The Destruction of Dagon!
Arthur Pink, 1943
The opening chapters of the first book of Samuel bring before us some sad incidents, making evident the deplorable condition into which the favored Nation had fallen, for they treat of a portion of that time covered by the Book of Judges, when "in those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (21:25).
First, we have Hannah, in bitterness of soul praying unto and weeping before the Lord, and Eli the high priest so lacking in discernment as to suppose she was drunk (Chapter 1).
Concerning Eli's sons we read that they were "sons of Belial" who "knew not the LORD" (2:12). Though engaged in the sacred office of the priesthood, they conducted themselves in a most horrible manner.
First, we are told that they misappropriated for their own use, portions of the sacrifices, for they "abhorred the offering of the LORD" (2:13-17), thereby being guilty of the fearful sin of sacrilege. Moreover, they committed immorality, and that at the very "door of the tabernacle" (2:22). Later, we find the Lord making known unto their father (2:27-34) and unto Samuel (3:11-14) the judgment which He would execute upon the house of Eli.
"And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines, and encamped beside Ebenezer; and the Philistines encamped in Aphek. Then the Philistines put themselves in battle array against Israel. And when they joined battle, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men of the army in the field." (1 Samuel 4:1-2).
Jehovah was no longer fighting for His people, and without Him they suffered defeat at the hands of the enemy. The Lord will not show Himself strong on the behalf of those who displease and dishonor Him. As He announced through one of His Prophets at a later date, "The LORD is with you while you be with Him: and if you seek Him He will be found of you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you" (2 Chronicles 15:2). The same principle is repeated in the New Testament: James 4:8-10.
"And when the people had come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, "Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies." (1 Samuel 4:3).
See here the blindness and the folly of the religious leaders. They were oblivious to the fact that the nation was ripe for judgment, and refused to consider that the defeat which had just been experienced was a call from the Lord unto humiliation, repentance and reformation. How absurd the expedient suggested. True, wonders had indeed happened in the past when the ark had gone before the people, but it had been by the Divine command, the sacred ark was in the vanguard and not at the caprice of men. Tokens of the Lord's power were granted at a time when the nation, generally speaking, was walking in obedience to Him, and not when He was being openly defied. Those things made all the difference.
The expedient resorted unto by those "elders" has often been repeated in principle. There has usually been a large proportion of those who nominally profess to be the people of God, who are so deluded as to believe no matter how sinful and worldly their lives be that they are entitled unto Divine help. Total strangers to vital godliness, supposing that a half-hearted attention to external forms will satisfy the Lord in the hour of emergency they call upon Him in hope. To indulge the conceit because a "day of prayer" is appointed for a people who are "lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God" (2 Timothy 3:4), He will promptly put forth His mighty arm on their behalf is the modern parallel to Israel's making an idol of the ark and concluding it would save them from their enemies.
Rightly did Thomas Scott say of those hypocrites, they "dishonored Him more in attending of His ordinances than they could do by neglecting them, so that He abhors those services for which they expect His favor." Let the reader ponder such passages as Isaiah 29:13-14; Malachi 1:12-14.
"So the people sent to Shiloh (where the tabernacle then abode), that they might bring from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who dwells between the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God." (1 Samuel 4:4).
What a spectacle: that which symbolized the throne of Jehovah in Israel's midst being borne by these sons of Belial! But have no unholy men handled the sacred things of Christ during the past fifty years? Are there no Hophnies and Phinehases in Christendom today? Are the Scriptures never publicly read, prayers made, the ordinances of Christian Baptism and the Lord's Supper administered by men whose beliefs and ways evince that they "abhor the offering of the Lord"?
Well did Thomas Scott say of Eli's sons, "being hardened to their destruction, they were left to venture presumptuously into the holy of holies and to carry the ark into the army and thus, without any proper call, they were found within the reach of the sword of the Philistines, by which they were destined to be destroyed."
"And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth shook." (verse 5). How much seeming zeal there is for the ark of the Lord while the Lord of the ark is despised! Poor deluded souls; like parched travelers in the desert having false hopes raised by a mirage of water. Mistaking the shadow for the substance they thought that all would now be well with them. Their shouting was but the infatuation of the flesh and not an inspiration of the Spirit. It went beyond what our moderns would term "wishful thinking" it was heralding the victory, before the enemy was so much as engaged. Carried away by an act of awful presumption, they gave expression to hilarious joy as though they had already triumphed over the Philistines.
Has mankind become any wiser with the passing of the centuries? Is our own "enlightened generation" too discreet to count their chickens before they are hatched? It hardly looks like it, with all this ambitious and utopian post-war planning.
"Now when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, "What does the sound of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?" Then they understood that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp. So the Philistines were afraid, for they said, "God has come into the camp!" And they said, "Woe to us! For such a thing has never happened before." (verses 6, 7).
