Mighty God, marvelous are your deeds, just and true are your ways. I give you all my praise.
Read 1 Samuel 5
The Ark in Ashdod and Ekron
5 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.[a] 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.[b] 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[c] 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.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Father, help me to see underneath the humor of this chapter to what is going on.
It was, of course, the height of insolence and insult to bring the Ark into Dagon’s house, but the Philistines were superstitious too. What actually happened, why Dagon fell, we don’t know, but maybe God was using their superstition against them. After all, he will not allow his name to be dragged in the mud; the Philistines needed to know that the God of Israel had not, in fact, lost control. We might find the story humorous, but what other nations thought about God really mattered. Israel’s responsibility under the covenant was to show the world what God was like. Since they had rather missed the mark by thinking that they could manipulate him by moving the Ark, something needed to change.
Then we have this story about the tumors and the fear generated by them, especially when it seemed that wherever the Ark was sent the disease went too. Not much is said about what these tumors were, but the mention of rats gives a clue.1 In his book, Jungle Doctor on the Hop, Paul White turns to 1 Samuel 5 and 6 when he faces exactly this problem of rats and tumors in the plains of Tanganyika (as it was then) and recognizes bubonic plague – in time to save five thousand lives.2 It’s not surprising that there was so much panic in the Philistine cities. The coronavirus pandemic, another frightening and unknown disease, has caused much fear, worldwide.
Fear is a normal emotion. Whether it comes from weird experiences or dangers from outside, most of us know how it can easily turn to panic. What do we do at such times? Perhaps it may be helpful to remember that God has not lost control, even when we don’t understand.
Is there something that is causing fear in your life, or in that of someone you know? Pray about it, trusting God’s faithfulness.
Lord Jesus, you are truly the way to God! In a world of compromise I pray for strength for courage to share you as the only way to the Father.
1 1 Sam 6:4,5 2 Paul White, Jungle Doctor on the Hop, Paternoster Press, 1957
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