legal ideas. They cannot understand what is happening with Islam—how the current mass migration of Muslims to the West is really a new form of invasion.
The Muslims understand exactly what they are doing, and their goal is to establish Sharia Law.
The Muslims are establishing beach heads for this in numerous places in Europe. There are areas where police and other law enforcement officials will not ever go. They have basically ceded this over to Islamic control.
Even though this is an ancient idea, it still has a modern manifestation. God is showing by what He does here that He is the One who is still in control. Their god has not defeated Him.
The Philistines take the Ark as the symbol of Yahweh’s Presence. They set it up in the temple of Dagon, who is their chief god. He is a fertility god, as we will see. He is considered in Canaanite mythology to be the father of Baal.
The name Dagon is not a Philistine name. Remember, the Philistines, if you go back to Genesis 10–11 and trace the table of nations there, the descendants of Ham, Shem, and Japheth—the Jews and the Arabs are descendants of Shem. That is why they are called Semites.
Western and Eastern Europeans are descendants of Japheth. The Africans, Egyptians, the Philistines, the Asian people are all descendants of Ham.
The Philistines are not a Japhetic Indo-European people. They absorb some, but originally they are descendants of Caphtor. They are Hamitic, which means that this word Dagon, which is a Semitic name, is not a Philistine god, but one that they adopted once they came into the area of Canaan. That god was already there.
Once the Ark was captured, it is taken south. Ashdod is on the southwest coast. Today it is a little further away from the coast, but it is still a port city. In the ancient world it was also a port city.
Like most port cities there is an ethnic mix, a lot of different ideas that go into that mix, a lot of different religious influences, as well as a lot of immorality associated with those fertility cults.
What we see here is that as they take the Ark into the temple, they are going to place it in a position to indicate that Yahweh has now become a servant, a slave, a vassal of Dagon. Dagon has defeated Yahweh.
What happens is as nightfall occurs, God is perfectly capable of handling the situation. God probably sent a few angels down there to redecorate the temple.
The next morning, early in the morning, when the Ashdodites came in to see what was going on, they found that their god Dagon was down on his face in a position of worship, in a position of doing homage to the God of Israel. The Ashdodites were just absolutely stunned by this.
What we know about Ashdod is that it was also one of the cities where there were still remnants of a race called the Anakim. This was an ethnic race of giants. They are the descendants of the Anakims survived in Ashkelon, Gaza, and in Gath.
Why is that important? There is a giant by the name of Goliath of Gath that comes along. He is, on one side of the family, a descendant of the Anakim, which is why he has that giant position.
Let us talk a little about Dagon. When we are studying the Bible, one of the things that is important for us to note is things like repetition—how many times words are used, how many times words are repeated or phrases are repeated.
When we get into these first five verses, what we discover is that Dagon is used nine times. The house of Dagon, referring to the temple of Dagon, is used two times, for a total of eleven references to Dagon.
The Ark is mentioned six times:
The phrase “the Ark of the Lord” is used two times.
The phrase “the Ark of God” is used four times.
This gives us twelve different references to God or the Ark of God.
The emphasis here is eleven references to Dagon and twelve references to God or Yahweh. In five verses that is a lot of references. What that tells us is that this is all about this conflict between Dagon and Yahweh. Obviously, that many uses show that Dagon is very, very significant here.
What the writer is bringing out is that this conflict between the Philistines and Israel is not simply a physical conflict. This is part of a broader spiritual conflict that is indicated by the angelic conflict, spiritual warfare, the rebellion of an angel named Lucifer in eternity past against God, described in Isaiah 14. Lucifer claimed that he wanted to be like God. He led approximately a third of the angels in rebellion against God.
It is also described in Ezekiel 28:14ff.
This angel Lucifer was one of the highest angels. He is referred to as the anointed angel, the anointed cherub, who covered God. He served right at the throne of God. He was overcome with arrogance, a desire to be like God. He led these angels in rebellion against God.
You have this development of this angelic conflict, which is a backdrop for the creation of the human race and for spiritual warfare.