Such ignorance and superstition was excusable on the part of the Philistines. They had heard something of the wonders which the God of Israel had wrought for His people in the past, and as they listened to the acclamations of the Hebrews they were filled with dismay. But not for long. Their leaders called upon them to, "Be strong and conduct yourselves like men, O Philistines, that you do not become servants of the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Conduct yourselves like men, and fight!" (verse 9).
It was not the "fear of the Lord" but only a fleeting natural alarm which had overtaken them, and they quickly threw it off. Had Jehovah actually been with Israel, how different things would have been.
"So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent. There was a very great slaughter, and there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. Also the ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died." (verses 10, 11).
Israel had regarded the ark as a fetish or charm as many now consider a meaningless "mascot" or a golden "cross" which has been "blessed" by some Papist, will afford its possessor protection in the hour of danger but it availed them not when the enemy struck. They had given a premature shout of victory, but now their army suffered a sevenfold worse defeat than the previous one. The sons of the high priest had personally accompanied the sacred coffer, and now they lay cold in death.
God's threats are not idle words, but sure predictions of what is in store for evil-doers! The fearful judgments which had been announced to Eli and Samuel were now literally executed.
And, my reader, each of us, individually, and the nation to which we belong, has to do with the same God. He will not be mocked with impunity. Though He is slow to anger yet His wrath is the more terrible when it does strike!
Tidings of this fearful disaster were speedily conveyed unto the high priest. He was seated by the wayside in sore suspense, "For his heart trembled for the ark of God" (verse 13). When the news was broken to him, it was too much for the aged Eli, so that he "fell off the seat backward by the side of the gate and his neck was broken and he died" (verse 18).
His daughter-in-law was in childbirth and when she learned of the national catastrophe and the death of her father-in-law and husband she, too, expired, but not until after naming her son "Ichabod" saying "the glory is departed from Israel, for the ark of God is taken" (verses 19-22).
It may strike some as strange that God allowed the ark to fall into the hands of the Philistines, but considering all the circumstances, it had surely been much more strange had His blessings attended the superstitious expediency of the rebellious Israelites.
"And she said: The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured" (1 Samuel 4:22). Such was the dying lament of the daughter-in-law of Eli, the high priest of Israel. The sacred chest, the lid of which was "the mercy-seat" that constituted the throne of Jehovah in the midst of His people, and where the Shekinah glory abode had been removed from its appointed place in the holy of holies and conducted to the field of battle, in the hope that it would overthrow the enemies of the Hebrews. But their presumptuous expectation had not been realized. So far from it, Israel had been utterly routed, the sons of the high priest slain, and the ark of the covenant captured by the Philistines!
Before expiring, the daughter-in-law of Eli named the son to which she had just given birth "Ichabod," saying "the glory has departed from Israel." The name of her son memorialized the fearful catastrophe which had overtaken the favored nation, and described the spiritual desolation which had fallen upon it.
That which is described in 1 Samuel 4 is something more than a historical event which happened in the remote past it illustrated and outlined certain basic and unchanging principles in the governmental dealings of God, which have been made manifest again and again in the course of history.
Subsequently the ark of the covenant was restored to Israel and when Solomon erected the temple and the ark was set in its appointed place we are told that "the cloud [the Shekinah] filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord" (1 Kings 8:10,11).
But history repeated itself: the Lord was again despised, those who bore His name trampled upon His law, conformed to the ways of the heathen, worshiped false gods, and refused to heed the expostulations of His prophets. Carnality and idolatry became rampant, and though God bore long with the waywardness of his people, giving many warnings and solemn threatenings before He smote them in His wrath the time eventually came when His dreadful vengeance fell.
Nearly four hundred years after Solomon, the Lord delivered Israel into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, many being carried away to Babylon yet even that calamity produced no national repentance. Among the captives was Ezekiel and if we turn to his prophecies, we obtain light on the spiritual situation as it then existed, particularly in connection with the departure of the Shekinah the visible and awe-inspiring emblem of Jehovah's presence in the midst of Israel.
In chapter 8 we find the prophet brought in vision "to Jerusalem" and he tells us "Behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there" (verse 4). In 9:9 we find Jehovah complaining "The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness." Then in 10:4 we read "the glory of the Lord went up from the cherubim and stood over the threshold of the house," and in 10:18 "the glory of the Lord departed from off the threshold of the house." Finally, in 11:23 we are told, "The glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the cherubim and stood upon the mount which is upon the east side of the city."
Slowly and gradually, as though reluctant to leave the Shekinah glory had departed and once more "Ichabod" described their sad state. There is no intimation that the Shekinah ever returned unto Israel during the remainder of the OT period.
Another temple was built in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, and though God owned it as His house yet nothing is said of "the glory of the Lord filling it." But at the beginning of the New Testament era, something yet more wonderful and blessed took place. As John declares in his Gospel, "The Word was made [or "became"] flesh and dwelt ["tabernacled"] among us, and we beheld His glory the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father full of grace and truth" (1:14).
