The living and only true God of the Bible will maintain His own glory and honor. It is the purpose of God to expose all false gods for what they are: vain and idle, and to expose all who trust in them as foolish and to heap on them confusion and destruction.
We read in Isaiah 48:11, “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.” Even when His own people, who call upon His name, bring shame to Him in the face of the heathen – even then will God maintain the honor of His name. Even when God’s people make the mention of His name to be a name of reproach, yet God, for His own Name’s sake, will maintain His honor.
Do you bow in truth before the living and only God of the Bible? Do you depend on Him only? Are you filled with a zeal for His glory to be seen in your life? Do you place your trust in, render obedience to, and offer love and praise to the only true God of the Scripture, who gives His glory to no other? Do you go to Him in your helplessness? Do you bow before Him in repentance and in contrition and in faith and turn to Him who alone is able to save?
Then the Scriptures say, Blessed art thou, for this has been given to you of the heavenly Father.
The event that I call your attention to today in our program is one of the saddest and most shameful in the history of the Old Testament people of Israel. It is found in I Samuel 5:1-4. This event took place at the end of the period of the judges. Israel had been conquered by their old enemy, the Philistines. The Israelites, who at this time had forgotten God and were serving idols, wanted to rid themselves of the Philistine yoke. So they gathered an army and challenged the Philistines to battle. When the armies met, Israel was defeated.
Immediately the Israelites held a counsel of war to discover the cause of their defeat. And the conclusion they reached was that they had failed to take with them the ark of the Lord. They regarded the ark of the Lord as a kind of mascot. If they had it with them, they would have “good luck.” They were strangers, then, to true faith in God. They thought it was enough if one surrounded himself with the outward symbols of religion. Those outward symbols would somehow provide a magical protection and power. “With the ark of the covenant with us,” they said, “we are bound to succeed the next time.”
So they gathered yet another army. And this time, not only are they defeated, but the ark of the covenant is taken. The Philistines capture the ark of the covenant and take it with them to the temple of their god, Dagon, who is the fish-god. God’s people had brought shame to the name of the God they confessed. They trusted in their own strength and they made the matter of religion merely a matter of superstition.
Yet, God would maintain His own honor and glory and bring destruction upon Dagon and the Philistines. For God will not give His glory to another. It is this true God of the Scriptures, revealed in Jesus Christ His Son, whom you must obey and trust, and to whom you must commit your all.
Apparently, though, the enemies of God triumphed. For we read, “And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod. When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.” The ark of God was the symbol of His covenant presence with His people. It was the most sacred piece of furniture in the tabernacle of Moses. Inside of that ark were the two tables of the law, a pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod that had budded. It was overlaid with gold. And on top was the mercy seat, where the blood of the atonement was sprinkled. And then, over the top of that, were the two golden cherubim or angels. It was a symbol that “I, the Lord God, do dwell among them,” said Jehovah. That ark had led Israel through the Red Sea, through the wilderness, and across the Jordan River. It represented the promise of God that He, by His grace, would bring them to the land of promise and that he would tabernacle (that is, dwell) among them. This symbol of God’s saving purposes in Jesus Christ now stood in the house of Dagon, the fish-god of the Philistines, who had human hands and face and the body of a fish.
Notice, the Philistines did not destroy the ark. They put it into the temple of their god, by the side of Dagon. They had not only routed their enemies, they thought, but, more importantly, they had conquered the God of their enemies. There He was, in their temple, subjected to Dagon. The world was perfect. There was nothing to do but celebrate. The God of Israel is captured and does obeisance to our god.
It can often appear this way in the world, that the cause of God is routed, shown to be impotent and destroyed, God Himself apparently defeated, the enemy of God triumphant. The attack of the Philistines, the unbelieving haters of God’s cause, can come in many ways. There is the great attack of philosophy: man’s own intellect, unguided by faith (what the Bible calls the carnal mind which exalts itself against the knowledge of God, II Cor. 10:3, 4). Human thought, human reason, human understanding and speculation is placed as the arbiter of truth. And men, in their pride, reject as a fable, as an unscholarly myth, the inspired and infallible Word of God. And it focuses itself in the realm of science. Charles Darwin, origin of the species, 1859, evolution. For many, evolution has not only attacked the Bible but destroyed forever the foundation of the Christian faith. Men have turned to political and social reform as the savior. They believe that by legislation and social programs wrongs can be erased, crimes banished, and all will begin to love one another and make a paradise out of this world. Apparently the Christian faith and the Bible, in the eyes of the unbelieving world, are demolished. Men look upon the Bible with bemused smiles: Oh, yes, that quaint little Bible.
