Thursday, July 25, 2019

A New Exodus: God vs. the Philistines

"The LORD’s hand was heavy upon the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; He brought devastation upon them and afflicted them with tumors" (1 Samuel 5:6).

By allowing the ark to be captured and all the adult high priestly family to be killed, God was judging Israel. At the same time, God was going into captivity. He was taking the place of His people, bearing upon Himself the punishment (exile) they deserved. This is one of many Old Testament pictures of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, that God would take upon Himself the punishment we deserve.

There is a third dimension to the fact that the ark went into Philistia: God was going into Philistia to make war upon it. When reading 1 Samuel it is helpful to remember that the Philistines were descendants of Egypt, and thus the Philistine enslavement of Israel was a second Egyptian captivity (Genesis 10:13, 14). In Exodus, we read the story of how God defeated Pharaoh and Egypt, and scholars have pointed out that 1 Samuel 5–6 offers a variation on the same theme.

The Philistines took the ark to the house of their god Dagon. They displayed it next to Dagon, in an inferior position, thereby symbolizing their belief that Dagon was more powerful than Yahweh. When they came to their temple the next morning, they found the statue of Dagon fallen on its face prostrate before the ark. They set Dagon back up, but the next day they found it on the ground again, this time with his head and hands broken off (1 Samuel 5:1–5; Genesis 3:15). In the same way, God had defeated all the gods of Egypt in Moses’ day (Exodus 12:12).

Next, God sent plagues against the Philistines: a plague of rodents and another of tumors (1 Samuel 5:6–12; 6:5). In the same way, God had sent plagues of animals (frogs, lice, locusts) and diseases (boils) against Egypt in Moses’ day.

Finally, the five lords of the five Philistine cities sent the ark away, just as Pharaoh drove Israel out of Egypt. Even as the Israelites spoiled the Egyptians, who pressed gold and silver upon them in order to make them leave (Exodus 11:3), so the Philistines filled a chest with five golden mice and five golden tumors, and sent it back to Israel with the ark (1 Samuel 6:1–12).

Christ went into “exile” on the cross. His exodus was His resurrection, His promised land, heaven. Realize that you are also an alien and stranger in this world, and thank God that Jesus is returning to lead us in an exodus to His promised land, the eternal rest. Take comfort that our God has thus conquered the “god” of this world.