Once again Israel was put upon trial: their long-promised Messiah appeared in their midst, making unmistakable demonstration of His divine credentials. He preached to them the Gospel, went about doing good, and healed their sick. But they had no heart for Him. He bade them repent, but they refused. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. They despised and rejected Him. Then it was He said unto them, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate!" (Matthew 23:37,38). Once again "Ichabod" was written over Israel.
Has the above no meaning and message for us? Is the history of Christendom without anything approaching a parallel? A literal duplication, no but something strictly analogous, yes!
The outstanding characteristic of this dispensation and the climacteric gift of God unto His people is the presence of the Holy Spirit in their midst. That brings before us a many-sided theme, but we must confine ourselves unto that which is germane to our present inquiry.
The Spirit of God indwells the Church corporately and the saint individually. He sustains a special relation to the servants of Christ, enduing them with power and making their labors fruitful. Normally, He is therefore in the midst of "Christendom," that is, the whole body of Christian profession, for even the unregenerate are made "partakers" of His presence and blessings while in outward fellowship with the saints (Hebrews 6:4), as they are bidden to "hear what the Spirit says unto the churches" (Rev 3:22) and hence they are guilty of doing "despite unto the Spirit of grace" (Hebrews 10:29) when they refuse to hear Him and apostatize from their profession.
It is to be noted that one of our statements in the above paragraph is qualified: under normal conditions, the Spirit of God is in the midst of Christendom generally, and in the local churches (which have always contained a mixture of believers and unbelievers) particularly. But because He is the Holy Spirit He may be "grieved" (Eph 4:30) and "quenched" (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
He is "grieved" by the individual Christian when his conduct is unfitting and then He withholds His comforts. He is "quenched" or put out by the corporate body when His ministrations are "despised" (1 Thessalonians 5:20) that is, when unbelievers are allowed to predominate in the local assembly, or if it becomes carnal and worldly, or if false doctrine is tolerated, or if a Scriptural discipline be not maintained.
Any impartial reader of ecclesiastical history is aware that at various periods the Spirit was "quenched" and His power and blessing withdrawn from Christendom as a whole. Only those who are determined to call bitter, sweet; and darkness, light; or who apply a wrong standard of measurement will take exception to that assertion.
The Holy Spirit was certainly "quenched" at the beginning of the fourth century, when Constantine adopted Christianity as the state religion, when the simplicity of spiritual worship was superceded by an imposing and elaborate ritual, when those who professed to be "strangers and pilgrims" in this scene (1 Peter 2:11) sought after worldly prestige and emoluments, and when vast multitudes were compelled to be "baptized" at the point of the sword.
The insignificant minority who had eyes to see, were painfully conscious that God had written "Ichabod" over Christendom, that the Holy Spirit, grieved and quenched, had withdrawn, no longer working in their midst.
True, God still maintained unto Himself a "remnant" raising up an isolated witness for Himself here and there, and little companies of His people meeting in secret for prayer and the ministry of the Word. But the collective system, the corporate body, was indeed a House now left unto them "desolate," as was evident from the "dark ages" which followed, when the Roman Catholic Church completely dominated things.
It is not our purpose now to review the whole past nineteen centuries and trace the revivals and declensions which have followed each other: rather would we come much closer to our own times and observe the present application of what has been before us above.
One has only to read the writings of Charles Spurgeon perhaps God's most valuable gift unto His people since the days of the Puritans from 1880 to 1890, to discover the terrible departure from the truth and practical godliness which had taken place even then. Plainly and pointedly did that faithful minister denounce the "Downgrade Movement" in the churches, and when the leaders refused to right things, Spurgeon withdrew his "tabernacle" from the "Baptist Union."
During 1890 to 1910, which falls within the memory of this writer, the decline accelerated rapidly: there was scarcely a theological seminary in Germany, Britain or the United States, which was not a hotbed of heresy. Ministers vied with each other in preaching "higher criticism," the "evolutionary hypothesis" and the so-called "new theology," and only here and there was a feeble voice raised in outcry.
In thousands of instances, "churches" became little better than social clubs and places of entertainment. Well do we remember, some forty-odd years ago, the innovation and popularization of the "Pleasant Sunday afternoon" services, when worldly vocalists and instrumentalists tickled the ears of the audiences with semi-sacred and then downright secular items of music. And the so-called "Christian Brotherhoods" to whom the pastor gave a talk on "Christian Socialism" or the local member of parliament was invited to air his political views before them. And the multiplication of "bazaars" opened by the "mayoress," "socials," "fund drives," charades and plays to attract and "hold the young people."
Even the pretense of requiring creditable evidence of regeneration before one was received into church-fellowship was dropped, and the maintenance of Scripture discipline ceased.
Such was the awful sowing now we are reaping the horrible harvest. How could it be otherwise, then, that the Holy Spirit should be grieved and quenched by such a travesty conducted in the name of Christ!
