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1 Samuel 5:6-12 -

Coercive providences.

The facts given are—

1 . God visits the men of Ashdod with severe affliction.

2 . In their perplexity they remove the ark to another locality.

3 . The device proving a failure, and the men of Ekron refusing to receive the unwelcome symbol, a council of authorities decides to return it to Israel. Providence had so ordered events for high moral ends as to bring the ark into captivity. The influences were at work in Israel to issue in the result desired. Hence there arose a need for a turn in the course of Providence.


1 . Imperfect acquaintance with the Divine will. These men had some knowledge of the Divine power in the ark, but could not learn the precise will of the strange god. One of the first things, therefore, is to prompt to an inquiry as to what is desired. But man, especially when grossly ignorant, is indisposed to search for light, and cannot bear very clear light. If men will not act because they do not know, they must be aroused to learn, or to do without knowing; for God's great ways must not be barred and blocked by man.

2 . Unwillingness to be convinced of the Divine will. The fall of Dagon on the first night aroused the thought of a superior power, and the danger of keeping it from its natural place. This first gleam of light was extinguished by a new trial of Dagon's power to stand. A second failure brought more light, but the expedient of change of abode was adopted to evade the new and clearer suggestion. Men often do not like to know the path of duty. There is much ingenuity spent in evading the force of Divine teaching. If they will not follow increasing light when their doing so is necessary to the realisation of a Divine purpose, pressure must be brought to bear. Pharaoh, Balaam, and Jonah are instances of this.

II. The KIND OF COERCION EMPLOYED WILL DEPEND ON THE MENTAL AND SOCIAL CONDITION OF THE PEOPLE . Men are influenced strongly by events which touch their interests, and which come in such shape as to be adapted to their ordinary modes of thought and views of things. The people of Ashdod were highly susceptible to religious impressions, and their religious associations were entirely with the honour of their god. Philosophical arguments and high-toned reasons suited to pure Hebraism or Christianity would not have touched them. Moreover, by education and inheritance they were governed by the habit of associating bodily sufferings, when great, with a positive Divine purpose. Now, God governs men according to their capabilities, and reveals his will in ways conformable to their ruling ideas. Whether by miracle or natural coincidences, there is always adaptation to the minds to be influenced. This principle solves many events in Old Testament history, and shows the perfect reasonableness and even propriety of the pressure brought to bear on the benighted Philistines. God fits every rod to the back of the fools he smites, and speaks to every ear in accents suited to its delicacy or obtuseness.

III. The COERCION IS PROGRESSIVE IN INTENSITY . The select body of priests of Dagon first feel the hand of God, then the people as individuals, and then the entire community as such. Also, there was first a rude blow to the religious prejudices of the priestly body, and through them of the people; then an assault on the physical condition of multitudes; and finally a disastrous blow on the prosperity of the state. Men will answer religious arguments by religious arguments, and evade truth if possible; but touch their bodies and their fields, and some earnest inquiry as to the cause and intent will be evoked. Especially does material disaster induce effort to learn the truth when authorities are compelled to deliberate on possible remedies. In national providences the pressure at last reaches the rulers.

General lessons :

1 . God uses pressure on each of us when our inclination runs against our true interest and his glory. Lot was led urgently out of Sodom.

2 . The pressure used never crushes the will, but develops thought, and opens out lines of conduct for adoption.

3 . It is important to study the meaning of events in our lives which are inevitable and disagreeable.

4 . The coercive action of Providence will become less or more according as we turn from sin or harden our hearts. "The way of transgressors is hard."


Ch. 5; 6:1-9. ( ASHDOD , GATH , EKRON .) ―

The ark among the heathen.

