In I Samuel 5 the Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant after the Israeli’s had recklessly brought it into battle as a kind of talisman in order to manipulate God into giving them a victory over their arch-enemy. Instead the place of God’s dwelling on earth was captured and Israel routed in battle.
Lesson 1 — God will not be manipulated into serving the ends of a disobedient people.
From here the Philistines full of chutzpah over capturing Israel’s God (for that is the way they would have looked at it) decided to dedicate the Ark to their god Dagon. So, they brought the presence of God into Dagon’s temple and sat the presence of God before Dagon, thus communicating that Dagon had triumphed over the God of the cosmos.
However, as we know Dagon was smart enough to know who should be worshiping whom and when the servants of Dagon came in the next morning they found Dagon prostrate before the presence of God (I Sam. 5:3) where he belonged.
The Philistine priests, being good acolytes, got Dagon back up on his feet with the presence of God remaining before Dagon. Some people don’t take hints.
The next morning it was worse than before (I Samuel 5:4). There was Dagon again prostate before the presence of God but this time with his head and hands severed. Dagon had struck the heel of Yaweh by defeating His people in battle, but now God had crushed the head of Dagon. Dagon had failed to submit to God and now he had perished in the way.
Somewhere in this mix someone decided to take the presence of God on a tour of the major cities of Philistia. In what was billed as “The Tumor tour,” they started in Ashdod, they played next in Gath and then in Akron but at every stop on the tour the wrath of God in the way of a plague descended upon the inhabitants of the cities of Philistia until they cried out to have the presence of God removed from them.
Lesson #2 — Nobody captures God and lives to tell about it –especially His enemies. God is Holy and is not to be trifled with.
Finally, the Philistines wise up and decide to try a fleece to determine whether Israel’s God was in all their catastrophes or if it was just a matter of chance. As such they yoked together milk cows who had never been yoked together before (6:7) so as to pull a new cart. The Philistines watched closely to see what would happen and when they saw the never before yoked together milk cows working together to take the Ark straightway back to Israeli territory they knew that God had been among them.
Lesson #3 — There is no such thing as chance. God’s providence governs all.
But this is not the end of this account. Israel, like their Philistine enemies had to learn again that God is Holy and that He is not to be treated casually.
When the ark returned to Beth-Shemesh, the Israelites rejoiced, worshiped, and sacrificed to God. However, a number of them learned what Nadab and Abihu had learned earlier and what Uzzah would later learn and that is God will kill those who treat Him casually and without deference to His Word. Seventy of the citizens had sinned the same type of sin as the Philistines. They looked inside the Ark of the covenant which God had forbidden (Numbers 4:19-20), and they were struck dead.
Lesson #4 — God is angular and will never be made smooth.
The overall lesson that begs being made is that God is Holy and that His Holiness is dangerous to those who treat it casually or to those who disrespect it. Does our understanding of the Holiness of God fill us with a filial fear that fills us with reverence when we are in the unique presence of God as we gather to worship? The reality of God sits upon His people so lightly. Would that we would once again have some measure of comprehension of His Holiness.
Thank God for the covering we have in Jesus Christ who brings us safely into the presence of God so that even when our worship might be reckless, casual, and disobedient we are kept safe from this righteous out-breaking of God’s discipline. Were it not for the work of Jesus Christ to forgive sinners none of us could last long in the presence of God.