By Dane Neufeld

A Reading from 1 Samuel 5:1-12

1 When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod; 2 then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and placed it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off upon the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. 5 This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not step on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.

6 The hand of the Lord was heavy upon the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and struck them with tumors, both in Ashdod and in its territory. 7 And when the inhabitants of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us; for his hand is heavy on us and on our god Dagon.” 8 So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” The inhabitants of Gath replied, “Let the ark of God be moved on to us.” So they moved the ark of the God of Israel to Gath. 9 But after they had brought it to Gath, the hand of the Lord was against the city, causing a very great panic; he struck the inhabitants of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them. 10 So they sent the ark of the God of Israel to Ekron. But when the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “Why have they brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people?” 11 They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.” For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there; 12 those who did not die were stricken with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.

Meditation

After Israel attempted to misuse the power of the ark, it was the Philistines’ turn. They set up the ark in the temple thinking they could add it to the collection of spiritual forces that had aided their victory. Instead, they notice that their own god, Dagon, begins bowing down before the ark of the God of Israel. This is followed by an outbreak of miserable diseases that terrify the people. While repenting and worshipping the Lord is still an option, they decide instead to ship the ark off to their neighbors, who experience all the same things.

God’s power displayed in the ark was silent when the people of Israel wanted to use it in battle, and uncontrollable when the Philistines wanted it to sit nicely on a shelf. The antagonism between the ark and the people could have been easily resolved, but as in our own lives, repentance seemed to be the last option the Israelites or the Philistines were willing to consider. We usually like to explore all our own options before throwing our lives upon the Lord.

St. Paul says that the aroma of Christ is “to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:16). How could one thing smell or appear so variously to different people? If we oppose or ignore his calling on our lives, then the gospel will feel like an unnatural constraint, a deadening force that limits our desires and cuts us off from prospects we are eager to explore. If we accept him as our Lord, then the life of Jesus opens to us a whole new range of possibilities that lie beyond our small kingdoms of self, beyond the mere satisfying of our own desires and ambitions.

The Rev. Dane Neufeld currently serves as the incumbent of St. James, Calgary, after serving seven years in Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of West Virginia
The Diocese of Chotanagpur (Church of North India)