“So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, ‘Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go back to its own place, so that it does not kill us and our people.’ For there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there.” 1 Samuel 5:11
In their own way the Philistines treated the Ark of the Covenant respectfully. They acknowledged that the God of Israel was a powerful God by placing the Ark in the temple of their god Dagon. But this action also carried the message that the God of Israel was inferior to Dagon which had been demonstrated by Israel’s defeat by the Philistines and the capture of their God.
It was important that God demonstrate how wrong they were.
The morning after the Ark had been installed in the temple of Dagon the people of Ashdod woke to find their god lying on its face before the Ark. But the Philistines didn’t heed this gentle prompt from God. They set Dagon’s image back in its place and continued as usual. So when they came the next day God had given them a stronger message. This time Dagon was pulled down with his hands and head broken off.
Still the Philistines held onto the Ark so God sent a plague upon Ashdod and it’s surrounding territory striking the people with tumors. They sent the ark from Ashdod to Gath, and from Gath to Ekron and where ever it went the plagues followed.
The Bible doesn’t record how many Philistines died as a result of the plagues but eventually, after seven months of “hosting” the Ark the Philistines decided that God was too much for them and that they needed to send the Ark back to where it belonged.
It seems crazy to me, after having experienced this powerful demonstration of God’s power that the Philistines didn’t give up worshipping Dagon and become worshippers of God. But they didn’t.
But I guess that doesn’t make them any different than we are when we disregard our personal experience with God and keep doing our own thing.
God’s proven that he wants to be gentle with us but more often than not we don’t leave him that option. We close our ears to his spirit, ignore his messengers, and when he’s forced to take stronger disciplinary measures we act as if it’s all his fault.
Far better to listen and obey from the very beginning.
O Father, give us ears to hear and hearts willing to obey. Let us by our humble submission to you experience only gentleness from your hand.