"And the ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months" ( 1 Samuel 6:1 ). The scene is now changed. Whilst there arises in every household in Israel a cry of mourning for the dead, Shiloh is ravaged and burnt with fire, and the yoke of oppression made heavier than before, the hosts of the Philistines return to their own country elated with victory. They carry with them the ark of the Lord, which had never before been touched by unconsecrated hands, or for ages exposed to the gaze of any but the priests; and the interest centres on the sacred symbol amidst its new and strange surroundings. It is first of all taken to Ashdod, three miles from the sea coast, the chief seat of the worship of Dagon, the national god of the Philistines ( 1 Chronicles 10:10 ); afterwards to Gath, ten miles distant (the native place of Goliath, and twice the temporary residence of David); and then to Ekron ( 1 Samuel 7:14 ), the most northerly of their cities. Although the other two cities of the Philistine Pentapolis, Gaza, the scene of Samson's death ( 16:21-30 ), and Askelon ( 1 Samuel 31:10 ; 2 Samuel 1:20 ), were deeply concerned in the events which attended its presence ( 1 Samuel 5:8 ; 1 Samuel 6:17 ), it does not appear to have visited them.

1 . The time of its abode among the Philistines was for them a time of judgment. Although the ark when among the people of Israel seemed to be abandoned by God and destitute of power, it was now defended by him and clothed with might. The difference arose from the different circumstances in which it was placed; and in both cases it was shown that the possession of institutions appointed by God does not profit those who refuse to stand in a right relation to God himself, but rather serves to increase their condemnation. Judgment also is executed in many ways.

2 . Judgment was mingled with mercy. The afflictions which they endured were "less than their iniquity deserved" ( Job 11:6 ), and were "established for the correction" ( Habakkuk 1:12 ) of their sins and the prevention of their ruin ( Ezekiel 18:30 ). The God of Israel has supreme dominion over the heathen, "chastises" them ( Psalms 94:10 ) for their good, and never leaves himself "without witness" ( Acts 14:17 ).

3 . The design of the whole was the furtherance of the purpose for which Israel was called, viz. to bear witness to the living and true God, and to preserve his religion separate and distinct from the idolatry and superstition of the heathen.

4 . The effect of the display of his power in connection with the presence of the ark among them appears here and in their subsequent history. Consider these Philistines as—

I. TRIUMPHING IN THE CAPTURE OF THE ARK (verses 1, 2). "They brought it into the house (or temple) of Dagon, and set it by Dagon," as a trophy or a votive offering, ascribing their victory to him, and magnifying him as superior to Jehovah. The process described by the Apostle Paul ( Romans 1:18-23 ) had taken place in them. Their worship was a nature worship, joined with the embodiment of their "foolish" imaginations in an image with which their god was identified. Dagon was "the god of natural power—of all the life-giving forces of which water is the instrument; and his fish-like body, with head and arms of man, would appear a striking embodiment of his rule to those who dwelt near the sea." When men have fallen away from the knowledge of the true God they—

1 . Do honour to a false god ; impelled by the religiousness of their nature, which will not let them rest without an object of worship.

2 . Dishonour the true God, by declaring him inferior and subject to the false, and by "despising his holy things." The Philistines did not deny the existence of Jehovah; they were willing to account him one among "lords many and gods many," and regarded him as having a local and limited dominion. But the fundamental idea of the religion of Israel was that Jehovah is God alone, and demands the supreme and entire affection of man ( Isaiah 42:8 ). "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," i.e. in my presence.

3 . Give glory to themselves ; are proud and boastful of .their wisdom, power, and success. Self is really the idol of all who forsake the Lord. But the triumph of the ungodly is short.

II. SMITTEN BEFORE THE PRESENCE OF THE ARK (verses 2-4). Almost as soon as they obtained possession of it, the victory which they thought they had obtained over him whose presence it represented was turned into disastrous defeat.

1 . Their god was cast down and broken in pieces.

2 . Their sustenance was wasted and destroyed (verse 6; 6:4, 5). "Mice were produced in the land, and there arose a great and deadly confusion in the city". The cornfields, the chief means of their subsistence and the source of their prosperity, rendered fertile, as they deemed, by the power and favour of Dagon, were wasted by a plague of field mice (not unknown in the history of other lands) under the special arrangement of Divine providence, that they might learn the vanity of their idol and the supremacy of Jehovah.

3 . Their persons were afflicted with disease. "The hand of the Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod" and "the coasts (territory) thereof," and "smote them with emerods" (verses 9, 12; either boils or hemorrhoids, bleeding piles— Psalms 78:66 ).