The things that happen on a physical plain in human history are often influenced. We do not know quite how. It is not important that we know how, or God would tell us. He never tells us these things. He just tells us that this is the way it is. There is a connection between things that happen in the physical realm and influence in the spiritual realm.
When we talk about these false gods, whether you are talking about the false god of allah, or whether you are talking about the false god they call god the father in Mormonism, or whether you are talking about the false gods of the Greeks or the Romans or the Babylonians or the Egyptians in the ancient world—these were all represented by statutes, by idols of wood, or stone, or precious metals.
These gods are not simply idols of stone, wood, and metal. There was something evil behind them. There was a demon that was associated with them.
We get a warning of that in Psalm 106:35–38. Notice what the psalmist says, talking about the ancient Israelites and their failures. See, they assimilated with the Canaanites. They mingled with the nations. They learned their practices. That is why God said they needed to come out from them and be separate from them.
The Israelites served their idols. Notice the parallelism in the poetry here. “They served their idols, which became a snare to them.” The idols are a snare in Psalm 106:36.
Psalm 106:37 tells us how they were a snare, “They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons.” The demons are associated with those idols. They are not just innocuous, meaningless blocks of stone or wood or metal.
It goes on to say they shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan. Notice Psalm 106:37 says they sacrificed them to demons, and in Psalm 106:38 they sacrificed them to idols. The idols, those false religious systems, were the product of Satanic and demonic influence of the ancient world.
That is not just taught in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 10:20 Paul says, “No, but I say that the things that the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God.”
The whole context here in 1 Corinthians 10 is dealing with the issue of meat that has been taken to the temple and sacrificed to idols. What Paul is saying is that this is not completely innocuous because there are demons that energize these false religious systems. That is all part of representing Satanic thought and demonic thought.
In an earlier passage in Deuteronomy 32:15–18, this is Moses talking. When I quoted the passage from the Psalm that was much later, reflecting back on this same period.
This is Moses just before he dies. He is talking about how the Israelites, as they came out during the wilderness generation, how they succumbed at times to the idolatry of the Gentiles around them and what had happened to them in the past. It says “Jeshurun”—that is a term for Israel— “grew fat and kicked.” That is prosperity. “You are grown fat, thick, and sleek — Then he forsook God who made him, and scorned the Rock of his salvation.”
Deuteronomy 32:16, “They (Israel) made Him jealous with strange gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons who were not God.”
The Israelites did not know that they were sacrificing to demons, but when they had Aaron build a golden calf, that is a demonically inspired energized religion that they had learned about in Egypt. When they are sacrificing to the golden calf they are sacrificing to demons.
That is what lies behind that false religious system. They are identified as “gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately, whom your fathers did not dread.”
We are still involved in spiritual conflict. Paul says in Ephesians 6:11–12, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
I always like to point out here that Paul does not say to attack, to rebuke, to charge or to stomp on. I saw one deliverance guy on television one time act like he was stomping all over the devil.
“Standing” is a defensive term. You are designed to stand your ground and let God go on the offense. It is God the Holy Spirit who is on the offense for us. We are to stand our ground, putting on the armor and hold fast.
We are to do like William Barret Travis did at the Alamo. We are to take up a defensive position, but hopefully we will not be overrun like they were at the Alamo.
Paul goes on to say, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” Obviously there was antagonism. Paul is the one who has been beaten with rods three times and whipped by the Jews many more times. He has been thrown in prison a number of times. He has certainly been opposed by flesh and blood human beings.
But Paul recognizes that the ultimate enemies are not the human beings. They are not the democrats. They are not the liberals. They are not the progressives.
What is behind that, which is the real enemy, are the forces of Satan that are influencing the human race with these evil and horrible ideas. Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” This tells us a little bit about spiritual warfare. That is what is going on in Israel in 1 Samuel 5.
