[1-Samuel 5:1] AND THE PHILISTINES TOOK THE ARK OF GOD, AND BROUGHT IT FROM EBENEZER UNTO ASHDOD.
The events of this and the next chapter are referred to in the Book of Psalms:
[Psalms 78:60] SO THAT HE FORSOOK THE TABERNACLE OF SHILOH, THE TENT WHICH HE PLACED AMONG MEN; [Psalms 78:61] AND DELIVERED HIS STRENGTH INTO CAPTIVITY, AND HIS GLORY INTO THE ENEMY'S HAND.
[Psalms 78:62] HE GAVE HIS PEOPLE OVER ALSO UNTO THE SWORD; AND WAS WROTH WITH HIS INHERITANCE. [Psalms 78:63] THE FIRE CONSUMED THEIR YOUNG MEN; AND THEIR MAIDENS WERE NOT GIVEN TO MARRIAGE. [Psalms 78:64] THEIR PRIESTS FELL BY THE SWORD; AND THEIR WIDOWS MADE NO LAMENTATION.
[Psalms 78:65] THEN THE LORD AWAKED AS ONE OUT OF SLEEP, AND LIKE A MIGHTY MAN THAT SHOUTETH BY REASON OF WINE.
[Psalms 78:66] AND HE SMOTE HIS ENEMIES IN THE HINDER PARTS: HE PUT THEM TO A PERPETUAL REPROACH.
The whole of Psalm 78 may be understood as summarizing the history of the Istraelites un until the rule of King David.
[1-Samuel 5:2] WHEN THE PHILISTINES TOOK THE ARK OF GOD, THEY BROUGHT IT INTO THE HOUSE OF DAGON, AND SET IT BY DAGON.
Dagon according to the Radak was a kind of "merman" with the head and upper torso of a man and the tail of a fish. Philistine and Phoenician coins have been found depicting such a figure. Dag in Hebrew means fish. "Dagon" can connote "Little Fish" or "Like a Fish". "Dag" can also connote multitude and plenty. A word that sounds similar is "Dagen" that means "cereals" and Yehudah Kiel (Daat Mikra) says this was the source of the name of the god Dagon. In Ancient Times the god of a people was identified with that people. The Malbim quotes the Talmud as saying that the Philistines attributed their victory over Israel as the conquest of their god, Dagon, over the God of Israel.
[1-Samuel 5:3] AND WHEN THEY OF ASHDOD AROSE EARLY ON THE MORROW, BEHOLD, DAGON WAS FALLEN UPON HIS FACE TO THE EARTH BEFORE THE ARK OF THE LORD. AND THEY TOOK DAGON, AND SET HIM IN HIS PLACE AGAIN.
[1-Samuel 5:4] AND WHEN THEY AROSE EARLY ON THE MORROW MORNING, BEHOLD, DAGON WAS FALLEN UPON HIS FACE TO THE GROUND BEFORE THE ARK OF THE LORD; AND THE HEAD OF DAGON AND BOTH THE PALMS OF HIS HANDS WERE CUT OFF UPON THE THRESHOLD; ONLY THE STUMP OF DAGON WAS LEFT TO HIM.
[1-Samuel 5:5] THEREFORE NEITHER THE PRIESTS OF DAGON, NOR ANY THAT COME INTO DAGON'S HOUSE, TREAD ON THE THRESHOLD OF DAGON IN ASHDOD UNTO THIS DAY.
[1-Samuel 5:6] BUT THE HAND OF THE LORD WAS HEAVY UPON THEM OF ASHDOD, AND HE DESTROYED THEM, AND SMOTE THEM WITH EMERODS, EVEN ASHDOD AND THE COASTS THEREOF.
<<EMERODS>>: Hebrew "ofalim" or "tocherim" meaning piles (hemeroids).
[1-Samuel 5:7] AND WHEN THE MEN OF ASHDOD SAW THAT IT WAS SO, THEY SAID, THE ARK OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL SHALL NOT ABIDE WITH US: FOR HIS HAND IS SORE UPON US, AND UPON DAGON OUR GOD.
[1-Samuel 5:8] THEY SENT THEREFORE AND GATHERED ALL THE LORDS OF THE PHILISTINES UNTO THEM, AND SAID, WHAT SHALL WE DO WITH THE ARK OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL? AND THEY ANSWERED, LET THE ARK OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL BE CARRIED ABOUT UNTO GATH. AND THEY CARRIED THE ARK OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL ABOUT THITHER.
