Summary: Stewardship...kind of, sort of. We cannot fool Jesus about our true attitude in being generous.
The Ark of the covenant is lost, the symbol of the very presence of God - lost. The High Priest and his Family are – lost, all dying on the same day, they were the keepers of the worship of the almighty God.
Israel does not have a way to interpret this disaster. The God they thought was all powerful (remember Egypt) is in the hands of their worst enemy and sits as booty in the Temple of Dagon. Last week, in chapter 4, Pastor Ted spoke about how Israel went head to head with the Philistines in battle losing 4,000 men. They then regrouped and went out head to head again, but this time with their ultimate weapon – the Ark of the Covenant.
In days gone by, for example at Jericho, the priests led the army into battle worshiping God carrying the Ark of the Covenant – in front of the soldiers and they would consistently crush the enemy.
So the army decides: the problem is we need more fire power. Out comes the Ark.
Clearly they didn’t know how the Ark worked. They just knew that in the past – when the Ark was there, the battle was decisive. In fact, they probably didn’t care how it worked. They just knew it worked – bring it out – problem solved. When worse comes to worse – invoke the name of God. Have you run into people who treat God like this? They are seriously ill, or face an impossible problem or such and they want to be prayed for, they want Jesus to step in. Maybe they have friends who have been healed. Maybe they have heard stories about a miraculous turn around. Maybe they are out of options….and time is running out. The point is: they aren’t going to worry about how prayer works. They are just trying to stay alive. Maybe there is some kind of magic in prayer, they think….Whatever, let’s give it a go.
Hard to blame them isn’t it? Many of us might act the same in a desperate situation. Perhaps you have been there in your own life and Israel is in a desperate situation, they are out of options trying to stay alive. So out comes the Ark – perhaps they think it has some kind of mysterious magic….The Nuke, The WMD, The Precision Guided Missile of the day. Whatever, let’s give it a go. And we saw…. they lose miserably.
So now we arrive at our Scripture for today in Chapter 5. And this is what is going through their minds, both the Israelis and the Philistines:
They think, Yahweh, the Lord God, turns out to be inferior to Dagon. They think, God is impotent in the face of the Philistine deity Dagon. Isn’t it obvious, things didn’t work out did they? Why else would they lose? Remember in the ancient middle east, the actions on the battlefield reflect the spiritual realities around them. Winning a battle or losing a battle is more about the power of your god than tactics and strategy.
A middle aged man back home in California. He and his wife had serious marriage problems. But they were working through things, they were trying their best, trying to live as godly couple desires us to live and then their son was seriously injured in an accident and died.
How could this happen, God? And so, the man is angry with God. Can’t blame him. Who wouldn’t be angry? He believes God failed him. Isn’t it obvious, things didn’t work out did they?
So the Ark is one of the first things that go into battle and it is lost. The Philistines gladly take this gold covered box. They place it in the Temple of their main god Dagon as a war trophy. This was common place in the day. Booty of various kinds were placed before a god even bodies of important enemies, like kings and princes. This was done to honor the god for what the god had done for the nation, or surely they had won befcause of the god’s power. Another way to put it: the magic of their god was more powerful.
Now Dagon means Fish God. Part man / part fish. Dag means fish. There is a small photo of Dagon in your sermon outline, taken from a Philistine temple. Babylonian texts claim that Dagon emerged from the sea early in history to rule over the lands of the Mideast. He is also seen in the city of Nineveh as a prominent God.
Philistines arrived in Palestine about 1200 BC and adapted to Canaanite culture well.
Dagon is a fertility God. The fish part representing fertility of nature.
Shows that he rules not only over the production of the land’s fertility and human fertility, but also the sea’s fertility. He is also the father of the storm God, Baal Haddu. Ashdod, their capitol city just a few miles from the coast, so it makes sense that Dagon would be their main god.