“Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and it set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD.” 1 Samuel 5:2-3
The context of 1 Samuel 5 is the Philistine defeat of the people of Israel at Ebenezer and the capture of the ark of the covenant. The Israelites foolishly thought that the mere presence of the ark would bring them victory, but instead 30,000 soldiers of Israel were slaughtered. As a trophy, the Philistines take the ark and brought it back to the city of Ashdod and set it in the temple to their god, Dagon.
The very next morning, the people of Ashdod come into the pagan temple and discover that the statue of their false god had toppled over in front of the ark. They proceed to set it back up and the next morning they discover that, this time, the statue has not only fallen over, but its head and hands have broken off and only the trunk of the statue remained. Verse 6 of chapter 5 then tells us that, “the hand of the LORD was heavy against the people of Ashdod” and the city and surrounding territories were struck with a plague of tumors.
This short chapter of the Bible (only 12 verses) tell us so much about the glory, and the power, of our holy God. And much of what we learn is particularly applicable to our lives in our current situation here in 2020, dealing with the fallout of the spread of COVID-19, and the shutdown that much of the world has experienced. Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that this article is, in no way, a proclamation of judgment from God because of any general or particular sin of any general or particular group of people. This is not a treatise on why God allowed the coronavirus to affect our world. There is, however, cause for each of us, in every situation, whether good or bad, to ask what God is trying to teach us. So, what is God trying to teach us during this global pandemic and how does 1 Samuel 5 apply?
For so many of us, as this virus spread and much of the country was ordered to “shelter in place,” we saw our lives come to a screeching halt. This has certainly had a devastating effect on many as jobs have been lost, senior years came to an abrupt end, and so many plans were put on hold. One interesting side effect that has come from this, though, is the sudden abundance of time we all have. Yes, there was time spent doing essential things, but we regained a lot of time that was spent doing non-essential things. We suddenly don’t have to be at a ball game or practice. We can’t go shopping or to the movies. We can’t even go places just to waste time. Seemingly overnight, we found ourselves stuck at home trying to figure out what to do with this newfound gift of time.
One of the phrases I have heard throughout my time in ministry is, “If you want to know what people worship, look at their calendars and their checkbooks.” If you don’t know what a checkbook is, stop making me feel so old. The point behind that phrase is that we will spend our time and our money on the things that matter the most to us. So, if our calendars are filled up with school, work, and extracurricular activities, yet show little time spent with God (meaning time reading Scripture, time in family worship, time at church, etc.) then we have shown that we have chosen worship something more than God. Any casual reading of the Old Testament will show that this is not something God likes. Exodus 20:3-4 says, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth, You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.”
God has every right to be jealous (and this, of course, is a righteous and holy jealousy, not a sinful jealousy). He created us, He provided for us, and if we have trusted in Christ for salvation, He has promised us eternity in heaven. And we repay him by giving him the leftovers of our schedule, whatever scraps we can muster up. We cannot think that this pleases God. We have set up idols in our lives, worshipping our activities, and in an almost mocking sense, we try to place God right next to these false gods. Galatians 6:7 tells us that, “God will not be mocked.” Well, in the past month, Dagon has fallen over.
God may be using this situation to reveal to us where our hearts have been. Maybe this has been a call to repentance, a call to return to God and worship him alone. We have been given more time to read our Bibles, to engage in spiritual conversations with our families, to fill our minds with biblical wisdom, to give our hearts to him in worship. I know that personally, I have found more time for reading, intentional time spent with my family, time to stop and reflect on my relationship with God. One of the more popular phrases going around social media these days is #dontwasteyourquarantine. What has been an inconvenience, God could intend for a blessing. Hopefully by the time you are reading this, the “shelter in place” orders have been lifted, the economy has been opened back up, and life has resumed some sense of normalcy. But also, I hope that the “new normal” is the right worship of our holy God and the proper use of our time.
Soli deo gloria,