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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 5

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod.

Ashdod - or Azotus, one of the five Philistine satrapies, and a place of great strength. That it was always a fortified place is evident from its name, which signifies power, like the Arabic shedeed, 'strong' (Wilkinson in Rawlinson's 'Herodotus'). It was an inland town, 34 miles north of Gaza, now called Esdud.

Verse 2

When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.

The house of Dagon. Stately temples were erected in honour of this idol, who was the principal deity of the Philistines, but whose worship extended over all Syria, as well as Mesopotamia and Chaldea, his name being found among the Assyrian gods on the cuneiform inscriptions (Rawlinson). He was represented under a monstrous combination of a human head, breast, and arms, joined to the belly and tail of a fish. The captured ark was placed in the temple of Dagon, right before this image of the idol. "Dagon" [ Daagown (H1712), from daag (H1709), a fish, and -own, the abbreviated form of the name of the god] - the maritime, Aon, or Oannes, as he was called in Chaldean. 'There is in the British museum an ancient coin which represents Dagon on one side, and a ship on the other. The god has a human head and arms, and the tail of a dolphin. In his right hand he holds a fish, with its head upwards; in his left another, with its head downward.

This ingenious hieroglyphic signifies that in the land over which Aon, the enlightener of men, ruled and guided the sun, it began its course on land in the east (the front), figured by the human forepart, and ended it in the sea in the west (the back), figured by the hind part of a maritime creature. It reaches its greatest elevation at the right hand of the god - i:e., the south; this is implied by the fish looking upward: and it sank below the horizon at his left, the north; this is expressed by the fish going down. Such an emblem must have been designed in a country of which it accurately described the geographical bearings-one with the continent eastward, and a western sea; and, moreover, for the emblem to be intelligible, it requires that the Oriental mode of reckoning, and which refers the east to the front, the west to the back, etc., should be customary in the language of the country. These conditions are fulfilled in Palestine alone, in the region of the maritime proto-Phoenicians, where we find the Scriptural Philistines, worshippers of Dagon' (Corbaux, 'Journal of Sacred Literature,' Oct., 1852, p. 114).

Bunsen ('Egypt's Place,' 4:, p. 244) gives a totally different view of the Philistine deity. According to him, 'Dagon = Dagan, grain; and the Shephelah, the plain of Philistia, was preeminently a wheat-field. Dagon, then, is both linguistically and documentally the god or Zeus of agriculture.' But this view of Bunsen's is, like many other of his opinions, paradoxical, and contradicted by history and modern discoveries.

The form in which, according to the united testimony of ancient Jewish and pagan writers, the Dagon of Phoenicia and the Philistines was worshipped was a combination of the human figure with that of a fish (Selden, 'De Diis Syris;' Kenrick's 'Phoenicia;' Beyer's and Abarbanel's 'Commentaries'). The ancient historian Berosus describes ten reigns, filled with accounts of monsters, half men, half fish, who passed the night in the sea and the daytime on land, prototypes of Dagon (Cory's 'Fragments,' p. 30). A sculptured figure of Dagon, the fish god, was found in the palace of Kouyunjik, dressed in Assyrian costume (see plate, Layard's 'Nineveh and Babylon,' p. 343), it having been introduced into Chaldea, Assyria, and Babylon by the Phoenician merchants; and his name, as Rawlinson states, is frequently met with in the cuneiform inscriptions.

Set it by Dagon, [ 'eetsel (H681)] - by the side of, near Dagon; deposited in his temple as a prize of war.

Verse 3

And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.

They of Ashdod arose early. They were filled with consternation when they found the object of their stupid veneration prostrate before the symbol of the divine presence. Though set up, it fell again, and lay in a state of complete mutilation. His head and arms, severed from the trunk, were lying in distant and separate places, as if violently cast off, and only [ daagown (H1712)], the fishy part, remained. The degradation of their idol, though concealed by the priests on the former occasion, was now more manifest and infamous. He lay in the attitude of a vanquished enemy and a suppliant; and this picture of humiliation significantly declared the superiority of the God of Israel.

Verse 4

And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 5

Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon's house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day.

Therefore neither the priests ... nor any ... tread on the threshold of Dagon. A superstitious ceremony crept in, and in the providence of God was continued, by which the Philistines contributed to publish this proof of the helplessness of their god.

Unto this day. The usage continued in practice at the time when this history was written, probably in the later years of Samuel's life.

Verse 6

But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof.

The hand of the Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod. The presumption of the Ashdodites was punished by a severe judgment that overtook them in the form of a pestilence.

Smote them with emerods, [ ba`poliym (H6076)] - tumors, bleeding piles, hemorrhoids (Psalms 78:66), in a very aggravated form. Since the pagans generally regarded diseases affecting the secret parts of the body as punishments from the gods for trespasses committed against themselves, the Ashdodites would be the more ready to look upon the prevailing epidemic as demonstrating the anger of God already shown against their idol.

Verse 7

And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god.

The ark of ... God ... shall not abide with us. It was removed successively to several of the large towns of the country; but the same pestilence broke out in every place, and raged so fiercely and fatally that the authorities were forced to send the ark back into the land of Israel.

Verses 8-10

They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 11

So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go again to his own place, that it slay us not, and our people: for there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there.

They sent - i:e., the magistrates of Ekron.

Verse 12

And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods: and the cry of the city went up to heaven.

The cry of the city went up to heaven. The disease is attended with acute pain, and it is far from being a rare phenomenon in the Philistian plain, though on the occasion referred to in the text it appeared in a malignant form, and prevailed to an alarming extent (Van de Velde, vol. 2:, p. 174).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 5". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/1-samuel-5.html. 1871-8.
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