Lessons in Arkeology

I Samuel 5

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
February 2020

We are studying the Book of I Samuel.  Last week we looked at chapter four, which was the lowest point of the nation.  It was Israel’s darkest hour.  Nothing but bad things happen in that chapter.  The nation was defeated in battle to its arch enemy.  There were mass casualties.  Tens of thousands of soldiers were killed.  Priests were killed.  The High Priest was killed.

A baby was born but his mother dies in the process and he is given a depressing name which no one wants to have (Ichabod) and something happens in that chapter which had never happened before.  The ark of the covenant was captured.  The ark had been around since the time of Moses and was hundreds of years old.  This golden box symbolized the presence of God and had some holy relics in it, like the Ten Commandments.

Then two wicked priests did something stupid.  They took it to Ebenezer into battle.  They thought it would be a good luck charm.  It was captured by the enemies of God and taken to a foreign land.  It was raided, not by the Nazis (as Stephen Spielberg portrayed it) but by the Philistines.  Today, we will see the rest of the story or at least the next chapter of it.  Where did it go?  What happened to it?  What does it say to us today?

Today, we are going to look at I Samuel 5.  It is a short chapter.  It is only twelve verses long. Our topic for today is “Lessons in Arkeology.”  Some have entitled this chapter “Arkeological Discoveries.”  It is a play on the word “archaeology.”  The title is not original with me.

What can we learn about the ark from this chapter?  What does it say about God?  What do we learn about man from this chapter?  It is very interesting to see man’s response to what God does.  We will go through the chapter and then look at some applications.  There are some great lessons from this chapter.

Yahweh vs. Dagon

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. (I Samuel 5:1 NIV)

Let’s try to put ourselves in their mind at this point.  The Philistines are on top of the world.  They are gloating.  The Hebrews have become a laughingstock. The Philistines just beat the Jews. The Jews may have beaten the Egyptians and the Canaanites, but the Philistines beat the Jews in battle, not once but twice.  Let’s try to put ourselves in their mind at this point.The Philistines had the momentum.

The sin of the Israelites was PRESUMPTION.  They took the ark into battle and assumed it would help them.  The sin of the Philistines was PRIDE.  They thought because they beat the Israelite in battle that they beat their God.  They captured “God in a Box” and took it as spoils of war.  They brought it home as a trophy and paraded it through the city.  Both the Israelites and the Philistines made a big mistake.

The Israelites made the mistake of thinking the ark would help them in battle, if they brought it.  It didn’t.  It actually hurt them.  More people died when they brought the ark into battle.

The Philistines made the mistake of thinking that if they defeated the Jews; they defeated their God.  They made the mistake of thinking that their military victory proved that their god was superior to Yahweh.  We will see in this chapter that this was not true.

So what did they do the ark?  They put the ark in Dagon’s temple.  Dagon was the main god of the Philistines.  In pagan mythology, he was the father of Baal.  The Philistines added Yahweh to their pantheon, with Dagon prevailing over Yahweh, as the Philistines prevailed over Israel, as the vanquished before the victor.

Notice what the Philistines did not do to the ark.  They did not try to destroy the ark.  They did not smash the ark with a sledgehammer.  They did not try to steal the gold off of it.  They were not complete barbarians.  They were very religious.  They were pluralists, like secular man is today.  They believed all religions and all faiths are good.  Yahweh is good.  Dagon is good but they did not just teach that Yahweh was equal to Dagon.  They believed that Dagon was superior to Yahweh.

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 (I Samuel 5:3 NIV)

Idol falls on its face.  Dagon is in the dust. The text says Dagon fell on his face on the ground BEFORE the ark of the Lord.  The ark is put in a pagan idolatrous temple in an inferior position to Dagon.  The next day, Dagon falls prostrate on the ground as though worshiping before the ark.  That brings to mind Philippians 2:9-11.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)

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. (I Samuel 5:4 NIV).

After the first day, Dagon’s worshippers get a big shock.  They come into Dagon’s temple and find Dagon lying is facedown and prostrate in the dirt.  His worshippers had to come in and put him back in his place.  They did not get the message, so on day two, he not only fell down before the ark but was DECAPITATED and MUTILATED.  He was executed and his head was cut off. He became a headless god, a decapitated god. Not only was his head chopped off; his hands were chopped off.

They were not broken off but cut off or chopped off.  This was not accidental.  It was intentional and deliberate.  Why the head and hands?  This is often happened to kings in the Ancient Near East who were defeated.  Their head or hands were cut off to show their inferiority.  After David killed Goliath, he chopped off his head (I Samuel 17:54).  After Saul was killed, his head was cut off by the Philistines (I Samuel 31:6).

