June 29, 2011 Devotion Sharing

Submitted by Daemin Kim, Gracepoint Berkeley.

1 Samuel 5:1-8

“It must have disturbed a conquering people to discover their god bowing down before the ark of a vanquished people. Their instinct to prop their god back up is a natural one. It is not easy to relinquish an inadequate understanding of God. Even today when our little gods fall, our first instinct is not to abandon them but to prop them up again.”[1]

What assumptions about God and about Dagon were (or should have been) shattered by the events related in this passage? The Philistines must have assumed that the God of the Israelites were inferior to their own god, Dagon, since they had defeated the Israelites. The events related in this passage should have corrected that idea in a dramatic way. Even the idea that the Lord and Dagon are both gods and that one isn’t superior to the other would have been shattered. The breaking of the Dagon statue should have shown that Dagon is not the equal of the Lord. It would also shattered the idea that the Lord is a god that can be taken and owned, as though moving the ark of the Lord into a temple means they’ve got in locked in. The outbreak of devastation and tumors should have shown that they didn’t control God, but that they were at God’s mercy, and that Dagon couldn’t defend the Philistines from God – he couldn’t even keep from falling. This should have revealed that Dagon was either powerless or even lifeless.

In what ways can I relate to their basic instinct to “put him back in his place?” The instinct to “put him back in his place”, to prop up the idol back up is something I can definitely relate to. Even after I’ve experienced that money or possession of some thing, or selfish lifestyle of comfort seeking don’t provide lasting joy, I’ve returned to it, and sought after it. Like the Samaritan woman at the well who kept turning to marriage for happiness despite disappointment after disappointment, I’ve returned to false “gods” for happiness even after they’ve failed to provide anything lasting. When I was younger, I was convinced that I’d be happy if only I had the latest toy, or the latest gadget, or the most desirable stuff, whatever that happened to be at the moment, and if I wasn’t happy, that meant where was more stuff to get. When I got older, it was the idea of money, and then the idea of achievements and success, and then the desire for comfort. Each time these idols fell, I felt the instinct to put them back, and try again. It’s not easy to give up a false god, and the instinct to want to try one more time is strong. Each time a possession or money or comfort fails, there’s the belief that it failed because I needed more of it – more gadgets, or more money, or more pleasure. In this way, it’s a self-sustaining loop that’s really hard to get out of. Also, there’s fear of not having an idol propped up there – if an idol falls and I don’t put it back up, there’s fear of not having anything to go after, and therefore losing a sense of purpose and guidance (as in what to live for, what to go after). And there’s also fear of the unknown so that a known idol is better than something brand new that a change would bring about. It would like the Samaritan woman knowing that marriage wasn’t the answer but not knowing what else there was, and not wanting emptiness, put up with the false idol of marriage.

What can I learn about human nature from the fact that the Philistines’ reaction to the supernatural events surrounding the ark was simply to avoid further contact by sending it away? The Philistines’ response to the devastation of sending the ark of the Lord away and avoiding further contact with it shows the human tendency of not wanting to deal with problems. Human nature is to avoid dealing with the truth if that causes problems or difficulties. So sending the ark away is to try to put it out of sight and therefore out of mind. Philistines’ reaction was to just get the problem away rather than try to see what they could learn from what had happened. They could have recognized that God is greater than Dagon and therefore they need to learn about God and worship God. God acted in a way that the Philistines didn’t understand, but rather than trying understand, they showed that they preferred to avoid having to find out. Instead of seeking to learn, they gave into human nature tendency of wanting the easiest solution, which is often just sending the problem away. Often, going out of my limited range of understanding and to seek to learn God’s way is more difficult than just avoiding thinking about it altogether. That’

1 Samuel 5:1-12

The capture of the ark by the victorious Philistines would have tarnished God’s name. There would have been despair among the Israelites, and gloating among the Philistines. What does God demonstrate through subsequent events? From human perspective, the defeat of the Israelites and the capture of the ark of the Lord by their enemies the Philistines should have tarnished the name and reputation of Lord the God of the Israelites. This would have led to despair among his people and gloating among their enemies. But that’s from limited understanding. The fact was, God is sovereign and in control. He allowed the ark to be taken, and he wasn’t “possessed” or owned by anyone, or any nation. He taught Israelites a lesson, and also demonstrated to the Philistines that their god was powerless. God demonstrates that he was not controlled by anybody, as though the ark could be used as a weapon or trophy or some possession to be stored away. Even today, when people wonder about God’s reputation being tarnished by things some Christians do, or people fight over who “controls” what God stands for or what doctrines are God-given, God is sovereign: God is not owned or controlled by anyone.

