The Ark in the Land of the Philistines
1 Samuel 5:1-12 ; 1 Samuel 6:1-11
There are several things we think should be emphasized.
1. Ebenezer means "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." What! Was the Ark of God taken from the place "where the Lord helped us," to the place of utter and ignominious defeat? Even so.
It is written that He could do no mighty works in Nazareth because of their unbelief. Why was Christ helpless to demonstrate His power and His glory in the city where He had been brought up? It was because, to them, He was, "Jesus the carpenter's son," or, "Jesus, the son of Joseph." They did, to be sure, marvel at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth; but yet, when He made manifest His Deity, they dragged Him to the brow of the hill, on which the city was built, intent on casting Him off to His death.
Unbelief is not the only thing that limits the power of God in behalf of His own. It is also written, "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God." If any man regards sin in his heart the Lord cannot hear, and will not hear. David in sin, was David in the place of defeat.
2. From Ebenezer to Ashdod, and from Ashdod to the house of Dagon. It seems that we are now reading the impossible. Surely there is no place for our God in the city of Ashdod, and in the temple of Dagon. He might, indeed, go there to give a testimony for the truth, to preach the Gospel; but how can He be dragged there by His opponents? How can He be placed there, in company with Dagon, as another of the Philistines' false gods?
Is it not written "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me"?
I. DAGON WAS FALLEN ON HIS FACE (1 Samuel 5:3-4 )
When the disciples sought to make three tabernacles, it did not take God long to rebuke them with "This is My beloved Son: hear Him!"
When the Ark was taken into the house of Dagon, it did not take God long to cast down Dagon. His keepers set Dagon once again on his pedestal, but the next morning Dagon was again prostrate on his face to the ground before the Ark. This time the head of Dagon and both his hands were cut off upon the threshold, and only the stump of Dagon was left to him.
1. The supremacy of God over all is clearly before us. No hand lifted up against the Lord can prevail. He only is God, and there is none other.
In Isaiah it is written: "The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low * *. And the idols He shall utterly abolish."
It is at the Name of Jesus that every knee shall bow; everything in Heaven, everything on earth, or under the earth all must bend the knee to Him. Think you then that the Ark, where God met His people, the Ark that stood for things Divine, could be housed alongside of false gods? Nay! Down fell Dagon, his head and hands broken off.
2. The power of God over all powers is clearly before us. Not only is God to be first in all things, and every power to fall at His presence, but God is able to subdue all things that lift up themselves against Him. Every high thing, and every thing mighty, must succumb to God's almightiness.
Even we, as saints, are panoplied with power from on High, for the weapons of our warfare are mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds. To Christ seated at the Father's right hand, God says, "Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool."
II. THE MEN OF ASHDOD WERE DESTROYED (1 Samuel 5:6-7 )
1. God works His judgments unseen and unheard. Not alone did God break down the idol Dagon, but He brought low the people of Ashdod, who worshiped the idol.
The Philistines thought that they could conquer God, for they had met Him on the field of battle and vanquished His armies, and taken the Ark which was the symbol of His presence with His people Israel.
If they could conquer so great a people, what had they to fear of the people's God? Little did they know of the might of Jehovah. God who created the heavens and the earth with His Word, could easily send forth His judgments by His Word. God is not dependent upon armies and men. He uses His own when they are faithful to work His purposes; but when men fail, He can work marvels unseen by men.
Thus it was in the days of Elisha. "For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host * *. Wherefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents, and their horses," etc. Thus God worked when no man lifted a hand to fight.
2. God works His judgments with unlikely things. We read, "The hand of the Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and He destroyed them, and smote them with emerods."
The men who gather themselves together against God should remember that He who sitteth in the Heavens shall laugh at them, and hold them in derision. God may, for a while suffer men to continue in their evil ways. He is longsuffering, and not willing that any should perish. However, when the harvest of their iniquity is ripe, and the time of opportunity is past, He will arise and send upon them the judgment that is meet.
So it was that the men of Ashdod cried out, and said, "The Ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us."
III. SEEKING TO GET RID OF THE ARK (1 Samuel 5:7-8 )
1. The men of Ashdod were afraid of God. Someone says, "And well they might have been afraid." Dost thou think so? "Certainly," you say; "look at the way He killed them off."