Today all who have eyes to see cannot fail to perceive that "Ichabod" has once more been written over a degenerate Christendom, though only those with honest hearts will acknowledge it. The glory of God the token and evidence of His presence has "departed." The Spirit of God has withdrawn His unction and blessing, and their House is left unto them "desolate."
The temple remained standing in Jerusalem for forty years after Christ pronounced the awful sentence of Matthew 23:28 before Titus destroyed it in AD 70. The priesthood continued to function and its services were perpetuated but God no longer owned it.
Thus it is with Christendom the body still exists, but it is lifeless. The "form of godliness" has not yet entirely disappeared, but its power has. Even the smaller groups who came out from the apostate mass, though some of them have preserved "the landmarks of the fathers," yet they are so pharisaical that the Spirit of God is quenched there too.
Pride is as hateful to God as worldliness and false doctrine, and those who boast "we are the temple of the Lord" (Jer 7:4), "the Testimony of God is with us," "all others have departed from the Truth except our party"; are too lacking in spiritual discernment to perceive their own sad condition. Lookers-on generally see most!
Except for a few details there is little original in the above, the ground having been frequently gone over. But we have never heard or read anything along the line of what follows, namely, that which happened unto the ark after it was captured by the Philistines, and its present bearing upon and application unto our own times. Others have recognized that the Holy Spirit has departed from Christendom not absolutely and entirely so, but from the corporate body and in withdrawing the manifestations of His presence.
Personally we have no doubt that what is recorded in 1 Samuel 5, equally with the preceding chapter, illustrates and outlines fundamental principles in the ways of God with those people who are called by His name. Yes, we cannot get away from the conviction that our own generation has witnessed and is witnessing a solemn repetition of what took place in the house of Dagon. The striking incidents narrated in 1 Samuel 5 supply a description of literal historical facts yet which, we believe, possess an allegorical signification. As to how little or how far we have succeeded in interpreting the same in this and the following article (D.V.) we leave to the judgment of our readers.
"Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon and set it by Dagon." (1 Samuel 5:1,2).
Elated over such a capture, they placed it in their temple in honor of Dagon the God whom they worshiped (Judges 16:23). But "the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite is but a moment" (Job 20:5). And so it proved here, for the next thing we are told is, "And when they arose early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. The head of Dagon and both the palms of its hands were broken off on the threshold; only Dagon's torso was left of it. Therefore neither the priests of Dagon nor any who come into Dagon's house tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day." (1 Samuel 5:4,5)
What would constitute the modern form or equivalent of "Dagon"? In seeking the answer to that question we must be governed by the information which Scripture supplies about him, or it, and all the accompanying details.
First, let us consider more definitely what the ark stands for in this connection, and because it possesses a manifold significance we must follow a process of elimination. Let it be duly noted at this point that never once in 1 Samuel 5 or 6 is "the glory of the Lord" mentioned it is utterly unthinkable that the Shekinah, emblem of the Holy Spirit, should enter a heathen shrine. The ark was the basis of the mercy-seat, the throne of God in Israel's midst, and a blessed type of the person and work of Christ; but in none of these respects do we think it should here be contemplated.
Rather it is as "the ark of testimony" (Exo 25:16) we regard it. It was repeatedly designated thus because of the "testimony" (Exo 25:16,21) deposited therein, namely, the two tables of stone on which were inscribed the ten commandments (1 Kings 8:4). Thus, in this Christian era we regard the Truth of God as the antitype of the "ark of testimony." And the sacred ark had fallen into the hands of the uncircumcised!
Does it strike the ears of our readers as an incongruous statement to speak of God's holy and eternal Truth being delivered unto His enemies? Surely it should not, when the Lord Himself makes use of the expression "Truth is fallen in the street!" (Isa 59:14).
Perhaps it may not appear so strange and startling if we next consider who it was, that had captured the ark. It was neither the Ammonites, the Moabites, or the Midianites; but the Philistines. And who were they? Their origin and genealogy is given in Genesis 10. They were the descendants of Ham (verse 6), and Ham is, as his name denotes, the "black one" or sun-burnt. He is a symbol and picture of the man who has turned away from God the Light. He portrays those who have received the Light, but hated and rejected it. But though the Truth enlightens them not yet it must have some effect, namely to darken them; and the more light received and refused, the darker they become.
Ham begat "Mizraim" (Gen 10:6), who gave his name to the country of Egypt the house of bondage to God's people (cf. Isa 31:1). Mizraim begat "Casluhim" (Gen 10:14), which signifies "folly" that which issues from turning away from Wisdom. See Romans 1:22, 23, where we have described the descent of the religious man of the earth, getting further and further away from God.
From Casluhim came the Philistines, which means the "migrators" or "wanderers," so named because they left Egypt and settled in Canaan, "Palestine" deriving its name from them they dwelt in its southwest part, on the sea coast. The Philistine is never seen outside the land of Canaan. Although he was no true "pilgrim" or "sojourner" as were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Hebrews 11:9,13) yet he claimed a home in the domain of faith.
