Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 5

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

Verse 1

1 Samuel 5:1. Unto Ashdod See Joshua 11:22.

Verse 4

1 Samuel 5:4. Only the stump of Dagon was left to him In the Hebrew it is, only Dagon remained to him; where Dagon, says Houbigant, is taken for the principal part of his statue, or the trunk of his body. Kimchi says, nothing but the form of a fish remained to him. Thus the Lord shewed that there was no God besides him. His ark, though taken captive and carried into a strange land, threw down their idol twice; thereby demonstrating that the Israelites were not overthrown for want of any power in their God to defend them, but for the iniquity of those who worshipped him. See Bishop Patrick, and St. Chrysostom's Orat. 5: adversus Jud.

REFLECTIONS.—Though Israel seem utterly to have neglected the ark of God, and neither by force nor treaty seek to recover it, yet God will not suffer the ungodly to triumph for ever. We have here,

1. The Philistines triumphing over their prisoner. With solemnity they carry it down to their principal city Ashdod, and place it in the temple of their great idol Dagon, as a trophy of the glorious victory obtained under his auspices. Note; (1.) The cause of God is often sunk so low, that it seems past recovery, and given up into the enemy's hand. (2.) God does then more gloriously display his power, and make it appear how vain a thing they imagine, who shout, Down with it, down with it, even to the ground.

2. Little honour does Dagon get from the vicinity of his captive. When his devotees arose to worship him, or his priests to rehearse the praises of his victory, behold the miserable idol on his face in the dust, prostrate before the ark, as if confessing his own vanity, and directing them to that God who is the only true object of worship. Thus shall all the powers of darkness, error, and corruption, fall before the bright beams of truth, and the mighty work of God's spirit on the hearts of men. Let the oppressed church be comforted, and the soul that is fainting under the power of corruption hang still upon God: their distress shall but magnify his glory and grace in their deliverance.
3. In vain his worshippers seek to repair his disgrace, by fastening him again in his place: the next morning presents him still more despicable; his stump, the fishy tail, joined to the human body, only remained; his head and hands cut off lay on the threshold, presenting him a headless monster, emblem of their folly who worshipped him; and handless, to intimate the impotence of his arm to save himself or them. Note; (1.) The papist who worships the images of saints that never lived, is more culpable and abominable, in the eyes of God, than the Philistines who worshipped monsters that never existed. (2.) All the devices of wicked men and devils against the church of God shall, in the issue, prove as impotent as this attempt to fasten Dagon in his place again.

4. The folly of worshipping such a wretched god, who could not help himself, one should think, must now have appeared: yet, strange to tell! they reverence the very place of his disgrace, and honour that threshold where his mutilated limbs were laid. Note; Where superstition reigns, nothing is so absurd or impious but it may be consecrated into an act of religion, as we see in the church of Rome, even to the paying of respect unto dead men's bones, and the very broken pieces of their wretched images.

Verse 6

1 Samuel 5:6. Smote them with emerods See Deu 28:27 and compare 1 Samuel 5:9. At the end of this verse the LXX and Vulgate add, that "a great number of mice started up out of the earth, and over-running the fields, made a great waste;" which words Houbigant admits into his text; though they seem likely to have been a mere gloss in the Margin taken from the 4th and 5th verses of the next chapter.

Verse 12

1 Samuel 5:12. And the men that died not, &c.— The doctrine of intercommunity led the heathens into the custom of changing one tutelary deity for another; but the God of the Israelites had an absolute abhorrence of all community or alliance with the gods of the Gentiles: and the present instance of his power has set this opinion beyond all contradiction. When the Philistines had taken the ark from the Israelites in battle, and carried it as another palladium to Ashdod, they placed it in the temple of their god Dagon, which was in consequence of their doctrine of intercommunity; but their deity passed two such bad nights with his new guest, that on the second morning he was found pared away to his stump; and this disaster was followed by a desolating pestilence. The people of Ashdod, who hitherto had intended to keep the ark as one of their idol protectors, now declared that it should not abide with them, for that the hand of the God of Israel was sore upon them, and upon Dagon their God. They sent it therefore to Gath, another of their cities, and there having carried it about in a religious procession, it made the same havoc among them. It was then removed a third time, with an intent to send it to Ekron; but the men of that city, terrified by the two preceding calamities, refused to receive it, saying, they had brought the ark of the Gad of Israel to slay them and their people. At length the Philistines were brought by sad experience to understand, that it was the best course to send it back to its owners; which they did with great honour, with gifts and trespass-offerings to appease the offended divinity. And from this time we hear no more of any attempts of the Gentile nations to join the Jewish worship to their own; but they considered the God of Israel as a tutelary deity absolutely unsociable, who would have nothing to do with any but that people, or with such particular people as would worship him alone; and therefore, in this respect, different from all the other tutelary gods, each of which was willing to live in community with all the rest. Div. Leg. vol. 4: p. 54.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 5". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.