Despite the clear evidence, they all came to the wrong conclusions. The story in 1 Samuel 4-5 would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. The Philistines had been warring against the Israelites, and winning. So, the Israelites got the bright idea that if they took the Ark of the Covenant to the battle sight, God would give them victory.
Wrong Conclusion #1
They had reduced the Ark of the Covenant down to nothing more than an idol, thinking that the mere physical presence of the Ark would give them victory. That was no better than thinking that being in a church building will automatically result in worship.
As the story continues, the Israelites lost the battle. In the battle 30,000 Israelite soldiers were slain. Sometimes the numbers of the slain become just a number to us. But these men were real people: sons, husbands, brothers, fathers. The loss was a genuine tragedy.
The Philistines also captured the Ark of the Covenant, placing it in the temple next to their god, Dagon. The next morning, Dagon had fallen face down in front of the Ark of the Covenant (wonder how that happened). Since Dagon was only a man-made statue, the people had to pick him up and place him next to the Ark again. (Aren’t you glad our God doesn’t need us to do something like that?) But the next morning, not only was Dagon again on his face on the floor in front of the Ark, his head and hands had broken off and were lying on the threshold.
Wrong Conclusion #2
Instead of seeing that the God of the Israelites is greater than Dagon, the priests and all the people who entered Dagon’s temple at Ashdod concluded that they should never again step on the threshold of the temple. Why? Because that’s where Dagon’s head and arms landed when they had broken off! Even when the Lord’s hand was heavy against the Philistines, they never came to any other conclusion than to send the Ark back to Israel ... and to never again step on the threshold of the temple. It never seemed to occur to them to conclude that the Lord was God and that they should serve Him instead of Dagon. God has placed before us clear evidence that He is God and what He expects of us as people who believe in Him. And yet, much like the people in this story, we, too, sometimes choose to reduce God down to something we can see and feel, and to content ourselves with silly superstitions and empty traditions. It seems the natural thing to do. It’s what everybody around us does. It’s what we’ve always done. It takes no courage. You don’t even have to think about it.
But God has called us to rise above the world (Psalm 20:7-8), to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), and to think outside of the box of worldly restrictions (Romans 8:5-8). Christians aren’t allowed to conform (Romans 12:2) or to drift (Hebrews 2:1). Christians are called to see with the eyes of faith the extraordinary, the unconventional, even the impossible. Through faith we can turn loose of those gods of ours that we have to mold and repair (like Dagon), and can allow the Lord God Almighty to mold and repair us into His own likeness (like the men and women of Hebrews 11).
The facts are before us. Making wrong conclusions will lead to superstitions and restrictions. But the right conclusions will open us up to the possibilities of God.
- Joe Chesser worked for years with the Fruitland Church of Christ, Fruitland, MO. Now retired from full time preaching, he may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, February 21, 2023
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