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Apr 02, 2017

From Despair to Conviction

Passage: 1 Samuel 5:1-12

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: The Ark Narrative

Category: The Ark Narrative 1 Samuel 4-6

Keywords: crucifixion, crucifixión, dagon, glory, heavy, mark heard, triumph, strong hand


Where Is God’s Glory? Part 2 – From Despair to Conviction. We read 1 Samuel 5 as we continue our study of the Ark Narrative. The ark of the covenant has been captured, Israel has suffered its worst defeat in generations, and it looks like God has been beaten. Though the ark is positioned before the idol Dagon in the Philistine temple, it is the pagan idol that is in trouble. Things begin to happen in the night. God’s power is on the loose even in defeat. After the crucifixion Jesus is buried and a Roman seal is put over the tomb. But in the secret places God’s power is at work. Jesus died for our sins and was raised for our justification. When the suffering and heavy losses of this life tempt us to despair, we remember the grace and power of the cross and empty tomb, and we journey from despair to conviction: a deep trust that God’s glory is here, with us, always, to the very end.


1 Samuel 5


One of my favorite songs is Mark Heard’s

Strong Hand of Love:

the chorus lyrics are:

And we can laugh and we can cry,

and never see the strong hand of love

hidden in the shadows,

We can dance and we can sigh,

but never see the strong hand of love

hidden in the shadows.


Right now you may find yourself in the shadows,

unclear about a decision,

sad or in sorrow over what’s happening,

facing temptation,

feeling guilty or ashamed

and not knowing what to do about it,

praying to be relieved of a burden . . .


Over and over the Bible reveals our Heavenly Father

present and ruling even in the dark:

a strong hand right there for us in the shadows.


When Israel was journeying through the desert

to the promised land,

the king of Moab sought to curse the people of God through the powers of Balaam.

Israel was unaware of this threat from dark powers. But the LORD God directed Balaam:
Numbers 22-23:11 - 11 Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!”

12 He answered, “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”

The LORD protected Israel

tho they weren’t even aware

that they were in danger!


In the time of Elisha Samaria is besieged by Aram. The people are starving to death.

One morning lepers decide

they have nothing to lose by surrendering.

They go to the Aramean camp but it’s empty.

In the night God has caused the army to flee.

The people are saved by the LORD delivering

his people without them even knowing it.


In Ephesians 1 we read of the time of our salvation:

vs 4 For he chose us in him

before the creation of the world

to be holy and blameless in his sight.

In love 5 he predestined us for adoption

to sonship through Jesus Christ . . .

Unseen, by grace alone, the LORD saves you.


Over and over, the strong hand of love

hidden in the shadows.

And that’s what happens here in 1 Samuel 5.

This whole episode in the life of God’s people happens while Israel despairs

that their Lord was defeated

and the people have lost their security and peace.


We understood last time that God’s grace

is so amazing the LORD takes up our failures.

God failed and suffered defeat

right along with Israel,

showing us his grace is big enough

to embrace that part of us, too.

God loses in order to triumph over enemies.

Vs. 1-2 reminds us - The ark of God is captured,

and taken from Ebenezer –

from the place called a rock of help, from Israel –

to Ashdod, to enemy territory,

to the last place we’d ever expect God to be.

And the ark is put in Dagon’s temple,

set right beside the idol.

We conclude that Dagon is powerful,

not the LORD God,

because the Philistines defeated the Israelites.

The ark of the covenant,

the promise of the presence of God,

the sum of God’s promises and power,

put on display, a trophy in the Philistine’s temple.

When we fail, when loss is suffered,

is this what’s real?

Is this what God is really like?

A museum piece.

  A quaint myth.

    But powerless.



But God is greater than any loss we suffer.

The primary actor in this story is the ark of God –

that testimony of the deliverer at work in the world.

And what we find is that -

Defeat does not defeat God.

Loss does not make God a loser.

God is powerful and asserts deliverance

in the darkest of nights.

Nails could not hold Jesus down.

The cross gave way to the empty tomb.


That’s what I need when I have been defeated.

A God who owns the night and

who acts for Jesus’ sake,

regardless of my weakness to save myself.

The mystery of God’s hidden power

is more awesome than the brief power of evil.


Vs. 3 – It’s the day after the Philistine’s victory

over the LORD God,

like the day after Good Friday.

The people come in the morning

to gawk again at God dethroned.

But something happened during the night –

oh, the ark of God is still there,

but their god, Dagon, had inexplicably fallen over – ‘fallen on his face on the ground

before the ark of the LORD.’