[1-Samuel 5:9] AND IT WAS SO, THAT, AFTER THEY HAD CARRIED IT ABOUT, THE HAND OF THE LORD WAS AGAINST THE CITY WITH A VERY GREAT DESTRUCTION: AND HE SMOTE THE MEN OF THE CITY, BOTH SMALL AND GREAT, AND THEY HAD EMERODS IN THEIR SECRET PARTS.
[1-Samuel 5:10] THEREFORE THEY SENT THE ARK OF GOD TO EKRON. AND IT CAME TO PASS, AS THE ARK OF GOD CAME TO EKRON, THAT THE EKRONITES CRIED OUT, SAYING, THEY HAVE BROUGHT ABOUT THE ARK OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL TO US, TO SLAY US AND OUR PEOPLE.
[1-Samuel 5:11] SO THEY SENT AND GATHERED TOGETHER ALL THE LORDS OF THE PHILISTINES, AND SAID, SEND AWAY THE ARK OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL, AND LET IT GO AGAIN TO HIS OWN PLACE, THAT IT SLAY US NOT, AND OUR PEOPLE: FOR THERE WAS A DEADLY DESTRUCTION THROUGHOUT ALL THE CITY; THE HAND OF GOD WAS VERY HEAVY THERE.
[1-Samuel 5:12] AND THE MEN THAT DIED NOT WERE SMITTEN WITH THE EMERODS: AND THE CRY OF THE CITY WENT UP TO HEAVEN.
The account of Josephus concerning the above events is interesting even though we do not necessarily agree with it. Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews -
Book VI CONTAINING THE INTERVAL OF THIRTY-TWO YEARS. FROM THE DEATH OF ELI TO THE DEATH OF SAUL. CHAPTER 1. THE DESTRUCTION THAT CAME UPON THE PHILISTINES, AND UPON THEIR LAND, BY THE WRATH OF GO ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR HAVING CARRIED THE ARK AWAY CAPTIVE; AND AFTER WHAT MANNER THEY SENT IT BACK TO THE HEBREWS.
1. WHEN the Philistines had taken the ark of the Hebrews captive, as I said a little before, they carried it to the city of Ashdod, and put it by their own god, who was called Dagon,
(1) as one of their spoils; but when they went into his temple the next morning to worship their god, they found him paying the same worship to the ark, for he lay along, as having fallen down from the basis whereon he had stood: so they took him up, and set him on his basis again, and were much troubled at what had happened; and as they frequently came to Dagon and found him still lying along, in a posture of adoration to the ark, they were in very great distress and confusion. At length God sent a very destructive disease upon the city and country of Ashdod, for they died of the dysentery or flux, a sore distemper, that brought death upon them very suddenly; for before the soul could, as usual in easy deaths, be well loosed from the body, they brought up their entrails, and vomited up what they had eaten, and what was entirely corrupted by the disease. And as to the fruits of their country, a great multitude of mice arose out of the earth and hurt them, and spared neither the plants nor the fruits. Now while the people of Ashdod were under these misfortunes, and were not able to support themselves under their calamities, they perceived that they suffered thus because of the ark, and that the victory they had gotten, and their having taken the ark captive, had not happened for their good; they therefore sent to the people of Askelon, and desired that they would receive the ark among them. This desire of the people of Ashdod was not disagreeable to those of Askelon, so they granted them that favor. But when they had gotten the ark, they were in the same miserable condition; for the ark carried along with it the disasters that the people of Ashdod had suffered, to those who received it from them. Those of Askelon also sent it away from themselves to others: nor did it stay among those others neither; for since they were pursued by the same disasters, they still sent it to the neighboring cities; so that the ark went round, after this manner, to the five cities of the Philistines, as though it exacted these disasters as a tribute to be paid it for its coming among them. ENDNOTE OF TRANSLATOR
(1) Dagon, a famous maritime god or idol, is generally supposed to have been like a man above the navel, and like a fish beneath it.
(2) Spanheim informs us here, that upon the coins of Tenedos, and those of other cities, a field-mouse is engraven, together with Apollo Smintheus, or Apollo, the driver away of field-mice, on account of his being supposed to have freed certain tracts of ground from those mice; which coins show how great a judgment such mice have sometimes been, and how the deliverance from them was then esteemed the effect of a divine power; which observations are highly suitable to this history.