The Philistines have captured the Ark of the Lord. They brought it as their trophy into the temple of Dagon, their god. Dagon couldn’t stand in the presence of the Ark!
This is another one of my favorite stories! God didn’t allow ANY god to be raised above Him. It didn’t matter what His “hosts” thought, HE proved Who is the TRUE God!
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The Philistine army is returning from their battle against Israel. They victory cries can be heard ringing out as they approach their home in Ashdod. No need to wait for a report as everyone can easily guess the outcome from the sounds coming from this group. But there is a MAJOR surprise in store when the army actually arrives.
The priests of Dagon and the king of the city come out to welcome the victorious troops. As they watch the approaching army they notice they are carrying a large item. It is being borne on the shoulders of four men and covered with some kind of blue cloth. The welcoming party waits while the captain of the guard comes to present himself.
“How went the battle? What have you to report?”
“My lord we have defeated the Israelite dogs! We have also captured their God!” The captain motions the men forward who are holding the large item covered in the blue cloth.
As the Ark is brought forward the priest is wringing his hands and salivating with anticipation. The king holds himself aloof on the outside but inside is on par with the priest. The Ark rests suspended by the carrying poles on the shoulders of four men.
“Remove that cloth” commands the king.
“Wait! My lord, a god, even an enemy god should not be laid naked before the masses. Let it be brought into the temple of Dagon and laid bare there. Dagon can tower over this Israelite God and prove his superiority.”
The king is at first angry with the priest for interrupting and countermanding his orders but his counsel in sound. “Yes. Bring it into the temple of Dagon. Dagon can gaze down on this defeated God.”
The Ark of the Lord is brought to the door of the temple. The soldiers wait as the priest speaks with Dagon. “Great Dagon we have an offering for you. By your hand we have captured the God of the Israelites. We present it to you as a gift for your favor on us.”
After speaking these words the priest motions for four temple attendants to take the Ark from the soldiers. They bring it into the temple and sit it to the left of the huge statue of Dagon. The under priest is summoned for the next task. “Remove the covering and let’s have a look at this God of Israel’s.”
The under priest reaches out and takes hold of the cloth. His hands begun to burn as if he has just plunged them into the fire. Screaming in pain, he releases the cloth and falls back. He retreats to a corner of the room. Confusion and anger mar the face of the high priest and he bellows for another to remove the cloth. The second attempt meets with no better results. The high priest, after seeing the scorched hands of the two under priests decides to leave the cloth in place for now. He will deal with it tomorrow as it is already late in the day. “Leave! All of you. We will deal with this on the morrow.”
All night long the high priest thinks of ways to remove the covering of Israel’s God. He wants their God humbled before his own and letting it remain hidden seems wrong to him. He gets little sleep as he moves from one plan to the next, trying to find a solution. When morning comes he is anxious to try some of the different solutions he came up with. He dresses as quickly as possible and heads to the temple of Dagon.
The door to the temple moves easily as he pushes upon it to gain entrance. In his hands he holds the torch to light the lamps and a jar of incense. As soon as he crosses the threshold he feels that there is something different. He quickly applies the torch to the lamps and places his torch in its holder. His eyes are drawn immediately to a large object lying on the floor. It is Dagon! He is lying face down beside the still covered God of the Israelites. A cry of anguish is rent from his lips at the sight.
Several other priest come rushing to the sound of the high priest’s cry. They two are dumbstruck at the scene before them. Immediately they begin throwing out possibilities for such a scene. “Was there an earthquake?” “Did rodents get in and weaken the foundation?” “Maybe thieves broke in during the night.” None of the explanations seemed to fit well and the only thing they could agree on was getting Dagon up off the ground.
After a careful inspection of the base on which Dagon sat and the god itself they gathered the equipment necessary to raise Dagon. It took most the day to carefully maneuver him back into position. By the time they were done there was very little time to try some of the priest’s ideas for uncovering Israel’s God. It would hold for another night.
Sleep again proved elusive as the high priest tried to rationalize what he had walked into that morning. He came up with no firm answers but a resolve to remove the covering THIS DAY as he rose. Once again he rushes through his morning preparations. He doesn’t even make it into the temple this time before he is confronted with another catastrophe! On the threshold lie Dagon’s head and hands! Another scream rips from his lungs at the sight and brings the under priests scurrying to his aid.
“How could you let this happen?! Was no one on guard last night?”
“I stood guard last night my priest. None passed by. I allowed no one to enter the temple.”
“Then you are a FOOL for SOMEONE did enter the temple! Someone DESECRATED Dagon! I will have your heart as an offering for forgiveness!”
