by Arthur W. Pink
Philologos Religious Online Books
Studies in the Scriptures
by Arthur W. Pink
We closed our last article by calling attention to a striking omission: that in the closing verse of 1 Samuel 4 and the opening ones of 5 there is no hint that the Nation was filled with consternation at their loss of the sacred ark or that they made any attempt to recover it, or that they cried unto the Lord to intervene. Instead, they seemed to have been quite unmoved by such an unprecedented calamity, and taking the line of least resistance remained inert. Yet if we take into consideration all the attendant circumstances we should not be surprised. Consider the time when it occurred. It was at some point within the period covered by the book of Judges, and in that book we are told four times “In those days there was no king in Israel,” and twice it is added “every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” which is ever the case when there is no strong central authority. But more: the priesthood had failed, yea, was abominably corrupt (1 Sam 2:12-17,22), and thus Israel was without competent leaders either spiritual or civil. What then could be expected of the rank and file of the people!
“When the Philistines took the ark of God they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon” (1 Sam 5:2). In their most recent form we regard the Philistines as the “Modernists,” the “Rationalists,” the “Higher Critics,” who captured the majority of the seminaries and theological institutions; dominated religious literature, gained possession of almost all the most influential pulpits, and thereby secured control of the public Testimony of God, corrupting the ministerial springs at their source. And what are we to understand by “Dagon” in this connection? It was the “god” of the Philistines, the idol to which they paid homage (Judg 16:23). That idol was a monstrosity, being fashioned after a fish in its lower half but after the human form in its upper (1 Sam 5:4, margin): thus it portrayed the worship of man plus something inferior in the scale of being. Unto such “strong delusion” were they given up as to worship a non-entity, a figment of their own imagination, something resembling the fabled “mermaid.”
And was not “Evolution”—the theory that man has come from the animals and they from fishes—the grand idol of all the apostate professors and teachers! And what grew out of it? A logical corollary of the Evolutionary theory was the flesh-pleasing idea of the progress of man and his wonderful achievements. These were crystallized in the imposing expression “Civilisation,” or “our Christian civilisation,” or more recently “our twentieth-century civilisation.” Pulpit and press, politicians and educational authorities have united in lauding “the steady march of progress,” the tremendous “advance” which has been made, and the utopia which would soon be established in the world. God allowed almost a century to pass for the full development of the modern “Dagon,” that the pride and folly of its deluded devotees might the more plainly appear, for it was in 1848 Charles Darwin's “Origin of Species” appeared—popularised for the masses by Henry Drummonds “The Ascent of Man.” Yet side by side with the trumpeting forth of progress and advancement there has been an ever increasing and more widely spread spiritual deterioration and moral degeneracy.
If our memory serves us correctly it was in the 1908 issues of “Things to Come,” a monthly edited by E. W. Bullinger, there appeared some striking articles from the pen of P. Mauro, entitled “The state of the crops,” being a topical excursus on the words “The harvest of the earth is ripe” (Rev 14:15). In them he pointed out how results showed that the natural efforts and attainments of man had already reached their limits, that whether in literary productions, musical compositions, painting or forms of architecture nothing was now being achieved which excelled the fruits of previous generations, that the best being brought forth in these fields of human industry were but replicas or inferior imitations of what our fathers and forefathers possessed. But if the summit of attainment had already been reached by 1908, how far has the world traveled down the incline on the farther side since then!
Some one has said, “The popular taste is a good index to the health of society.” Apply that dictum to our own times and it will quickly appear how the mental and moral health of society has declined. The vast majority now prefer such minor poets as Yeates and Bottomley to the superior excellency of Wordsworth and Tennyson; the crude and hideous sculptures of Robin and Epstein to those of the ancient Greeks; the grotesque and crazy productions of the “cubist” and “surrealist” schools to the masterpieces of Raphael and Turner; the jazz of the jungle and the crooning of Harlem to the strains of Beethoven; the ethical standards of Shaw to Shakespeare's; the modern “thriller” to the more wholesome fiction of Thackeray and Scott. No matter in which direction we turn it is the ugly and the vulgar which is preferred to the beautiful and refined. What a commentary on our so-called “progress.”
This “progress” which has been so much advertised and acclaimed has been merely a mechanical one and not a spiritual and moral. The past century has indeed witnessed some remarkable inventions, but how far have they contributed to the real good of mankind? Electricity and incandescent gas has replaced the candles and oil-lamps of our forebears, but has there been a corresponding increase of spiritual illumination among the people? Steam and petrol power have largely superceded carriages and drays drawn by horses but have they issued in any moral elevation? The present generation has taken to flying in the air, but there is no evidence of increased heavenly mindedness. On the lowest ground, these inventions have failed to produce more contentment and mental serenity. And do not the losses entailed by these modern devices far outweigh any gains? Witness the appalling “toll of the road”: in America and Britain tens of thousands killed and hundreds of thousands maimed every year! Witness the towns and cities of Europe blasted into ruins from the air! Would it not be a mercy if the clock of “progress” could be pushed back a hundred years?
It matters not which aspect we consider of modern “Progress” for its thin veneer of delusion is easily seen though if the examination be made coolly and critically. For example, how proud the boastings of a generation or so ago about our “Prison Reforms” and our more enlightened treatment of crime when in reality a maudlin sentimentality was allowed to oust a sense of justice. The eugenist contemplates morals principally from a utilitarian viewpoint. The modern scientist virtually denies the responsibility of the criminal, contending that he is the helpless victim of heredity and environment. “Social workers” affirm that society and not the criminal is to blame. In consequence the retributive element in punishment has been more and more displaced by the reformative. Short sentences became increasingly popular and prisoners increasingly petted. A premium was practically placed upon crime by making the lot of the culprit pleasanter, certainly more secure, than that of the average workman. It makes no difference to these theorists that the virtuous (though outnumbered) are to be met with in the slums, while some of the most vicious spring from good parents and excellent homes.
Instead of asking the question, what harvest could be expected from such a sowing? we would push our inquiry further back and ask, Was this highly praised movement actuated by nobler or inferior principles to those which have regulated our fathers? It is a simple matter for the objector to reply, this generation is more tempered by mercy than were previous ones. It is equally simple for us to deny it. But let us ask, Is the criminal the only one entitled to mercy? what of his victims—the thousands of comparatively poor people robbed by swindlers and tricksters. Is it lack of mercy which seeks to throw a wall of protection around the weak and gullible, by imposing such penalties as are likely to deter those who would prey upon them? Then prisons ought not to be made so attractive that they cease to be a deterrent to crime. Is it unmerciful to qass the death-sentence on a slayer if an hundred potential murderers are curbed by such an example? Let justice be tempered by mercy, but not a mercy which closes its eyes to the essential difference between right and wrong.
Suffer us to allude unto one other aspect of our twentieth-century progress, namely, the enormous efforts which have been made by the state to raise the “standard of life” for the labouring classes. Fabulous sums have been spent during the last twenty years in “doles,” “pensions,” and “family allowances.” Even the unprecedented cost of the present war was not allowed to curtail the colossal upkeep of the “social services.” And has the “standard of life” been raised at all? The answer to that question depends upon your standard of measurement. Better fed and better housed working-men certainly have not produced better workmanship! As the majority of impartial and competent observers foresaw, the “dole” has been most demoralizing, destroying in many the incentive to earn their bread honestly by the sweat of the brow. Nor has it produced more contentment: the more they be given, the more they expect—demand. What proportion of the huge sums spent in doles and allowances found its way into the pockets of publicans, brewers, distillers, dog-racing proprietors, and amusement caterers.
To return unto 1 Samuel 5. The sacred ark had been captured by the Philistines and Israel tamely submitted to their loss. It looked as though the Lord Himself was indifferent, for He put no obstacle in the way of His enemies and even permitted them to conclude that Dagon was greater than Himself. That is why, after recounting the calamities recorded in 1Samuel 4—see 78:60-65—the Psalmist uses those striking figures of speech: “Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine” (78:65). Jehovah now took into His own hands the work of avenging His outraged honour and vindicating His great name. God is a jealous God: He had shown Himself such by severely chastising His friends, because they had long tolerated unjudged evils in their midst. And now the fierceness of His jealousy should be felt by His foes. He made bare His right arm and smote His insulting adversaries, and He continued to smite until they were compelled to recognize Who it was that was dealing with them.
