And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod.1 Samuel 5:1. The Philistines took the ark of God — Abarbinel gives several reasons why God suffered the ark of his presence to fall into the hands of these uncircumcised heathen: 1st, The Israelites were such great sinners that they were unworthy of this symbol of the divine presence among them: 2d, The idolatry of Micah remained to this day in the land, therefore God fulfilled his threatening, Leviticus 26:19-31 : 3d, The sin of the priests highly provoked him to deliver up the ark, which was in their hands when they were killed: 4th, The Israelites greatly offended in carrying the ark into the battle without asking counsel of God: 5th, He resolved to demonstrate his power even among the enemies of Israel. And brought it from Eben-ezer — Where the Israelites were encamped before the battle, chap. 1 Samuel 4:1; to Ashdod — One of their chief cities, in which, as also at Gaza and Garb, some of the Anakims, the giants, remained till the time of David.
When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.1 Samuel 5:2-3. They set it by Dagon — By way of reproach, as a spoil and trophy set there to the honour of Dagon, to whom, doubtless, they ascribed this victory. Behold Dagon was fallen upon his face — In a posture of the most humble adoration, which was prostration; as acknowledging the God of Israel to be above all gods. They (the priests of Dagon) took Dagon and set him in his place — Supposing his fall to be casual.
And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.
And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.1 Samuel 5:4-5. Behold Dagon was fallen &c. — Which showed that his former fall was not by chance, but by the power of God, before whom he could not stand. The head of Dagon, and both his hands, were cut off — The head is the seat of wisdom; the hands the instruments of action; both are cut off, to show that he had neither wisdom nor strength to defend himself or his worshippers. Thus the priests, by concealing Dagon’s shame before, make it more evident and infamous. The stump — Hebrew, only Dagon; that is, saith Rabbi Kimchi, that part of it from which it was called Dagon, namely, the fishy part; for dag, in Hebrew, signifies a fish. Upon it — Upon the threshold; there the trunk abode in the place where it fell, but the head and hands were flung to distant places. Neither the priests tread on the threshold of Dagon — Out of reverence to it, looking upon it as a holy thing, by the touch of Dagon’s head and hands. So foolishly did they pervert the meaning of God, that instead of being convinced that Dagon was no god, they even honoured the threshold which his broken limbs had fallen upon! Unto this day — When this history was written, which, if written by Samuel toward the end of his life, was a sufficient ground for this expression.
Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon's house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day.
But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof.1 Samuel 5:6. The hand of the Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod — Since they were so blind as not to see his hand in throwing down their god, he smote them with such sore plagues in their own bodies as made them sensible of his power, by destroying great numbers of them. With emerods — The piles, a most painful and distressing disorder. Ashdod, and the coasts thereof — Not only the people of the city, but of the villages belonging to it, were smitten with this plague.
And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god.1 Samuel 5:7-8. The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us — Now their eyes were opened to see that, though they had vanquished the Israelites, they could not stand before the God of Israel. Let the ark be carried to Gath — They seem to have been possessed with a superstitious conceit that there was something in the place which was offensive to the God of Israel, and therefore removed the ark from Ashdod, to which and its coasts they supposed the plague, for some particular reasons, was confined. Or they thought it had come upon them by chance, or for putting the ark into Dagon’s temple, which they resolved they would not do.
They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto 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 unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither.
And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts.1 Samuel 5:9. They had emerods in their secret (or hidden) parts — That is, internally, in their hinder parts; which is the worst kind of emerods, as all physicians acknowledge, both because their pains are far more sharp than those of the other kind, and because the malady is more out of the reach of remedies.
Therefore they sent the ark of God to Ekron. And it came to pass, as the ark of God came to Ekron, that the Ekronites cried out, saying, They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people.
So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, 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: for there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there.1 Samuel 5:11-12. There was a deadly destruction through all the city — That is, in every city where the ark of God came, some were struck with the pestilence and died, and others lingered under intolerable pains, which made them cry out in an inexpressible manner. The cry of the city went up to heaven — A hyperbolical speech; things that are exceeding great, beyond expression, being often said to reach to heaven, Deuteronomy 1:28.
And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods: and the cry of the city went up to heaven.