The Philistines won didn’t they?

But there is Dagon, their god,

found bowing before God.


Nobody says anything.

They silently and quickly

put the idol back where it belongs, they think.

“They took Dagon and put him back in his place” (says vs. 3).

So what does that say about false gods,

about the idols of any age,

about our own idols?

The Philistines had to put Dagon back in its place.

That’s what we do with our idols, too.

They’re only given a place of honor in our lives because we put them there.

Health, wealth, popularity, pleasure,

sports and recreation, succeeding and winning . . .

we do more for them than they’ll ever do for us.

The Philistines put their god back in his place.

It had fallen.


What does that say to you?

We get a glimpse into life when defeat has its way.

Are we impressed by the powers that defeat us?

Do we despair of our Heavenly Father

when he calls us to suffer for Jesus’ glory?

We’re invited to think about

our attitudes and responses.

It’s time for confessing our idolatry,

those experiences and hopes

that we put ahead of the glory of God.

It’s time to trust that the Lord is

present and at work in my life

even when it’s all dark to me.


Vs 4 – the following morning there was Dagon

fallen before the ark of the LORD again.

But they can’t hide it now,

because now Dagon’s head and hands

had broken off in the fall.

How powerful really is defeat?

How strong are the powers that oppose Jesus?

 No head.

  No hands.

   No ability beyond what we give it.

Psalm 135 –

15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,

    made by human hands.

16 They have mouths, but cannot speak,

    eyes, but cannot see.

17 They have ears, but cannot hear,

    nor is there breath in their mouths.

18 Those who make them will be like them,

    and so will all who trust in them.

Look what happens when we trust

pleasure and happiness:

we become like those idols who can’t speak blessing

can’t see the presence of God,

can’t hear his word . . .

we become like the false idols we prop up.


What has happened to your heart and soul

by all the attention you have given

to health and wealth,

to pleasure and putting my wants first?


We know a little of what the idol Dagon looked like.

Dagon was made to have a human head and hands, all attached to the body of a great fish.

Like a big ugly mermaid – manmaid – merman, J whatever.

Now get the picture. Do you get it?

No hands left. No head left.

That means the only thing left of Dagon

was the fishy part. J

So there is some humor here,

a poking fun of the principalities

and powers of this age.

It’s meant to get us thinking about

in what we put our trust outside of God.

Do we dare let this story get under our skin

and into our false temples

to ask what is fishy about our lives?

Our allegiances? Our fears?


This time they can’t keep it a secret.

They can’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

The news spread.

We know because we read

‘to this day neither the priests nor anyone else

entering the temple will step on the place where the pieces scattered.’

We read that and pause to ask, really?

That’s their response?

They’re going to tread lightly around this,

like walking on eggshells,

in order to ignore what’s really going on?

They choose to defend their allegiance to Dagon rather than seek the LORD,

and humble themselves

before a witness of God’s strength

and sovereign position over all creation.


But this story isn’t about the Philistines,

it’s about you and me.

How do we move from despair to holiness?

Stop defending your false loves.

In humility recognize God’s glory

in the middle of our hurt and suffering.


The Philistines know something has happened regarding real power.

The true God.

In the night.

Without human consultation or action.

Something beyond what they figured.

Something between the God of the Bible

and their god who can’t stand.

Something about the true power and place of God and of theirs and ours false gods.


But this wasn’t the only problem.

Vs. 5 – “The LORD’s hand was heavy upon the people of Ashdod . . . he brought devastation upon them and afflicted them with tumors.”

Now God is out and about in enemy territory.

Since the people would humiliate God,

God will turn the humiliation back upon them.

Since the people mock God’s power,

God’s power will mock them.

Since God shows his glory in defeat,

he will have the Philistines taste defeat

that they might turn to the LORD God

and away from Dagon.

They are afflicted with ‘tumors.’

We don’t know what that word refers to.

They didn’t know about cancer so it couldn’t be that.

But the people know more

than those who minister in Dagon’s temple,

trying to keep God captured is deadly,

their lives are threatened because of their sin.


vs 7 – The Philistines confess, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy upon us AND upon Dagon our god.”

The Philistines thought they had conquered God.

We connected Israel’s defeat to ours

and also assumed God was defeated.

But no, God’s hand is over all defeat,

even over those who would bring

loss and defeat upon us.

God’s hand is heavy even on Dagon.


So what does this reveal to us

in our experiences of God,

our failures, and our hope to rise up and go on?

In connecting with this story & owning this story

as part of my story too,

what should I take into my heart and hopes?