Something supernatural has happened two days in a row.  Two days in a row, Dagon falls facedown on the found BEFORE the ark in a subservient position and on the second day, there was no question what was going on here.  It was clear to anyone objective that Yahweh was superior to Dagon.  The facts were undeniable.  It happened two days in a row.  It wasn’t a fluke.

What was the result of this?  Did revival break out?  Did the Philistines repent?  Did they change religions?  Did anyone finally realize that Dagon was a false god?  Did they realize that he was really weak, impotent and powerless?  Did anyone start worshipping Yahweh?  No.

They had the opposite reaction.  They said, “Make sure you don’t walk anywhere Dagon’s head or feet touched because the ground is now consecrated.  It is sacred, so don’t touch it.”  Dagon fell on the threshold (I Samuel 5:4). 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. (I Samuel 5:5 NIV). They got rid of the ark but bad things continued to happen.

The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors. (I Samuel 5:6 NIV)

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.  (I Samuel 5:9-10 NIV)

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. (I Samuel 5:10-12 NIV)

Not a single Philistine repented.  Not one became a believer in the true God.  This is amazing.  The Philistines suffered greatly, and they knew where the suffering came from.  They knew that God’s hand was heavy upon them.  They felt bad about it.  They grieved.  They wept.  They cried out but they did NOT repent.  They REFUSED to repent.

Unfortunately, God can do all kinds of things in people’s life.  He can do all kinds of things to get people’s attention. They can have all kinds of revelation and still reject him.  Jesus performed all kinds of miracles, raising people from the dead and they still didn’t believe.

The Philistines were dumb, but they weren’t stupid.  They were dumb enough to worship a god who did not exist, even after his hands and head were cut off but they were smart enough to know how to stop the suffering that was taking place. They knew that they had to get rid of the ark.  Their solution was to get rid of their problem, not to get rid of their sin or to repent.

They just treated the ark like a game of hot potatoes.  Everyone who touches the hot potato gets burned, so you try to get rid of it and throw it to someone else.  The RAIDERS of the lost ark became TRADERS of the lost ark. Let’s look at some applications from this chapter.  What lessons stand out clearly here?  What does this chapter tell us about God?

Applications for Today

1) God is all-powerful

The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.” (Psalm 135:6 NIV)

Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. NOTHING is too hard for you.” (Jeremiah 32:17 NIV)

With God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26 NIV)

Why are all things possible with God?  Because He is all-powerful.  He is omnipotent.  God is not impotent or weak.  He is all powerful.  Even when the ark was captured, God was all-powerful.  Even when God’s people are defeated and killed, He is still all-powerful.  Even when bad things happen in your life, He is still all-powerful.

Even when He was in a foreign land, God was all powerful.  Even when God looked defeated and powerless, He is all-powerful. God looked like He was a captive to the house of Dagon.  Jesus looked defeated on the cross.  It looked outwardly that the Romans won, and Jesus lost but the reverse was true.  God always wins.

The ark is in the hands of the enemies of God, but God is not sitting on his hands saying, “When will someone get me out of here?  When will someone come and help me?”  God does NOT need Israel to come help him.  He does NOT need an army to rescue him.  In fact, God does NOT need any of us.  He uses us but he does not need us.

God defeats Dagon in his own country, on his own turf, and in his own temple.  Dagon had the homefield advantage and he still lost.  Dagon and Yahweh go two rounds. They square off against each other and there is no contest.  Dagon is not even real.  He is decapitated and mutilated.  He is headless and handless.  He can do nothing without his head or hands.  He cannot think.  He cannot speak.  He cannot act.  He cannot even stand up.

The Philistines defeated the Israelites in battle, but they haven’t defeated God.  Dagon’s hands were chopped off but the hand of the Lord was still intact and was powerful.  After Dagon’s hands were cut off, we are told this four times.

 The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity (I Samuel 5:6 NIV)

his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god. (I Samuel 5:7 NIV)

The Lord’s hand was against that city, throwing it into a great panic. (I Samuel 5:9 NIV) 

For death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy on it. (I Samuel 5:11 NIV)

2) God judges sin

God judges sin.  He judges sin in the Israelites.  He judges sin in the Philistines.  God judges sin in His own people.  In fact, I Peter 4:17 says that judgment must begin at the house of God.  In the last chapter, God judged the Israelites by killing many of them and by letting the ark of the covenant be captured by the enemy.

In this chapter, God judging the Philistines for taking the ark.  It was a great tragedy of the Israelites to lose the ark.  The ark was a national treasure, but it was a greater tragedy of the Philistines to capture it. They find out it is a terrifying box.  It caused them all kinds of pain, suffering and even death.

