6 The LORD’s hand was heavy upon the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation upon them and afflicted them with tumors.
1 Samuel 5:9 (NLT)
In yesterday’s article, we have read on how the Philistines turned their desperation to their advantage. When they knew the Israelites brought the Ark of God with them, the Philistines became very fearful. They lost all hope of winning. However they had determined that they would rather die in a fight than to live to be enslaved. Their desperation caused them to fight like they never fought before. They won and captured the Ark of God. In this article, we shall look at what happened when the Ark of God was in the land of the Philistines.
After the war, the Philistines must have celebrated. Not only had they won the war, they had captured a very valuable trophy, the Ark of God. They had heard stories on how the presence of this Ark had brought victories to the Israelites. On that historical day, the nation of Philistines had succeeded in defying the odds and got the Ark. So, they had decided to place the Ark in their temple before Dagon, their national god in the city of Ashdod. It was a symbolic gesture to show that the God of Israel had been defeated by Dagon, the God of the Philistines. This was what they thought.
The next morning, when they entered the temple, they found the statue of Dagon face down before the Ark. The temple staff must be worried that they might be punished for not maintaining the statue properly. So they lifted up the statue and put it in its designated place. I am sure some of them might be worried over the event but they managed to convince themselves that it was only a co-incidence.
However, the next morning the same thing happened. Dagon fell again and this time his hands and head were broken. Unless such event happened regularly before, this must have got the attention of the leaders. Something was not right. In addition, the people in the city were afflicted with tumors. It was clear to them that the presence of the Ark in their city had caused disasters for them. So, the inhabitants of the city demanded their leaders to remove the Ark.
7 When the men of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy upon us and upon Dagon our god.”
1 Samuel 5:7 (NLT)
At this point, I am sure many theologians will jump in to use this event to convince us that our God is a pervert who loves to give disease to people he doesn’t like. Are they correct? Is our God the pervert who caused the people in Ashdod to be afflicted with tumors? Let me clarify this event. If our God is such a pervert who loves to give tumors to the Philistines, he would have done it much earlier, even before the Israelites arrived at the Promised Land.
The tumors appeared because of the wrong combinations of events at that time. It was not because of the will of God. Let me give you an example. Many people had died in road accidents. Does this mean the manufacturers of road vehicles are guilty of murder? Vehicles are meant to meet our transportation needs. We use vehicles to move people and things around, not to kill people. Yet a vehicle that is not properly maintained, driven recklessly or driven when the driver is drunk can be very dangerous and cause people to be killed.
The same principle happened in the city of Ashdod. The Ark of God was built as a part of the covenant between God and his people. It was not meant to be treated like a trophy and placed before an idol. The Philistines abused it and suffered the consequences. Therefore, the tumors were not caused by God. It was caused by the ignorance of the Philistines themselves.
Let us get back to the story. The leaders of the Philistines were convinced that the presence of the Ark in their city was bad for them. So, they wisely moved it out. However, they were not wise enough to realize that they should never put it in another city.
They moved it to another city called Gath.
8 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and asked them, “What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?” They answered, “Have the ark of the god of Israel moved to Gath.” So they moved the ark of the God of Israel.
9 But after they had moved it, the LORD’s hand was against that city, throwing it into a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, both young and old, with an outbreak of tumors.
1 Samuel 5:8-9 (NLT)
The same thing happened. People were afflicted and tumors appeared among them. So they moved the Ark again. Unfortunately, the leaders had not learned their lessons. They wanted to move the Ark to another city, Ekron. The difference here is the people in Ekron were smarter. They opposed the move.
10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. As the ark of God was entering Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.”
1 Samuel 5:10 (NLT)
This got the leaders to start thinking.
11 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, “Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.” For death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy upon it.
12 Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.
1 Samuel 5:11-12 (NLT)
At last they got it. The Ark of God was meant to be with the Israelites, no the Philistines. The Ark brought blessings when it was in the land of Israel but when it was in the land of the Philistines, it resulted in curses. Personally, I think the Philistine political leadership was extremely dumb. They should have taken action to remove the Ark from their territories the moment the first outbreak of tumors happened in Ashdod. Yet, the only thing they did was to move it within their borders which had resulted in massive sufferings to their people. Do you know how long the Ark remained in the Philistine’s territory?
1 When the ark of the LORD had been in Philistine territory seven months,
1 Samuel 6:1 (NLT)
The Philistines suffered needlessly for seven months because of their incompetent leaders.
Let us stop here and see what we can learn from this story. The Ark of God was meant to be a blessing to the Israelites. God did not design it to bring tumors to the Philistines. Unfortunately, it was abused and caused an unfortunate side effect to the Philistines. The moral of the story here is, good things can bring bad results if they are not used correctly.
There are many examples we can see around us. Cars are meant for our good. They carry us around beyond distances we can walk. Yet, if we do not maintain them properly or if we drive recklessly, they will became dangerous.
The other example I would like to present is money. God wants every Christian to be rich. Jesus died poor for us to live rich. God wants us to be rich because he wants us to live good lives on earth, be a blessing to the people around us and to finance the Gospel to every corner of the world. Yet, if we do not have enough discipline to manage money, having a lot of money can bring more harm than good.
This is why God wants us to be rich from the inside first before we become rich in material possession. If you want to be materially rich, you have to start reading the Bible, pray, listening to faith messages and do everything you can to make your spirit rich. Only then will your prosperity be secure and bring good into your life.