1st, remember all this happens

without Israel knowing what’s going on.

They’re cowering in their tents.

They’re at funerals.

They’re figuring on life as slaves.

No glory.



They figure their life with God is over.

Or at best God doesn’t mean much anymore.

They’re ready to obey the powers of their age.

They have no clue how strong God is

or that God will show the power of deliverance.

God acts long before Israel knows about it.


Who is acting here? Only God.

Not Dagon.

False gods are just wood and stone.

No real head or hands.

No life.

They can only fall over and break.

God acts.

Not because Israel prayed or worshipped.

God acts -

God acts for his own glory – for his honor.


God’s hand was heavy on them – vs. 6, 7, 11, 

‘heavy’ is the word for ‘glory’

In this story 3 times we’re told of God’s heavy hand, God’s glorious hand.

God reclaiming his glory,

for the times in the last chapter

where Israel said ‘no glory’

the glory has departed.


We’ve seen this revealed before in the Bible.

None more powerfully

than the resurrection of Jesus.

In Acts 2, Peter reminds us of the story:

Vs. 22ff –you, with the help of wicked men, put Jesus to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead . . .

Before the dawn.

Sometime during the night.

When no one was watching.

When not even his most devoted friends

hoped for anything else, anything more.

He was crucified. . . but God . . .

Death won . . . but God raised him from the dead . . .

Colossians 2 -

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.


And now Jesus is out and about in enemy territory, reclaiming creation,

getting back what belongs to him.

Just as the ark of God

was brought into Dagon’s temple

only to cause the false god to fall

before the awesome love and strength of the LORD, so Jesus comes into our hearts –

the crucified one –

to reclaim you as a temple of the Holy Spirit,

that you and I fall down before him

in thanksgiving and willful obedience.


Say in your hearts:

‘the Heavenly Father shows his glory even

when my life is at its worst.’

Even when I don’t see God at work,

and we fear we’re alone.

Even when I feel God has no power,

it’s the powers of this age that are the pretenders.

2 Corinthians 4 gives us comfort:

‘. . . we do not lose heart. Tho outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.’


Take heart, for the LORD’s will will be done on earth,

without our knowing,

working far ahead of us to bring salvation.

Jesus comes to get you back.

God will have his way,

and that may not mean my comfort or my wish.

Israel still will battle Philistines, more,

will be challenged in faith and righteousness.

To make you into a person of purpose and meaning beyond what you thought.

To save you.


So put your trust and hope in Jesus.

Don’t let your failure define you.

Follow what’s true and worthy of worship.

Hope in his power.


So 2nd, Look when and where God acts – in the night and in enemy territory.

Dagon fell over during the night.

Darkness covered the land

while Jesus died for you and me.

Jesus rose before dawn.

Psalm 74:16 urges us to know these words:

The day is yours, and yours also the night . . .


This sounds to me like a call to prayer.

Bible stories like this one help us see

the big picture by faith.

They assure us God works in the dark, in enemy territory, to deliver.

For the day belongs to the LORD, and the night also.

So be glad and rejoice in the LORD.

Prayerfully be still before the LORD.

He is working in the night.

Jesus is that powerful.


Our response is one of prayer.

By faith we leave despair and respond

with conviction:

‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done on earth

as it is in heaven . . .’


The next time we hear of Dagon

will be when King Saul dies.

1st Chronicles reveals the cause

of his death is that he was unfaithful to the Lord,

he did not inquire of God, we read.


There are consequences to a prayer-less life.

And so we are given this history lesson

to motivate us to prayer,

assuring us that the prayer of faith is heard.

Because Jesus was heard.

His dying words were,

Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

And in the silence of the tomb

where no one could see

God was raising the Son for our justification.


Ann Voskamp rightly challenges us:

‘Why do we rush to defend God to a broken world, and not race to defend the image of God

in the world’s broken?

Why in the world do we spend more time

defending God to the critical around us

than defending God to the doubting,

critical voices within us?

What if it is not God who needs us

to rush to his defense in the world

as much as we need to rush to the distress

of the broken

who carry the image of God into the world?’


The Lord defends himself,

so let us defend God’s creation

and the people of God

in our prayers.

Let us pray today

where we have suffered loss,

in our despair,

when life is dark and the world needs light.


If there’s one thing Christians seem to confess

is that their prayer and devotional life

is not what it should be.

We know better; but our habits won’t change

by knowing anything more.

It’s about our love for the LORD

and a deep trust in God’s promises.


God’s heavy hand,

his glorious will,

brings deliverance,

if we will but humble ourselves and pray . . .