1 Samuel 5


The Ark in Philistine Territory

        • When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod, brought it into the temple of Dagon, and set it up next to Dagon.

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains, “In the OT period it [Ashdod] was one of the cities of the Philistine pentapolis. The city, along with ‘its surrounding settlements and villages’ (Jos 15:47), was assigned to the tribe of Judah, but from the arrival of the Sea Peoples in the late thirteenth and early twelfth century BC until the time of King David (tenth century BC), the city seems to have been in Philistine hands. The city appears to have been a major seaport.”

          • The same source continues, “…In keeping with this (poly)theistic mindset, battles were viewed as contests not just between the human opponents but, more importantly, between the deities of the respective sides. A defeat, therefore, was a humiliation not only for the human participants but also for the gods of the losing side. As part of the victor’s despoiling the vanquished, the gods of the losing side were typically carried off and deposited in the temple of the winning god(s) as adjunct deities and/or as a sign of the inferiority and subordination of the captured gods. Reference to this practice are ubiquitous in ancient Near Eastern battle reports. Although not an idol, the ark of God was treated as such by the Philistines.”

          • The same source includes an article on Dagon. The following are excerpts:

          • The worship of Dagon (spelled ‘Dagan’ in ancient Near Eastern literature outside the Bible) is widely attested in Mesopotamia from as early as the third millennium BC. In Canaan, the existence of Dagon worship already in the second half of the second millennium BC is evidenced by a proper name in the Amarna letters that includes the theophoric element ‘Dagon.’”

          • In Philistia- judging from Biblical evidence- Dagon was apparently the head of the pantheon of gods. Jdg 16:23 speaks of the rulers of the Philistines assembling to offer a ‘great sacrifice to Dagon their god’ after their capture and humiliation of Samson, and 1 Chron 10:10 mentions that after King Saul’s death, the Philistines placed his armor in the temple of their gods and ‘hung up his head in the temple of Dagon.”

          • The vexing question of what kind of deity Dagon must have been has elicited several etymological theories. The first…is that Dagon was a fish-god…A second theory links the name to the Hebrew word for grain (dagan)…A third theory links the name Dagon to an Arabic root (dajana) for ‘gloomy, cloudy,’ which makes Dagon a storm god… None of these three major theories has gained a general consensus.”

          • What can be said is that Dagon was widely worshiped in Mesopotamia over a vast stretch of time (even as late as the second-century BC Maccabean period; in the Apocrypha see 1 Maccabees 10:83-85), and that his ascendancy to the head of the Philistine pantheon possibly took place after the Sea Peoples’ arrival in Canaan.”

        • When the people of Ashdod got up early the next day, Dagon had fallen with his face to the ground before the ark of Yahweh. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they got up early the next morning, Dagon had fallen with his face to the ground before the ark of Yahweh, and Dagon’s head and both of his hands were cut off- lying at the threshold. Only his torso remained. That is why, to this day, the priests of Dagon and those who go into the temple of Dagon in Ashdod don’t step on the threshold.

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “Decapitation of defeated foes was common practice in the ancient Near East and, indeed, in the books of Samuel (17:51; 31:9; 2 Sa 4:7; 16:9). The Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser I (1114 – 1076 BC), e.g. boasts of his defeat of 20,000 men-at-arms and five kings of the land of Kadmuhu: “Like a storm demon I piled up the corpses of their warriors on the battlefield (and) made their blood flow into the hollows and plains of the mountains. I cut off their heads (and) stacked them like grain piles around their cities.’ Severing hands (and sometimes other body parts…) was a convenient way of tabulating and demonstrating enemy casualties. Dagon’s loss of head and hands, therefore, was a sign of unmistakable defeat by the supposedly captive Israelite God, Yahweh, as symbolized by the ark.”

        • The hand of Yahweh was heavy upon the people of Ashdod and its territories. He brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors.

          • Both the Septuagint and the Vulgate have a longer reading for verse 6 which the NLT Illustrated Study Bible renders in their footnotes, “…and rats appeared in their land, and death and destruction were throughout the city.”

        • HCSB writes, “…The Bible does not tell us how God did this miracle, only that he did it. The Philistine diviners’ mention of mice in 6:4-5, as well as the Septuagint’s reading for this verse, implies that God may have brought this about by working through nature, using mice to spread a devastating plague at just the right time and location. Through the centuries rodents have often been responsible for the spread of disease among humans. This incident demonstrated the Lord’s superiority over both Philistines and their ‘god,’ and revealed that the Philistines victory on the battlefield was not the result of the Lord’s weakness. Instead, it was a judgment against Israel’s disobedience to God. Ultimately it would result in His further glorification.”

        • When the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us because his hand is heavy against us and our god Dagon.” So, they called together all of the Philistine rulers and asked them, “What should we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” And they replied, “Have the ark of the God of Israel moved to Gath.” So, they took it to Gath.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “Gath [was] some 12 miles east-southeast of Ashdod…”

        • After they moved it, Yahweh’s hand was against that city as well. He caused a great panic among them and afflicted the men of the city- both young and old- causing an outbreak of tumors. So, they sent the ark of God to Ekron.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Ekron [was] another of the five major Philistine cities…just five miles north of Gath.”

        • But when the ark of God came to Ekron, the Ekronites cried out, “They have brought the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people!” So, they called the Philistine rulers together and said, “Send the ark of the God of Israel away. Let it go back to its own place so it won’t kill us and our people.” For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city and the hand of God was very heavy there. The men who didn’t die were afflicted with tumors and the outcry from the city went up to heaven.

Travels of the ark

Click here to go to chapter 6