We need to learn a little more about Dagon. I want to run through a couple of different things:
He was a western Semitic and Mesopotamian deity. That means that the cultures in Canaan, up through Syria, and across the Fertile Crescent, over down through the area of modern Iraq, all through that area that were later known as Persia and Babylon and Assyria—all of those areas were deeply steeped in the worship of Dagon.
What we are seeing here is that these territories are really under the control of these demonically inspired religious systems. God is bringing the Israelites into that territory in order to establish a beachhead to create this counter culture kingdom in this land that God has promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
There is not only the physical warfare component that is going on between the human empires. That is really described in a lot of the visions that Daniel had in Daniel 2, 7–8. This is represented through these battles with these religious systems.
The Philistines are fighting against Saul. The Philistines are a problem all the way to the end of 2 Samuel. Saul is defeated when we get to the end of 1 Samuel. He is defeated at Mt. Gilboa. He is fatally wounded. He does not want to be captured and tortured by the Philistines. He tries to get his armor bearer to kill him, and he will not do it. So Saul falls on his sword.
Afterwards, when the Philistines get his body, they take his armor. They decapitated him and placed his head and his armor, guess where? They placed it in the temple of Dagon at Bet She’an, 1 Chronicles 10:9–10. The reason they put Saul’s armor and his head in the temple of Dagon is to show their power over Saul, their power over the Israelites and the God of Israel.
We know that the cult of Dagon continued down through the period between the Old Testament and the New Testament. There is evidence of that in 1 Macabees 10:83–84, when the Macabean high priest, Jonathan, burned down the temple of Dagon at Ashdod about 150 years before the time of Christ.
The Dagon cult lasted at least until 50 BC. There may have been some remnants of it even up into the New Testament period.
An older view of looking at this that gets kind of fun and interesting, and it ties some things together for you, is that the first three letters D-A-G in the name Dagon related to fish. The Hebrew word for fish is dag. That was set forth by a couple of medieval rabbis, Rashi, the acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, and Rabbi David Kimchi. These were men who lived right around AD 1000. Rashi lived about that time. Kimchi lived a little bit later.
These men basically retooled Judaism to completely remove Messianic prophecy from the Old Testament. Between those two men they basically got rid of that. This is one reason they are significant.
In terms of this study, they both put forth a view that Dagon was a fish god. No evidence has ever been found to indicate that, although Dagon is probably, on the basis of other evidence, viewed as the god of grain.
That could be possibly a connection with fish, because fish were used for fertilizer. We still use fish for fertilizer. That would fit because Dagon is part of the whole fertility cult, which, in an agricultural society, people were concerned about their crops having a lot of fertility and productivity the next year. They would engage in sexual acts with the ritual prostitutes to try to motivate the gods to make their crops productive during the coming year.
What was interesting is if you have ever read this book by Hislop, “The Two Babylons,” it is a very popular book written around the turn of the 19th century (1853 and expanded in 1858).
We have a whole history in Protestantism where we are very hostile to Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism has often been viewed by Protestants as the Mystery Babylon, the false religion of the end times.
One of my favorite posters I saw last week when the Pope was here just said very simply, very succinctly, “Protestants: Ignoring the Pope Since 1517”.
Sometimes we wonder where they get these interesting costumes. Where do these things like some of these hats come from? This is a picture here of the miter. You see it on these cardinals here in the lower right of the slide. You see it on the Pope up here. It is this hat that has this odd looking shape to it.
In the ancient world, the priest of Dagon wore a hat just like that. Is that not interesting?
Hislop in his book argued that this was the shape of a fish. Maybe or maybe not? This picture in stone from the Assyrian period, this diagram [in the lower left], these diagrams, are all in stone. These are ancient artifacts showing that whatever the origin of this hat was, this was the kind of head gear that the priest in the mystery religions, the fertility religions of the ancient world, wore.
As Roman Catholicism developed after the time of Constantine, and it began to spread throughout the Levant and throughout the area of the Mediterranean and on into other areas, they would absorb ideas. They would assimilate to the pagan religions. If they went to some town and they had ten gods and goddesses, they would suddenly become saints. The saints would be associated with the same things as those gods and goddesses were associated.
