1 Samuel 5 Commentary: The Ark Among the Philistines

1 Samuel 5 Commentary

1 Samuel 5 covers the Ark of the Covenant in the land of the Philistines. After its capture from the Israelites, the Ark is brought to Ashdod, only to trigger unexpected consequences: Like a dark cloud, from Dagon’s temple to the cities of Gath and Ekron, the presence of the Ark brought a mix of fear, reverence, and turmoil.

This chapter not only explores the dynamics between the Israelites and their Philistine counterparts but also showcases the unseen, yet potent power of the God of Israel, manifesting in the most unexpected ways.

1 Samuel 5:1-2, The Ark Brought to Ashdod and Placed in Dagon’s Temple

The Philistines, having captured the Ark of the Covenant from Israel, brought it to Ashdod, one of their five key cities. They placed it in the temple of Dagon, their god.

This act was not just a symbol of their victory, but also a way to demonstrate the superiority of their deity over the God of Israel.

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 set it up beside Dagon.

1 Samuel 5:1-2, ESV

Placing the Ark in Dagon’s temple was a common practice in ancient times, where conquerors would display captured gods as trophies. This act was meant to signify the defeat of one god by another, a belief deeply ingrained in the ancient Near Eastern culture.

1 Samuel 5:3-5, Dagon Falls Before the Ark

The next morning, a startling event occurred: Dagon had fallen face-down before the Ark of the Lord. This was repeated the next day, but this time, Dagon’s head and hands were broken off.

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. 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 Samuel 5:3-4, ESV

This incident served as a powerful symbol of the superiority of Israel’s God over the Philistine deity. The fallen idol, especially with its head and hands severed, symbolized impotence and defeat, directly challenging the Philistine’s religious beliefs.

This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.

1 Samuel 5:5, ESV

1 Samuel 5:6-7, The Lord’s Hand Against the People of Ashdod

Soon, the people of Ashdod faced dire consequences. The Lord’s hand was heavy upon them, causing devastation and afflicting them with tumors, a direct response to the disrespect shown to the Ark.

The hand of the Lord was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory.

1 Samuel 5:6, ESV

Recognizing the severity of their situation, the people of Ashdod, along with their rulers, concluded that the Ark could not remain with them. This decision highlighted their fear and respect for the power of Israel’s God, a stark contrast to their initial act of placing the Ark in Dagon’s temple.

And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for his hand is hard against us and against Dagon our god.”

1 Samuel 5:7, ESV

1 Samuel 5:8-9, The Ark Sent to Gath and the Outbreak of Tumors

The Ark was then sent to Gath, another Philistine city.

However, the Lord’s wrath followed there as well, with the outbreak of tumors among the people, causing panic and fear.

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?” They answered, “Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought around to Gath.” So they brought the ark of the God of Israel there. But after they had brought it around, the hand of the Lord was against the city, causing a very great panic, and he afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them.

1 Samuel 5:8-9, ESV

This underscores the idea that God’s presence and power are not confined to Israel. The Philistines, despite being a powerful nation, were not immune to God’s actions, illustrating that He is the supreme power over all nations and gods.

1 Samuel 5:10-12, The Ark Sent to Ekron and the Panic Among the Philistines

As the Ark was sent from one city to another, the same devastating effects followed. When it reached Ekron, the people cried out in terror, fearing for their lives.

The presence of the Ark brought a severe affliction, causing death and panic.

So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. But as soon as the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have 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.

1 Samuel 5:10-11, ESV

The reaction of the Ekronites, calling for the Ark to be returned to Israel, signifies a turning point. It shows the recognition, even among Israel’s enemies, of the true power of Israel’s God. Their plea to send the Ark back was not just out of fear but also a sign of respect for a power they could not contend with.

The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.

1 Samuel 5:12, ESV