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The Heavy Hand of God (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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February 24, 2022 3:00 am

The Heavy Hand of God (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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February 24, 2022 3:00 am

When soldiers lose a war, their whole nation suffers the defeat—but even when God’s people are soundly beaten, God remains victorious. Find out how that’s possible when you join us on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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When soldiers lose a war, their whole nations suffers a loss. Today on Truth for Life, we'll find out how God remains victorious, even when his people are soundly defeated. Here's Alistair Begg with part one of a message titled, The Heavy Hand of God. 1 Samuel 5 and from verse 1. When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold.

Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon and Ashdod to this day. The hand of the LORD was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory. And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, the ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for his hand is hard against us and against Dagon our God. So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? They answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought around to Gath. So they brought the ark of the God of Israel there. But after they had brought it around, the hand of the LORD was against the city, causing a very great panic.

And he afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them. So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. But as soon as the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, They have brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people. They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, Send away the ark of the God of Israel and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people. For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there.

The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven. Amen. Lord, speak to me that I may speak in living echoes of your tone, as you have taught. So let me teach. We are erring children, lost and lone.

Amen. Well, I know you've been keenly waiting for us to get back to 1 Samuel chapter 5, because if you've been reading it, you surely must have said to yourself, What are we to make of this chapter? After all, we're dealing with something that happened a very long time ago, eleven centuries BC, happened far away from here, and it is quite clearly an unrepeatable incident.

So there is no immediate point of obvious application, because quite frankly, it just seems so unusual and so far gone. How, then, do we approach such a passage? Well, the way in which we approach it is in light of the rest of the Bible. We say to one another that the way to interpret the Bible is by interpreting the Bible. The way to teach the Bible is by teaching the Bible, and where one passage may not be just as accessible as another, we will, as we read our Bibles, find that other parts will enable us to approach it correctly.

And so this week I have had Romans chapter 15 and verse 4 at the very forefront of my mind. If you turn to it, you will see that Paul there, having just quoted from the Psalms, immediately says to his readers, by way of explanation, Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. He's referring to the Old Testament. In other words, the Old Testament Scriptures were not only for then, they are also for now. The Old Testament Scriptures are meant to teach us now.

And so that is our starting point. We know that 1 Samuel 5 is a challenge to us, both in understanding and in applying, but we do know that it was there—it is there—in order that we might learn from it now, and that all Scripture, as Paul says to Timothy, is profitable for instruction, for reproof, for correction, for training and righteousness. So if we stand far enough back from it, at least we can say this—that in this record of the people of God being soundly defeated, God himself was not defeated.

And God is not and cannot be defeated. This was a lesson that was to be learned both by his people and also by these Philistine folks. Now, as a way through the passage, I simply have four headings in my notes. Number one, the ark captured. Number two, Dagon toppled. Number three, the Philistines terrified. Number four, God glorified. All right? And so that's to help me.

If it helps you, then we're both delighted. So first of all—and we need to do a little work here, back into chapter 4—the ark has been captured. The Israelites had suffered a dramatic and disastrous military defeat. And you will notice that the writer is driving home the fact that the ark is captured and has been captured. When we read the Bible, obviously, there's no underlining.

There's no yellow marker that the writer has been able to use. And so one of the ways in which we can determine a point of emphasis is by repetition. And when you read chapter 4, you realize that this capture of the ark is being driven home by the writer. The ark was captured in verse 11, down in verse 21, and when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, in verse 22, the glory has departed, for the ark of God has been captured. In chapter 5 and verse 1, when the Philistines captured the ark of God, you say, Okay, we've got it. The fact that the ark of God has been captured is a very, very important point.

And that's why the writer focuses our attention on it. Now, you remember that the place of the ark had been brought in by the people themselves. At the beginning of chapter 4, they had gone out to battle against the Philistines. They had been roundly defeated. And as a result of that, they got together with the elders, verse 3 of chapter 4, and they said, I wonder why it is that the Lord has defeated us today before the Philistines. And then somebody said, Well, why don't we take the ark up with us, the ark of the covenant of the Lord, so that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies? Well, how could a wooden box save them from the power of their enemies? It couldn't. No, the answer was only God could save them from their enemies.

But what happened to them was that they did what religious people often do, and that is that they began to treat this issue of significance as a mascot or as a kind of lucky charm. If I have this with me, then maybe everything will go well. I could hang it from my wing mirror. I could hang it round my neck.