The modern Philistine is almost identical with the ancient Philistine. He repeats the actions of the Philistines down to the details. When the Philistines captured the ark they did not destroy it. No, they wanted it displayed in a trophy case. Oh, it is useful. It is part of the culture and tradition of those ignorant seed of Abraham. It has its place, you know. So the world will pay lip-service to God and Christianity and its truth. “We will give God and the Bible a place.”
So today. Most people do not go to church. They themselves do not worship. But still they like to be married in a church, have their children christened, have a religious service at a funeral. In moments of national peril and war, we need a national day of prayer. Ministers ought to give counsel to the president. They do not bow down in humble dependence before the mighty God of Scripture. They do not bow in a total, undoneness of heart as sinners. But still, you know, they say that the Bible and Christianity come in handy at times, and we do pay a lip-service to them, even a type of respect without believing and humbling ourselves before the only God. Man says, I sit on the throne and I know that God’s truth is but a little thing, so I will give it a place out of my generosity.
We know from Scripture that the nature of man is at enmity with God and always tries to put God on a leash. But here we are taught that the problem originated in Israel. The sin of God’s people was crucial in all of this. Why was Israel routed? Was it because of the strength and prowess of the Philistines? No! No, the apparent victory of the Philistines over the cause of God was due to the spiritual sinfulness and apostasy of Israel.
So often we excuse our failures in the battle of temptations to the enemy that we face. We say, “Well, it’s harder today than ever before. Our parents didn’t have to compete with the world of our day. The world is so dark. What do you expect?” But then the Scripture comes and says, “Israel’s defeat was tied to their relationship to God.” When they forgot their God and became complacent and trusted in their own powers and drifted from dependence upon Him, they were always defeated. It was never the strength of the enemy that mattered. It was always Israel and her walk with God that mattered. Hear the Word of God. Do you say, “Well, today everybody is doing these things. What can you expect if we fall into temptation? The world is so alluring and so powerful we can hardly be blamed as Christians if we are tainted with the world.” Is that the way you reason? Oh, no! The reason is always found in the spiritual idleness and apostasy of God’s people. That is why, apparently, the forces of sin seem triumphant.
A few chapters later in the book of Samuel we will read of Jonathan, the son of Saul, and his armorbearer, two men who defeat a whole garrison of the Philistines. Israel was defeated because she had turned her back on God. And God left her to herself to show her that without Him she could do nothing.
That is the way it is today. And the world of sin, which has grown strong in its opposition to God and His church, mounts up and develops.
But what of us? What of you as a Christian? What of the church? Are we like the Israel of old – complacent, apathetic, satisfied with mere outward attachment to God? Do we trust, merely, in the institutions and programs and organizations for young people and all the rest? Have we forgotten prayer? Have we forgotten that we are completely dependent upon our God? Do we live consciously in dependence upon God? We must put away our self-reliance. We must be crushed down to our knees. We must come to an end of our own power and must look to the power of God through His Word and Spirit.
But it is not true that the cause of God in this world is defeated. “Fear not, little flock,” said Jesus. “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
The Philistines thought that they had conquered their enemies and captured the God of their enemies. But, just as they were congratulating themselves, things began to go wrong. Early the next morning, we read, when they went into the house of Dagon, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the Lord. But they picked him up and put him back in his place and said, “Well, it’s all right. Just some unexplainable thing. Maybe a tremor during the night.” But then we read: “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.” Dagon fell down. He is destroyed – his head (his thinking), his hands (his doing). He is impotent. He is fallen on the ground before the ark of Jehovah God. God maintains Himself! All the gods are fallen down before Him. They are exposed in their impotency.
