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The Ark in Ashdod.
v. l And the philistines took the ark of God, which they had captured in the great battle, and brought it from Ebenezer, as the place was afterward called, unto Ashdod, a city of Philistia almost due west of the battlefield, on the Mediterranean, apparently the leading city in the federation of city-states among the Philistines.
v. 2. When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, their chief idol, to whose honor they had erected sanctuaries in all their principal cities, Judges 16:23, and set it by Dagon, near the picture or statue of this deity, which had a human head and hands, but a fish-body, to symbolize the fruitfulness of the sea, as represented by the fish.
v. 3. And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon, to whom they ascribed their victory over the Israelites, was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the Lord, in an attitude of worship, this being intended as a sign to the Philistines that the God of Israel was not to be conquered, but that every idol and so-called deity would have to sink to the ground before His majesty and power. And they, the priests of the Philistines, took Dagon and set him in his place again, apparently under the impression that the figure had toppled over by chance, not having been set up securely.
v. 4. And when they arose early on the morrow morning, the second morning after the arrival of the ark, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord, in the same posture of abject adoration; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands, the hollow forms of his hands, were cut off, severed as by a clean stroke, upon the threshold, namely, that of the inner sanctuary, in which the idol was placed, where the parts might be trodden on by everyone who entered; only the stump of Dagon, his fish-body, that which was properly the Fish-god, was left to him.
v. 5. Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, of whom there seems to have been a special order, nor any that come into Dagon's house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day, all visitors to his shrine carefully stepped over the door-sill, lest they should desecrate the place where the head of the god had lain.
v. 6. But the hand of the Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod, in an oppressive visitation, probably in the form of a plague of field-mice, to which the context seems to point, and he destroyed them, caused the death of many of them, and smote them with emerods, with an infectious skin-disease in the form of boils and ulcers, even Ashdod and the coast thereof, the entire vicinity.
v. 7. And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, rightly concluding that it was the God of Israel who was striking them, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us, they regarded it as the medium, as the bearer of all the evils; for His hand is sore upon us and upon Dagon, our god. Thus God proved to the heathen, as He does to the unbelievers at times to this day, that all idols are nothing before Him, that those things in which the world places its trust crumble to pieces before the manifestation of His majesty and righteousness.
The Ark in Gath and Ekron
v. 8. They sent, therefore, and gathered all the lords of the Philistines, the heads of their five city-states, unto them and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? As eager as they were to have the ark in their city as a trophy of their great victory, so eager were they now to get rid of the unlucky piece of furniture. And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. The princes of the Philistines intended to make an experiment, in order to determine whether the misfortunes which struck Ashdod were really to be attributed to the ark or were the result of chance. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither, farther to the east.
v. 9. And it was so that, after they had carried it about, caused it to be taken in the indicated direction, to this second city, the hand of the Lord was against the city with a very great destruction, disquietude, consternation taking hold upon all the inhabitants, a feeling of impending disaster; and He smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts, they were plagued with the same eruption of boils as the people of Ashdod had been, and the boils apparently broke open, causing painful ulcers.
v. 10. Therefore they sent the ark of God to Ekron, the chief city in the northwestern part of the Philistine country. And it came to pass, as the ark of God came to Ekron, by the command of the Philistine chiefs, that the Ekronites cried out, for they had been informed of the plague which had struck Ashdod and Gath, saying, They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us to slay us and our people. But their protest was ignored, and the ark was brought into their city.
v. 11. So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, for a second conference, 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. The plague was not only generally prevalent, but also especially malignant, the effects being exceptionally deadly; for there was a deadly destruction, a consternation of terror on account of the sudden death of so many people, throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there, the severity of the plague here reached its greatest height.
v. 12. And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods, being extremely ill with the boil-sickness; and the cry of the city went up to heaven, for the Philistines were forced to acknowledge that in this place the almighty hand of the God of Israel was revealed. Thus the Lord revenged the sacrilege of the heathen in laying their hands upon the ark consecrated to Him. When unbelievers presume to attack the Word of God, to blaspheme and persecute the Word of Salvation, and, in addition, refuse to bow under the chastening hand of God, He often visits them with very severe plagues and terrors.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 5". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany