by Arthur W. Pink
Philologos Religious Online Books
Studies in the Scriptures
by Arthur W. Pink
THE DESTRUCTION OF DAGON.
(SERIES PART 1)
The opening chapters of the first book of Samuel bring before us some sad incidents, making evident the deplorable condition into which the favoured Nation had fallen, for they treat of a portion of that time covered by the Book of Judges, when “in those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eves” (21:25). First, we have Hannah, in bitterness of soul praying unto and weeping before the Lord, and Eli the high priest so lacking in discernment as to suppose she was drunk (Chap. 1). Concerning Eli's sons we read that they were “sons of Belial” who “knew not the LORD” (2:12). Though engaged in the sacred office of the priesthood, they conducted themselves in a most horrible manner. First, we are told that they misappropriated for their own use portions of the sacrifices, for they “abhorred the offering of the LORD” (2:13-17), thereby being guilty of the fearful sin of sacrilege. Moreover, they committed immorality, and that at the very “door of the tabernacle” (2:22). Later, we find the Lord making known unto their father (2:27-34) and unto Samuel (3:11-14) the judgment which He would execute upon the house of Eli.
“And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Ebenezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek. And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men” (1 Sam. 4:1-2). Jehovah was no longer fighting for His people, and without Him they suffered defeat at the hands of the enemy. The Lord will not show Himself strong on the behalf of those who displease and dishonour Him. As He announced through one of His Prophets at a later date, “The LORD is with you while ye be with Him: and if ye seek Him He will be found of you; but if ye forsake Him, He will forsake you” (2 Chron. 15:2). The same principle is repeated in the New Testament: James 4:8-10.
“And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us today before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies” (1 Sam 4:3). See here the blindness and the folly of the religious leaders. They were oblivious to the fact that the nation was ripe for judgment, and refused to consider that the defeat which had just been experienced was a call from the Lord unto humiliation, repentance and reformation. How absurd the expedient suggested. True, wonders had indeed happened in the past when the ark had gone before the people, but it had been by the Divine command the sacred coffer was in the vanguard, and not at the caprice of men. Tokens of the Lord's power were granted at a time when the nation, generally speaking, was walking in obedience to Him, and not when He was being openly defied. Those things made all the difference.
The expedient resorted unto by those “elders” has often been repeated in principle. There has usually been a large proportion of those who nominally profess to be the people of God, that are so deluded as to believe no matter how sinful and worldly their lives be, they are entitled unto Divine help. Total strangers to vital godliness, supposing that a half-hearted attention to external forms will satisfy the Lord, in the hour of emergency they call upon Him in hope. To indulge the conceit because a “day of prayer” is appointed for a people who are “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:4), He will promptly put forth His mighty arm on their behalf, is the modern parallel to Israel's making an idol of the ark and concluding it would save them from their enemies. Rightly did Thomas Scott say of those hypocrites, they “dishonoured Him more in attending of His ordinances than they could do by neglecting them, so that He abhors those services for which they expect His favour.” Let the reader ponder such passages as Isaiah 29:13-14; Malachi 1:12-14.
“So the people sent to Shiloh (where the tabernacle then abode) that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD of Hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubim: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God” (1 Sam. 4:4). What a spectacle: that which symbolized the throne of Jehovah in Israel's midst being borne by these sons of Belial! But have no unholy men handled the sacred things of Christ during the past fifty years? Are there no Hophnies and Phinehases in Christendom today? Are the Scriptures never publicly read, prayers made, the ordinances of Christian Baptism and the Lord's Supper administered, by men whose beliefs and ways evince that they “abhor the offering of the Lord”? Well did Thomas Scott say of Eli's sons, “being hardened to their destruction, they were left to venture presumptuously into the holy of holies and to carry the ark into the army and thus, without any proper call, they were found within the reach of the sword of the Philistines, by which they were destined to be destroyed.”
“And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again” (v. 5). How much seeming zeal there is for the ark of the Lord while the Lord of the ark is despised! Poor deluded souls; like parched travelers in the desert having false hopes raised by a mirage of water. Mistaking the shadow for the substance, they thought that all would now be well with them. Their shouting was but the infatuation of the flesh and not an inspiration of the Spirit. It went beyond what our moderns would term “wishful thinking”: it was heralding the victory before the enemy was so much as engaged. Carried away by an act of awful presumption they gave expression to hilarious joy as though they had already triumphed over the Philistines. Has mankind become any wiser with the passing of the centuries? Is our own “enlightened generation” too discreet to count their chickens before they are hatched? It hardly looks like it with all this ambitious and utopian post-war planning.
“And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of the LORD was come into the camp. And the Philistines were afraid; for they said, God is come into the camp: And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore” (vv. 6, 7). Such ignorance and superstition was excusable on the part of the Philistines. They had heard something of the wonders which the God of Israel had wrought for His people in the past, and as they listened to the acclamations of the Hebrews they were filled with dismay. But not for long. Their leaders called upon them to, “Be strong and quit you like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men and fight” (v. 9). It was not the “fear of the Lord” but only a fleeting natural alarm which had overtaken them, and they quickly threw it off. Had Jehovah actually been with Israel how different things would have been.
“And the Philistines fought and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man to his tent: and there was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. And the ark of God was taken, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain” (vv. 10, 11). Israel had regarded the ark as a fetish—as many now consider a meaningless “mascot” or a golden “cross” which has been “blest” by some Papist, will afford its possessor protection in the hour of danger—but it availed them not when the enemy struck. They had given a premature shout of victory, but now their army suffered a sevenfold worse defeat than the previous one. The sons of the high priest had personally accompanied the sacred coffer, and now they lay cold in death. God's threats are not idle words, but sure predictions of what is in store for evil-doers. The fearful judgments which had been announced to Eli and Samuel were now literally executed. And, my reader, each of us, individually, and the nation to which we belong, has to do with the same God. He will not be mocked with impunity. Though He be slow to anger, yet His wrath is the more terrible when it does strike.
Tidings of this fearful disaster were speedily conveyed unto the high priest. He was seated by the wayside in sore suspense, “For his heart trembled for the ark of God” (v. 13). When the news was broken to him, it was too much for the aged Eli, so that he “fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate and his neck was broken and he died” (v. 18). His daughter-in-law was in childbirth and when she learned of the national catastrophe and the death of her father-in-law and husband, she, too, expired, but not until after naming her son “Ichabod” saying “the glory is departed from Israel, for the ark of God is taken” (vv. 19-22). It may strike some as strange that God suffered the ark to fall into the hands of the Philistines, but considering all the circumstances it had surely been much more strange had His blessings attended the superstitious expediency of the rebellious Israelites.—A.W.P.