The priest carefully steps over the dismembered pieces of Dagon on the threshold to find that he has been completely disassembled. His torso lies at the foot of the Israelites God as if in supplication. The high priest is outraged at this scene! He rushes over and removes tongs from Dagon’s altar. He is determined to lay bare the God of Israel and right this wrong done to his god. With tongs in hand he moves towards the Ark. So intent is his focus on the object of his anger that he doesn’t notice the uneven tile on the floor. His sandal catches and he is flung to the floor. During his fall the tongs twist in his hand and he lands on them. They are embedded in his chest when he finally comes to rest beside the torso of his god, joining him in supplication to the God of Israel.
The under priests are frozen in place as this scene unfolds. As blood pours from the high priest’s chest the spell is broken and the under priests rush from the room. It is three hours before any of them are calm enough to begin the process of repairing the damage in the temple. They remove the high priest’s body, collect the pieces of Dagon and have the pieces brought to the craftsmen for reworking.
It will be some time before Dagon is ready to take his place again in the temple. It doesn’t seem right that the God of Israel is left to stand in Dagon’s temple in his absence but none dare touch it for fear of death.
The morning after the death of the high priest several of the under priests notice growths on their arms. They are knobby looking and painful. The most senior remaining priest assumes the role of high priest. He is called to the king who is also experiencing a growth on his leg.
“What is this? Relieve me of this pain! HEAL ME” demands the king.
“I have seen this on several of the under priests. I will lance it and pray to Dagon to heal it for you.”
“Whatever; just make it stop!”
The new high priest spends all day lancing the growths and praying to Dagon. He prays at the altar of Dagon even though his form is absent.
The next morning the number of people with these strange growths continues to grow. The size of the growths also increases. Lancing them did not alleviate the pain or poison causing them. They bulge from the skin as if seeking to separate themselves from the body.
After three days the high priest’s prayers still go unanswered. He is beside himself. He is at the point of excising the growths from all who can tolerate the procedure. The removed portions are encapsulated tumors and their occurrence is spreading through the populace like wildfire.
The desecration of Dagon and the appearance of the tumors are being linked back to the arrival of Israel’s God. With the failure of the priests to stop the spread of the tumors the people begin crying out for the removal of the Ark. The entire city and all its territories are in terror! “The Ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for his hand is hard against us and against Dagon our god” (verse 7b).
It takes two weeks before the people prevail in their desperate attempt to separate themselves from Israel’s God. The Ark of the Lord is sent to Gath. This was the decision of all the lords of the Philistines.
The king of Gath laughs at the people of Ashdod as they cower at the sight of the large blue object being carried by his soldiers. “Ashdod is a superstitious people” he thinks. He is not a fool though so he decides to leave the covering in place.
Israel’s God is brought into the city and placed in the temple. Within a day of its entrance through the gates tumors begin to appear on the people. Its spread is so pervasive that no one is exempt. Young, old, rich, poor; ALL are affected.
“The Ark of the God of Israel cannot stay here! Please send it away” the people of Gath cried. It had been with them for a short time but it was long enough to convince them that Israel’s God was dangerous. He didn’t need weapons of warfare to defeat them, His presence alone was enough to strike terror into the most callous heart in Gath.
The Philistine leaders met again and decided that Ekron would be the resting place for Israel’s God. Soldiers once again take up Israel’s God and move it onto another home.
As soon as the people of Ekron see the large blue structure coming their way they go into a panic! They have heard the stories from Ashdod and Gath. They want NO part of it in their city. “They have brought around to us the Ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people” (verse 10b).
The leaders of the Philistines met again to discuss what to do. It was finally decided that they needed to send the Ark of the Lord BACK to where it came from. “Send away the Ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people” (verse 11b).
The ark had to remain where it was while arrangements were made for its safe transport back to Israel. “The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to Heaven” (verse 12).
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God doesn’t need MY help. He is capable of speaking for himself. Even though God was speaking loud and clear the Philistines didn’t leave their gods and follow Him. Men and women make this same choice today. They follow after other gods that have nothing to offer them and ignore the only God who has the power to save.
Father God, thank You again for letting me look inside the story. I’m wondering if You did let the Philistines take the cover off Your Ark. I’m thinking You didn’t because not even the priests and Levites got to look on it so I doubt You would have let the Philistines do so. You are capable of protecting Yourself and everything You claim as Your own, including Your children. Your Ark was never in danger. It never left Your sight.
I LOVE how You put the Philistine god down! Did You get to do a repeat performance at each town? The tumors were definitely a repeat from town to town. You made Philistia so miserable that they HAD to send Your Ark back. There is NO God but YOU! And ALL the little gods rolled into one cannot stand in Your presence. Remind me again of this any time I am tempted to elevate something in Your place.