In what way does this reveal the limitation of human thoughts? This passage shows that God’s plans and goals are way beyond human thinking. According to human understanding, God was another god that people “worship” and control. According to human thoughts, the capture of the ark of the Lord would have been a terrible tarnishing of God’s name. But the events that unfolded showed how limited human thinking is, in that God revealed his sovereignty even in the defeat of his people, and showed that he was in control at all times. The saying that God’s ways are higher than our ways is not a simple cliché. Human thoughts would not have anticipated how things would have worked out, and would not have imagined that defeat of God’s people would serve any good.

Submitted by Conrad C., Gracepoint Berkeley

1 Samuel 5:1-8

“It must have disturbed a conquering people to discover their god bowing down before the ark of a vanquished people.  Their instinct to prop their god back up is a natural one.  It is not easy to relinquish an inadequate understanding of God.  Even today when our little gods fall, our first instinct is not to abandon them but to prop them up again.”[1]

  • What assumptions about God and about Dagon were (or should have been) shattered by the events related in this passage?

 

The Philistines witnessed this faux power struggle between God and Dagon, though Dagon is just an idol and portrayed to be inferior and subservient to God of Israel.  First, they see that the God of Israel is more powerful than Dagon.  To see your god figure bowing down before another god was clearly symbolic of Yahweh’s superiority.  Yet, they attempted to recover the situation by propping Dagon back up only to have things escalate.  The God of Israel was clearly trying to prove a point to them.

Second, we know people of that time considered deities to be localized by region.  Yahweh, Israel’s god, was deep in Philistine territory and so the assumption would be that he would be held captive to the power and dominion of Dagon.  But the opposite was true.  So that should have shattered the idea that the power of God is limited by locality.  In fact, as they try to relocate the ark of God to other cities, you actually see how the idea of God acting locally is still prevalent in their minds.  That is if they relocate the ark to another city, God’s afflictions on them would move there also. It’s the only model of God they seem to understand.

Third, I think there’s a lot of insight on the entire context.  The Philistines defeated the Israelites, which supposedly would mean Dagon is more powerful than Yahweh (they are in Israelite territory when the Israelites are defeated).  Yet upon bringing what they perceived as the idol of Yahweh (the ark) back to their territory, Yahweh clearly shows vast superiority to Dagon.  So, one assumption that should have been shattered is the idea that the wins/losses are determined by the strength of your God.  I think there’s an important, simple lesson … that wins and losses in life are not signs of whether God is with you or not.  Often, I think it’s really easy to think when things are going well, God is with you.  You feel empowered, and God is close.  But when things aren’t going so well, well, it’s not that God has abandoned yet, but perhaps He’s not that close or acting in your favor.  In that way, like the Philistines, I think it’s a warning for me to not discern God’s working merely on situational outcomes.

 

  • In what ways can I relate to their basic instinct to “put him back in his place?”

 

I think this is a case where you’re banking on an idol that suddenly fails you.  You would think that you would just abandon it.  But, not, you brush it off as an exception, and you place it back on its pedestal.  For me, I remember putting some of my hopes in work, in the company mission for example.  But after a year or two, that which I placed hope on starts to shown signs of faultiness.  Maybe the company isn’t doing so well, or isn’t delivering on promises.  It’s not as exciting as it was in the beginning.  Perhaps there are opportunities to really think about the grand picture of things, that life isn’t just about your job or career accomplishments.  But fighting that admission is the instinct to think it’s just gonna better, and syche yourself up you do your best to restore the aspirations that is waning.  It’s so instinctual to trust in an idol, even though it has failed you not once, but repeatedly.

