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.