The Old Testament lesson in today’s Daily Office is one of those somewhat obscure Sunday School stories that conveys a powerful message. The Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant, which was the focal point of God’s abiding presence with His people. Upon returning to the Philistine city of Ashdod, they placed the Ark in the temple of Dagon, their god. But the next morning, they found that Dagon’s statue had fallen down before the Ark. Naturally, they returned the statue to its upright position. But the next morning, they found that the statue had toppled again; only this time, its head and hands had been broken off, too.
Thus began an almost comedic series of efforts made by the Philistines to get away from the awesome power of the LORD, whom they had inadvertently brought into their midst. The people of Ashdod sent the Ark to the city of Gath. And when God’s power began to break out against the people of Gath, they attempted to pass the Ark along to the city of Ekron. But when the people of Ekron saw the Ark approaching, they called out: “Send the Ark of the God of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.” (1 Samuel 5:11)
If nothing else, then, this story reminds us that we serve a mighty and awesome God. The idols that stand opposed to Him — the “principalities and powers” that oppress people and that attempt to impede His gracious purpose — will be toppled. But is that a message of hope…or a message of warning?
To the extent that we are living faithfully as God’s covenant people, of course, there certainly is an encouraging word to be found here. This story reminds us that even when it looks like we’ve been defeated — even when it appears that God’s abiding presence has left us and has been overcome by the powers that be — even then, God is able to defend His majesty and restore His glory in the eyes of the world.
But perhaps this story also invites us to ask: Are there idols in our own lives that need to be toppled? Have we “demoted” the abiding presence of God, making Him just a “side attraction” in a temple that’s devoted to the lesser gods that all-too-often compete for our attention and loyalty?
As we begin a new week, may we receive a fresh vision of God’s majesty and holiness. May the idols in our lives fall before Him. And may we live in such a way that the powers that oppose Him are put on notice: “Great is the Holy One of Israel among you.” (Isaiah 12:6)