 

  • What can I learn about human nature from the fact that the Philistines’ reaction to the supernatural events surrounding the ark was simply to avoid further contact by sending it away?

 

I think this illustrates a classic mechanism of human nature, which is to avoid the supernatural by literally sending it away.  The Philistines upon receiving the afflictions, they not consider that the God of Israel, who clearly is more powerful than their Dagon, as the better of object of worship and obedience.  They insist that Yahweh (who technically in their mind, is out of his region element) can be reigned in and sent away to another city and provide relief from afflictions.  I think similarly, people often will dismiss supernatural events, not on intellectual reasons, but rather, because it might actually have a say in their lives or demand some changes in your life.

Our human natural selves, upon interacting with the supernatural, simply do not comprehend.  1 Corinthians 2:14-15, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments.”  I think that aspect of human nature is being illustrates in today’s passage.  Where we see in the Philistine sending God away when the supernatural begins to take a claim on their lives with real effect.

It’s through the spirit, that I upon promptings from God, can act of them, and not “send them” away (basically ignore it).  Or the Word of God, as it lays claim to my life, to not dismiss it as not for me and likewise, “send it away.”

 

  • Have there been times when I’ve felt threatened by God’s activity and responded in a similar way?

 

I remember after I graduated, there was a prompting to maybe go to missions.  But I “sent” that prompting away by citing in my mind that it was not be practical given I just started grad school.  It was further substantiated by the fact that no one in my program ever took a leave of absence for non-medical reasons.  It just seemed like something that I could not do.  But the prompting continued, and eventually, my leader asked me.  I knew at this point, it was something I could not ignore, and that’s when I actually started praying about it, especially my fears.  Could I put everything on hold for God?  It felt like giving up a lot, and at the same time, I could “send” away the conviction that I have this once in a lifetime chance to actually give up something very valuable for Him.  In the end, I went, but it was definitely a situation where God’s direction for my life ran into the interference of my own ambitions and dreams, and I tried to ignore it, but in the end, God thankfully prevailed.

 

1 Samuel 5:1-12

  • The capture of the ark by the victorious Philistines would have tarnished God’s name.  There would have been despair among the Israelites, and gloating among the Philistines. What does God demonstrate through subsequent events?
  • In what way does this reveal the limitation of human thoughts?

 

God demonstrates that in the end, He is in control.  Like in yesterday’s DT, I thought about how much God will tarnish his own reputation for the sake of loving discipline of His people.  Yet, God is ultimately sovereign and is not held captive to our own thoughts and expectations.  Justice and rightness ultimately prevailed, despite a massive loss by Israel.  In the end, the events that unfolded among the Philistines bore out a witness of God that was entirely unique, demonstrating that God’s power extended beyond mere local regions (something perhaps the Israelites did not fully understand), and that in the polytheistic climate of the day, the God of Israel has no equal.  And I think from the Israelite perspective, what would they have seen by the events among the Philistines?  That though they were routed in battle and losing all their priests (Eli and 2 sons), that God would return to them and had not abandoned them after all.  It was hard lesson, wrought by discipline, and gave way to a deeper understanding that God is totally free and independent.  God is not on their side, as they get to be on God’s side.  God would demonstrate his own power to Philistines, without the need of armies.

I think in the end, what the events bear out is that human thought often is self-centric.  It’s human-centric.  It pits pros and cons, benefits and costs, all in the context of our own good.  That’s the inherent limitation of human thought.  It’s so local, so limited in imagination, and entirely practical.  We cannot see beyond what we can do by our own hands and sometimes, we limit God because we think he has to work through us through out hands and limitations.  Today’s passage, God jumps solo into enemy territory and unfolds supernatural events, something that would be outside the bounds of what the Israelites thought possible because of the reasons above.  They were stuck; that somehow God is limited because we are limited, and from today’s passage, that is not the picture of God that we get.


[1] Kenneth Chafin, Mastering the Old Testament: 1, 2 Samuel (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1989), p. 59

 

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