1 Samuel 5-6
The creed says, “I believe in God the Father Almighty.” There’s a lot bound up in that word Almighty. Just how much might does God have? What is His might like?
Picture a warrior at the pinnacle of His military career, mounted on horseback with his beard full of dirt and blood. He shouts at the top of his lungs with a goblet of red wine in his hand which he drinks before the battle. God has that kind of might.
The image is not mine. It is one used by Asaph, “Then the LORD awaked as one out of sleep, And like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine. And he smote his enemies” (Psalm 78:65-66). In that part of his psalm, Asaph referred to the LORD’s actions recorded in the book of Samuel. A few verses before, Asaph provides the context, saying the LORD “forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, The tent which he placed among men; And delivered his strength into captivity, And his glory into the enemies hand” (Psalm 78:60-61).
If you have been tracking with these Thursday meditations on the book of Samuel, you will recall that recently in the book the Philistines defeated the Israelites at Aphek, and took the ark of God into their territory. Thus, the phrase from Asaph, “God delivered his strength into captivity.” But what God did next was extraordinary. It was so marvelous that Asaph referred to it as a mighty man awaking, shouting because of wine, and smiting His enemies. Here is what God did.
The Text – A Summary
You can identify four basic movements of the story.
First the Philistines put the ark in Dagon’s house, thinking Yahweh would serve Dagon. But Dagon falls before the true God, twice. The second time God cuts off His head and hands.
Second, God unleashes plague upon the Philistines. They don’t want to give in for a good bit. So, they pass around the ark like a hot potato. After a lot of pain and death, they decide to send the ark back to Israel.
Third, the Philistines give glory to the God of Israel by sending back a guilt offering with the ark. To be sure it was God who did this to them, they yoke milk cows together which normally would have returned to their calves. But these cows went straight on toward Israel’s territory, confirming that God had indeed struck the Philistines.
Fourth, those in Beth-shemesh were out reaping their wheat harvest. They looked up to see the ark of God coming back to them by God’s sovereign hand.
You can see why Asaph spoke of God as a strong man rising up and shouting because of wine. God’s independence, His power, His severity, and His victory come shining through in these verses.
If I can jump to an immediate application: Christian, since this God is your God, then anxiety is gone. Anxiety is dead. It has been killed by the wine-drinking warrior. If this God is your God, and He is your God, then there is no good reason to fret. Worry is silly. It is a joke. It deserves a hearty horse laugh seeing that this great warrior is your warrior. Seeing that He sends the bubonic plague on your enemies.
He Needs No Help
It is quite clear from these verses that God needs no help. Israel’s army was undone. They lost thirty thousand men at the battle of Aphek. Israel’s priesthood was cut down. Shiloh was in chaos. The ark was behind enemy lines in the Philistine city of Ashdod. The ark was not only in Ashdod, but within the house of Dagon, god of the Philistines. The story does not say that the Israelites recovered and made a raid on Ashdod to recover the ark. The Israelites were in sackcloth. Thirty thousand weeping mothers filled the cities of Israel with their cries. Thirty thousand wives were trying to figure out how to survive without their husbands. And God in that moment rose up to glorify His name.
He single-handedly brought the ark back to Israel. He did not need any help conquering Dagon and the Philistines. The lesson for us is that God does not need any help to be or do anything. God simply is what He is. All that God is, He is of Himself. We do not cause Him to be. When Moses asked God His name, God replied, “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Paul strikes this note in Athens when he says, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:24-25).
The Gift of God
The ark of the covenant came back to Israel as a gift. Salvation has come to us in the same manner, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace means God does it all. Grace is not God’s response to you.
It is common for people to believe that salvation is a deal you can make with God. They think you give God faith, and He will repay you with salvation. But it does not work that way. You have nothing to give to God, not even faith. We are in the ruins of Shiloh, arkless, weeping over dead fathers and sons. God comes to His people in such a condition and saves them unilaterally. He gives us not the judgment we deserve, but the opposite. We deserved to have the Philistine generals ride over the hills and slaughter us in the wheat fields Beth-shemesh, but God sent over the ark of His glory instead.