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1 Samuel chapter 5

New International Version

1 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. 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?' They answered, 'Have the ark of the god of Israel moved to Gath.' So they moved the ark of the God of Israel.
9 But after they had moved it, the LORD's hand was against that city, throwing it into a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, both young and old, with an outbreak of tumors.
10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. As the ark of God was entering Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, 'They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.' 11 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, 'Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.' For death had filled the city with panic; God's hand was very heavy on it. 12 Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.
English Standard Version

1 When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. 3 And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. 5 This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.
6 The hand of the LORD was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory. 7 And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for his hand is hard against us and against Dagon our god.” 8 So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” They answered, “Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought around to Gath.” So they brought the ark of the God of Israel there. 9 But after they had brought it around, the hand of the LORD was against the city, causing a very great panic, and he afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them. 10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. But as soon as the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people.” 11 They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.” For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there. 12 The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.
King James Version

1 And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod. 2 When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon. 3 And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again. 4 And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him. 5 Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon's house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day.
6 But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof. 7 And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god. 8 They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither. 9 And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts. 10 Therefore they sent the ark of God to Ekron. And it came to pass, as the ark of God came to Ekron, that the Ekronites cried out, saying, They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people. 11 So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go again to his own place, that it slay us not, and our people: for there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there. 12 And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods: and the cry of the city went up to heaven.
New American Standard Bible

1 Now the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon, and placed it beside Dagon. 3 When the Ashdodites got up early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and set him back in his place. 4 But when they got up early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. And the head of Dagon and both palms of his hands were cut off on the threshold; only the torso of Dagon was left. 5 For that reason neither the priests of Dagon nor any who enter Dagon’s house step on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.
6 Now the hand of the LORD was heavy on the Ashdodites, and He made them feel devastated and struck them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territories. 7 When the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, 'The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, because His hand is severe on us and on Dagon our god.' 8 So they sent word and gathered all the governors of the Philistines to them, and said, 'What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?' And they said, 'Have the ark of the God of Israel brought to Gath.' So they took the ark of the God of Israel away. 9 After they had taken it away, the hand of the LORD was against the city, creating a very great panic; and He struck the people of the city, from the young to the old, so that tumors broke out on them. 10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. And as the ark of God came to Ekron, the Ekronites cried out, saying, 'They have brought the ark of the God of Israel to us, to kill us and our people!' 11 Therefore they sent word and gathered all the governors of the Philistines, and said, 'Send away the ark of the God of Israel and let it return to its own place, so that it will not kill us and our people!' For there was a deadly panic throughout the city; the hand of God was very heavy there. 12 And the people who did not die were struck with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.
New Living Translation

1 After the Philistines captured the Ark of God, they took it from the battleground at Ebenezer to the town of Ashdod. 2 They carried the Ark of God into the temple of Dagon and placed it beside an idol of Dagon. 3 But when the citizens of Ashdod went to see it the next morning, Dagon had fallen with his face to the ground in front of the Ark of the LORD! So they took Dagon and put him in his place again. 4 But the next morning the same thing happened--Dagon had fallen face down before the Ark of the LORD again. This time his head and hands had broken off and were lying in the doorway. Only the trunk of his body was left intact. 5 That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor anyone who enters the temple of Dagon in Ashdod will step on its threshold.
6 Then the LORD's heavy hand struck the people of Ashdod and the nearby villages with a plague of tumors. 7 When the people realized what was happening, they cried out, 'We can't keep the Ark of the God of Israel here any longer! He is against us! We will all be destroyed along with Dagon, our god.'
8 So they called together the rulers of the Philistine towns and asked, 'What should we do with the Ark of the God of Israel?' The rulers discussed it and replied, 'Move it to the town of Gath.' So they moved the Ark of the God of Israel to Gath. 9 But when the Ark arrived at Gath, the LORD's heavy hand fell on its men, young and old; he struck them with a plague of tumors, and there was a great panic.
10 So they sent the Ark of God to the town of Ekron, but when the people of Ekron saw it coming they cried out, 'They are bringing the Ark of the God of Israel here to kill us, too!' 11 The people summoned the Philistine rulers again and begged them, 'Please send the Ark of the God of Israel back to its own country, or it will kill us all.' For the deadly plague from God had already begun, and great fear was sweeping across the town. 12 Those who didn't die were afflicted with tumors; and the cry from the town rose to heaven.
Christian Standard Bible

