And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god. — 1 Samuel 5:7
After an introductory period as a substitute bus driver, I was given my first regular school bus route — the notorious Route B-18. My initiation to the hazards of this route was not long in coming. One evening, a veritable snowstorm of paper balls was unleashed throughout the length of the bus. If you had been there, you might almost have thought the situation was funny — if you weren’t the one who had to clean up afterward. I counted over one hundred wadded up eight-and-one-half by eleven sheets.
Several factors put me at a disadvantage: As the driver, I had my back toward the students and had to rely on the occasional glimpse in the rearview mirror to monitor the situation. Also, when many kids are involved, you can’t just pick out a few individuals and reprimand them. Since I was new, I did not know the students by name. Finally, even if I had been able to identify specific individuals, the discipline options open to me were few and tended to be rather slow in developing.
The Philistines initially viewed God in much the same way as my riders viewed me: having some power but fairly remote. God, however, left the Philistines with no doubt as to who was responsible for their troubles and that He was not inhibited by any restrictions. He let them know that His Ark did not belong beside their idol Dagon. They viewed the Ark like a pagan idol. Then they found it was more — it represented the God who had power over Dagon.
Today, people need to be keenly aware that the true and living God does not suffer from any limitations. God sees everything that we do regardless of where we are or who we are with. Furthermore, He has the power to control every circumstance. Although His judgment may not always be as swift as it was for the Philistines, He is just, and His judgment will come. Ultimately, He will assist and defend His own children.
The Israelites had gone to war with the Philistines without the blessing of God. They lost four thousand men. Instead of beseeching God to go before them, they arrogantly sent for the Ark of the Covenant and two priests to carry it out before them. God had set in place rules regarding how the Ark would be transported, and this involved four priests, not two. These two priests, Hophni and Phinehas, were the evil sons of Eli. They believed that the Ark was the winner of wars, rather than God, whose glory was represented by the Ark. Therefore, Israel lost the battle and the Ark.
The Philistines were not unfamiliar with the God of the Israelites. They had heard stories of the Israelites' escape from Egypt and their crossing of the Red Sea. They were aware of the power of God. When they heard the noise the Israelites made when the Ark entered into the camp, they were afraid, but they challenged themselves and chose to fight diligently. The result was that they killed thirty thousand Israelites and captured the Ark of the Covenant.
The Philistines often brought the spoils of war to their temple as an offering to their god. Accordingly, they placed the Ark in the temple of Dagon, in the city of Ashdod. Dagon was the Philistines’ primary god. Today, the image of Dagon might be referred to as a mermaid, with the upper body and head of a woman and the lower part a fish.
At this time, the Philistines had five capital cities — Gath, Ekron, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Gaza — and each city had a “lord.” The Ark was taken to three of these cities, and judgment came on the people in these places. Bible scholars feel the plague may have been the bubonic plague, perhaps spread by rats or mice.
The “trespass offering,” which the Philistines made to stop the judgment, was typical of how they would have tried to pacify their gods when they thought they were angry. They incorporated another test to confirm whether or not Israel’s God had really sent the plagues. Only God could cause cows to leave their newborn calves and go in another direction.
Beth-shemesh was a priestly city, and the men there should have treated the Ark according to God’s directions. Because some looked into it, judgment fell on them also.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
I. The judgeship of Samuel
C. The deliverance by Samuel
1. The defeat of Israel
b. The capture of the Ark
(1) The judgment upon the Philistines (5:1-12)
(a) Upon their god, Dagon (5:1-5)
(b) Upon the people (5:6-12)
(2) The return of the Ark
(a) The counsel of the Philistines (6:1-9)
(b) The Ark at Bethshemesh (6:10-21)
 The return of the Ark (6:10-16)
 The symbols in the Ark (6:17-18)
 The judgment because of the Ark (6:19-21)
We want to remember the importance of showing reverence to God and His power. The primary way to do this is by living a life of obedience to Him.