Yes, we suppose the sinner always has, and always will be afraid of God, when he sees the judgments of God falling upon him.
In Revelation 6:1-17 the wicked are so filled with the fear of His wrath that they cry for the rocks and mountains to fall upon them and hide them from His face. Yes, they are afraid. Adam and Eve were afraid and hid themselves in the trees of the Garden.
No doubt the wicked will be filled with fear at the Great White Throne, as they are judged according to their works.
2. The men of Ashdod sought to send away their greatest friend. Suppose they had believed God; suppose they had gladly sought His grace, and had come to Him under a true token; He surely would have gladly received them. It is written, "Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out." There was the Ark, where they could have found the mercy seat, and have come to God as suppliants of grace. But they did not.
Why should the wicked fear the wrath of God, when the God of wrath is the God of love? In the Book of Revelation where the Lord Jesus is treading out the winepress of God's wrath, it says, "He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God." The word "Almighty" refers to the God who is enough.
Wrath never falls until mercy has spent its all in behalf of the wicked. Sinner, there is One standing at your side even now. He is the once crucified, but now risen and exalted Christ. Wilt thou send Him away? He is thine only Hope of peace.
"There's a Stranger at the door,
Let Him in;
He has been there oft before,
Let Him in;
Let Him in, ere He is gone,
Let Him in, the Holy One,
Jesus Christ, the Father's Son;
Let Him in."
IV. SENDING THE ARK BACK TO ISRAEL (1 Samuel 5:11 )
1. The Ark sent from Ashdod to Gath. We would not say that it was exactly kind of the citizens of Ashdod to send the Ark to the people of Gath. That is just what they; did. Perhaps the lesson for us to learn is that everyone who sins passes his penalties on to others.
Perhaps we should consider that it is a poor way to rid oneself of any evil by passing it over to another town. How can this be done?
We remember in a Georgia town when the people got aroused because of the houses of shame in their midst, that a committee waited on a certain judge and urged him to issue orders to make the evil women leave the city. The judge quietly said, "To which of the neighboring cities would you suggest that I send them?" Then he soberly asked the committee, "Gentlemen, have you tried to save these wicked women from their sins?"
2. The people of Gath suffered a very great destruction. Wherever there is sin, there is wrath revealed from Heaven. God is not a respecter of persons. Neither are sinners so different; for the people of Gath sent the ark to Ekron. Then the Ekronites cried out, saying, "They have brought about the Ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people."
Thus the lords of the Philistines hastened together, and they decided to send the Ark back to its own place.
Back went the Ark. Not only was the Ark returned but it was returned in a very brilliant way. This we will consider shortly. Let us now admit that the Philistines had learned something of the greatness and the power of the God of Israel. They may have discovered the folly of fighting against God. When they had been victor over the Israelites, and had taken the Ark away from them, they no doubt thought themselves worthy of praise and they re-joked greatly. However, they now saw that what seemed a victory was a defeat.
V. SENDING THE ARK BACK TO ISRAEL WITH GREAT POMP (1 Samuel 6:2-4 )
1. "Send it not empty." The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. The Philistines called for the priests and the diviners to inquire as to how the Ark should be sent back. "Send it not empty," said they. We are reminded of the folly of the king of Syria when he sent Naaman to be healed of his leprosy. First of all, he sent him to the king instead of to the Prophet; secondly He sent him with ten talents of gold, and six thousand pieces of silver, and ten changes of raiment.
People, to this day, think God can be bought. The song may say
"Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy Cross I cling,"
but not so says the religion of the twentieth century before, or of the twentieth century after Christ.
O foolish priests and diviners, think ye to appease the wrath of God by the works of the flesh? Is this what God requires at your hand?
2. "In any wise return Him a trespass offering." Yes, the Israelites were instructed as to a trespass offering; but their trespass offering lost all of its blessing, as the people of Israel lost all of its Calvary significance.