1 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod, 2 brought it into the temple of Dagon and placed it next to his statue. 3 When the people of Ashdod got up early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen with his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and returned him to his place. 4 But when they got up early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen with his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. This time, Dagon's head and both of his hands were broken off and lying on the threshold. Only Dagon's torso remained. 5 That is why, still today, the priests of Dagon and everyone who enters the temple of Dagon in Ashdod do not step on Dagon's threshold.
6 The Lord's hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod. He terrified the people of Ashdod and its territory and afflicted them with tumors. 7 When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, "The ark of Israel's God must not stay here with us, because his hand is strongly against us and our god Dagon."
8 So they called all the Philistine rulers together and asked, "What should we do with the ark of Israel's God? ""The ark of Israel's God should be moved to Gath," they replied. So they moved the ark of Israel's God. 9 After they had moved it, the Lord's hand was against the city of Gath, causing a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, from the youngest to the oldest, with an outbreak of tumors.
10 The people of Gath then sent the ark of God to Ekron, but when it got there, the Ekronites cried out, "They've moved the ark of Israel's God to us to kill us and our people! "
11 The Ekronites called all the Philistine rulers together. They said, "Send the ark of Israel's God away. Let it return to its place so it won't kill us and our people! " For the fear of death pervaded the city; God's hand was oppressing them. 12 Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.

What does 1 Samuel chapter 5 mean?

The Philistines had badly defeated the Israelite army despite that the ark of the Lord had been brought to the battle in hopes that God would fight for His unfaithful people (1 Samuel 4:1–11). He had not, and the ark had been captured and is now delivered to Ashdod, one of the five major Philistine cities.

The Philistines believe their victory means that their god, Dagon, has proven more powerful than the God of the Israelites. Believing Israel's deities to be in the ark, physically, they set it up in Dagon's temple to show that Dagon is superior to the Lord. Returning the next day, though, they find the Dagon idol face down in front of the ark in a position of worship (1 Samuel 5:3). The day after that, they find Dagon's head and hands removed and lying on the threshold to the temple, with the remainder of the statue face down in front of the ark. The symbolism of these events is not merely humiliating for the idol Dagon, but also reflects the Lord's utter contempt for the false deity (1 Samuel 5:4).

Things get even worse for the Philistines. The Lord's judgment acts swiftly and with power on the people of Ashdod. He afflicts them and those in the surrounding areas with terror and tumors. The exact nature of the tumors is not stated, but scholars suggest they might have been boils or hemorrhoids. The men of the city recognize that this is a plague from the Lord of Israel against them and their god because they have the ark (1 Samuel 5:6–7).

A meeting of the rulers of the five major Philistine cities is called, and the ark is sent away from Ashdod east to Gath, where the same thing happens; the text seems to suggest the situation was even worse. Men young and old experience an outbreak of tumors, and the level of panic rises (1 Samuel 5:8–9).

The leaders of Gath quickly have enough and send the ark to Ekron. This means each time the ark has been moved, it has been taken closer to Jerusalem and its rightful people. The people of Ekron begin to panic as soon as the ark arrives, believing the people of the other Philistine cities are trying to kill them. It's likely some of the carnage in Ekron was caused by terrified reactions and fear, rather than the disease itself (1 Samuel 5:10).

Another meeting of the rulers of the five cities is called. The people of Ekron demand the ark be sent back to Israel before it kills them all. In fact, some of the men of Ekron do die, apparently from the panic itself, while the others are struck with the terrible tumors. The cry of the people of the city is immense, poetically being said to reach heaven (1 Samuel 5:11–12).

In the following chapter, the Philistine leaders will produce a plan to rid themselves of the ark without suffering even further damage.