III. INSPIRED WITH DREAD OF THE ARK (verse 7), for such was evidently the prevailing feeling of the men of Ashdod, and of others subsequently, as more fully expressed in verses 11, 12. They attributed their afflictions to its presence—"His hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god;" and feared a continuance of them. Hence they wished to get rid of it, as the Gergesenes desired Jesus to "depart out of their coasts" ( Matthew 8:34 ).

1 . The religion of the heathen is a religion of fear.

2 . The fear of man in the presence of the supernatural bears witness to the sinfulness of his nature, or of his disturbed relations with the Divine.

3 . It springs from a conviction or instinct of retribution, which, however, is often mistaken in its applications.

4 . A servile, selfish fear drives away the soul from God instead of drawing it near to him, and is contrary to the reverential, filial fear in which true religion has its root ( 2 Timothy 1:7 ).

IV. STRIVING FOR THE RETENTION OF THE ARK (verses 8-12). The effect of their sufferings on the people of Ashdod was to lead them to resolve, "The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us;" but its removal was deemed a matter of such importance that they called a council of the lords (or princes) of the confederacy to determine what should be done with it. Whilst they may have felt toward Jehovah a like fear to that with which they regarded Dagon, they were unwilling to render honour to him by "letting it go again to its own place" (verse 11), still less to renounce their idolatry. They wished to retain the ark for their own honour and glory; and so indisposed were they to desist from their attempt, and acknowledge their fault, that even their own priests found it necessary to admonish them against "hardening their hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh" (verse 6; 1 Samuel 4:8 ). They sought to effect their purpose by sending it to Gath; and it was only when both Gath and Ekron were still more severely afflicted than Ashdod, many died, and the cry of distress "went up to heaven" (verse 12), that in a second council they consented to let it go.

1 . The devices of men against the Lord are foolish and vain ( Proverbs 21:30 ).

2 . Their continued resistance to his will causes increased misery to themselves and others.

3 . Their efforts against him afford opportunities for a wider and more signal display of his power.

4 . What they are unwilling to do in the beginning they are, after much suffering, constrained to do in the end.

V. INQUIRING ABOUT THE RETURN OF THE ARK ( 1 Samuel 6:2-9 ). The Philistine princes, having resolved to send it back, called "the priests and soothsayers" together, to show them in what manner it should be done; and the answer they received, though not unmingled with the caution generally exhibited by heathen priests, was wise and good.

1 . Men in all ages have had need of special guidance in Divine things. The very existence of a priesthood is a confession of such need.

2 . Conviction often forces itself upon the most reluctant.

3 . There is in men generally a deep feeling of the necessity of a propitiatory offering in order to avert Divine wrath—"trespass offering" (verse 3).

4 . Even the light which shines upon the heathen indicates the need of the higher light of revelation. Their wisest advisers exhibit uncertainty and doubt (verses 5, 9).


1 . By sending it back to its own place.

2 . By the open acknowledgment of their transgression in the trespass offerings they present on behalf of the whole nation. "Give glory unto the God of Israel" (verse 5).

3 . By providing the most appropriate and worthy means of making their offerings. "A new cart" ( 2 Samuel 6:3 ). "Two milch kine on which there hath come no yoke" ( Numbers 19:2 ).

4 . By the humble attendance of their chief men (verses 12, 16).

5 . By confessing the incompatibility of the worship of Jehovah with the worship of Dagon. "And from this time we hear no more of the attempts of the Gentile nations to join any part of the Jewish worship with their own" (Warburton). Imperfect as their homage was, it was not unacceptable to him "who is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repents him of the evil" ( Jonah 4:2 ; Acts 17:27 , Acts 17:30 ).

VII. PERSISTING IN THEIR ATTACHMENT TO IDOLS ; We know not all the beneficial effect of the presence of the ark among them, in restraining them from evil and inciting them to good; but we know that—

1 . They did not renounce their idolatry.

2 . They did not cease from their oppression of Israel. And,

3 . Were not permanently deterred from making fresh attacks upon them ( 1 Samuel 7:7 ), and by their opposition to the God of Israel "bringing upon themselves swift destruction."—D.

1 Samuel 5:3 . (ASHDOD.)

The overthrow of idolatry.

"Behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the Lord." Idolatry still prevails over by far the larger portion of the earth. It is an ancient, persistent, and enormous evil. And we, like Israel of old, are called to be witnesses to the heathen of the living and true God; not, indeed, by keeping outwardly separate from them, nor for that purpose, and the preservation of the truth intrusted to us, by contending against them with the sword; but by going into all the world, and preaching the gospel to every creature. Our only weapons are those of truth, righteousness, and love.

"Nor do we need

Beside the gospel other sword or shield

To aid us in the warfare for the faith."—(Dante.)

When the ark was defended with carnal weapons, it was carried away by the heathen, and placed in the temple of Dagon; but he whom the sacred symbol represented smote the idol to the ground ( 1 Samuel 5:1-5 ). "Wherever he comes with the ark and the testimony, there he smites the idols to the ground. Idolatry must fall where the gospel finds a place." Concerning idolatry, notice—


1 . False and unworthy conceptions of God. The instinct of worship was possessed by the Philistines; but their worship was rendered to a monstrous image, which was wholly destitute of, and opposed to, the perfections of the true God. It is the same with other idolatrous nations. Of the innumerable gods of India it has been said, "What a lie against his supreme majesty! Their number is a lie against his unity; their corporeal nature is a lie against his pure, invisible spirituality; their confined and local residence a lie against his omnipresence and immensity; their limited and subdivided departments of operation a lie against his universal proprietorship and dominion; their follies and weaknesses a lie against his infinite wisdom; their defects, vices, and crimes a lie against his unsullied purity and perfection." "Having no hope, and without God in the world" ( Ephesians 2:12 ).

2 . Great corruption of life and manners; gross sensuality, incessant strife, oppression, cruelty, etc. ( Psalms 74:20 ). "The land is defiled, and vomiteth out her inhabitants" (Le 1 Samuel 18:25 ).

3 . A downward tendency towards still greater darkness, corruption, and misery. "The true evil of idolatry is this. There is one sole idea of God which corresponds adequately to his whole nature. Of this idea two things may be affirmed, the first being that it is the root of all absolute grandeur, of all truth, and all moral perfections; the second, that, natural and easy as it seems when once unfolded, it could only have been unfolded by revelation; and to all eternity he that started with a false conception of God could not through any effort of his own have exchanged it for the true one. All idolatries alike, though not all in equal degrees, by intercepting the idea of God through the prism of some representative creature that partially resembles God, refract, and splinter, and distort that idea. And all experience shows that the tendency of man, left to his own imaginations, is downwards. Many things cheek and disturb this tendency for a time; but finally, and under that intense civilisation to which man intellectually is always hurrying, under the eternal evolution of physical knowledge, such a degradation of God's idea, ruinous to the moral capacities of man, would undoubtedly perfect itself, were it not for the kindling of a purer standard by revelation. Idolatry, therefore, is not an evil, and one utterly beyond the power of social institutions to redress; but, in fact, it is the fountain of all other evil that seriously menaces the destiny of the human race".


1 . The proclamation of Divine truth, of which the ark may be accounted a symbol; the revelation of the righteous and merciful purposes of God toward men in his Son Jesus Christ.

2 . The operations of Divine providence, by which heathen lands are rendered accessible, and their inhabitants disposed to pay attention to the truth; not only those which are afflictive, but also those which are benign ( 1 Samuel 5:6 ).

3 . The influences of the Divine Spirit, by which false systems are shaken as by a "mighty rushing wind," and consumed as with fire, and lost souls are enlightened, purified, and saved. "By my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" ( Zechariah 4:6 ). He works in silence and secrecy; but the effects of his working become manifest to all. The light of the morning reveals them.


1 . The adaptation of the means.

2 . The work which has been already accomplished, and which is an earnest of and preparation for "greater things than these."

3 . The predictions of the word ( Numbers 14:21 ; Isaiah 2:18 ; Jeremiah 10:11 ; Malachi 2:11 ).

Conclusion :—

1 . Pity the heathen "in the compassion of Jesus Christ."

2 . "Go ye." "Give ye." "Pray ye."

3 . Do all in faith and hope.—D.


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