If the god was the god of good luck or the god who would help find things, then the saint would be a similar name. He would be the saint who would help you find things. Things like that.
A lot of the ritual, a lot of the accoutrements, and a lot of the costumes that are worn by the hierarchy in Roman Catholicism came right out of ancient paganism. I thought you would be interested in that. You see this coming from Dagon.
There was a large temple of Dagon in Mari, which is located in the area around the Euphrates, not far from Babylon. Hammurabi conquered Mari. We discovered about 20,000 cuneiform tablets from Mari that even though they do not talk about biblical events, they give us a window, a picture, into the ancient world between about 2800–1800 BC. What is described in these cuneiform tablets from Mari fits with the kind of culture the Bible describes.
Dagon was very popular in Mari. There was a huge temple to him that is dated to the 1700 period, 18th century BC. Dagon is also mentioned about a century later in the Amarna Letters, which was a collection of 350 cuneiform tablets from around the time of the conquest and the Judges period. It included correspondence between rulers in Canaan and rulers in Egypt and some of the other nations surrounding Canaan.
A temple of Dagon was discovered in Ugarit, which is located in the northern part of the country formerly known as Syria. Who knows what he is going to be known as later, or if the remains there at Ras Shamra, Ugarit, the tel where they discovered all this, will survive if ISIS captures it and all these wonderful artifacts are destroyed?
We see that Dagon was extremely prominent in the ancient world. He also was in the temple in Gaza, which Samson destroyed after they put his eyes out in Judges 16:21. Dagon was the god of that temple.
What is interesting in Judges 16:23, is after they cut off Samson’s hair and they blinded him, they put his eyes out, then they got together and had a victory dance.
And it says, “Now the lords of the Philistines gathered together to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice. And they said,” notice this, this is really tweaking God’s nose. They said, “Our god has delivered into our hands Samson our enemy!”
That is just like throwing down the gauntlet for God. This is where God is going to get back at them in Judges 16. What we see in terms of background is that the Ark represented the military power of Israel. God is not equated to the Ark, but the Ark is viewed as His throne. He is the God who is enthroned upon the cherubs. The Ark manifests the Presence of God, though God cannot be limited by space and time.
In Numbers 10:35 we get the instructions given for holy war. Holy war is often misunderstood. There is a biblical doctrine of holy war. It was the instructions that God gave to the Israelites to destroy every man, woman, and child, and in some cases all the livestock of the Canaanites. God has given them from the time of Abraham in roughly 2000 BC to the time of the conquest in 1400 BC, almost 600 years, to turn to Him.
God is a God of longsuffering and a God of grace, but instead of turning to God, the Israelites had become more and more perverse. The Israelites had developed these religious systems. They are sacrificing their children alive in the fiery furnace of Molech and Chemosh and these other gods and goddesses. They are engaged in all kinds of perverted sexual rituals to placate their gods. It was one of the most perverse and destructive cultures in all of human history.
If we think about this perverseness as someone who has cancer, this is a very virulent form of cancer that needs to be destroyed. It cannot be completely irradiated or cut out, but as it reaches certain stages, there has to be radical surgery to prevent immediate death.
That is the analogy. God allows these things to happen. He treats these cultures in grace, but when they reach a certain level of perversion, like with Sodom and Gomorrah, they have to be destroyed for the human race to survive.
The instructions are given for holy war, Numbers 10:35–36, “So it was, whenever the ark set out, that Moses said: ‘Rise up, O Lord!’ ” At this point they are going into battle. “ ‘Let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.’ And when it rested, he said, ‘Return, O Lord, to the many thousands of Israel.’ ”
There is a time for war and a time for peace. It did not go on. That was holy war.
The Bible recognizes two types of war: holy war and just war.
Just war, as is indicated, is when a nation is involved in war to protect itself from attacks from the enemy. This is what has been going on with the Philistines. They have defeated Israel. God has allowed that to happen. They take the Ark of God.