The Philistines knew nothing of Christ and the Cross; they were not pleading the merits of the Atonement. They were more like the unbelieving prophets of Baal, who sacrificed their bullock, and cried aloud, and cut themselves with knives and lancets till the blood gushed out upon them; yet there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
"There is none other name under Heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
3. The Philistines made images of emerods and of mice to give glory unto God. These were images of the very things that God commanded should not be made. They made images of the things which God had sent to bite them, and to slay them. Most of the gods and idols of the heathen are made in order to appease the wrath of the god whom they ignorantly worship.
VI. THE WARNING OF THE PRIESTS AND DIVINERS (1 Samuel 6:5-6 )
1. Grasping at straws. The diviners and the priests said: "Do this, and do that, peradventure the God of Israel will lighten His hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your lands." They gave to the Philistines no positive assurance and no certain hope.
The best they could say was "Peradventure." As we see it the whole worship of heathendom centers in a "peradventure." They are always trying to appease the wrath of the gods. They are always hoping to find God, or to make themselves like God. They never know anything of peace or of a certain rest, such as the Christians know.
To them the pathway to peace is a long and arduous one an unhill climb, through which they hope, sometime, to attain unto a place of rest. In heathendom, peace is the final goal that lies at the top or summit of all human endeavor; to the Christian, peace lies at the foot of the mountain, and is given to the lost sinner the moment he believes.
2. Building a new cart. The next thing the priests and diviners of the Philistines suggested was that they should make a new cart, and take two milk kine, on which there had come no yoke. Thus they were to take the Ark of the Lord home again. It was some gorgeous affair they had. The cart was only to carry the Ark, but along with the Ark they were to send jewels of gold, in a coffer, by the side of the Ark as a trespass offering.
We feel sure that the church is losing the simplicity of worship and service. More and more we are looking to fine structures, embellished and made beautiful to behold. Embellishment has nothing whatsoever to do with our approach to God. There is but one thing necessary to come to the Father, and that is, the Son. "No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me."
Would that we might get back to the simplicity of the Gospel, and spend our excess wealth on preaching Christ to the ends of the earth.
VII. THE HOMEWARD MARCH (1 Samuel 6:11-12 )
1. A sad combination. Think of it! There was the cart, something that had absolutely no affiliation with the Ark, for the Ark was made to be carried and not carted. There was the coffer, within which were placed the mice of gold, and the images of their emerods. There were the kine that drew the cart. There were the Philistines who were servants of Belial. You will all grant me that the combination was most unhallowed and almost uncanny.
We write with a tinge of sadness. Is it not so even today? We are tagging on or tying on to the worship of our God, many, many things that are altogether obnoxious to Him and wholly contrary to both His Person and His command.
We have plenty of men and women taking active part in the service of the Lord who are altogether unholy, and are even children of Belial.
If we marvel that God would permit the combination we set forth, in the days of the Philistines, should we not, the rather, marvel that God permits so many unhallowed affiliations in our own day?
2. A satisfied people. When at last the march was over and the Ark was delivered into the hands of Israel, the Philistines felt that they had gotten rid of a great and dark cloud that had hung over their land. God, at least, was gone and they thought that perhaps they would get along all right now with Him away.
Alas, alas, that such is the conception of many today.
The prodigal son wanted to get away from the father, from the environments of home life, and from the constraints of parenthood. Young people, themselves, too often want to break the ties that bind them to the church, to God, and to holy living. The spirit of the Philistines is still abroad in the land.
We are in India with idols all around us. Are the Hindus and the Philistines all the peoples who have their Dagons?
How many hours how many days years are wasted kneeling before some idol an idol who is not fit to tie the shoe latchet of the true and only King. Here is a pastor who is endeavoring to put his son through college. Unmindful of the spiritual life of his church, he strives assiduously to get his salary. But the Lord said, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God." Business men cry, "My business! I must look out for my business!" A mother exclaims, "My girl go to Africa? I will not permit it!" Some fascinating personality comes on the scene. Down on their knees, in absolute thralldom, fall the people. Could anyone, they say, be more wonderful?
And all the while the Saviour stands patiently by, waiting for the scales to fall from blinded eyes. Yes, He lives in our hearts. Shall He have second place, or will you give Him the throne? Remember, He must be "Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all."
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on 1 Samuel 5". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent