Fish-gods and Emerods
1 Samuel 5:1-12 (1) And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod. (2) When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon. (3) 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. (4) And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him. (5) Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon's house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day. (6) But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof. (7) And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god. (8) They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither. (9) And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts. (10) Therefore they sent the ark of God to Ekron. And it came to pass, as the ark of God came to Ekron, that the Ekronites cried out, saying, They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people. (11) So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go again to his own place, that it slay us not, and our people: for there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there. (12) And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods: and the cry of the city went up to heaven. In the preceding chapter to today's text (that is, in 1SAM 4:1-22), the ark of the covenant, that precious token of God's abiding presence in Israel, God suffered to be seized by the O.T. church's enemies. The ark was the particular interest of the high priest of Israel who alone could approach it once a year with atoning blood for his own sins and those of the people (HEB 9:7) and its loss was a clear signal of God's displeasure with both priest and worshipper. At that time, Israel was being smitten by their inveterate enemies, the Philistines (1SAM 4:1-2). The elders of Israel in distress looked not to God Who was their glory (PSA 106:20; LUK 2:32) for deliverance but to a token which He had given them: “Let us fetch the ark....when IT cometh among us, IT may save us...” (1SAM 4:3). When tokens are ascribed divine power, they become as idols and are properly taken away, as Moses' brasen serpent had to be destroyed (NUM 21:8 c/w 2KI 18:4). Israel's error was basically that they were attributing saving power to the visible forms and elements of religion instead of to the invisible God Who alone has power to save, a durable folly with which the church of both testaments has struggled. In this chapter we observe the perpetual reproach (PSA 78:66) that was put upon the Philistines for their presumptuous setting of the image of a vain idol god (Dagon) before the ark of the Living God. The LORD was not kidding when He said, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (EXO 20:3), not even before His ark (vs. 1-5). Although God had judged Israel by the ark's seizure yet there was an honor that went with it. The articles and ordinances of God's religion are sacred to it and neither the exploiting of them by the heathen, nor the mingling of them by God's people with heathen ways are acceptable (DEU 12:29-32 c/w 2CO 6:14-18). “...Learn not the way of the heathen...” (JER 10:2) remains the church's rule (MAT 6:7; 1CO 10:20-21). Years later, the Babylonians similarly took the articles of God's temple which He had allowed them to seize and presumed to use them in their revelous praise of their idol gods (DAN 5:1-4). God took their kingdom away that very night (DAN 5:30-31). The Philistines paid dearly here for their superstition and transgression. There was a general destruction of three of their cities as well as a painful plague of emerods (hemorrhoids) in their secret/hinder parts. It may be noted that God associates idolatry and false religion with filthy dung (PHIL 3:6-8 c/w MAL 2:1-3; 1KI 14:10; 2KI 10:27). It seems quite appropriate that these foolish idolaters should be smitten with such a loathsome discomfort. Perhaps an analogy may be drawn from this. Hemorrhoids are (sometimes) considered to be caused by straining when the body is hanging on to what it shouldn't. Churches are spiritual bodies and when they don't purge what should be purged (sin, sinners, vain traditions, etc.), the strain of trying to make things still work has ugly side-effects. Corrupt religion is a real pain in the hinder parts. “Purge out therefore the old leaven...” (1CO 5:5). The marginal rendering of v. 4 of today's text in many Bibles suggests that the phrase, “...only the stump of Dagon was left...” could also read, “...only the fishy part was left...” According to Strong's Hebrew Dictionary, Dagon was the name of the fish-god deity of the Philistines and evidently his idol priests donned a headdress of a large gape-mouthed fish. Some historians have noted the curious similarity between that and the strange papal mitre that the supposed heir to the office of the lowly fisherman, Peter (supposed by Catholicism as the first bishop of the church of Rome) sometimes wears. Such a fishy hat begs the question as to whether the papacy of the Roman Catholic church is the legacy of the leading banal fisherman or that of a bleeding anal fissure, man. Such a ministerial hat for Christians can not be found in Scripture given by the Holy Spirit: some other spirit came up with that. It may also be observed from our chapter that God had ordained that Israel should transport the ark by carrying it (NUM 7:9 c/w 1CH 15:2) but when the Philistines tried to carry it (vs. 8-9), destruction came upon them. That ark housed the commandments of the living God (HEB 9:4). His holy word and ministers thereof are ever a “...sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?” (2CO 2:15-16).