Notice, when the writer is writing the story from the perspective of the Philistines, because he has shifted his vantage point now. Before, the writer is talking about Israel going into battle at Aphek, but now they have been defeated.
Now he is looking at things from first the vantage point of the Philistines, and then the vantage point of God. When he is talking from the vantage point of Philistines, the Ark is always called “the Ark of God.” But when he talks from the vantage point of truth and Israel, it is called “the Ark of Yahweh, the Ark of the Lord.”
Then in1 Samuel 5:1–2, “Then the Philistines took the ark of God.” That is how they viewed it. This is just another god. They brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. “When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon and set it by Dagon.” It is now a servant of Dagon.
1 Samuel 5:3, “And when the people of Ashdod arose early in the morning, there was Dagon, fallen on his face to the earth before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and set him in his place again.”
You have to prop up your god. In all false religions you have to do something to prop up your god because he cannot pull through for you. This god is down on his face worshipping Yahweh. They have to set him back up on his feet.
Then they get up the next morning, 1 Samuel 5:4a, “And when they arose early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord.”
But this time God said we are going to make sure that you are not going to prop him back up again. When Dagon was knocked down again the hands were cut off and was decapitated. It is a very violent picture here. Dagon has had his head cut off, his hands cut off.
Why cut off the hands? You become disarmed. That is where that term comes from. You cannot carry a sword or spear. You cannot fight in battle if your hands are cut off.
This was one of the ways that the Canaanites practiced disarmament when they defeated an enemy. The Israelites practiced this when they defeated Adoni-Bezek at the beginning of Judges. They cut off his thumbs and his toes. You cannot hold a spear or hold a sword if you do not have thumbs. It is hard to run and to maintain your balance if you do not have your big toe.
That is what happens. God defeats him. He falls on his face to the ground into the posture of worshipping the Ark of the Lord. 1 Samuel 5:4b, “The head of Dagon and both palms of his hands were broken off on the threshold; only Dagon’s torso was left of him.”
I do not know how clearly you can see the picture in the slide, but it clearly shows the head and the hands that have been cut off from Dagon. I thought that was a great picture.
You have this interesting thing that goes on with the threshold that gives rise to the superstition to never step on the threshold. Temple thresholds in the ancient world were considered worthy of respect because these separated the sacred area from the common area.
Also, there is a scene from Judges 19 where the woman who is the concubine of the Levite. You have a scene that is reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrah, where everybody in town wants to gang rape this Levite’s concubine. Finally, in a very ungentlemanly performance, the Levite opens the door, throws her out to the mob, and shuts the door.
She is abused all night long. She is at the point of death. She crawls back to the door and has her hands on the threshold. This is a depiction that she is pleading for her life. The imagery behind this in the ancient world is that the threshold is a place where you can plead for your life and reach a certain level of security.
The next thing we see here, beginning in 1 Samuel 5:5, is a pretty simple story, “Therefore neither the priests of Dagon nor any who came into Dagon’s house tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.” That is just explaining the origin of this. They viewed this somewhat superstitiously.
Then it goes on in 1 Samuel 5:6a, “But the hand of the Lord was heavy on the people of Ashdod.” That means that God is just knocking the stuffing out of these people. I do not know what the population was there, but they are starting to experience some rapid deaths. They are having a plague in the city. Their population is being decimated. There is nothing they can do about it.
The “hand of the Lord is heavy against the people” is an idiom for the fact that God is taking them out.
1 Samuel 5:6b, “He ravaged them”, which indicates they are dying. They are suffering miserably. “He struck them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory.”
The word “tumors” is in the New King James Version. The old King James Version translated it “hemorrhoids”. We always have a lot of fun with that, but there is a reason for that. Some other translations translate it as “hemorrhoids.”
What is interesting is there is an addition to this text that shows up in the Septuagint and the Vulgate. What is important about that is in the ancient world when you get a couple of ancient texts that disagree with the Masoretic text, you ought to pay attention to it. It is a strong likelihood it was part of the original.
