“My dad is stronger than your dad,” said a little boy to his friend. This childish competition mirrors the way people in the ancient world thought about their gods. The Philistines placed the captured ark inside the temple of Dagon as a spoil of war, the way a conquering ruler might keep a defeated king as a slave. But the next day the people of Ashdod awoke to find their idol fallen on his face in a posture of worship before the ark.
The people of Ashdod returned the idol to its place but the same thing happened the next day. Only this time Dagon’s head and hands were broken off, a fate often suffered by prisoners taken in battle in the ancient Near East (v. 4). The Philistines would have viewed this as especially humiliating for their warrior god. Also, the Lord afflicted the people in that region with a plague, similar to what the Egyptians faced during the Exodus.
After consulting with the people of Ashdod, the Philistine rulers decided to relocate the ark to Gath, another of Philistia’s great cities. The move had devastating consequences. When the people of Gath suffered the same fate as the residents of Ashdod, the Philistine rulers sent the ark to Ekron but with no better results. By the time the ark entered the city, God’s hand was already “very heavy on it,” and the residents were in a state of panic: “let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people” (v. 11). What should have been a victory lap for the Philistine army, turned into a counterattack by the God of Israel that revealed the impotence of their idols.
>> While you may not worship at a carved statue, we slip into idolatry when we offer the devotion which belongs to God alone to “created things rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). Reserve that devotion for God alone.
Today’s Scripture reading is a somber reminder of the dangers of following false gods. Pray that nothing will distract you from your devotion to the one true God, that nothing will take the place of your Creator.