The sin He judges in this chapter is false religion, and idolatry.  God not only judges false religion, He judges false worshippers. I Samuel 5:7 says, “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.”

God did not just judge Dagon; He judged Dagon’s followers.  Judgment came on people who were young and old (I Samuel 5:9).  They were under the judgment of God and the Bible says that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).  The Philistines thought that the Lord fell into their hands but in reality, they fell into his hands.  This was not a light affliction.  It was a HEAVY AFFLICTION.  We see that twice in this chapter (I Samuel 5:6, 11).

How did He judge them?  He judged them with three things.  First, He judged them with DEPRESSION.  They had panic and anxiety (I Samuel 5:9, 11).  People were filled with terror and dread.  They were terrorized.  Second, He judged them with DISEASE.  Does God cause some diseases?  That is not popular among prosperity preachers: God causing sickness, but He caused some sickness in this chapter.  He caused some tumors.

We are told this four times in the chapter.  This disease was not just caused by germs or bacteria.  It wasn’t natural.  It was supernatural.  God sent it.  This was not just bad luck.  It was divine judgment.

THE HAND OF THE LORD was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and HE terrified and afflicted them WITH TUMORS, both Ashdod and its territory. (I Samuel 5:6 ESV)

And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for HIS HAND is hard against us and against Dagon our god.” (I Samuel 5:7 ESV)

But after they had brought it around, THE HAND OF THE LORD was against the city, causing a very great panic, and HE afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that TUMORS broke out on them. (I Samuel 5:9 ESV)

They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “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.” For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. THE HAND OF GOD was very heavy there. (I Samuel 5:11 ESV)

What specifically was the disease?  We don’t know for sure.  Some old versions say “emerods” (KJV, Young’s Literal Translation, Douay Rheims, JPS Tanakh 1917).  What are emerods?  It is an archaic term for hemorrhoids, which is what some translations actually say (NAB, Darby Version, Kempton Translation, Jubilee Bible 2000) but this is unlikely, because hemorrhoids don’t kill people.  I have never had any hemorrhoids myself but have been told that, even though hemorrhoids are very painful, they won’t kill you.  This is terminal.  People get these tumors and die.

Other people say that it was the Bubonic Plague or Black Death (so TLB) because mice or rats are mentioned four times in I Samuel 6 and they were carriers of that disease.  Fleas would get on a rat and then on a person and they would get a bacterial infection, which would lead to inflammation and huge blister boils in the lymph nodes.

Third, He judged them with DEATH.  Many died.  This is a scary passage.  God is not just going to judge the false religion of the Philistines.  He is going to judge the false religion in our own day.  The planet is full of people who worship a false god.  Just being religious is not enough.  The Philistines were religious, but God still judged them.  As we saw last week, God only accepts worship that is in spirit and in truth.

3) God alone is to be worshipped

The Bible is very different from pluralism.  Pluralism teaches that all religions are good.  All religions are true.  You should respect all religions, but the Bible doesn’t do that.  It doesn’t teach that all religions are true.  Jesus said, “I am THE way and THE truth and THE life. NO ONE comes to the Father EXCEPT THROUGH ME.”

In Acts 3, Peter heals a man who was lame.  Then he says, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed… Salvation is found in NO ONE ELSE, for there is NO OTHER NAME under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10, 12 NIV)

The Bible does not respect the god Dagon.  It mocks him.  This chapter shows the utter foolishness of idolatry.  It shows the folly of worshipping things made by human hands.  It is one of the funniest chapters of the Bible.  It shows that God has a sense of humor.  It is a divine comedy.  You can’t read this chapter and the one after it and not laugh.  You have to laugh at false god Dagon on its face in the dirt with its head and hands chopped off.

The silly Philistines who have to pick their god up when he falls down and prop him up.  Dagon had fallen and he could not get up, like the old lady in the commercial.  He is weak and powerless and has to be helped by his followers.

This god is so weak he cannot even stand up by himself.  He can’t even get up.  The next day, his followers come to the temple and their god is a stump.  When its head and hands fall off and they have to try to glue the parts together.

A real God does not fall apart.  A real God does not have to be glued together.  A real God does not have to be sent to the shop for repairs.  A real God does not have to be helped to stand up.  A real God is able to walk and move. A real God is able to act and do things.

We are not dumb enough to make a statue and bow down to it.  We are to sophisticated for that but it is just as foolish for us to put other things in our life above God and make idols of them and worship them instead of God.  Do we worship God alone or do we worship idols?  I John 5:21 tells Christians to keep themselves from idols.

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