1 Samuel 5:8
They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines to them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about to Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither.
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(8) Gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them.—The Philistine federation seems to have been a very powerful one, and owing to the disinclination of the Israelites to maritime pursuits and foreign commerce—[the foreign commercial expeditions of King Solomon were apparently quite exceptional]—held in their hands a large proportion of the Mediterranean trade—the Mediterranean being the great highway between Eastern and Western nations; hence, no doubt, the worship of Dagon, the fish-god. It seems to have been something more than mere “Nature worship,” the devotion of the Phœnician settlers on the sea-board of Syria and Canaan to a marine deity. The constitution of Philistia was oligarchical: that is, the government was in the hands of a College of Princes, whose decision no individual could oppose. The princes (seranim) are the heads of the several city districts, which formed a confederation, each one of the five chief cities holding a number of places, country cities, or “daughter” cities, as its special district. (See Erdmann in Lange’s Commentary.) Dr. Payne Smith (Dean of Canterbury) has an ingenious and scholarly derivation for the titular designation of these lords (Hebrew, seranim), in which, rejecting the usual root sar, a prince, he connects the word with seren, a hinge; “just,” he says, “as the cardinals of the Church of Rome take their name from cardo, which has the same meaning.”

5:6-12 The hand of the Lord was heavy upon the Philistines; he not only convinced them of their folly, but severely chastised their insolence. Yet they would not renounce Dagon; and instead of seeking God's mercy, they desired to get clear of his ark. Carnal hearts, when they smart under the judgments of God, would rather, if it were possible, put him far from them, than enter into covenant or communion with him, and seek him for their friend. But their devices to escape the Divine judgments only increase them. Those that fight against God will soon have enough of it.The "lords" (see Judges 3:3) were very unwilling to give up their triumph, and, with the common pagan superstition, imagined that some local bad luck was against them at Ashdod. The result was to bring the whole Philistine community under the same calamity. 7. the ark of God shall not abide with us—It was removed successively to several of the large towns of the country, but the same pestilence broke out in every place and raged so fiercely and fatally that the authorities were forced to send the ark back into the land of Israel [1Sa 5:8-10]. Supposing that this plague was confined to Ashdod for some particular reasons, or that it came upon them by chance, or from some bad influence of the air, or of the stars, or for putting it into Dagon’s temple, which they resolved they would not do. They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them,.... The other four lords, for there were five with this; see Joshua 13:3,

and said, what shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? they no doubt told them what they and their idol had suffered on account of it, and the resolution they were come to that it should be no longer with them; and therefore desire to know what must be done with it, whether they should return it to the people of Israel, or dispose of it somewhere else; it is probable some might be for the former, but the greater part were not, and were for keeping it in their possession somewhere or another:

and they answered, let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath; which was another of the five principalities of the Philistines, and not far from Ashdod; according to Jerom (x), it is included in the remnant of Ashdod, Jeremiah 25:20 and according to Bunting (y) but four miles from it. The Septuagint and Vulgate Latin versions make this to be the answer of the men of Gath, the one reading it,"and they of Gath said, let the ark of God come to us;''and the other,"they of Gath answered, let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about;''for they suspected, as Procopius Gazaeus observes, that the destruction did not come from God, but was a disease arising from some pestilential cause. They perhaps imagined it was in the air in and about Ashdod, or that though the situation of the ark was not liked, in another place it might be otherwise, and more agreeable:

and they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither; they seem not to carry it directly to the place, but carried it in a round about way, as if they had a mind to give it an airing, before they fixed it any where.

(x) Comment. in Hierem. c. 25. fol. 151. B. (y) Travels of the Patriarchs, &c. p. 123.

They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, {d} What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither.

(d) Though they had felt God's power and were afraid of it, yet they tried him even further, which God turned to their destruction and his glory.