I could do whatever it is with it. Let's take the ark up. That'll fix them. And when the ark of the Lord, we're told in the middle of chapter 4, entered into the camp, there was a mighty shout, and the earth actually moved underneath the excitement that filled the place—a shout that was more than silenced in the defeat that followed. As a result of the defeat, there is despair that fills Shiloh—a despair that is absolutely driven home when we look at the sad picture of the wife of Phinehas in childbirth. She bowed and gave birth, verse 19, as pains came upon her. The midwives trying to encourage her said, Now, I can tell this is going badly, but don't be afraid, because you have borne a son. But she didn't answer or pay attention. Why?

Because her concern was even more significant. And she said, Let's call the child Ichabod, because the glory of God has departed. In verse 21, it has departed. Verse 22, it has departed. Now, when you read the history of Israel, there are probably only two points in their history where it appears that they may not survive as a nation. One is years later, in 587 BC, when the destruction and the fall of Jerusalem takes place, and the people of God are carried into exile. You remember, in exile, they're saying to one another, I think this is probably a hopeless cause. If that is one incident, then the other is surely this one, when it would seem as though all has now been lost.

The glory has departed. The ark has been captured. Meanwhile, despair in Shiloh and delight in Ashdod. Well, we learn that the Philistines, who now have this ark in their possession, bring it to Ashdod, which is one of five cities, Philistine cities, in that area there where they had representative lords and sovereigns, and they had some kind of civil and military jurisdiction. And the way in which the writer describes this for us is, I'm sure, in order to give us an understanding of the apparent complete control that the Philistines now had.

Notice the verbs. When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it. They took the ark of God. They brought it into the house. They set it up beside Dagon. In other words, in all of these movements, they were essentially saying to themselves and everybody else, We have vanquished these people and their God. Interestingly, they decide to put it in the pantheon, if you like.

They decide to set it up beside Dagon. They don't destroy it. Did that strike you as you read this? You say, What?

Why not just burn the thing and be done with it? Well, I tell you why. Because they're syncretists. In other words, they would never have said, Our God is the only God.

Because they didn't believe that. They believed in multiple gods. Oh, this was the big God. Dagon was the daddy of them all, but he wasn't the only one that they could call upon. And so here, insofar as this is an idol that represents another god, we won't destroy it.

We'll accommodate it. Incidentally, that's what syncretism always does. I was thinking about the queen this week.

I think about her probably every week. And as I thought about her and about her coronation in 1953, and when the archbishop gave to her the Bible and said, This is the most important book in the whole world. This is the royal law. These are the oracles of God. And he gave it to the queen, who in her position as sovereign is the defender of the faith.

Note the definite article. If Charles follows her to the throne, he has already made it known that he will not be the defender of the faith. He will be the defender of faith, or the defender of faiths, because he's a syncretist. Think about it.

Isn't that what our friends say? What's up with you Christians that you have to say that your God is the only God? Why can't you be nice like the Baha'i or like the Hindus or like the Muslims? They're prepared to give you a shot in their pantheon.

Why are you so exclusive? Do you really believe that all these other gods will bow down before the true and living God? Answer yes. Do you really believe that one day at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father, to the living God, to Yahweh, to the God who here is having his glory dragged around in a pagan temple? The answer is yes. And why is that?

Because we're belligerent? No, because of who Jesus is, because of the historical foundation, because of the reality of his atoning death, because the triumph of his resurrection, because of the evidence that is there to be examined. But these people, they don't care about that. What we'll do is we'll put it up here, and it will be nice. People like to come and visit the temple of Dagon, and it'll be another little attraction for them. I was just in the Museum of the Bible this week.

What an amazing place, and so many different elements in it. And as I walked around, I said to myself, you know, that's really what they wanted to do. They wanted to have all these little bits and pieces, but not to the living God, to themselves.

Now, I would imagine that they wouldn't want to keep it to themselves. They would want visitors to the house of Dagon. Maybe somebody went out and put up a few signs around Ashdod, said, Tomorrow morning at ten o'clock, we'll be opening up the house of Dagon, and we invite you to come and see our latest trophy. If you come, you'll be able to see our magnificent victory over those Israelites.

Tomorrow morning, ten o'clock, be there beyond time. In their minds, you see, this box was just an idol, like their image of Dagon. Dagon, incidentally, was a kind of fertility god. He was a kind of vegetarian god. A vegan fertility god. You say, Well, what have you got against vegans?

