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1 Samuel 5:1-12, Philistines and the Ark

Tuesday, October 17

A Homesick God?

Narrative Lectionary Daily Devotions written by Kace Leetch from Clergy Stuff.

Wherever the ark of the covenant went, God went, for God dwelt in the ark. When the Philistines captured the ark, it did not go well with them. Everywhere the ark went, it brought plagues and despair upon the people. It even utterly destroyed the idol to the god, Dagon in Dagon's own temple.

Dagon was the Philistines' fish god ("dag" means fish; it also comes from the root "dgn" for "grain," so it may have been their god of harvest). They believed people and fish evolved from the primal waters. Dagon was the father of the god, Baal, who we also read about quite a bit in the Old Testament. Dagon was first mentioned in Judges 16, when the Philistines worshiped him for delivering Samson to them. Samson later destroyed Dagon's temple when he called upon God for one final act of strength. 1 Chronicles 10 describes how King Saul's head was displayed at a temple for Dagon. Here, in 1 Samuel 5, Dagon's temple and idol are destroyed by the one true God.

It seems God is not happy not being with God's people, the Israelites. Was God homesick? Or perhaps God didn't like Dagon's company. It reminds me of other readings we've had recently in which God was passionate about God's people -- jealous and protective. Again, we see a fiery God who desperately wants the ark to return to God's people. 

Whether God is pulled away from God's people (as in this case), or God's people are pulled away from God (as we, even today, so often are), God is passionately possessive of us. Ours is not a God who will sit idly by while we flounder on our own. Ours is not a God content to sit by while we worship (and are destroyed by) other gods and idols. No, God will actively work to get us back. God will never stop until we are reunited and aligned with God's purpose.

Narrative Lectionary Text: 1 Samuel 5:1-12

When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod; then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and placed it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off upon the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not step on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.

The hand of the Lord was heavy upon the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and struck them with tumors, both in Ashdod and in its territory. And when the inhabitants of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us; for his hand is heavy on us and on our god Dagon.” So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” The inhabitants of Gath replied, “Let the ark of God be moved on to us.” So they moved the ark of the God of Israel to Gath. But after they had brought it to Gath, the hand of the Lord was against the city, causing a very great panic; he struck the inhabitants of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them. So they sent the ark of the God of Israel to Ekron. But when the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “Why have they brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people?” They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.” For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there; those who did not die were stricken with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.

Earlier Event: October 16
1 Samuel 4:1-11, The Ark of God Captured
Later Event: October 18
1 Samuel 6:1-16, The Ark Returned