The Philistines won the battle and captured the ark of God. Recognizing the spiritual significance of the ark they placed it in the temple of their god Dagon. They quickly discovered that these two spiritual objects were different and incompatible. It is easy to see how they viewed the ark as no different from their Dagon idol. They thought that the god Dagon represented by the idol had power and discovered that the God associated with the ark had real power.
The first part of this conflict is almost humorous. On night one of the ark and Dagon being together Dagon falls over. On night two he crashes to the ground and his hands and head are broken off. Then things get serious and the people suffer as they break out with tumors. I find the people’s response fascinating:
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.” (1 Samuel 5:7 NIV)
The God of the ark displayed His power by toppling their god and inflicting them with tumors which had to be uncomfortable. Logic would suggest that they had discovered a more powerful God. The rational response would be to discover how to worship this God, but they reject that response and decide to send the ark away. They are correct in assuming this will end their suffering. What they miss is the blessing they could have experienced.
What about us?
I guess that an idol smashed on the ground and tumors on the entire population of the city make a bigger impression and are easier to connect with some sort of spiritual force. We have become so materialistic we reject even the thought that something might have a supernatural cause. We will probably never know the cause of the pandemic. What I do believe is that God allowed it to happen.
I find our response to the pandemic to be as confusing as that of the Philistines. Rather than turning to God and attempting to discover His purpose for us during this difficult time, we have retreated to our comfort zones. Instead of a time of great suffering drawing us together we have allowed it to drive us further apart. Followers of Jesus are seen as combative and rebellious, rather than as suffering servants searching for ways to serve regardless of the consequences. The believers of the second century during the great plague in the Roman Empire would not recognize us as their brothers and sisters.
I am afraid that our culture is responding in a similar way to the Philistines. Even many who believe God exists just want Him to go away and leave them alone. After two more cities were afflicted with the same outbreaks of tumors the Philistines sent the ark away and the tumors left. We will never know what might have happened if they had chosen to worship instead. What are we missing in our own unwillingness to worship and serve?