Thus we must not look for his modern counterpart in heathendom as such, nor in the openly-defiant and profane world but rather inside Christendom itself. They are children of the flesh yet with pretensions to the blessings of faith. Everything recorded of the Philistines in Scripture helps to identify their successors.
In Genesis 26:14,15 we find them making trouble for Isaac and his herdmen, by stopping up the walls which his father had dug figure of depriving God's people of the Water of Life. One of their women infatuated Samson the Nazarite, figure of one consecrated to God, and brought about his ruin (Judges 14). In that same chapter we find him propounding a riddle to thirty of her companions, but after pondering it for seven days they were unable to declare its meaning no Philistine is let into the secret of how (contrary to nature) a devourer can yield food: they know nothing of how God comes in and makes everything serve His purpose, bringing blessing to His people out of their strongest foe.
Their deceit, treachery and cruelty are seen in the treatment which they meted out to Samson. Their haughty demeanor and contempt of those who dare to oppose them appeared in Goliath's attitude and language unto David. The final reference made to them in Holy Writ is found in Jehovah's solemn announcement "I will cut off the pride of the Philistines" (Zech 9:6).
The Pharisees were the Philistines of our Lord's day. Firmly entrenched in Immanuel's land ,they hotly contested every attempt made to eject them. Plainly stamped upon them were the features of Ham. Though they held the lead in the religious realm yet were they in gross darkness. For when the Light of the world appeared in their midst, the "true," bright Light shining before their eyes, they asked Him for a "sign" (Matt 12:38). What proof was that of their blindness for it was like asking for a candle at noonday! They were the ones figured by the "elder son" in Luke 15:28, etc. the real "Wanderer," never at home with God.
And wherever phariseeism has been found during the last nineteen centuries, there was the moral embodiment of the Philistine chiefly, of course, in Romanism, but that abominable mother has many children. Many theological professors and doctors of divinity, prating of their superior scholarship and riding roughly over any who opposed them, bore the stamp of the Philistine. (Part of the above we have culled from a work, now out of print, by F.C. Jennings on Judges.)
The limited space here at our disposal, precludes us from now taking up other collateral considerations, so in the closing of this article, let us bring together the two points already considered and notice a striking omission.
In view of the great importance of the ark, one had naturally supposed that the loss of it would have made the deepest possible impression on Israel that they had made the most desperate efforts to recover it from the Philistines; or that they had unitedly humbled themselves before the Lord and with fastings and prayers besought Him to intervene and remove the grievous dishonor cast upon His name. But apart from the grief of Eli and his daughter-in-law, there is no hint of any perturbation in the Nation. They appear to have been stolidly indifferent.
And has not the same grievous lack of zeal and concern for God's glory characterized Christendom? When British and American professors echoed the infidelity of the German neologians, when almost every cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith was denied by the very men who had taken solemn ordination vows to defend it was not their wicked perversion of the Divine Testimony met, generally, with callous apathy! In the same way, none of the churches followed Spurgeon's example when he withdrew from the corrupt system. And though here and there an individual protested and walked out, the majority complacently tolerated or approved.
In the same way, there is no hint that the Nation of Israel was filled with consternation at their loss of the sacred ark, or that they made any attempt to recover it, or that they cried unto the Lord to intervene. Instead, they seemed to have been quite unmoved by such an unprecedented calamity, and taking the line of least resistance, remained inert. Yet if we take into consideration all the attendant circumstances we should not be surprised.
Consider the time when it occurred. It was at some point within the period covered by the book of Judges, and in that book we are told four times "In those days there was no king in Israel,"
and twice it is added "every man did that which was right in his own eyes," which is ever the case when there is no strong central authority. But more: the priesthood had failed, yes, was abominably corrupt (1 Samuel 2:12-17,22), and thus Israel was without competent leaders either spiritual or civil. What then could be expected of the rank and file of the people!
"When the Philistines took the ark of God they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon" (1 Samuel 5:2). In their most recent form, we regard the Philistines as the "Modernists," the "Rationalists," the "Higher Critics," who captured the majority of the seminaries and theological institutions. They dominated religious literature, gained possession of almost all the most influential pulpits, and thereby secured control of the public Testimony of God, corrupting the ministerial springs at their source.
And what are we to understand by "Dagon" in this connection? It was the "God" of the Philistines, the idol to which they paid homage (Judges 16:23). That idol was a monstrosity, being fashioned after a fish in its lower half but after the human form in its upper half (1 Samuel 5:4, margin): thus it portrayed the worship of man, plus something inferior in the scale of being. Unto such "strong delusion" were they given up as to worship a non-entity, a figment of their own imagination, something resembling the fabled "mermaid."
And was not "Evolution" the theory that man has come from the animals and they from fish the grand idol of all the apostate professors and teachers! And what grew out of it? A logical corollary of the Evolutionary theory was the flesh-pleasing idea of the progress of man and his wonderful achievements. These were crystallized in the imposing expression "Civilization," or "our Christian civilization," or more recently "our twentieth-century civilization."
Pulpit and press, politicians and educational authorities have united in lauding "the steady march of progress," the tremendous "advance" which has been made, and the utopia which would soon be established in the world. God allowed almost a century to pass for the full development of the modern "Dagon," that the pride and folly of its deluded devotees might the more plainly appear. For it was in 1848 Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" appeared popularized for the masses by Henry Drummonds "The Ascent of Man." Yet side by side with the trumpeting forth of progress and advancement, there has been an ever increasing and more widely spread spiritual deterioration and moral degeneracy.
If our memory serves us correctly, it was in the 1908 issues of "Things to Come," a monthly edited by E.W. Bullinger, there appeared some striking articles from the pen of Philip Mauro, entitled "The state of the crops," being a topical digression on the words "The harvest of the earth is ripe" (Rev 14:15). In them, he pointed out how results showed that the natural efforts and attainments of man had already reached their limits, that whether in literary productions, musical compositions, painting or forms of architecture nothing was now being achieved which excelled the fruits of previous generations; that the best being brought forth in these fields of human industry, were but replicas or inferior imitations of what our fathers and forefathers possessed. But if the summit of attainment had already been reached by 1908 how far has the world traveled down the incline on the farther side since then!
Someone has said, "The popular taste is a good index to the health of society." Apply that dictum to our own times, and it will quickly appear how the mental and moral health of society has declined. The vast majority now prefer such minor poets as Yeates and Bottomley to the superior excellency of Wordsworth and Tennyson; the crude and hideous sculptures of Robin and Epstein to those of the ancient Greeks; the grotesque and crazy productions of the "cubist" and "surrealist" schools to the masterpieces of Raphael and Turner; the jazz of the jungle and the crooning of Harlem to the strains of Beethoven; the ethical standards of Shaw to Shakespeare's; the modern "thriller" to the more wholesome fiction of Thackeray and Scott. No matter in which direction we turn, it is the ugly and the vulgar which is preferred to the beautiful and refined. What a commentary on our so-called "progress."
This "progress" which has been so much advertised and acclaimed, has been merely a mechanical one and not a spiritual and moral. The past century has indeed witnessed some remarkable inventions, but how far have they contributed to the real good of mankind? Electricity and incandescent gas has replaced the candles and oil-lamps of our forebears but has there been a corresponding increase of spiritual illumination among the people? Steam and petrol power have largely superseded carriages drawn by horses but have they issued in any moral elevation? The present generation has taken to flying in the air but there is no evidence of increased heavenly mindedness.
On the lowest ground, these inventions have failed to produce more contentment and mental serenity. And do not the losses entailed by these modern devices far outweigh any gains? Witness the appalling "toll of the road": in America and Britain tens of thousands killed and hundreds of thousands maimed every year! Witness the towns and cities of Europe blasted into ruins from the air! Would it not be a mercy if the clock of "progress" could be pushed back a hundred years?
It matters not which aspect we consider of modern "Progress" for its thin veneer of delusion is easily seen though if the examination be made coolly and critically.
For example, how proud the boastings of a generation or so ago about our "Prison Reforms" and our more enlightened treatment of crime when in reality a maudlin sentimentality was allowed to oust a sense of justice.
The modern scientist virtually denies the responsibility of the criminal, contending that he is the helpless victim of heredity and environment.
"Social workers" affirm that society and not the criminal is to blame.
In consequence the retributive element in punishment, has been more and more displaced by the reformative. Short sentences became increasingly popular and prisoners increasingly petted. A premium was practically placed upon crime, by making the lot of the culprit pleasanter, certainly more secure than that of the average workman. It makes no difference to these theorists that the virtuous (though outnumbered) are to be met with in the slums, while some of the most wicked spring from good parents and excellent homes.
Instead of asking the question, what harvest could be expected from such a sowing? we would push our inquiry further back and ask, Was this highly praised movement actuated by nobler or inferior principles to those which have regulated our fathers? It is a simple matter for the objector to reply, this generation is more tempered by mercy than were previous ones. It is equally simple for us to deny it.
But let us ask, Is the criminal the only one entitled to mercy? What of his victims the thousands of comparatively poor people robbed by swindlers and tricksters. Is it lack of mercy, which seeks to throw a wall of protection around the weak and gullible by imposing such penalties as are likely to deter those who would prey upon them? Then prisons ought not to be made so attractive that they cease to be a deterrent to crime. Is it unmerciful to pass the death-sentence on a slayer if a hundred potential murderers are curbed by such an example? Let justice be tempered by mercy, but not a mercy which closes its eyes to the essential difference between right and wrong!