Do you see this? Dagon keeps falling down. Man puts him up, and puts him up, and he falls again and again and each time worse. A little study of history will show you. The world can be full of confidence and optimism, believing that as man, and as a result of their knowledge and development and technology, they are on the verge now of paradise. Man is about to reach that day when he will enter into a perfect phase of human history. He will forever banish war and injustice and poverty, and finally crime and prejudice will be routed out. What happens? One crisis follows another. Dagon falls flat on his face. The Titanic, unsinkable! No need to worry about icebergs. Wars, strikes, stock-market crashes. But social programs create greater problems. One political party follows another. God upsets man’s plans, shakes him up, and puts Dagon in the mud.
This happens also with individuals. A man may laugh at religion and say he can make a perfectly good life for himself without God. And, apparently, he is successful. He has a wife and children, his own business. Everything seems to be perfect. Then he gets the stabs of angina. An awful pain brings his face down to stare at death and everything is upset. In a moment of reprieve he puts his Dagon back up. He has had his medication. He feels better now. But what he puts his trust in will fail him. And it will show itself to be without hands to pick him up and without a mind to save him.
God humiliates all false gods. Whatever man, whatever you, will place your trust in, other than Him, He will humiliate that. For He will maintain His own glory as the only true God. What are the gods that you have made? What are the gods that you are worshiping? Education? Oh, yes. Education is a precious gift of God. But you must not make a god of it, believing that education will take care of you so that it will make you the person who has it all together, the successful person who can solve problems. Education does not solve problems. Man believes that it will solve everything. But, again, this god will be humbled before man’s own eyes.
Another god that is worshiped is self-determinism. Everyone must be allowed to determine what is right for himself. This is the god before which most people worship. We must be free to seek our own happiness. But what happens when this god is worshiped? It results in immorality, separation, breakdown of marriage, and untold and unspeakable evils.
God has pronounced His judgment upon the false gods. God turns to man today, to you and me, and says, “If you have put your trust in something other than Me, it will be brought low. You have said that you could make a perfect world without the true and living God? You have relegated Me off to the distance of faraway heaven? You have said that you are your own? You will reap the consequences of that sin. For sin is always followed by judgment. Rejection of the true and living God revealed in Jesus Christ is always greeted with destruction. The Flood was a prediction of the final judgment. The fire and brimstone of Sodom and Gomorrah point to the day of reckoning. God’s judgment will fall upon rebellious men. God announces the destruction of all who do not submit to Him. Psalm 2: “Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”
This is the message God gave in the temple of Dagon and which He now makes known in the gospel. The message is this: God is the only living God. Do not think, as did the Israelites and the Philistines, that God is someone who can be carried about in an ark or a box. Do not think, as the Israelites, that God is something we can handle and use for our purposes. God taught them, in Dagon’s house, that He is the living God. He will not be carried about by man. He will not be put up on a pedestal and analyzed. He is the only God. You are in His hands. He is the living, almighty, eternal, all-powerful God. When you think you have God in His place, and when you think you have defeated Him, He will knock your gods down into the mud. For He is the only God.
Perhaps the Philistines thought that they were paying a compliment by putting Him alongside of Dagon. Perhaps they were saying, “He is now among the gods.” But God showed that He will not share with another His glory. He is God alone. He will have that entirely to Himself. He throws down idols. He silences idols. He is God!
It does not matter what you place alongside of God. He will not tolerate it. He does not share the throne with another. He must be at the center of all of our being. He will not share our love with anything else. There is one way to Him: through Jesus Christ and the grace of the living God in Him. It is the way of God’s grace showing us our helplessness and hopelessness, our worthiness of destruction. It is the way of God’s grace bringing us before God with nothing to recommend us to Him, showing us that we are paupers, pleading nothing but the blood of Jesus Christ.
Go to Him, child of God, in the confession of your helplessness. Go to Him in repentance. Go to Him in trust. Go to Him in faith in Jesus Christ. He is the One who is able to save to the uttermost. And He shall not fall. For His Word shall stand. His truth shall endure. Blessed are all those who put their trust in the living God of the Holy Scriptures.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy precious Word. We pray that Thou wilt bind it upon our hearts through Jesus Christ. Amen.