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In 1 Samuel 5-6 all interest is shifted from Israel to the land of the Philistines because the ark is there. Where there is God’s presence, there is the true center of interest. Shiloh, after three hundred years of the ark’s presence, loses the symbol of God’s presence (Joshua 18:1; Joshua 19:51). This makes Shiloh the constant reminder of the sin of the people (Jeremiah 7:12; Jeremiah 7:14).
God does not allow His glory to be violated in the land of the Philistines. He takes care of that. He maintains His own honor. The ark has brought no blessing to the Philistines. In this way, bible-critical pastors ensure that the churches do not become full but deflate. Their preaching brings death and destruction. They do not all want to do that consciously, but that is the result.
God and the Idols
In this chapter we have a piece of history, not of Israel, but of the Philistines, because the symbol of God’s presence is there. In picture it says that God’s attention is in the place where His Son is seen. This does not mean that God has given up His people forever or no longer loves them.
God does not relinquish His honor, although sometimes it seems so. When God acts like this, it always turns out that He has an intention. The result is a greater glorification of His Name than would otherwise have been possible. Thus we see that the Lord Jesus is glorified to His enemies precisely in the deliverance to His enemies and that in that therein God is “glorified in Him” (John 13:31).
In their folly the Philistines place the ark by their god Dagon. God and the idols cannot go together (2 Corinthians 6:14-Nehemiah :). God does not allow Himself to be mocked, but rather mocks Himself with the idol. The Philistines make an unsuspecting acquaintance with God. They think they have Him in their power, but He shows that they are in His power.
Dagon is probably a fish-god, half man, half fish. He represents an idol of insight (man) and crowd (fish). This is also the idol in Christianity. The religious man worships the human mind and large numbers. There is the reasoning that something cannot be wrong if many people do it.
The Philistines see conquering the ark not only as a victory over Israel, but also over the God of Israel. Gentiles multiply their gods; they add gods to the ones they already have. Israel’s actions are even worse because they exchange the true God for other gods.
The Philistines want to honor their god and belittle the God of Israel, but God maintains His majesty. He shows His presence and majesty above the god of the Philistines. It is no longer a matter between God and His people, nor between God and the Philistines, but between God and the idols. God’s presence judges the false gods (Jeremiah 50:2; Isaiah 48:5).
If the people and/or priests wish to offer their god early the next morning, they find a god who has fallen in worship before the God of Israel, as it were (cf. Psalms 97:7). They pretend it is an accident. Without further comment they lift their god and put him up again. It is a god without power. Idols, made by human hands, must always be carried (Isaiah 46:1-Exodus :). What a difference with the God of Israel, who carries His people (Isaiah 46:3-Numbers :). Isaiah impressively shows the contrast between the idols and God in the verses mentioned.
The Philistines learn nothing from the downfall of their god. The next night God breaks down the human characteristics. Only the bestial – as said Dagon is possibly a fish-man god – remains. In any case, this god is completely humiliated, both in his alleged intelligence – the head is cut off, what also speaks of authority, control – and in his alleged actions – the hands are cut off. The contentment between the cut-off hands of Dagon and “the hand of the LORD” (1 Samuel 5:6; 1 Samuel 5:91 Samuel 5:11) Who works things, is remarkable.
The consequence of the humiliation of their idol is an increase in their superstition. This is how blind is man who bends before idols. The custom they call respect is a lasting testimony to the powerlessness of their idol. Every time they step across the threshold, it is a reminder of their god’s downfall and of the exaltation of the God of Israel.
It is assumed, because of a verse in Zephaniah 1, that the idolatrous Israelites in the time of the prophet Zephaniah Dagon have accepted and worshiped as idol (Zephaniah 1:9). Stepping on the threshold means defilement. That is why they step over it. Or one falls for it and kisses the threshold. When Christianity became more and more corrupt, this worship of the threshold of the churches also took place. There have always been superstitious elements in Europe. The idols are accepted in roman-catholicism. It can be seen in the carrying of statues in processions. It is like carrying the trunk around.
God and the Idolaters
After God has dealt with their idols, He will occupy Himself with the idolaters. He makes them feel His judgment. He smites them with tumors, for which we can thinks of hemorrhoids or ostentatious tumors. Smiting with tumors means the outbreak of folly. It makes it clear that God stands up for the honor of His Son. There has also broken out a plague of mice, through which God also hits the land and its proceeds (1 Samuel 6:5).
The city princes of the Philistines deliberate what to do with this God. They want to get rid of Him and send the plagues to someone else. Their rejection of the ark is reminiscent of the rejection of the Lord Jesus by the Gerasenes. These people beg the Lord Jesus to leave their territory, because they have lost their swine through Him. That there is an insane man healed, leave them utterly indifferent. They prefer the company of an insane man, and therefore of demons, and the swine, to that of the Savior (Mark 5:13-Esther :).
The lords of the cities are still unwilling to give up their victory. In their short-sighted superstition they assume that it must have been local bad luck for Ashdod. The ark must go to Gath. The result of their deliberations is that the disasters come all over the Philistine community. It is like in Egypt again. God wants to show through plagues that He is there and He wants to force them to bring His ark – which here is always called “the ark of God”, also by the Philistines! – from the Philistine country back to His land.
The plagues are not only coercive. They are also warnings, calls to conversion. Yet the plagued man does not repent (cf. Revelation 16:8-1 Kings :). In the judgment there is no regard for the person. Small or large, rich or poor, young or old, woman or man, God strikes them all. So will also the great and small sinners stand before the great white throne and be judged (Revelation 20:12).
After Gath they want to send the ark of God to a third city, to Ekron. Man always wants to put up others with problems he cannot solve himself. At first sight God uses this as a means for the ark to make a triumphal march (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14).
We see that plagues do not change the heart of man. The people want the ark to return to its own place. They point to the calamity that the ark brought them. Here we can learn the lesson that those who believe in superstition that they can lay a claim on Christ, as the roman-catholic church does, will be plagued by plagues (Revelation 18:4-Ruth :).
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Samuel 5". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/