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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

1 Samuel 5

Verses 1-12

First Samuel - Chapter 5

Philistine Woes, vs. 1-12

What did the Philistines think of their victory over Israel and the capture of the ark of the Lord? Chapter 5 reveals quite clearly their thinking. Their god, Dagon, had given them victory of this great and mighty God of Israel, about which they had heard such great things. Therefore Dagon, their god must be greater than Israel’s God. To honor Dagon and to let him share in their great victory the Philistines carried the ark of the Lord and put it in Dagon’s temple at Ashdod. It was set down right beside Dagon, thereby signifying equality of the two. But the pagan Philistines were about to learn there was a vast difference in the two.

Ashdod was one of five major Philistine cities, each ruled over by a lord. The other four were Gath, Ekron, Gaza, and Ashkelon. The Philistines dwelled in the Mediterranean coastal lands. While they had lived in the southern part of Canaan since the days of Abraham, they were not Canaanites. When Joshua and the Israelites conquered this area they did not at once settle in it, and the vacuum left by the conquest seems to have afforded the Philistines an opportunity to move in and to occupy it.

Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Gaza were on the sea, or very near it. Gath and Ekron were further inland, near the towns of the Israelites. Gath was the chief of the cities and the seat of the king. The Philistines carried the ark down to Ashdod, and when it had wrought havoc there they moved it back inland to Gath. Finally they tried to locate it farther north at Ekron.

The false god Dagon had a fish’s tail for the lower part of his torso. The upper part of him was the head and shoulders of a man. His arms extended in an attitude of supplication. The next morning after the ark was set beside him the people of Ashdod came into his temple and found him bowed down before the ark. They set him up again, and the next morning he had not only fallen before the ark, but had broken off his head and his hands on the threshold of the door. This showed the Philistines that their god could neither think or perform for them, and they began to realize that they had not overcome the God of Israel.

Not only was their god broken because the ark of the Lord was in their midst, but God also struck them with disease and death, so that the country was like to be destroyed. The emerods were a disease of the Philistines’ private parts. These were tumors, the nature of which is not entirely clear today. Some liken them to hemorrhoids, while others have suggested they were some kind of venereal disease. Whatever it was, it was capable of taking their lives.

The first thought of the Philistines seems to have been that the God of Israel was displeased at being in the same city with Dagon, as though He did not like the competition. So they took the ark from Ashdod and carried it over to Gath. But the people of Gath began to suffer in like manner as those of Ashdod. So the decision was now to send it to Ekron, but a delegation of Ekronites, hearing that it was being sent to them, vigorously protested bringing it into their city.

The Philistine lords were gathered to consider what they should do with the ark. The Ekronites were demanding that it be sent back to Israel, for all their efforts at keeping it out of town to the contrary, it was bringing destruction on them also. God’s hand was so heavy upon them, so many were being destroyed, with many others smitten with emerods that an awful cry of woe and distress went up to heaven.

Some lessons to learn from chapter five: 1) The unbelieving world will one day suffer the mighty judgment of the Lord; 2) the Lord God is not confined in a box, or image; 3) God’s hand will be heavy on all who take Him lightly.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 5". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/1-samuel-5.html. 1985.