1 Samuel 5:1-5
And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod.…
The word Philistine signifies strangers or emigrants; their descent is obscure, but good reasons are assigned for considering them of Semitic extraction. Ashdod was one of the five Philistine Satrapies being an inland town, 34 miles north of Gaza, now called Eshud. "And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it into the house of Dagon" (ver. 2). They knew the power of Israel's God; did they by this conduct hope to effect a compromise, or were they offering this holy spoil as a tribute of homage to their national Deity?
I. THE HYPOCRITICAL SMITTEN BEFORE THE REAL. This world is one vast temple, filled with the unreal and untrue.
1. The Dagon of false religious systems. Superstition has enthroned its idol, ignorance its contradictions, Buddhism its sanguinary rites, Confucianism its standard of ethics, and the honest heathen his fancies of terror. There are the impositions of Mahomet, the falsehoods of his history, and the deceptions of his creed.
2. The Dagon of doctrinal heresy.
3. There is the Dagon of mercantile life. The externalisms of trade are imposing and attractive, but how unworthy its motive — how frequently are its gains the result of cunning deception, fraudulent imposition, or mischievous adulterations, and these criminal extortions are justified by the severity of competition, or the ungenerous demands and arbitrary fancies of the purchasing community. Before the ark of Godly principle and honest courtesy, these "tricks of trade" must suffer an ignominious defeat.
4. There are the Dagons of personal religious life. Devotion is formal; religious work mechanical; they are but pictures of the true. The piety of others consists in a spasmodic performance of the holy, in feelings of emotion, fitful and uncertain, incited more by circumstances than by steady faith.
5. The Dagon of political life. Injustice has formed the basis of law, the enforcement of which has issued in oppression and misery. How often have our social interests been blighted by the pandering politics of chuckling statesmen! Christian truth has been refused its required homage; human sagacity has been worshipped in its stead. But one day, when the ark shall be brought into the temple, this state of things will be terminated. Instead, we shall find monarchs laying their crowns at the feet of Jesus; ruling only in accordance with the principle of His life, and living in harmony with the precepts of His Word. Then shall human legislation be the expression of Divine sentiment, and the senate become a synonym for the sanctuary.
6. It had successive opportunity of recovering its defeat. "And they took Dagon and set him in his place again." For how many chapters of history would this be an appropriate heading? Should it not be written under the record of Smithfield's martyrdom? and what more fitting inscription could be found for the door of the Inquisition Room? But today, upon the floor of Europe's Temple we find its shattered wreck. Its defeat was
(1) Rapid, "early in the morning."
(2) Unquestionable: "Dagon was fallen."
(3) Ignominious, "his face to the ground."
(4) Signalised (ver. 5).In this superstitious folly they perpetuated the memory of their own disgrace! In this picture we have an outline of the world's future history, when all in antagonism to the Divine nature shall be destroyed beyond the power of restoration.
II. THE UNHOLY DESIRING THE DEPARTURE OF THE SEAL. "The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us" (ver. 7). This is the cry of all unhallowed life.
1. A Divine Affliction. The sinful is sure to be afflicted by contact with the true. A diseased eye cannot open itself to the light without pain; neither can a corrupt nature behold spotless purity, unsullied truth, without being stricken by its brightness. Simon Peter cried out, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord," and in so doing articulated the deepest feeling of degenerate life. In order to happy association with the ark, man's receptive faculties must be touched by the Divine finger; then, with adjusted relations and restored harmony, the holy will be appreciated, exemption from affliction will be secured, and its permanent residence desired.
2. A Supreme Council. They sent, therefore, and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them (ver. 8). The people are in a fearful extremity; and, driven almost to desperation by the fierceness of their sufferings, are ready to execute any scheme likely to ensure relief. But it was a council without a God.
3. An unavailing decree. "Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath" (ver. 8). "How many, when in sorrow, acting upon their own impulses, extend their affliction to others" (ver. 9).
III. THE UNHOLY SEEKING ADVICE AS TO THE DISPOSITION OF THE REAL.
1. Inquiry started. "What shall we do to the ark of the Lord?" (1 Samuel 6:2).
2. Anxiety displayed. "Tell us wherewith we shall send it to His place" (1 Samuel 6:2).
3. A solution suggested. "But in any wise return Him a trespass offering" (1 Samuel 6:3-9).
IV. THE REAL INQUISITIVELY INVESTIGATED. "And He smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they looked into the ark of the Lord" (1 Samuel 6:19).
1. Presumption punished. "He smote of the people fifty thousand and three score and ten men" (1 Samuel 6:19).
2. Reverence inspired. "Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?" (1 Samuel 6:19). In the next chapter we have the real penitentially sought and joyfully obtained.
(1) The unyielding supremacy of God.
(2) The affliction consequent upon opposition to His authority.
(3) That God is not bound to even the most sacred symbols of His presence.
(4) That great caution should be exercised when in contact with sacred things.
(5) In victory remember the God of Israel.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod.