<< 1 Samuel 5: Dagon Fallen before the Ark >>
" And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord; and the head of Dagon, and both the palms of his hands, were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.” ---1 SAM. v. 4.
WHAT a beautiful thing is religion! It is the spirit of meekness, gentleness, charity, goodwill, uprightness, and devotion. It is the spirit of heaven upon earth. Its truths are truths of love. It never envies, is never puffed up; it suffers long and is kind. It rejoices not in iniquity, it rejoices in the truth. When presented in its true nature, it wins the admiration of all who have not lost their reverence for goodness. It sanctifies and sweetens human life, and diffuses a gentle grace around, like the modest perfume of the violet; while, at the same time, it hallows the dignity of the greatest, and gives to all human nobleness a charm derived from heaven. Religion is that gracious spirit which ever ascribes glory to God in the highest, and on earth seeks peace, and goodwill towards men. "Above all these things," says the apostle, "put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness" (Col. Iii. 14).
Religion has a humble but entire faith in the Lord as our heavenly Father and Saviour. It confides in His will and in His providence. It has no anxiety for the things it cannot have. It is content in God and has peace. True religion is diligent in doing its duty. It is true to all that is just. It delights in God's commandments. It values them far above gold and rubies. To do the least thing for the Lord is a great joy. Religion is faithful in little things, and thus ensures faithfulness in much, "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely" (Phil, iv. 8), these are dear to true religion.
Those who are in this spirit fear sin; they have no other fear. They love the Lord Jesus and keep His commandments; if they err from weakness they humble themselves very deeply before Him and pray for strength. He lays his nght hand upon them, and says, "Fear not, I am the First and the Last." They are full of loving hope; they trust their Lord in tribulation, sickness, and sorrow; their faith burns brightly in their hour of death. They see the world beyond.
"See smiling patience smooth his brow,
See kindred angels downward bow
To raise his soul on high,
While, eager for the blest abode,
He joins with them to praise his God,
Who taught him how to die!"
But now, having noticed what religion truly is, and what is realized by a few here and there, we are obliged to confess that a great multitude in Christian lands fail to exhibit this lovely character of heaven-born practical religion> Multitudes of professing Christians are unscrupulous in word and deed, greedy, thoughtless of others, proud, vain, untrustworthy. Multitudes with the Christian name are keen, anxious, disquieted, fretful, exacting, impatient and severe. The affairs of a nation calling, itself Christian will often be seen to be as little just, as much tainted with selfish and fraudulent characteristics, as if the whole religion of the country had been brought out to be aired on Sundays, and was laid by for the rest of the week. Protestant lands have as many prisons as Romanist or Mohammedan ones and as many criminals to fill them. Professing Christians figure in the annals of fraud, if if not as much a non-professors, yet with alarming frequency, while it is often remarked that zealots in religion are very unpleasant to live with. When professing Christian nations come into contact with uncivilized tribes, the latter, as a rule, are deceived, betrayed, debased by their so called religious neighbours, roused to revengeful and despairing resistance, and ultimately perish. Christian nations agree very little among themselves. Their wars, full of havoc, desolation, and cruelty, are the very landmarks of history.
The true and thoughtful Christian must blush at these sad illustrations of Christianity in its professors. But is it really the religion of the Prince of Peace which is exhibited to us in this deplorable picture? Has the hallowing influence of heaven upon earth really impressed itself in such harrowing lines upon the records of human life? God forbid, No! It is Philistinism, that seized the ark of God, and took it into the temple of Dagon. It is self-love, by means of an acute intellect, making a style of religion of its own, decorating it with the Christian name, and saying, "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we!" There are idols of the heart and of the intellect as well as of wood and stone, and Philistinism has made an idol of "faith alone," and set it up to be worshipped, This is its Dagon.
Let us observe Philistia at work, The object of that frame of mind is to have a religion, and secure heaven, but not to interfere with its lust of power and pre-eminence, nor seriously to depress or renounce self-indulgence. It supposes that God made the world from the love of his own glory, as a selfish man would have done. God with them, indeed, is an infinitely selfish man. Taking the account of man in Eden literally, it regards Adam and Eve as having by their disobedience incurred infinite wrath, and brought eternal condemnation, not only upon themselves, but on their unborn posterity through all time. It enlarges upon this, and reasons upon the assumption of infinite wrath. It labours and expands these ideas. That the Lord is love itself and mercy itself, never enters into its calculation. It works away at the wrath of the Almighty, and the condemnation and misery of the doomed race, until it has framed some sort of head for its Dagon.
As this, however, would merely bury themselves and all mankind in ruthless and eternal despair and ruin, the Philistines must invent again, and they assume another, a second, divine person, very different from the first, who is not wrathful and vindictive, but who offers to sustain all the fury the first designs to inflict, and thus to pay His demand. As His reward, He is to have a certain number of souls, who are to go to heaven, notwithstanding any sins they may commit. At some time in their life or death, they will have faith given them, without any effort of their own, and a third divine person is assumed to give this faith. This is the head of Dagon. It is an artificial image altogether. There is neither Scripture nor sound wisdom for a line of it. Yet it is cunningly contrived. It looks like a human head. As it opens a way to heaven, without a daily keeping of the Lord's commands, numbers of those who have an aversion to humility, obedience, self-sacrifice in temper, and a spirit of love, are induced to accept it.
Others, too, are won by its having an imposing appearance in words, of humiliating man, and exalting the grandeur and omnipotence of God. Many souls will abase themselves before anything that is powerful. They cannot perceive the greatness of goodness, the glory of wisdom, the attractive beauty of all angelic excellence: the worth of virtue, patience, uprightness, faithfulness; but powerfills them with awful dread. The head of Dagon is skilfully contrived to work upon their fears, and has a strange attractiveness for them.
There are allusions in Scripture to the manner in which idols are made, which illustrate the contrivances of the mind while framing an intellectual idol. "The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes; and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man; that it may remain in the house, ... He falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my God" (Isa. xliv, 13, 17). The intellectual carpenters, in making Dagon, have stretched their rule, and marked it with their line, so as to make it suit thoroughly well the selfishness of the natural man. He is appalled by fear, and can easily imagine a Being like himself, but infinite. He can conceive how unsparing he would be, if anyone touched his apples, when he forbade them to do so; provided he had infinite skill to detect, and infinite power to crush. He can easily conceive of the infinite anger of one whose majesty and dignity are offended. He conceives that God is altogether such a one as himself (Psa. 1. 21).
The head must not, however, be made too rough. It must be planed a little, and rounded according to the compasses. It would drive people to despair, and the whole scheme be finally rejected, if the terrors of infinite vengeance were described alone; so the mercy of a Saviour must be introduced, not the Lord Jesus according as Scripture manifests Him, one who forgives from His own mercy and regenerates from His own spirit and power, but one who shall sustain the vials of divine wrath, and pay our debt. Thus shaped, it has the beauty of a man; it looks rational and very wise: it is only the premises that are wrong. It begins from self, and not from love. So fair, however, to many minds, does the "scheme" of salvation, thus imagined, seem, that they consider it the perfection of spiritual beauty, a fine human head. Nay, in the book of Revelation, the dragon, the symbol of the same system, is said to have seven heads. It appears to its votaries to be superhumanly wise. Yet, what is it but just caricaturing the Lord as one who is almighty, but without mercy (although He is love itself), and then as so weak that He will be quite satisfied if He punish somebody, it matters not whom is guilty or innocent; so that He is content to punish with more than infernal tortures His own divine and spotless Son.
We have noticed how the head of Dagon is formed; let us proceed with the inspection of the body, the fish part. This is composed of a few of the prophecies respecting the coming of the Lord, and of the facts of the Gospel, especially of our blessed Saviour's death and resurrection. It is said, whoever believes these, and that these events took place to pacify the wrath of the Father against the sinner, all condemnation against him is wiped out, done away with, and obliterated. By that belief he is saved, by that belief he is justified, by that belief he is sanctified, by that belief justice is arrested, and he is absolved. Adulterer, murderer, or however great a villain he may have been all his life, and up to the hour of death, by that belief he enters heaven. If this idol be gilded a little with gold, or, in other words, covered over with holy phrases, and hung with a few chains of silver, or a few spiritual truths put about it, the Philistine nature is satisfied and delighted. " The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains" (Isa. xl. 19). He makes it as firm as he possibly can, "he chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved" (ver. 20).
We have got at present, however, only a head and a stump: there must be hands also. It is true this religion asserts that salvation is by "faith alone," and therefore works are unnecessary. Yet there is so much said in the Bible about doing what the Lord commands to prepare for heaven, and that is so firmly fixed in the minds of the common people, that in some way we must have good works connected with our faith. Dagon must have hands. We will make him artificial hands. Our good works shall be building places of worship for proselytism, and plenty of meetings for excitement; good works of worship, not of life. We will declare that good works follow necessarily from our faith, and so our hands will appear proper human hands. When good is done by humble souls amongst us, whose hearts are given to love and goodness, we will say, it is the result of our faith. When evil is done, we will say, it does not condemn; faith, faith alone, saves.
Here is a religion that interferes very little with bitter tempers, greedy impulses, or ambitious schemes. It makes heaven certain, however unheavenly we may be. We shall doubtless have time enough to utter the cry for mercy, and make the claim that our debt was paid on the cross, and our "scheme" of salvation makes us safe. Everything was finished eighteen hundred years ago, and we have only to believe.
No need of charity, no need of divine commandments, no need of love, no need of doing justly, no need of doing anything, Dagon suffices for all. Great is Dagon of the Philistines!
But now the Ark of the Lord is brought into the house of Dagon. The Word of God and Dagon come face to face. During the night, nothing was observed. "When they arose early on the morrow,"however," behold, Dagon was fallen on his face, before the Ark of the Lord" (ver. 3).
What consternation must have seized the priests, as their idol lay helpless and prostrate! But nothing less could happen. The Ark contained the commandments of God, the laws and the centre of all holiness. These precepts the Philistines denied, but they are quick and powerful, "Is not my Word like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" (Jer. xxiii. 29).
They discovered the prostration of Dagon early in the morning, because this period of the day denotes a new state, with some degree of enlightenment. That degree of illumination reveals the contrariety of "faith alone" to the Word of God, and ensures the downfall of Dagon.
Very early in the morning Dagon fell. But in the course of the day, the priests set him up again. The mind is a wonderful and complicated object. When a truthful impression has been made upon it, and it has been manifested in the clearest light, that a certain view is erroneous, the cherished phantasy has been dethroned; but very soon prejudice and old associations rally round, and set Dagon up again.
"And they believe him!-Oh! the lover may
Distrust that look which steals his soul away;
The babe may cease to think that it can play
With heaven's rainbow; alchemists may doubt
The shining gold their crucibles give out:
But Faith, fanatic Faith, once wedded fast
To some dear falsehood, hugs it to the last."
The Ark, however, was still there, and judgment went on. So will it be with our judgment. The Word will judge us, and every Dagon will be overthrown. Another morning came, and they arose early. Behold, Dagon was again fallen upon his face to the ground, before the Ark of the Lord. Now, he was worse injured: "the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him."
This is a still more vivid illustration of what takes place in a mind where the Word of the Lord and the system of "faith alone" come face to face, and new light has broken in. The head of Dagon is seen to have nothing to do with the body. The body consists of a knowledge of the facts of the Lord's death and resurrection. These are historically true. But the "scheme" of salvation, the supposed covenant between three separate divine persons, the supposition that one divine person was infinitely angry, and another divine person was infinitely merciful, and undertook to appease him by his own punishment and death; this head of Dagon is altogether artificial and altogether false. It rolls off on the floor, while from the Holy Word, the Holy Ark of the Lord, come the divine assurances: "The Lord is good to all: and His tender mercies are over all His works" (Psa. cxlv. 9). "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins" (Isa, xliii. 25). God is Love! The life and death of our Lord were not to satisfy any wrath of a vindictive Deity, but to satisfy His own' Divine Love and desire for man's salvation.
Our Heavenly Father Himself became our Redeemer and Saviour. "Thou, O Jehovah, art our Father, our Redeemer; -Thy name is from everlasting" (Isa. lxiii. 16). " I, even I, am Jehovah; and beside Me there is no Saviour" (Isa. xliii. 11). Our Heavenly Father became in His humanity our Saviour, to redeem us from the power of hell (Hos. xiii. 14; Luke i. 74; Heb. ii. 14); to bruise the head of the serpent (Gen. Iii. 15); to save His people from their sins (Matt. i, 21); to purify them (Mal. iii. 3); to reconcile them to Himself (2 Cor. v. 19). Salvation is effected by believing, loving, and doing the will of God in keeping His commandments (I Cor. vii. 19; Rev. xxii. 14). That head of Dagon is a thing of nought; let it roll upon the floor. It has nothing to do with the facts of the gospel: they are the stump of Dagon, they can remain, but they must not be made into an idol.
Those hands, too, are not the true hands of a living religion; they are only artificial hands. The true service of God. Is doing right in our daily life, and repentance from all evil, especially that to which we are most prone. Our blessed Saviour demands, "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord and do not the things which I say?" (Luke vi. 46).
The three cities of the Philistines, to which the ark was taken, and whose inhabitants were severely punished, represent three varieties of those whose religion is resolutely that of faith only, and who despise love and obedience to the Lord as being concerned in the work of salvation.
Ashdod, where Dagon was set up and adored, and whose name signifies "the fire of affection," represented the love of evil in which those are who, notwithstanding their acknowledgment of some of the truths of religion, exhibit none of its spirit in their hearts or its power in their lives. They will not obey where their lusts are strong, and they defiantly maintain that belief alone is saving.
Gath, whose name means "a press," represented those who sustain salvation by faith alone, chiefly by reasoning, for the rational faculty is a species of intellectual press, and when it is worked by cunning it gives great intellectual power. Goliath the giant was of Gath.
Ekron, where Beelzebub, the god of flies, was worshipped (2 Kings 1. 2), and whose name signifies "torn away," represented such as trust to faith only, because they lead a frivolous and heedless life, separated from all that is noble and good.
The emerods, or hemorrhoids, which are painfully swollen veins at the lower parts of the body, gorged with impure blood, when the liver only sluggishly performs its duty, inducing severe inflammation, and sometimes death exhibited the misery caused by impure influences in the soul when there is an unwillingness to self-examination, and none of the work of repentance. When the presence of the Word of the Lord presses upon them, such as are hardened in these states, swell with hate, agony, and defiance, and perish in spiritual death. They will not repent, and they will not submit. Suffering, they struggle in daring and desperate defiance.
Let us, my beloved friends, fly from the fate of the Philistines, and so purify our hearts and lives that our Lord may say, Ye are Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile.
Author: Jonathan Bayley--- The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)