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1 Samuel chapter 5

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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.
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