The scene is almost comical, if were it not such a tragedy. The Philistines, wrongly convinced of the power of Dagon, place the ark of God in a position of subservience beside their most revered god.
But early the next morning they find Dagon is the one in a position of reverence, on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord [5:3].
Poor Dagon, unable to lift himself, is carefully picked up and replaced in his position of honor.
But the next morning… they find him again, this time without his head or hands, both symbolic of military strength and power; all that is left of their powerful Dagon is his trunk. And this time the Ashdodites get the message.
“The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for His hand is severe on us and on Dagon our god.” [5:7]
The Hebrew language utilizes a number of idiomatic expressions, and references to the hand are often used to symbolize action, strength and power.
The stouthearted were plundered,
They sank into sleep;
And none of the warriors could use his hands. [Psalm 76:5]
When the Philistines expressed, His hand is severe on us and on Dagon our god, they were referring to the action God had displayed in His incomparable strength, power and judgment.
Consider Him Whose Hand is Severe
- His Hand is Severe with the weight of His judgment
- Now the hand of the Lord was heavy on the Ashdodites, and He ravaged them and smote them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territories. [5:6]
- His Hand is Severe and none can escape
- After they had brought it around, the hand of the Lord was against the city with very great confusion; and He smote the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them… For there was a deadly confusion throughout the city; the hand of God was very heavy there. [5:9, 11]
How do we respond to Him Whose Hand is Severe?
The Philistines recognized they were under judgment, and their gut reaction was fear, and rightly so.
So they sent and gathered all the lords of the Philistines to them and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” [5:8]
Perhaps they should have ended their question after “What shall we do…?”
For rather than bowing to the Almighty Judge, to Him Whose Hand is Severe, they determined they needed to take action themselves, and sent Him away.
They sent therefore and gathered 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, so that it will not kill us and our people.” [5:11]
They seemed to understand His power and His rightful place, but not their own rightful place. He had demonstrated through their own man-made god the rightful place of all of mankind… on our face to the ground before Him.
Although the image evoked by a mere trunk of a god is humorous, when we consider His Severe Hand, the humor quickly fades.
It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. [Hebrews 10:31]
He is Omnipotent and He will judge by His holy, righteous and terrifying Severe Hand, but…
- His Hand is Severe, but… not short. He is able to save.
- Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short
That it cannot save; [Isaiah 59:1]
- Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short
- His Hand is Severe, but… kind. His supernatural overpowering of the feckless Dagon, presented the truth; and in His kindness He offered the opportunity to turn to Him in repentance.
- Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? [Romans 2:4]
- with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. [2 Timothy 2:5-26]
Let us respond to His kindness. When we consider His sacrifice to rescue us from His Severe Hand of Judgment, and His promise to uphold us by His Righteous Right Hand, may we take our rightful place in faith and humility.
‘Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ [Isaiah 41:10]
“Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
16 “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; [Isaiah 49:15-16]
May we understand His rightful place as we bow before Him in faith and humility. And let us pray He will grow us in our faith that we would daily find ourselves in the place He has graciously granted, in His Hand, not His Severe Hand, but His Hand of compassion and love.
Let’s Grow Together!