REALIZE the ‘PRESENCE’ of GOD in our SPIRITUAL GATHERINGS: "Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the temple of Dagon and set it by Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod arose early in the morning, there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the earth before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and set it in its place again. And when they arose early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. The head of Dagon and both the palms of its hands were broken off on the threshold; only Dagon's torso was left of it. Therefore neither the priests of Dagon nor any who come into Dagon's house tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day." (1 Sam. 5:1-5)
In the Old Testament, the ark of God signified the visible presence of God in the lives of the people of Israel. This ark was strategically placed in the tabernacle to be located right at the center where the twelve tribes of Israel pitched their tents in the wilderness. The reason for this was because Jehovah wanted to dwell right in the midst of His people, and direct their daily lives. He wanted to be connected with the children of Israel intimately all throughout their wilderness journey and beyond in the land of Canaan.
During the latter part of the rule of judges, however, neither the priesthood (which included the priest Eli and his sons Hophni and Phinehas) nor the people of Israel regarded the presence of God. "And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation" (1 Sam. 3:1). Eli was literally blind (both physically and spiritually), and the lamp of God in the tabernacle, that was never supposed to be extinguished (see Lev. 6:12, 13), was put out at sunrise every day by the priests (1 Sam. 3:3). It can be safely inferred that Israel had now no regard for the presence of God in their daily lives and activities. It is therefore not surprising that when Israel went to battle against the Philistines, they were soundly defeated on the first day when about 4000 men were killed (1 Sam. 4:1-2).
This surprising defeat made the elders of Israel conclude that their defeat was due to the lack of God’s presence, and they asked these questions: "Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies" (1 Sam 4:3). Since Eli was too old and disabled to travel to the battlefield with the ark of God, he deputed his two sons Hophni and Phinehas to take the ark of God from Shiloh to the battle location (1 Sam. 4:4). However sadly, the presence of the ark of God did not change the tide of the battle even the next day as Israel was soundly defeated by the Philistines, about 30, 000 Israeli soldiers were killed along with Hophni and Phinehas, and the ark of God was captured by the Philistines (1 Sam. 4:5-11).
The capture of the ark of God by the Philistines was as much a spiritual defeat for Israel as it was a political and military loss. It should have been a ‘wake-up call’ to the nation of Israel that had ignored the presence of God for so long, and had languished for years in spiritual ambivalence and moral anarchy. Even though Israel had disregarded the presence of God and suffered as a result of it, God’s presence would soon be felt by the Philistines soon as they had the ark of God now in their possession.
In the ancient Near East the victorious army would carry off the gods of the vanquished and deposit them in the temple of their own gods as a sign of the inferiority and subordination of the captured gods. Though not an idol, the ark of God was treated that way by the Philistines and was taken and placed in the temple of Dagon in Ashdod, one of the five principal Philistine cities (5:2). On the next morning, the people of Ashdod discovered that the idol of Dagon had fallen prostrate on the ground as though worshiping before the ark, so they took this idol and put it back in its place (5:3). However, on the next morning they found that Dagon had been totally dismembered (5:4). So profound was this catastrophe in the eyes of these Philistines that they would not even step on the threshold where the limbs and head of their god had lain in utter defeat (5:5).
Today when we gather to worship God, let us realize the presence of God in our midst as Jesus Himself has said: "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). If we disregard the presence of God like the Israelites, we will also suffer the same defeat and destruction as they did…for they are an example to us today. Further, as the false god Dagon knelt and fell prostrate before the ark of God, let us remember that one day every knee shall bow and fall prostrate before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ!
"Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11).