This would make sense in light of what is going to happen. The Septuagint and the Vulgate add this following statement, “And mice multiplied in their land, and the terror of death was throughout the entire city.” This has caused some people to think that what we have here is something like the bubonic plague—that these tumors would be large abscesses or something of that nature. The bubonic plague is called that because these kinds of cysts or tumors are called buboes.
Here is the Hebrew word ofel, which is translated emerods. I am not sure where that comes from, or hemorrhoids. It is also a cognate of the Arabic word, aflun, meaning tumor or a boil of the anus, which is where we get the idea of hemorrhoids. That is about as graphic as I am going to get, but it was pretty painful. God is really kicking them in the rear end. He is really taking advantage of them.
This is a lot of fun to imagine all of these Philistines. They are having problems with these anal tumors.
The Philistines have got some kind of disease that is going on that is killing them. Their population is being decimated. Finally, the men of Ashdod get together and say, we have got to get rid of God. He is too much for us.
1 Samuel 5:7–8, “The ark of God of Israel cannot remain with us. His hand is harsh toward us. Dagon is our god.” (Let us get rid of Yahweh here.) Notice, they always call Him the God of Israel, not Yahweh. “Therefore they sent and gathered to themselves.”
They got everybody together. We are going to have a huge meeting and decide what we are going to do with this Ark of the God of Israel. We cannot give it up because if we do that means we admit defeat. If you own the God of the enemy, you won! He was your servant, but if they give Him up, that is massive. That is admitting defeat and admitting that Israel really won the battle. They are going to take him to Gath.
This map shows us the route to Gath. They went to Ashdod first, then the Ark went to Gath, then up to Ekron, then it is going to be sent back to Israel. It is interesting, neither Ashkelon nor Gaza, that is further south, is mentioned in the text. Gaza is probably not mentioned because they are still dealing with this reconstruction project of the temple of Dagon. They were all messed up because of the influence of Samson.
1 Samuel 5:7–8. What happens? The Ark is taken. The Philistines say they are going to send it to Gath. They send it to Gath. The people at Gath were not too excited about it. After they carried it away, the hand of the Lord was against that city.
1 Samuel 5:9–11. “The hand of the Lord was against that city,” according to 1 Samuel 5:9, and “He struck the men of that city both small and great, and tumors broke out on them.” If it is something like the bubonic plague, then it is going from one town to another. The Philistine population is being decimated.
The men of Gath say “we cannot keep this thing here.” They are going to send it to Ekron. They send it to Ekron. The people of Ekron say, “why are you sending the Ark here? This god is going to kill us!”
They again have a meeting of all the lords of the Philistines, and they decide that they are going to send it back, “let it go back to its own place, so that it does not kill” our people anymore.
The text says, “there was deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there.” Their population is being decimated.
Notice the last verse, 1 Samuel 5:12, “And the men who did not die were stricken with the tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.”
What do you think about that? It goes up to Heaven. That is not where Dagon is. Yahweh is in Heaven. The God of Israel is in Heaven. Dagon is not in Heaven. He does not live in Heaven.
That is what is interesting. It is that God has gotten their attention. They want deliverance. It is going to come, but it has come at a cost to them. We will look at the further travels of the Ark when we get into 1 Samuel 6.
To tie it together here in 1 Samuel 6:1, “Now the ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months.” Think about that. This is the 10th month, so from last March until now you would be going through this kind of devastating plague where you would be losing maybe 30–40 percent of your population due to these horrible tumors, boils, hemorrhoids, or whatever they were. God just has a great sense of humor in the way He defends Himself. He does not need our help.
“Father, thank You for this time to study Your Word. May we be reminded that You are more powerful then any religious system, any political party, or any false religion. That we do not need to fear any of these things. That as we watch world events, we can relax knowing that You are in control. You are allowing things to develop the way they are through Your permissive will in order to bring about Your endgame plan for human history. Our responsibility is to be faithful in being a witness and in proclaiming the truth of the gospel. We pray that You will give us the strength and the courage to do so, in Christ’s Name. Amen.”