What does 1 Samuel 5:3 mean?
ESV: 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.
NIV: 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.
NASB: 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.
CSB: 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.
NLT: 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.
KJV: 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.
When the Philistines first heard the Israelites had brought the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:10–16) to the battlefield, they were terrified. They heard how the God of the Israelites brought plagues on Egypt. How could they fight against such a god (1 Samuel 4:6–8)? Their assumption was that the physical object—the ark, itself—channeled the power of Israel's deity. The Israelites brought the ark into battle under a similar superstition. Soon, though, that misunderstanding was dissolved. The Philistines thoroughly defeated the Israelites, crushing their army and sending survivors running for their lives. They even captured the ark as a trophy in the end (1 Samuel 4:9–11).
Now they have brought the ark back home to Ashdod and put it in the temple of their own god, Dagon. Theis was meant to show that Dagon had beaten Yahweh, Israel's God, in battle. Perhaps they meant to humiliate Yahweh and the Israelites by making it appear that Yahweh had come to Dagon's temple to worship their god as superior.
When the Philistines enter the temple the next morning, though, they find something startling. The large statue of Dagon has fallen. It is lying face down on the ground in front of the ark of the covenant. In that position, it appears as if Dagon is lying prostrate in an attitude of worship and adoration before Israel's God. They quickly set the Dagon statue back up where it normally stood, but it would not remain there.
First Samuel 5:1–6 describes the arrogance of the Philistines as they place the captured ark of the Lord in the temple of their false god, Dagon. That arrogance is followed by dread: the following morning, the Dagon idol is found face down before the ark. The idol is set back in place, only to fall into the same position overnight, this time with its head and hands cut off and laying on the temple's threshold. The following passage details a wave of tumors and terror among the Philistines, as they move the ark while attempting to halt the plague.
The captured ark of the Lord is placed in the temple of Dagon. On consecutive nights, the Dagon idol is found on the floor, face down before the ark. On the second night, its head and hands are removed. The Lord sends a plague of terror and tumors on the people of Ashdod. The ark is sent to Gath and then Ekron, where the suffering grows even more intense. Some men in Ekron die from sheer panic, and the rest are struck with tumors. The people cry out to send the ark away, back to the Israelites.
In the prior chapter, Israel lost badly in battle against the Philistines, who even captured the ark of the covenant. First Samuel 5 dispels any suspicion that the Israelites' defeat means the god of the Philistines is more powerful than the Lord. In Ashdod, the idol of the god Dagon is supernaturally humiliated in its own temple. A plague of terror and tumors follows, first in Ashdod and then in Gath and Ekron as the ark is moved closer and closer to Jerusalem. The people of Ekron cry out for their leaders to send it back to the Israelites. Chapter 6 details their plan to be free from the ark and God's wrath.
First Samuel introduces the key figures who led Israel after the era of the judges. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel were originally part of a single text, split in certain translations shortly before the birth of Christ. Some of the Bible’s most famous characters are depicted in this book. These including the prophet Samuel, Israel’s first king, Saul, her greatest king, David, and other famous names such as Goliath and Jonathan. By the end of this book, Saul has fallen; the book of 2 Samuel begins with David’s ascension to the throne.
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