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1 Samuel 5:3 -


I. OF THE HEATHEN . Samson, calling on the name of Jehovah God, pulled down the temple of Dagon at Gaza, and showed the weakness of the idol. When the Philistines got possession of the ark of Jehovah, they placed it in another temple of Dagon at Ashdod, in order to re-establish the credit of their god. Great must have been their chagrin when they found the god of the victors prostrate before a sacred symbol connected with the God of the vanquished. But it was no easy thing to break their confidence in their own god. They set the idol up again, trying to persuade themselves, perhaps, that the fall had been accidental. The restoration of Dagon, however, only prepared for him and his worshippers a greater discomfiture. As the Philistines would learn nothing from the humiliation of their god, they had to behold with horror his mutilation and destruction. A plague fell at the same time on the people of Ashdod, like the plague of boils that smote the Egyptians in the days of Moses. They were filled with dismay, yet they would not restore to its place in Shiloh that ark which, as they owned, had brought such distress upon them ( 1 Samuel 5:7 ). They carried it from city to city, though in each place the Lord punished them. For some months they continued in this infatuated course. The lesson of the weakness of their own gods they learned very slowly, very reluctantly; indeed, they never turned from their idols. Dreading the judgments of Jehovah, they at last sent back the ark to the land of Israel; but their minds and hearts were not changed. All that they cared for was to be free of this terrible ark, that they might cleave undisturbed to their own gods and their own heathen usages.

II. OF UNGODLY MEN IN ALL NATIONS . An evil habit is reproved, an error refuted, or a vain hope in religion exposed; yet men will not abandon it. They have some excuse for it, and after it has been thrown down they "set it up again in its place." The lesson is repeated with emphasis more than once, and yet it is not learned. Ungodly and self-willed men fall on one excuse after another, rather than give up errors which suit their minds and evils to which they are addicted. They have no objection to keep religion as a talisman; but rather than be called to account concerning it, or compelled to choose between it and their own devices, they will send it away. They prefer even a weak Dagon, who lets them sin, to the holy God, who requires his people to be holy too. The Philistines continued to be heathens, notwithstanding the reproof and humiliation inflicted upon them, just as the Egyptians remained in heathen blindness after all the proofs given to them of the power of Jehovah over their gods and their Pharaoh. Alas! many persons in Christendom have solemn reproofs from God and exposures of their helplessness when he rises up to judgment, yet never turn to him. In their infatuation they first treat the ark with disrespect, then send it away. They dismiss God from their thoughts, and are as mad as ever on their idols.

["This chapter, with the following, strikingly illustrates the non-missionary character of the Old Dispensation. For centuries the Israelites were near neighbours of the Philistines, and yet the Philistines had no particular knowledge of the religion of the Israelites, and only a garbled and distorted account of their history. This religious isolation was, no doubt, a part of the Divine plan for the development of the theocratic kingdom; but if we look for the natural causes, we shall find one in the narrowness of ancient civilisation, when the absence of means of social and literary communication fostered mutual ignorance, and made sympathy almost impossible; and another in the national local nature of the religion of Israel, with its central sanctuary, and its whole system grounded in the past history of the nation, thus presenting great obstacles to a foreigner who wished to become a worshipper of Jehovah."—Dr. Broadus].—F.

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