Q: Why would it be “normal” for the Philistines to place the ark in the temple of their god?
A: The common belief in those times was that each nation had a god, and that one nation conquering another was a spiritual reflection of one god defeating another. It was therefore common to bring in the idols of the gods of defeated nations and place them in subordination to the god whom they believed gave them victory. This shows they think the ark is nothing more than another idol.
Q: Who was Dagon?
A: The Philistines were not native to Canaan and archeologists popularly refer to them as “The Sea Peoples” to identify them as a seafaring race who came from other parts of the Mediterranean to settle Canaan. Therefore it is no surprise that their god would be a fish-god represented by an idol composed of the body of a fish with the head and hands of a man. Dagon was the national god of the Philistines. The most famous temples dedicated to Dagon were located in Gaza (Jg. 16:23-30) and Ashdod.
Q: Why do you suppose that God did not supernaturally intervene on behalf of His people Israel when they brought the ark before them in battle against the pagan Philistines?
A: God’s people were in a state of sin and in no spiritual condition to warrant God revealing His power on their behalf.
Q: How might this in and of itself actually be a sign to Israel?
A: Compared to the way God worked on their behalf historically, the fact that He failed to intervene supernaturally was a confirmation of the testimony of Phinehas’s wife just previous to this: “The glory has departed from Israel”. (1 Sam. 4:19-22) The physical mirrored the spiritual.
Point: There are those who believed because they were born into Israel they were automatically protected and warranted special treatment without embracing the additional requirement of personal faithfulness to His Word and ways.
Q: Who, instead, experienced a supernatural sign?
A: The pagan Philistines.
Q: What did the Philistines attempt to do?
A: They added the ark to the other religious relics in their temple, attempting to subordinate the God of Israel to their fish-god Dagon, believing that it was Dagon who gave them victory over Yahweh.
Q: What is ironic about what the Ashdodites had to do after the first day?
A: They had to put Dagon back on his feet because even though worshiped as god, he was powerless to help himself.
Q: What is the lesson they missed on that first day?
A: They originally tried to subordinate the God of Israel to Dagon, but found everything reversed. They still did not realize that it was not Dagon who gave them the victory, but that it actually came about by Yahweh.
Q: What does the additional sign of the removal of Dagon’s head and hands on the second day represent?
A: Beside being subordinated to the God of Israel again, the cutting off of the head would be a representation of the lack of wisdom on Dagon’s part, and the removal of his hands to be his lack of power or ability to defend himself or carryout his will.
Q: How is this a representation of Christ and the New Testament Gospel?
A: The idolatry and false religions of the world fall before the preaching of Christ and His gospel in it and cannot stand against the wisdom and righteousness of Christ.
Q: How do we know that the Philistines did not learn the greater spiritual lesson being taught here?
A: By their treatment of the places on which their idol fell as being so sacred that they would not “tread on the threshold”. (v.5) They still elevated their god over the true God in spite of everything that happened.
Application: God will not reveal His power on behalf of His sinning people, but neither will an enemy be allowed to mock His glory or defile His name.