When People Are More Hardened than Statues

2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon [a carved idol]. 3 And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him (1 Sam. 5:2-4).

The Philistines had just defeated the Israelites and stolen the ark of the covenant (a symbol of God’s presence among his people). In essence, God had abandoned his people because of their sin. However, I want to focus on what happened in the camp of the Philistines.

They knew a lot about what YHWH had done for Israel. The author tells us in ch. 4 that the Philistines had heard of YHWH’s miraculous deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt and his afflicting Egypt with plagues. They became afraid when they heard that YHWH was among Israel. But their superstition was no different than Israel’s.

They added the ark to the temple of their god, Dagon – a collection of rabbit’s feet and anything else that might help in ways of religion. This is much like most people today. They go to church out of superstition – thinking that checking Sunday services off their time card in heaven will earn them an entrance to eternal bliss. They have the family heirloom Bible sitting on their bookshelf – dusty from not being opened to teach them how to live. They accumulate good works in hopes that they will go to heaven – not owning to the fact that they can never be good enough to be in the presence of the holy, righteous God. They are too proud to humble themselves before the cross and say they need anything.

Not so with Dagon. Although he was made of stone, he humbled himself before the God of creation. He was wiser than the learned of Philistia. Not once, but twice he fell on his face to humble himself in the presence of God. The Philistines, like so many, didn’t read the meaning behind what happened.

This is the plight of all those who do not humble themselves before God, but boast of how good they are or how much they believe in God. There is no one good, no not one (Ps. 14; Rom. 3:10). Belief in God makes you no better than the demons: You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (James 2:19). Without the work of God in a person’s heart, they will remain colder and harder than stone – not repenting, not seeking forgiveness. All those who shun the forgiveness freely offered us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus spit in God’s face and mock him just like the Roman soldiers. They are enemies. They have hearts of stone.

Ezekiel 37 holds out a promise for all those who cling to the idols of comfort, money, success, self, sex… They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings* in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God (v.23). And finally, 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross (Col. 2:13-14). All those who do not cling to Christ are worse than statues, but there is hope. For God can cleanse you and make a new person with a heart that beats with passion for Christ and things of the Spirit. Fall on your face, or be broken.

When Painful Things are Good

And he said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him” (1 Samuel 3:18).

God was going to totally wipe out Eli’s name from before his altar of service. Eli’s sons had lived corrupt lives (profaning the Lord’s sacrifices and taking prostitutes) and God was going to bring justice to this house for the flippant way they had treated service to God. Upon hearing this from the boy Samuel’s lips, Eli replied in the affirmative…not only this, but acknowledging that the Lord can and will do whatever he sees fit.

Not only this, but we read in chapter 2 that it is good to the Lord to put people to death (even those that carry the name priest). “But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death” (1 Sam. 2:25). Too many times we think that death is something that God does not know how to deal with adequately. People try to comfort people with the goodness of God, but they do not acknowledge that the Lord is the one who creates and destroys. There is nothing outside of his hand.

Fresh Fruit in the Garden of Eden

My wife read me this quote out of Goldsworthy’s book, According to Plan , last night and I thought it was helpful in thinking through what was happening in the Garden.

In Genesis 1:28 it is implied that we are created to make real choices between real options, even though this freedom is bound by the prescription to be fruitful and rule the earth. Without the freedom to make real choices it would be impossible to rule. In recognition of this, most English versions of the Bible translate Genesis 2:16 as permission to “freely eat” of all the trees in the garden. There is no “freely” in the Hebrew text which, in fact, uses the same construction here that is used in verse 17, “you will surely die.” In the context we see that Adam and Eve have the freedom to choose what to eat from all the trees, but they have no freedom as to the consequences if they eat of the one forbidden tree.
        Thus, with freedom and responsibility comes a test of obedience in the prohibition placed on eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Nothing in the text suggests that the fruit of this tree (which is never referred to as an apple tree!) has some magical quality which will produce the knowledge of good and evil in anyone who eats it. This would be completely out of character for biblical literature. It is more likely that God designates the tree as off limits as the means of showing the difference between good and evil. The choice for Adam and Eve was not between ignorance and the knowledge of good and evil, but between remaining good and becoming evil themselves. The nature of the test was such that whatever choice they made they would know right and wrong through their personal response to God. God is not a force or some other impersonal power. No matter how hard it is for us to conceive of God as person without at the same time reducing him to a superhuman being, the Bible consistently refers to him in personal terms. He is the source of personhood.
(p. 98)

In essence, Goldsworthy is saying that the fruit itself was not the issue that ejected Adam and Eve out of the Garden. Rather, it was their reaching their hand out and taking of the fruit. “Knowledge” does not have to refer to the metaphysical, but it can also refer to the experiential knowing (cf. Gen 4:1, 17, 25; Deut 34:10; Judges 19:25; Ps. 20:6; 41:11).

Therefore, the spotlight shines not on the tree, but on how Adam and Eve will live their lives. Will they obey? Or will they know evil out of their present experience of good? Taken this way, it helps to get into the Genesis author’s mind. This gives an even clearer picture of the original state of man and his rebellion because the issue is not God tempting Adam and Eve. We know that God does not tempt (James 1:13). Instead, Adam and Eve are in a covenant relationship with God, which has blessings (from all the trees they may eat) and its stipulations (from this one tree you may not eat). [[If you doubt this, William Dumbrell has a good treatment of this in Covenant and Creation, especially ch.1]]. So the issue is whether the man and woman will remain trusting the goodness of God or throw it away for the putrid fruit of self-governance.

Closer to Resolution

Okay. I could spend the time writing all my thoughts down and read a good book instead. I could do something a little more constructive as my dad taught me. I could spend less time in front of a screen clicking away and be outside moving my bones. OH! What to do?

I was lying in bed last night wrestling with whether I was going to commit to writing a blog. And this is what I came up with:

1. The internet is a connecting spot for the world.
2. I will probably never publish a book, so I shouldn’t wait for that to happen to share my thoughts with others.
3. Blogging enables me to encourage and challenge people without having to find a publisher.
4. I can make an impact in others’ lives and thinking by the things I type on this blog.
5. This provides an outlet for what I am learning in seminary rather than just filing it away never to be chewed on.
6. It could sharpen my own thinking as people affirm and challenge my thoughts.

With all that said, I am going to do this. I pray that this will be a way for you to be challenged, as well as myself. I want this to be a vehicle for Christ-centered discussion and culture-engaged thinking and action. May God be pleased with what is written here.