Have you ever gotten something you thought you wanted to find out you didn’t really want it? That was the case with the Philistines in 1 Samuel 5.
Throughout the Books of 1 and 2 Samuel, the Israelites were constantly at war with the Philistines, a pagan group of people who lived along the eastern coastal plains of the Mediterranean. In a battle recorded in 1 Samuel 4-6 the Philistines slaughtered the Israelites and captured the Ark of the Covenant, a chest that symbolized the presence of the LORD.
Convinced that their victory meant that their god, Dagon, was superior to Israel’s God, the Philistines began to celebrate. They placed the Ark, their newly acquired war trophy, in the temple of Dagon at Ashdod.
However, when the people of Ashdod went into the temple the next morning, they found Dagon face down in the dirt before the Ark. Thinking it was only a coincidence, they dusted their god off, stood him back up, and put him back in place. But, the following morning they found Dagon face down in the dirt again only this time his head and hands had broken off.
Their sense of accomplishment turned to dread after the LORD humiliated not only their god but the people in three Philistine cities. 1 Samuel 5:6 explains what was going on—“The LORD’s hand was heavy upon the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation upon them and afflicted them with tumors.” Scholars think that the devastation may have been the bubonic plague or possibly severe diarrhea, and the tumors may have been hemorrhoids. I’m serious. Can you imagine a whole town suffering from diarrhea and hemorrhoids?
Certain that the Ark was causing their problems, the people in Ashdod sent the Ark to the neighboring city of Gath. Same results. The people of Gath feared that Israel’s god was punishing them for taking the Ark. Therefore, they decided to send the Ark to the Philistine city of Ekron. However, as soon as the people of Ekron saw it coming, they threw a fit! They had heard about the Ark. They cried, “Send that thing back home where it belongs or else we’re all going to die!”
After seven months of misery the Philistines had had enough! Conferring with their spiritual advisors they concluded that the Ark must be returned and accompanied by a guilt offering in hopes that it would appease Israel’s god. So now that the decision was made to send the Ark home with an offering to absolve them of any guilt, the only question was what the offering should be.
The advisors agreed that five gold tumors (hemorrhoids) and five gold rats (representative of the cause of the plague) would be appropriate. After fashioning the gifts, they placed them in a chest. Next, they loaded both the chest and the Ark on a new cart drawn by two mama cows that had just given birth. Then they sent the cow-drawn cart toward Israel wondering if the mama cows would try to turn back to their young or if they would compliantly make their way eastward toward Israel. Time would tell whether or not the rulers had done the right thing.
The cows headed straight for Israel. The Philistine rulers watching from afar were greatly relieved now that the Ark was out of their hands and no longer a part of their lives. As the cows drew nearer to Israelite territory, the rulers assumed Israel’s god was appeased and their problems would subside.
What the Philistines considered a prized trophy at the outset, proved to be the very thing that wreaked havoc in their lives. And sadly, it took seven months to figure out that what they thought they wanted, they really didn’t want. Instead it proved to be something they regretted ever bringing into their lives. It was by choice that the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant home with them. It was not forced upon them.
Let’s take a look at what we have recently deliberately or even by default invited into our lives–a possession, a habit, a lifestyle, a slang expression, a leisure or recreational activity, a relationship.
Perhaps it’s a website we’ve given permission to send us promotional material. For example, every morning when I pick up my cell phone, there are at least one and sometimes multiple emails in my inbox waiting to tempt me to buy clothing which I either don’t need or wouldn’t consider appropriate for a Christian woman to wear. In blinking lights the ads try to entice me to “save thirty percent on my entire purchase.” They are designed to create in me an insatiable desire for more and more, and all it requires is just one simple click.
In hindsight the Philistines would tell us that possessing the Ark was a huge mistake. They willfully brought it to Philistia thinking it was something they wanted, but it proved to be a decision they lived to regret.
What have you allowed to come into your life either by invitation or by default that has proven to be detrimental to your life? Do an inventory quickly before too much damage has been done.
Let’s refuse to be people who rely on hindsight to determine when we’ve made a bad decision. Instead, let’s resolve to ask up front—”Will I really want this after I have invited it into my life?”
Dear Lord, we are bombarded with media and by a culture that entices us to invite possessions, behaviors, habits, websites, and relationships into our lives without counting the cost. Help us to lean on You for guidance up front so we won’t have to live with regret. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Scripture Reading: 1 Samuel 5-6