1 Samuel 5:1-3 New International Version (NIV)
The Ark in Ashdod and Ekron
5 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.
Above is just the funniest part of a long, somewhat dark story from 1 Samuel chapters 4 and 5. Here’s what you need to know. Samuel, the book’s namesake, will one day be a great prophet. However, right now he is the apprentice of a mediocre priest named Eli. Eli has two priest sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who are not merely mediocre; they are greedy, sexual predators that use their power in horrible ways, taking advantage of the Israelite people (see the second half of chapter 2). Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas are possibly the most powerful figures in Israel at the time, and they were in charge of the Ark of the Covenant (ark of God above, the same ark that Indiana Jones was looking for). Several people prophesied that they would all meet a terrible end.
The Ark of Covenant was a large box created by Moses at God’s direction. It contained relics to remind the Israelites of their journey through the wilderness such as a jar of manna, Aaron’s staff, and the covenant tablets that Moses brought down from Sinai. It sat in the Holy of Holies (the holiest place in the tabernacle), and the presence of God was said to dwell above it kind of like a throne or stage whenever God wanted to show Himself amongst the people. Therefore, it became synonymous with God’s presence.
One day the Philistines were at war with the Israelites. The Israelites were defeated, so Hophni and Phinehas had the bright idea to bring the Ark of the Covenant to battle, which did in fact scare the Philistines. They fought anyway, defeated the Israelites, stole the Ark, and killed Hophni and Phinehas. When Eli found out, he fell over and died. When Phinehas’ wife found out, she gave birth to a son and named him Ichabod (meaning “the glory has left”, thanks mom).
Broken gods and hemmorhoids
Meanwhile, we come to the Scripture quote above. The Philistines put the Ark of the Covenant in the temple with their god, Dagon. Overnight, Dagon’s statue fell over. They picked him back up. The next day he fell over again, and his head and his hands broke off. They decided that the Ark must be pushing him over, so they moved it to a different location (Gath, coincidentally the birthplace of Goliath). In Gath, the Ark gave everyone hemorrhoids (yes, you read that correctly. I mean that’s just one of the possible translations of the word tumor, but it’s the one I’m going with), so they sent it to Ekron—more death and hemorrhoids (somewhere in there, there was a mouse plague). Finally, they decide to give it back to Israel by putting it on a cart pulled by two cows with no driver. They also offer it 5 golden mice and 5 golden hemmorhoids (yes, this is in the Bible).
Good Luck Charms
So what can we learn from this? First, you can’t use God (or a cross, or holy water, or a votive candle, or a relic, or a WWJD bracelet) as a good luck charm. Phinehas and Hophni didn’t follow God at all, but they fooled themselves into believing that if they paraded a box around, God would do what they wanted. I see this happen all the time. People think about what they want to happen, and then they start declaring that God wants that to happen, too. They think they’ve said the magic, religious words, and thus sanctified their personal preferences.
God wants good things for you, but he wants the things that he thinks are good. He doesn’t do our bidding, we do his. If you want to call yourself a follower of God, or a Christian, or a believer, it means you live according to his rule. And his rule is good for you. Our God is a god of grace and love, but he will not hesitate to let us stumble if we take his name in vain. A lot of people in this world are invoking the name of God in order to claim that there way is right. We need to humbly ask ourselves if this isn’t leading to a fall.
God Doesn’t Need My Help
But there’s good news! Once the Ark was captured, the Ark took care of itself. We can be honest, open, and transparent about our shortcomings and the shortcomings of the church because God will right his own ship. In the news, there is story after devastating story coming out about abuse, neglect, theft, and a host of other wrongdoings by those that should be our spiritual leaders. We’re finding out about it all at once because the church hides it thinking that it will bring dishonor on God. But God takes care of himself and his own reputation. We’re called to be authentic and honest.
This is also good news because if you think you’ve messed up and hurt God’s reputation, or you think other people are tarnishing his name, he can take care of himself. If you think that the church and culture are going down the toilet because of strong, external forces like liberalism, conservatism, nationalism, racism, tribalism, terrorism, or materialism, God has seen these things before and is unimpressed. Give him one night, and they will come crashing down. Give him a few weeks and everyone will have mice and hemorrhoids and come to their senses. I think that’s the message here.