Allow us to allude unto one other aspect of our twentieth-century progress, namely, the enormous efforts which have been made by the state to raise the "standard of life" for the laboring classes. Fabulous sums have been spent during the last twenty years in "doles," "pensions," and "family allowances." Even the unprecedented cost of the present war was not allowed to curtail the colossal upkeep of the "social services."
And has the "standard of life" been raised at all? The answer to that question depends upon your standard of measurement. Better fed and better housed working-men certainly have not produced better workmanship! As the majority of impartial and competent observers foresaw, the "dole" has been most demoralizing, destroying in many the incentive to earn their bread honestly by the sweat of the brow. Nor has it produced more contentment the more they are given, the more they expect and demand! What proportion of the huge sums spent in doles and allowances found its way into the pockets of publicans, brewers, distillers, gambling casinos, and amusement caterers.
To return unto 1 Samuel 5. The sacred ark had been captured by the Philistines and Israel tamely submitted to their loss. It looked as though the Lord Himself was indifferent, for He put no obstacle in the way of His enemies, and even permitted them to conclude that Dagon was greater than Himself. That is why, after recounting the calamities recorded in 1 Samuel 4, the Psalmist uses those striking figures of speech: "Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, like a mighty man that shouts by reason of wine" (78:65). Jehovah now took into His own hands the work of avenging His outraged honor and vindicating His great name.
God is a jealous God. He had shown Himself such by severely chastising His friends, because they had long tolerated unjudged evils in their midst. And now the fierceness of His jealousy should be felt by His foes. He made bare His right arm and smote His insulting adversaries, and He continued to smite until they were compelled to recognize Who it was that was dealing with them.
"And when the people of Ashdod arose early in the morning, there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and set it in its place again." (1 Samuel 5:3).
Once more we express our conviction that the history of Dagon contains an allegorical significance that it portrays what has occurred again and again in the lives of different nations and empires yes that it gives us a pattern of what has been and is taking place in the world before our own eyes. It is a revelation of the unchanging principles in the governmental dealings of God and therefore is fraught with important spiritual instruction.
The "Dagon" worshiped by our moderns is the so-called "Christian Civilization." And what happened to it, my reader, during 1914-1918? when the most "cultured" and "highly civilized" of the nations engaged each other in a contest of such gigantic dimensions and ruthless ferocity employed such diabolical means and methods and sacrificed the flower of their manhood to such an appalling extent, that the whole range of human history supplies no parallel. Man has prated of his ascent from the animal and it was left to the disciples of such a philosophy to demonstrate how beastly they still were. Proud "civilization" was shaken to its foundations, humiliated into the dust, flung on its very face in 1914-1918.
And what was the Philistines' response to their humiliating experience? Did they acknowledge the Hand that had overturned their idol? Did they own their insensate folly and confess they were vainly fighting against the God of Heaven? No, they did not, for the next thing we read of is that "So they took Dagon and set it in its place again" (verse 3). They were still determined that Dagon should be their "God."
See the blinding and besotting power of self-will. How true it is that "those who make them [the senseless idols] are like unto them" (Psa 115:8)! And what effect did the frightful tragedy of 1914-1918 have upon the nations of Christendom? Was there a general turning unto God and an humbling of themselves before Him? No, in the language of Isaiah 26:10-11, it had to be said "They will not behold the majesty of the Lord. Lord, when Your hand is lifted up, they will not see." Neither the goodness of God nor the severity of God made any impression they continued to harden their hearts and followed out their mad dreamings.
May we not see in the institution of the League of Nations with the wonderful benefits it was going to confer upon mankind in the reestablishing and securing of "Civilization" the setting up again of "Dagon"? Was not the widely preached "Universal Brotherhood of Man" now to receive practical expression by the nations of the earth banded together as they never had been before. Might was now to give place to right and force to reason.
In future, disputes should be justly but amicably settled by arbitration and war would be rendered impossible. The world would now be "made safe for democracy." Civilization would at last stand upon a firm basis and the steady march of progress which had been so rudely interrupted, could be resumed with an ever-brightening prospect. Such in brief were the promises made and the hopes inspired by that wonderful production of twentieth-century politicians and diplomats. And what a will o the wisp it proved!
The "march of progress" from 1920 onwards, was, if measured by the standards of righteousness and decency, steadily downwards and not upwards. During the fifteen years that followed, "Civilized Britain" became more and more a "Paganised Britain." That which our fathers had so carefully erected their children took pleasure in tearing down. Everything which had ennobled the "Victorian" era was sneered at and jettisoned.
Those with the least sense of decency were determined to drag down into the gutter, the whole of the rising generation. An orgy of licentiousness was widely entered into. Night-clubs were multiplied, gambling spread like wild fire among the young people, and cocktail parties abounded on every side. The beaches lowered their bathing restrictions and modesty became a thing of the past. Youth was allowed to have its fling unrestrained. The sanctity of the Sabbath totally disappeared the Lord's day being devoted to pleasuring and carousing.