“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” (1 Sam 5:3). Once more we express our conviction that the history of Dagon contains an allegorical significance, that it portrays what has occurred again and again in the lives of different nations and empires, yea that it gives us a pattern of what has been and is taking place in the world before our own eyes. It is a revelation of the unchanging principles in the governmental dealings of God, and therefore is fraught with important spiritual instruction. The “Dagon” worshipped by our moderns is the so-called “Christian Civilisation.” And what happened to it, my reader, during 1914-1918? when the most “cultured” and “highly civilised” of the nations engaged each other in a contest of such gigantic dimensions and ruthless ferocity, employed such diabolical means and methods and sacrificed the flower of their manhood to such an appalling extent, that the whole range of human history supplies no parallel. Man has prated of his ascent from the animal, and it was left to the disciples of such a philosophy to demonstrate how beastly they still were. Proud “civilisation” was shaken to its foundations, humiliated into the dust, flung on its very face in 1914-1918.
And what was the Philistines' response to their humiliating experience? Did they acknowledge the Hand that had overturned their idol? Did they own their insensate folly and confess they were vainly fighting against Heaven? No, they did not, for the next thing we read of is that “they took Dagon and set him in his place again” (v 3). They were still determined that Dagon should be their “god.” See the blinding and besotting power of self-will. How true it is that “they that make them [the senseless idols] are like unto them” (Psa 115:8)! And what effect did the frightful tragedy of 1914-1918 have upon the nations of Christendom? Was there a general turning unto God and an humbling of themselves before Him? No, in the language of Isaiah 26:10, 11 it had to be said “They will not behold the majesty of the Lord. Lord, when Thy hand is lifted up, they will not see.” Neither the goodness of God nor the severity of God made any impression: they continued to harden their hearts and followed out their mad dreamings.
May we not see in the institution of the League of Nations with the wonderful benefits it was going to confer upon mankind in the restablising and securing of “Civilisation” the setting up again of “Dagon”? Was not the widely preached “Universal Brotherhood of Man” now to receive practical expression by the nations of the earth banded together as they never had been before. Might was now to give place to right, force to reason. In future, disputes should be justly but amicably settled by arbitration and war would be rendered impossible. The world would now be “made safe for democracy.” Civilisation would at last stand upon a firm basis and the steady march of progress which had been so rudely interrupted, could be resumed with an ever-brightening prospect. Such in brief were the promises made and the hopes inspired by that wonderful production of twentieth-century politicians and diplomats. And what a will 'o the wisp it proved!
The “march of progress” from 1920 onwards, was, if measured by the standards of righteousness and decency, steadily downwards and not upwards. During the fifteen years that followed, “Civilised Britain” became more and more a “Continentalised Britain,” a “Paganised Britain.” That which our fathers had so carefully erected their children took pleasure in tearing down. Everything which had ennobled the “Victorian” era was sneered at and jettisoned. Those with the least sense of decency were determined to drag down into the gutter the whole of the rising generation. An orgy of licentiousness was widely entered into. Night-clubs were multiplied, dog-racing tracks opened all over the country, gambling spread like wild fire among the young people and cocktail parties abounded on every side. The beaches lowered their bathing restrictions and modesty became a thing of the past. Youth was allowed to have its fling unrestrained. The sanctity of the Sabbath totally disappeared, the Lord's day being devoted to pleasuring and carousing.
Mayfair became another Harlem and other places emulated their very example or attempted to “go one worse.” The novels and magazines of the last decade have been filled with obscenities and blasphemies. A friend of ours engaged in the publishing business years ago recently wrote us, “To-day we have shops stacked with books which, had they been published when we were boys the authors and publishers would have been put in jail.” Censorship has long since been reduced to a farce. The great majority of the children never entered either a “Sunday school” or “church” in the years between 1920-38 and their ideas were formed by the pictures they saw at the “movies” and the debasing productions of a degenerate press. As a recent writer said “the Evangelical Christian,” “The best sellers of to-day are more often than not books whose morals are of the barnyard, whose language is of the sewer and whose ethics are of the pit. The ghastly thing is that you will find such novels prominently displayed and often commended by large Church publishing houses.”
