The downfall of Dagon (if the people had made a good use of it, and had been brought by it to repent of their idolatries and to humble themselves before the God of Israel and seek his face) might have prevented the vengeance which God here proceeds to take upon them for the indignities done to his ark, and their obstinate adherence to their idol, in defiance of the plainest conviction. Lord, when thy hand is lifted up they will not see, but they shall see, Isa. 26:11. And, if they will not see the glory, they shall feel the weight, of God’s hand, for so the Philistines did. The hand of the Lord was heavy upon them (1 Sam. 5:6), and he not only convinced them of their folly, but severely chastised their insolence. 1. He destroyed them, that is, cut many of them off by sudden death, those, we may suppose, that had most triumphed in the captivity of the ark. This is distinguished from the disease with which others were smitten. At Gath it is called a great destruction (1 Sam. 5:9), a deadly destruction, 1 Sam. 5:11. And it is expressly said (1 Sam. 5:12) that those who were smitten with the emerods were the men that died not by the other destruction, which probably was the pestilence. They boasted of the great slaughter which their sword had made among the Israelites, 1 Sam. 4:10. But God lets them know that though he does not see fit to draw Israel’s sword against them (they were unworthy to be employed), yet God had a sword of his own, with which he could make a no less dreadful execution among them, which if he whet, and his hand take hold on judgment, he will render vengeance to his enemies, Deut. 32:41, 42. Note, Those that contend with God, his ark, and his Israel, will infallibly be ruined at last. If conviction conquer not, destruction shall. 2. Those that were not destroyed he smote with emerods (1 Sam. 5:6), in their secret parts (1 Sam. 5:9), so grievous that (1 Sam. 5:12) the cry went up to heaven, that is, it might be heard a great way off, and perhaps, in the extremity of their pain and misery, they cried, not to Dagon, but to the God of heaven. The Psalmist, speaking of this sore judgment upon the Philistines, describes it thus: God smote his enemies in the hinder parts, and put them to a perpetual reproach, Ps. 78:66. The emerods (which we call the piles, and perhaps it was then a more grievous disease than it is now) is threatened among the judgments that would be the fruit of the curse, Deut. 28:27. It was both a painful and shameful disease; a vile disease for vile deserts. By it God would humble their pride, and put contempt upon them, as they had done upon his ark. The disease was epidemical, and perhaps, among them, a new disease. Ashdod was smitten, and the coasts thereof, the country round. For contempt of God’s ordinances, many are weak and sick, and many sleep, 1 Cor. 11:30. 3. The men of Ashdod were soon aware that it was the hand of God, the God of Israel, 1 Sam. 5:7. Thus they were constrained to acknowledge his power and dominion, and confess themselves within his jurisdiction, and yet they would not renounce Dagon and submit to Jehovah; but rather, now that he touched their bone and their flesh, and in a tender part, they were ready to curse him to his face, and instead of making their peace with him, and courting the stay of his ark upon better terms, they desired to get clear of it, as the Gadarenes, who, when they had lost their swine, desired Christ to depart out of their coasts. Carnal hearts, when they smart under the judgments of God, would rather, if it were possible, put him far from them than enter into covenant and communion with him, and make him their friend. Thus the men of Ashdod resolve, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us. 4. It is resolved to change the place of its imprisonment. A great council was called, and the question proposed to all the lords was, “What shall be we with the ark?” And at last it was agreed that it should be carried to Gath, 1 Sam. 5:8. Some superstitious conceit they had that the fault was in the place, and that the ark would be better pleased with another lodging, further off from Dagon’s temple; and therefore, instead of returning it, as they should have done, to its own place, they contrive to send it to another place. Gath is pitched upon, a place famed for a race of giants, but their strength and stature are no fence against the pestilence and the emerods: the men of that city were smitten, both great and small 1 Sam. 5:9), both dwarfs and giants, all alike to God’s judgments; none so great as to over-top them, none so small as to be over-looked by them. 5. They were all at last weary of the ark, and very willing to get rid of it. It was sent from Gath to Ekron, and, coming by order of council, the Ekronites could not refuse it, but were much exasperated against their great men for sending them such a fatal present (1 Sam. 5:10): They have sent it to us to slay us and our people. The ark had the tables of the law in it; and nothing more welcome to faithful Israelites than the word of God (to them it is a savour of life unto life), but to uncircumcised Philistines, that persist in enmity to God, nothing more dreadful nor unwelcome: to them it is a savour of death unto death. A general assembly is instantly called, to advise about sending the ark again to its place, 1 Sam. 5:11. While they are consulting about it, the hand of God is doing execution; and their contrivances to evade the judgment do but spread it. Many drop down dead among them. Many more are raging ill of the emerods, 1 Sam. 5:12. What shall they do? Their triumphs in the captivity of the ark are soon turned into lamentations, and they are as eager to quit it as ever they had been to seize it. Note, God can easily make Jerusalem a burdensome stone to all that heave at it, Zech. 12:3. Those that fight against God will soon have enough of it, and, first or last, will be made to know that none ever hardened their hearts against him and prospered. The wealth that is got by fraud and injustice, especially that which is got by sacrilege and robbing God, though swallowed greedily, and rolled under the tongue as a sweet morsel, must be vomited up again; for, till it be, the sinner shall not feel quietness in his belly, Job 20:15-20.
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