Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod.6. The Ark in the Hands of the Philistines and Its Return
1. The ark in the house of Dagon (1Samuel 5:1-5)
2. The Philistines smitten by Jehovah (1Samuel 5:6-12)
The ark was brought to Ashdod, the leading city of the Philistines, and set up in the temple dedicated to Dagon, the chief god of the people. It was half fish and half man, the symbol of fertility. Before this idol the ark was set up. In their blindness they imagined that Dagon had conquered the God of Israel. The next morning they found Dagon fallen with his face to the earth before the ark. It was the Lord who did it and not an accident. The next morning the whole idol-image, except the fish-part, is fallen upon the ground. “The head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands lay cut off upon the threshold.” The God of Israel demonstrated His power over the gods of the Philistines, yet they continued to reverence even the threshold where the fragments of their idol had lain. Such is the darkness of fallen man.
A severer visitation came upon the Philistines; they were smitten with malignant boils. At the same time a plague of field mice destroyed the fields and the harvest (4:4, 11, 18). It reminds us of the plagues of Egypt. Yet the Philistines did not repent of their sins, but carried the ark of God about, but wherever it was carried the same punishment came upon the people. Yet there was no repentance from the side of the Philistines. All this becomes still more interesting if we consider what the Philistines as the enemies of the people of God represent. (See annotations on Judges.) The world is to experience the judgments and plagues of God in a future day foreshadowed in these plagues which came upon the land of the Philistines; and there will be no turning to God. In the book of Revelation, where these final judgments upon a wicked world and an apostate world-church are described, we hear not a word of repentance. The answer God receives will be blasphemy of His name. “And they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and sores, and repented not of their evil deeds” (Revelation 16:11).