8. all the lords of the Philistines] A peculiar term Seren is used exclusively to denote the five ‘lords’ who ruled in the five cities of the Philistine confederacy. In all probability it preserves their native title. They had all equal rights, for though Achish is called “king of Gath” in ch. 1 Samuel 21:10, 1 Samuel 27:2, this is only from a foreign point of view, and he could not overrule the decision of his colleagues (1 Samuel 29:6-11). Here we find one city appealing to the rest for counsel in the calamity which had befallen it.

unto Gath] Gath may have been chosen because there was no Dagon-temple there, the Philistines attributing the plague to the antagonism between Jehovah and Dagon.

The site of Gath cannot be fixed with certainty, but Mr Porter and Lieut. Conder agree in the conclusion that it probably stood on the conspicuous hill now called Tell-es-Sâfi, 12 miles E. of Ashdod, at the foot of the mountains of Judah. “The position is one of immense strength, guarding the mouth of the valley of Elah.” Hence its importance as a border fortress, commanding one of the main approaches from Philistia to Judaea. It was captured by David (1 Chronicles 18:1), fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:8), taken by Hazael (2 Kings 12:17), retaken and dismantled by Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:6). There is no further notice of it in the Bible: but the Crusaders occupied Tell-es-Sâfi, and built the fortress of Blanche Garde upon it.

Gath was the native place of Goliath (ch. 1 Samuel 17:4): and the refuge of David from the persecutions of Saul (ch. 1 Samuel 21:10, 1 Samuel 27:3).Verse 8. - The lords of the Philistines. Philistia was governed by a council of five princes, but whether they were elective or hereditary in the several towns is by no means clear. They are called "seranim," from seren, "a hinge," just as the cardinals of the Church of Rome take their name from the Latin word cardo, which has the same meaning. There is no ground for connecting the word with sar, "a prince." When Ewald did so he probably forgot that the two words begin with different letters - seren with samech, and sar with shin. Seranim is the word constantly used of the lords of the Philistines (Joshua 13:3; Judges 3:3; Judges 16:5, 8, etc.; 1 Chronicles 12:9), though after being correctly so styled in 1 Samuel 29:2, they are popularly called in vers. 3, 4, 9, sarim, "princes." Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. Unwilling to part with so signal a proof of their victory, the lords of the Philistines determine to remove the ark to another locality, but thereby only made the miraculous nature of what was taking place more evident to all. Of Gath but little is known; but Jerome describes it as still a large village in his days, and as situated near the border of Judaea, on the road from Eleutheropolis to Gaza. The Ark in the Land of the Philistines. - 1 Samuel 5:1-6. The Philistines carried the ark from Ebenezer, where they had captured it, into their capital, Ashdod (Esdud; see at Joshua 13:3), and placed it there in the temple of Dagon, by the side of the idol Dagon, evidently as a dedicatory offering to this god of theirs, by whose help they imagined that they had obtained the victory over both the Israelites and their God. With regard to the image of Dagon, compounded of man and fish, i.e., of a human body, with head and hands, and a fish's tail, see, in addition to Judges 16:23, Stark's Gaza, pp. 248ff., 308ff., and Layard's Nineveh and its Remains, pp. 466-7, where there is a bas-relief from Khorsabad, in which "a figure is seen swimming in the sea, with the upper part of the body resembling a bearded man, wearing the ordinary conical tiara of royalty, adorned with elephants' tusks, and the lower part resembling the body of a fish. It has the hand lifted up, as if in astonishment or fear, and is surrounded by fishes, crabs, and other marine animals" (Stark, p. 308). As this bas-relief represents, according to Layard, the war of an Assyrian king with the inhabitants of the coast of Syria, most probably of Sargon, who had to carry on a long conflict with the Philistian towns, more especially with Ashdod, there can hardly be any doubt that we have a representation of the Philistian Dagon here. This deity was a personification of the generative and vivifying principle of nature, for which the fish with its innumerable multiplication was specially adapted, and set forth the idea of the giver of all earthly good.
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