And what was the sequel to the Philistines setting up again of their idol? This, “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 fishy part was left to him” (v 12). Thus did Jehovah again stain their pride and write folly across that which they were so determined to honour. This time Dagon was not only overturned but dashed to pieces, losing its head and hands—the members which speak of wisdom and power—so that nothing but the stump remained. In its present application the realization of this is not to be looked for in any particular act or event, but in a process of decay and demolition. As the recent withdrawal of the Spirit in Christendom was gradual, covering an interval of several years; as the overturning of Dagon was most noticeable during 1914-1918; so the final destruction of Dagon, though the pace of deterioration has greatly increased, may be extended over a longer or shorter period.
There is no doubt in this writer's mind that the present generation is even now witnessing and will continue to witness the smashing up of the much-vaunted modern Dagon. It was surely significant that the three men occupying the most prominent and influential positions in modern life, namely, Mr. N. Chamberlain, the prime-minister of Great Britain, Mr. F. Roosevelt, the president of the USA, and the pope from the Vatican all placed themselves on record in public statements in 1938, that if the threatened war of Europe eventuated it would mean and entail “The end of Civilisation as we know it.” No doubt they alluded more especially to the material and financial structure, for most of the ethical and spiritual elements, the best features of our corporate life, that which made for refinement and elevation of the mind, had well-nigh disappeared from the world when those men made their pronouncements. How dreadfully everything has gone from bad to worse since then may be gathered from the newspapers, though in their present abbreviated form only a small part of the tragedy is being chronicled.
The breakdown and breakup of “Civilisation” appears in such things as the decay of the sanctity of marriage—as evidenced by the multiplication of divorces, the abandonment of such numbers of babies, the fearful increase of bigamy; juvenile delinquency and of immorality and disease among the young, the vandalism which is now so rife, such widespread pilfering, the appalling amount of absenteeism in all sections of labour, and the supine efforts of the authorities to deal with such evils. English law carries a penalty of seven years for the crime of bigamy, yet guilty ones rarely receive more than three months. Thousands of culprits who ought to be sent to prison are given nominal fines. Recently an ARP chief in a big London borough, when deploring the wanton injury inflicted on the “shelters,” complained that “We have had fines as low as 1/- (25 cents) against young hooligans caught damaging shelter equipment.” Law and order is almost reduced to a farce. The chief officer for the LMS railway stated, “In the past year 8,600 carriage windows had been broken; 19,300 door-straps removed, 40,000 electric lamps removed.” The head of Dagon is already broken off!
It is said “the war is responsible for theses evils.” Not so: war conditions have merely brought things to a head and caused the scum to rise to the surface. “He that is an hireling…seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth…The hireling fleeth because he is a hireling” (John 10:12,13) reveals the principle. We do what we do because we are what we are. There is ever a rigid consistency between character and conduct. When the testing time comes each one reveals what he is by what he does. Character is most revealed by our conduct in the crises of life. When did the “hireling” flee? When he saw the wolf approaching: that was not what made him an hireling, but discovered him as such—one with no love for the sheep. Present conditions have caused the masses to drop all pretence and come out in their true colours. The thin coating of “civilised” varnish has worn off and twentieth-century character stands exposed.
But even when Dagon was destroyed something yet more drastic was required to bring the Philistines to their senses. “The hand of the Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod and He destroyed them, and smote them with emerods” (v 6). They removed the ark to Gath, and “a very great destruction” smote the men there also (v 9). They sent it to Ekron and its inhabitants were so terrified they demanded that the ark be retruned to Israel (v 11). Thus did God avenge Himself and make the wrath of man to praise Him. Never did a boastful people undergo so deep a dishonour in the eyes of their neighbours, to whom they became a laughing stock; and never did an idol suffer a worse disgrace than that which befell Dagon. Afterwards the ark was restored again to Israel, and if history continues, in God's appointed time, after His judgments have accomplished their designed work, the Spirit will return to a purged Christendom and the Testimony of God be established again in its midst. AWP