Mayfair became another Harlem and other places emulated their very example or attempted to "go one worse." The novels and magazines of the last decade have been filled with obscenities and blasphemies. A friend of ours engaged in the publishing business years ago recently wrote us, "Today we have shops stacked with books which, had they been published when we were boys the authors and publishers would have been put in jail!" Censorship has long since been reduced to a farce. The great majority of the children never entered either a "Sunday school" or "church" in the years between 1920-1938 and their ideas were formed by the pictures they saw at the "movies" and the debasing productions of a degenerate press.
As a recent writer of "the Evangelical Christian" said, "The best sellers of today are more often than not books whose morals are of the barnyard, whose language is of the sewer, and whose ethics are of the pit. The ghastly thing is that you will find such novels prominently displayed and often commended by large Church publishing houses."
And what was the sequel to the Philistines setting up again of their idol? This, "And when they arose early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. The head of Dagon and both the palms of its hands were broken off on the threshold; only Dagon's torso was left of it." (1 Samuel 5:4) Thus did Jehovah again stain their pride and write folly across that which they were so determined to honor. This time Dagon was not only overturned but dashed to pieces, losing its head and hands the members which speak of wisdom and power so that nothing but the stump remained.
In its present application, the realization of this is not to be looked for in any particular act or event, but in a process of decay and demolition. As the recent withdrawal of the Spirit in Christendom was gradual, covering an interval of several years; as the overturning of Dagon was most noticeable during 1914- 1918; so the final destruction of Dagon, though the pace of deterioration has greatly increased, may be extended over a longer or shorter period.
There is no doubt in this writer's mind that the present generation is even now witnessing and will continue to witness the smashing up of the much-vaunted modern Dagon. It was surely significant that the three men occupying the most prominent and influential positions in modern life, namely, Mr. N. Chamberlain, the prime-minister of Great Britain, Mr. F. Roosevelt, the president of the United States, and the pope from the Vatican all placed themselves on record in public statements in 1938, that if the threatened war of Europe eventuated, it would mean and entail "The end of Civilization as we know it."
No doubt they alluded more especially to the material and financial structure, for most of the ethical and spiritual elements, the best features of our corporate life, that which made for refinement and elevation of the mind, had well-near disappeared from the world when those men made their pronouncements. How dreadfully everything has gone from bad to worse since then, may be gathered from the newspapers, though in their present abbreviated form, only a small part of the tragedy is being chronicled.
The breakdown and breakup of "Civilization" appears in such things as the decay of the sanctity of marriage as evidenced by the multiplication of divorces, the abandonment of such numbers of babies, the fearful increase of bigamy; juvenile delinquency and of immorality and disease among the young, the vandalism which is now so rife, such widespread pilfering, the appalling amount of absenteeism in all sections of labor, and the lazy efforts of the authorities to deal with such evils.
English law carries a penalty of seven years for the crime of bigamy yet guilty ones rarely receive more than three months. Thousands of culprits who ought to be sent to prison are given nominal fines. Recently an ARP chief in a big London borough, when deploring the wanton injury inflicted on the "shelters," complained that "We have had fines as low as 25 cents against young hooligans caught damaging shelter equipment." Law and order is almost reduced to a farce! The chief officer for the LMS railway stated, "In the past year 8,600 carriage windows had been broken; 19,300 door-straps removed, 40,000 electric lamps removed." The head of Dagon is already broken off!
It is said "the war is responsible for theses evils." Not so war conditions have merely brought things to a head and caused the scum to rise to the surface. "He who is an hireling sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees The hireling flees because he is a hireling" (John 10:12,13) reveals the principle.
We do what we do because we are what we are. There is ever a rigid consistency between character and conduct. When the testing time comes, each one reveals what he is by what he does. Character is most revealed by our conduct, in the crises of life.
When did the "hireling" flee? When he saw the wolf approaching: that was not what made him a hireling, but revealed him as such one with no love for the sheep. Present conditions have caused the masses to drop all pretense and come out in their true colors. The thin coating of "civilized" varnish has worn off and twentieth-century character stands exposed. But even when Dagon was destroyed something yet more drastic was required to bring the Philistines to their senses. "The hand of the LORD was heavy on the people of Ashdod, and He ravaged them and struck them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory" (verse 6). They removed the ark to Gath, and "a very great destruction" smote the men there also (verse 9). They sent it to Ekron and its inhabitants were so terrified they demanded that the ark be returned to Israel (verse 11).
Thus did God avenge Himself and make the wrath of man to praise Him. Never did a boastful people undergo so deep a dishonor in the eyes of their neighbors, to whom they became a laughing stock; and never did an idol suffer a worse disgrace than that which befell Dagon.
Afterwards the ark was restored again to Israel, and if history continues, in God's appointed time, after His judgments have accomplished their designed work the Spirit will return to a purged Christendom and the Testimony of God be established again in its midst.