Nothing at all. I'm just having fun with you, just a little bit. But it is quite fascinating, isn't it, that in every generation, whenever people begin to worship the creature rather than the creator, there's nothing new under the sun? As soon as a living God has been removed, we're gonna have to substitute it with something, or someone. Hence Dagon.

Now, the ark has been captured, but now Luke Dagon has been toppled. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, something had happened during the night. We have no description of what happened during the night. But the fact that something happened during the night is obvious in the morning.

Keep that thought in mind. I'm going to come back to it. What we could not see during the night becomes revealed in the morning. So they took Dagon, because he had fallen face downward on the ground, before the ark of the Lord, and they put him back in his place.

There's something kind of pathetically comedic about this, isn't there? Oh, thanks for coming by to see our latest exhibit. If you just hold it there at the rope for a moment or two, we're just getting Dagon. He's had a bad evening, and we're going to put him back up where he belongs. There he is.

You'll see he's slightly above the box that we've brought from the battlefield, but there you are. There you are. And the day ends, and verse 4, a new day dawns.

But when they rose early on the next morning, things were even worse, because Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold, only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. Wow. It's pathetic. The notion of idolatry is pathetic. When God says, You're not supposed to have idols. You're only supposed to worship me. He says that because he wants us to live as he created us. Every idol that we are tempted to set up is self-depleting. It offers, but it cannot satisfy. It says, Here is peace and only leads to chaos.

You can follow it through on your own. Look at this now. No hands. No head. Just a trunk. Just a stump.

Wow! Now, remember when, in these brutal days in warfare, captives would be taken, one of the ways in which they described the fact that they had vanquished the enemy was to cut off their hands and to cut off their feet, and in certain cases to decapitate them. Think later on, David to Goliath of Gath. You come before me and defy the armies of the living God, I will cut your head off. The way your god Dagon had his head cut off.

That's the point that's being made. And as a result of that, they make a decision. The priests of Dagon have decided that since the only way they could get into the house of Dagon was somehow or another to navigate their way over the bits and pieces of him that was lying around—you know, when you're with your grandchildren and they do that thing in the street and you can't step on a line, if you step on the thing, then something happens to you.

I don't know what it is. But that's now what they've decided. They think about it. They're idolized on the ground. Instead of it becoming the occasion of a reappraisal—"Let's just think about this for a minute."

No. Instead of a reappraisal, they turn it into a ritual. What we'll do is we'll make this. This is what we'll do.

When we come to the threshold, to the point of departure between the secular and the sacred, we will always do this. What a strange thing to put in as a ritual, so that you could remember for years to come the fact that your thing was lying on the ground. No head. Couldn't think. Never could.

No hands. For everybody and all to see. We serve a god who is not contained in a box like a genie in a bottle waiting to do the possessor's bidding. Our God is the living sovereign God who will not be restrained and cannot be defeated. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. We're learning just how important it is to know and understand God's Word.

We neglect it to our own peril, as the Israelites found out. At Truth for Life, our desire is to make clear and relevant Bible teaching available without cost being a barrier. So if you're looking for additional books or messages about a particular topic, you can scroll through the many resources available in our online store at slash store. And it's because of the faithful giving that comes from listeners like you that these high-quality resources are available to you at our cost. We think you'll be encouraged when you see the great number of books and study guides and sermon series that can be purchased for just a few dollars.

Our teaching materials are helpful for personal study, to give as gifts, or to build up a library in your local church. You can also listen to thousands of Alistair's messages for free on our website. Many of his online sermons are accompanied by a corresponding transcript, so if you lead a Bible study, the transcripts can be helpful to you as you prepare to discuss a particular topic. There are hundreds of transcripts available online at

Just click the word Sermons in the top blue bar, then select the series you'd like to find, and you'll see the transcript icon associated with each of the messages in that series. Our current book recommendation is titled Name Above All Names. This is a book written by Alistair with his friend Sinclair Ferguson, and they wrote it to help us see Jesus from a more comprehensive perspective. They want us to see how he fulfills all the roles we're learning about here in 1 Samuel, how he is our prophet, priest, and king, and more. The book comes paired with a study guide to be used for personal reflection or small group discussion. Request Name Above All Names when you make a donation through the Truth for Life app or online at slash donate. You can also call us at 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening. Join us tomorrow for part two of today's message, where we'll find out why refuge from God can only be found in God.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-31 12:52:03 / 2023-05-31 13:00:37 / 9

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