The Lord ’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors. – 1Sam. 5:6 NIV
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The Israelites had gone into battle with the Philistines, not aware of the intention of the Almighty God to take the priesthood away from Eli and his children, and hand it over to another person of His choice – 1Sam. 2:27-36. They had requested and had gotten the Ark of Covenant delivered to them in their camp at the battlefront, after initially losing in the battle to the Philistines, and they rejoiced at its arrival, hoping that with its presence, they will be victorious, but that was not to be as they were not just roundly defeated by the Philistines, who initially, got scared when they heard of the arrival of the Ark in the camp of the Israelites, but also captured the Ark of Covenant and had it taken with them from Ebenezer to Ashdod – 1Sam. 4:1-10. The news of the capture of the Ark, in addition to news of the defeat of Israel and the death of his two sons in battle got to Eli, and this accounted for his death, but more relevant to today’s Devotional, is the fate of the Ark of God after its capture by the Philistines – 1Sam. 4:11-21.
Probably in the belief that all they had to do was to be in possession of the Ark and they will be assured of future victories, the Philistines after capturing the Ark took it to the temple of Dagon, where they set it by the side of Dagon, only to return the next day to find Dagon lying facedown before the Ark. Probably not reading much to this occurrence, they put Dagon back in position and returned the very next day, to again, find Dagon lying facedown, not just on the floor before the Ark, but this time with broken head and hands lying on the threshold.
This could no longer be a co-incidence as the people of Ashdod and its vicinity also experienced the heaviness of the hands of the Lord who brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors, so they called for a meeting where a decision was taken to relocate the Ark of God to Gath, suspecting that its presence amongst them was the reason for the negative experiences that had befallen them. This move turned out to be a one that will extend the negative experiences of the people of Ashdod to the people of Gath, as they were equally afflicted with tumor outbreak by the Lord, and in panic, they equally demanded for the immediate relocation of the Ark of God to Ekron. The people of Ekron, having heard of the calamity that befell the inhabitants of the cities where the Ark was previously located resisted vehemently, making it clear that they were not ready to experience deaths and tumor affliction, and so suggested that the Ark be returned to its appropriate location, which was amongst the Israelites – 1Sam. 5:1-12.
Of course, it was obvious at this point that the reason for all the negative events, deaths and tumor afflictions, happening in all the locations where the Ark was taken to, was its presence at those locations, but in order to convince some of the people that this object, that was a symbol of victory and joy for the Israelites, was the cause of all the deaths and afflictions being experienced, and following the advice of their priests and diviners, the Philistines prepared a guilt offering which was placed together with the Ark inside a cart that was attached to two cows that have been calved, but with their calves separated from them. They were to allow the cows freely move the Cart and its contents in a direction that will either confirm or deny the relationship of the Ark of God to the negative events that they were experiencing. It did not take too long to convince the doubters amongst them, that really it was the presence of the Ark in their midst that was the cause of all the calamities that they were experiencing, as the cows moved the cart in the direction of Beth Shemesh, which is in the territory of Israel – 1Sam. 6:1-12. It had become clear by then that the location of the Ark in a place not acceptable to the Almighty God;
- Was what brought disgrace and embarrassment to Dagon, right inside the shrine that was dedicated to it. Dagon not only bowed, but when attempt was made to keep Dagon, the experience became worse as it was completely destroyed.
- Was what brought affliction, sicknesses and death to all the people living in the cities where the Ark was taken to, as placing the Ark in such locations was considered a sacrilege by the Almighty God. From Ashdod to Gath and Ekron, the conclusion was same, which was that accepting to locate the Ark in their city was a wrong decision.
- That affliction due to such errors will only cease if the right thing, which is to locate the Ark in a divinely approved location is done. There was no sign that the afflictions were there before the arrival of the Ark of God, just as there was no evidence to disprove the fact that the afflictions ceased as soon as the Ark left the land of the Philistines.
- Attempts to correct such sacrilege must not only be done, but must be seen to be done, with the evidence of admission of guilt, being the performance of an appropriate act of self-denial or loss, that may be described as a sacrifice, to demonstrate remorse and restitution. The abuse of the symbol of God’s presence was considered too grave to end by simply re-locating it appropriately. The Almighty God requires a penalty to be paid, physical and spiritual, for Him to stop the accompanying punishment for such acts of indiscretion and sacrilege.
- Worthy of note also is the fact that merely possessing or being in the environment of the symbol of God’s presence was not sufficient to guarantee access to the support of the Almighty God, just as the Israelites got to realize. The one having such expectations must reman in the Will of God, else the symbol of His presence will count for nothing. Samuel who was the Priest at that time revealed the spiritual state of the Israelites when he was advising them to return to the Lord with all their heart, rid themselves of foreign gods, commit to, and serve only the Almighty God – 1Sam. 7:2-4. They must have obviously strayed from Him.
The second part of this Devotional will look at the implication of this event to the Christian today but what remains obvious at this point is that the Ark of God was an object of great importance to the Almighty God and He was not going to allow it to be treated with disrespect. It may seem like an ordinary gold plated box, two and half cubits long by one and half cubits wide and high, made from acacia wood, with its contents mainly the tablets of stone on which the testament given to Moses by Jehovah was written on (Exo. 25:10-22), the bowl containing a sample of the Manna (Exo. 16:31-34) and the budded rod of Aaron (Num. 17:10), its association with the Lord made it a sacred object that must be revered if the people around it are to have positive experiences of its presence – Heb. 9:4. May God grant us the wisdom to deal with sacred and divine objects in a manner that will benefit our lives in Jesus name. Amen.