Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod.Ch. 1 Samuel 5:1-12. Chastisement of the Philistines for the Removal of the Ark
1. Ashdod] Ashdod (in Greek Azotus, Acts 8:40), one of the five cities of the Philistine league, was situated on an eminence near the sea, about 35 miles W. of Jerusalem. It was a place of great strength, and special importance, from its position on the high road between Syria and Egypt. It was assigned to Judah (Joshua 15:47), but never conquered till the reign of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:6). The Assyrian king Sargon’s ‘Tartan’ (i.e. General) took it about b.c. 716, and about b.c. 630 it proved its strength by resisting Psammitichus king of Egypt for 29 years. It was destroyed by Jonathan Maccabaeus (1Ma 10:84), but rebuilt after the Roman conquest of Judaea. The village of Es-dûd still preserves the ancient name and site.
When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.2. When the Philistines, &c.] Better, And the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it. The repetition is characteristic of the Hebrew historical style.
Dagon] Dagon (a diminutive of endearment from dâg = fish) was the national god of the Philistines, worshipped also at Gaza (Jdg 16:21-30), and elsewhere, as the name Beth-dagon (Joshua 15:41; Joshua 19:27) indicates. The statue of Dagon had the head and hands of a man, and the body of a fish. The fish was an emblem of fruitfulness. See Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, I. 381, or Layard’s Nineveh, II. p. 466, for a representation of a fish-god, which is probably the Philistine Dagon, as the bas-reliefs at Khorsabad from which it is taken record the wars of Sargon with Syria. A corresponding goddess Dercěto or Atargatis was worshipped at Askelon.
The ark was placed in Dagon’s temple as a votive-offering (cp. 1 Chronicles 10:10), and to mark the supposed victory of Dagon over Jehovah.
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.3. Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth] In the attitude of homage to the ark. Jehovah does not leave the Philistines to fancy that their god has conquered Him. He will shew that He is “the living God.” “The idols shall be moved at his presence” (Isaiah 19:1).
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.4. cut off upon the threshold] i.e. cut off and lying upon the doorsill, probably not of the main entrance to the temple, but of the chapel or recess in which the statue stood. In this position they would be liable to the indignity of being trampled upon by the priests and worshippers who entered the shrine.
only the stump of Dagon was left to him] Lit., only Dagon was left upon him. Either some word for ‘trunk’ or ‘body’ has been lost in the original, or ‘Dagon’ is used to denote the fish-shaped body of the idol, from which the god derived his name.
“Next came one
Who mourned in earnest, when the captive ark
Maimed his brute image, head and hands lopped off
In his own temple, on the grunsel edge,
Where he fell flat, and shamed his worshippers.”
Paradise Lost, I. 457.
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.5. Therefore neither the priests, &c.] As a mark of reverence for the spot where their idol had lain. Zephaniah 1:9 does not appear to contain any reference to this practice, which was peculiar to the temple at Ashdod.
unto this day] The practice was still observed when the historian wrote.
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.6. But the hand of the Lord] Rather, And. “The hand of the Lord” = the putting forth of His might. Chastisement now overtook the people as well as the god.
he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods] A double calamity fell upon them (1) Their land was ravaged by a plague of mice. The present Heb. text leaves this to be inferred from ch. 1 Samuel 6:5, but the Sept. inserts here “And mice sprang up in the midst of their land, and there was a very deadly destruction in the city.” This may be merely an inference from 1 Samuel 5:11 and 1 Samuel 6:5, but the numerous divergences of the Sept. from the existing Heb. text in chaps, 5 and 6 (making full allowance for obvious glosses and errors of transcription) seem to shew that the Greek translators employed a text which had not been subjected to the final revision which fixed our present Heb. text.
(2) Their bodies were attacked by a loathsome and painful disease, either (a) emerods = haemorrhoids or bleeding piles; or more probably (b) boils, which are a characteristic symptom of the oriental plague. The latter explanation agrees better with the infectiousness and fatality of the scourge.
the coasts thereof] = the borders thereof. Coast is derived from costa, a rib, or side, and originally meant any border or frontier-line, not the sea-line only, cp. Joshua 1:4.
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.7. is sore] i.e. severe.
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.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).
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.9. with a very great destruction] Better, with an exceeding great panic, causing utter consternation.
both small and great] i.e. both young and old: all the inhabitants.
and they had emerods in their secret parts] Better, and boils broke out upon them.
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.10. they sent the ark of God to Ekron] The most northerly of the five confederate cities, about 11 miles north of Gath. It was allotted to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:45-46), and was temporarily occupied (Jdg 1:18). Baal-zebub was the local deity (2 Kings 1:2). The site is marked by the modern village of Akir.
to us, to slay us and our people] Lit., as in the margin, “to me, to slay me and my people.” So too in 1 Samuel 5:11. The singular seems to indicate that the ‘lord’ acted as spokesman.
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.11. and gathered together all the lords] A second council of state was held, but the protest of the Ekronites was not listened to. The league was unwilling to part with the trophy of its victory.
a deadly destruction] A deadly panic: dismay caused by the fatal character of the disease.
And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods: and the cry of the city went up to heaven.12. the cry of the city went up to heaven] Cp. Exodus 2:13. The word used always denotes a supplication, a cry for help.
Each city was visited with a heavier judgment than the preceding one. “The longer the Philistines resisted and refused to recognise the chastening hand of the living God in the plagues inflicted upon them, the more severely would they necessarily be punished.” So when Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to let the Israelites go, the hand of the Lord grew heavier and heavier, till an unwilling consent was wrung from him.