“After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. 5 That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold. 6 The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors.[a] 7 When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god.” 8 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and asked them, “What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?” 1 Samuel 5.1-8
“Dagan, also spelled Dagon, West Semitic god of crop fertility, worshiped extensively throughout the ancient Middle East. … His cult is attested as early as about 2500 bc, and, according to texts found at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), he was the father of the god Baal.” (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Dagan)
The Lord’s presence was represented in the Ark of the Covenant. That is where God said he would dwell among people. But we know, God can’t be limited to a box, no matter how nice and covered with gold it is. It was the container that held mana from the desert, the staff of Jacob, the Ten Commandments given to Moses from God on Mount Sinai and God’s presence.
When the Philistines stole the ark from Shiloh, they had no idea what they were getting in to. How would they? They put the ark in the temple of Dagon and two nights the Lord put Dagon (the father of Baal) in his place! Once face down before the ark of the Lord, and the second on his face before the ark with his head and hands broken off! God was having no part of Dagon!
Infirmities and afflictions also came down upon the people in the form of tumors and other types of devastation not mentioned but not details given. Verse 6 tells us “the Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity.” Things were not going well for the people in Ashdod and they realized the ark must not remain in their city. So they asked the rulers of the Philippines, “What shall we do with the ark of god of Israel?”
Messing with the Lord’s power and presence is not something anyone should do lightly who wants to live. God is not to be trifled with. He is the Lord, God Almighty, Ruler over Heaven and Earth. Although he wasn’t confined to the ark, it represented his presence. Treating the ark as a common object was like treating God with contempt. As we will see in other stories, when people took God’s Presence lightly terrible things were bound to happen.
So what about us? How do we treat the Presence of God? 1 Corinthians 6.9 says our bodies are a Temple of his Presence, the Holy Spirit. How do we treat our bodies? God is present with us each and every day, every moment, every second, every hour — how do we talk to him, walk with him, treat him? Do we give him our time, attention, love and energy? Or do we find necessary room in our hearts for him to have his way with us?
The Philistines treated God’s presence with contempt and so paid the price. Let’s not do the same!
“O Lord God, your presence is amazing. Your power with us is beautiful. The fact that you would walk with us is just extraordinary. Not only did you send your Holy Spirit among your people in the Old Testament, you came in the flesh in the New Testament in Jesus. Your desire is for us to know you, walk with you and to love you. Forgive us Lord when we ignore your presence or take you for granted. Help me be filled with compassion and knowledge of the Holy. Come now, Holy Spirit, fill me with your presence and love. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen