* For this posting to make the most sense, you may want to take a moment to read 1 Samuel 5.
God certainly had a way of getting the attention of the Philistines didn’t He? They take the Ark of the Covenant and put it in their temple next to their man/fish god (top part man, bottom part fish – and perhaps this is where the idea of mermaids started?). The next day their god is laying face down on the floor as if this god is in the posture of someone who prays to God prostrated. The Philistines don’t necessarily make the connection, so they upright their god. The next day, the same thing happens, except in addition, the head and the hands of their god are severed from the statue. God’s symbolism here is not subtle to the Philistines. Back in those days, if they stopped to think about what was happening between their god and Yahweh, they they would grasp the significance of the upper part of this god losing its head and hands – as in the time frame of this incident the severing of of head and hands clearly symbolized that their god was dead (source John MacArthur ESV Study Bible notes on verse 4). But the story tells us that the Philistines must not have made the connection. Kind of slow on the uptake aren’t they? So now, in addition, Yahweh sends them tumors that spread, I’m thinking like a plague. Hmm, God took a plague to the Egyptians also, didn’t He? Ok, so the people are afraid, and what do they do? They gather together the Philistine leaders, and hold a meeting (reminds me of my days in the corporate world), perhaps they even had a “focus group” of sorts getting input from average people. They narrow down the source of their problems, and they decide to pass it (the Ark of the Covenant) along to another city. So long, farewell, let my troubles be gone, here you have this and you deal with it. And we see the process somewhat replicate in the next city. Nice huh? I’m having a crisis here so I’m going to do the best thing I can, I am going to pass the crisis along and suck all these other people right into my misery. Now, that to me is a perfect example of misery loves company, or perhaps, passing the buck. Eventually, the tumors have spread, the fear has spread, panic ensues, and the folks in the third city are frantic when these “wise” Philistine leaders send the Ark of the Covenant to a third city, the one nearest the Israelites. It’s here that the panicked masses demand that the leaders, get rid of this thing that’s causing all of our problems, give it back to the Israelites.
There’s a common thread that runs between the Philistines of this time frame and us. Sure, we like to think that we’re more sophisticated, more educated, and perhaps even more enlightened than the people of way back when. But there’s something that sticks out in my mind, and maybe it’s because the Bible was ultimately written by God. It seems to me that the people back then, whether they were Israelites or of some other persuasion like the Philistines, all pointed to a god, or even multiple gods, to guide their lives. I mean the types of gods such as this man/fish, or in the case of the Greeks gods with the names of Zeus and the like. These gods had physical form in the ways of statues and graven images. They would pray to these gods, they would appeal to these gods for favor, they would do things to appease these gods so that they would receive favor.
Today, do we in the world (speaking of all people generally) tend to have false gods like that, one of physical form? Generally I would say that our answer would be no, but perhaps I am wrong. I am thinking that today our false gods are time, money (perhaps money has always been one through the ages), ambition, being accepted, coveting things, our career, our children, and in our older years health – and then of course things such as bitterness, envy, selfishness, etc. We worship these things, we give them great significance to rule over our lives. And, these things lead us down some very wrong paths, we know this, and yet we still pursue them. So, in a very great sense, we’re not all that different than the Philistines are we?
When we leave off of the chapter, the Philistines are actively deciding what to do with the source of their problem. But, they’ve not recognized that the true source of their problem is in believing in gods and not in the one and only true God – Yahweh. I keep in mind that they are not God’s chosen people, so perhaps the idea of turning to Yahweh would not occur to them, although I wonder if even a few of those Philistines pondered that idea.
Aren’t we the same way? We don’t often recognize that the true source of our problems could be that we are actively recognizing other idols as having more importance? We push God to the back burner, we know that He’s there, but we still push Him to the back burner as we traipse along pursuing our own ambitions and gratifying our false idols. So, we have the same opportunity daily to put down those idols that we hold near and dear – notice I said daily, not once, as it is a continual process. Items such a pride, envy, boastfulness, and the like. But we also have to actively take time to be still (sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it?) and ask God to help us to identify those items that are idols. For me, that’s not an easy thing to do. I can immediately put my finger on one or two things that pop into my mind right away. But, if I take the time, really take the time, I am sure that God could give me a list that could possibly fill a sheet of standard notebook paper! Whew, that’s a scary thought.
How to get rid of these idols? Well I need to keep God, and what I am expecting could be a very, very long list, top of mind. Being a goal- and action-oriented person, I need to see progress, so I need to commit to keeping track of my progress. The best way I can see to do this, is to stay daily in the Word, to pray continually, and to commit to journaling. I will be able to capture what’s going on in my life and will have tangible reminders of my progress – or, lack thereof (hopefully not).