Lighthouse Leader Study Guide

Date: January 29, 2017

Series: The kings & the King: A Study of 1 Samuel

1 Samuel 5:1-7:2

This Week’s Printable Resources:

Overview of this Lesson

This week in our lesson, we look at how we approach God: we look at the contrast between intimacy vs. familiarity. That’s the contrast we see in this week’s lesson from 1 Samuel 5-6. We live in a culture that has grown increasingly casual in all areas of life. (Check out of photo of the crowd at a Major League Baseball game in the 1940s or 50s and you will see the men in the crowd in suit coats and ties at a baseball game! Today, most of us wear blue jeans or “business casual” to work. Things have changed.) Unfortunately, one of the areas we can become too casual is in our relationship with God. To some He is “the big guy upstairs” or even in the church our worship can better reflect the crowd at a basketball game rather than a church worshipping a holy God. How can we be intimate with a personal Lord and Savior while still maintaining the reverence and awe that He deserves?

Memory Verse for This Week

“And he struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the LORD. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the LORD had struck the people with a great blow.”  – 1 Samuel 6:19

This Week’s Core Practice

Simplicity (Matthew 6:33): I seek to live a simple life focused on God and his priorities for my life.

This Week’s Take Home Truth

The Lord’s sovereignty over his people—over all people, places, and things—is designed to magnify his holiness and move us towards a life of the same: a holy life!


  1. When something bad happens in our culture, do you think it is attributed to “chance” or do people connect a “cause and effect”?
  1. Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?

Make sure you ask this question this week. It gives people the opportunity to discuss questions or issues that come up beyond the written questions. People’s responses can often lead into one of the questions in the “Digging Deeper” section. Also, some weeks this question will result in a lot of discussion, other weeks, not so much.

Read the Text (1 Samuel 5:1-7:2)

In this week’s text, we see the power and awe of God displayed to both the pagan Philistines and the Children of Israel. The Philistines believe they have achieved a great victory over the Hebrew God, and seek to place the Ark of God in submission to their god, Dagon. They learn some important and tragic lessons in Worship 101 concerning the Lord God. Buffeted by plagues and rats for seven months, the Philistines eagerly return the Ark to Israel along with a sin offering. As the people of Beth-Shemesh see the Ark being pulled by two cows on a cart, they gaze at the Ark, and the Lord strikes and kills 70 men. There is an important lesson for Christians in this Old Testament illustration of God’s sovereignty and His awesome holiness. Read 1 Samuel 5:1-7:2.

The Philistines and the Ark

1 When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. 3 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. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. 5 This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.

6 The hand of the Lord was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory. 7 And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for his hand is hard against us and against Dagon our god.” 8 So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” They answered, “Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought around to Gath.” So they brought the ark of the God of Israel there. 9 But after they had brought it around, the hand of the Lord was against the city, causing a very great panic, and he afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them. 10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. But as soon as the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people.” 11 They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.” For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there. 12 The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.

The Ark Returned to Israel

1 The ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months. 2 And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us with what we shall send it to its place.” 3 They said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why his hand does not turn away from you.” 4 And they said, “What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?” They answered, “Five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines, for the same plague was on all of you and on your lords. 5 So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you and your gods and your land. 6 Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away, and they departed? 7 Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. 8 And take the ark of the Lord and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way 9 and watch. If it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth-shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm, but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it happened to us by coincidence.”

10 The men did so, and took two milk cows and yoked them to the cart and shut up their calves at home. 11 And they put the ark of the Lord on the cart and the box with the golden mice and the images of their tumors. 12 And the cows went straight in the direction of Beth-shemesh along one highway, lowing as they went. They turned neither to the right nor to the left, and the lords of the Philistines went after them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh. 13 Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. And when they lifted up their eyes and saw the ark, they rejoiced to see it. 14 The cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh and stopped there. A great stone was there. And they split up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. 15 And the Levites took down the ark of the Lord and the box that was beside it, in which were the golden figures, and set them upon the great stone. And the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices on that day to the Lord. 16 And when the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned that day to Ekron.

17 These are the golden tumors that the Philistines returned as a guilt offering to the Lord: one for Ashdod, one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron, 18 and the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both fortified cities and unwalled villages. The great stone beside which they set down the ark of the Lord is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh. 19 And he struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the Lord. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great blow. 20 Then the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall he go up away from us?” 21 So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the Lord. Come down and take it up to you.”

1 And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord and brought it to the house of Abinadab on the hill. And they consecrated his son Eleazar to have charge of the ark of the Lord. 2 From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.

Digging Deeper

In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions. Remember, if you are hearing from everyone in your group, chances are you won’t have to time to discuss every question. You may start with one that catches your attention so you don’t run out of time. For example, it’s not odd to start with Question #6, then go to Question #5 and if you have time come back to Question #4.

  1. Who was Dagon to the Philistines?

Dagon was a god worshiped in upper Mesopotamia. We first see Dagon mentioned in connection with the Canaanites, but ultimately the Bible recognizes Dagon as the national deity of the Philistines. Dagon is usually identified as the grain god. The Philistine word for grain was dāg̱ān. There is also evidence that Dagon may have been worshipped as a storm-god, for the Arabic word dagana means “to be gloomy, cloudy.”

The Philistines held Dagon in high esteem. He was served by priests in his temple constructed in the Philistine city of Ashdod. When Saul dies at the end of 1 Samuel, the Philistines cut off his head and bring it to Dagon at his temple in Ashdod.

  1. Why did the Philistines worship Dagon?

Unless you were born and raised in Africa or Asia, you have a western mindset. It’s very difficult for us to understand or appreciate paganism. As westerners, we see the world through the lens of logic, reason, and religion. When we talk or reason about spiritual topics, we do so from a philosophical perspective.

Those born in Africa or Asia see the world through a more animistic mindset. Rather than see things within a logical or philosophical lens, they see through a more spiritual/superstitious lens. Consequently, within African and Eastern religions, all of creation is spiritual and has influence over the world of man… work, harvest, beauty, fertility, weather, the sun, the moon, birds, trees, etc. Every element of creation has a spirit and interacts in good and negative ways with mankind.

The Philistines were no different in their view of the world and in their worship of Dagon. Yet, they also believed in multiple gods with multiple personaliles, and the role of man is to offer worship and service to the gods in order to appease them and to avoid the natural catastrophes that the gods could rain down upon them if they displeased the god.

So, if you want an abundance of food, you must worship/appease the grain god—Dagon—and he will give you an abundant harvest. If you don’t appease Dagon, he will bring a poor harvest and you will starve.

  1. Why did the Philistines place the Ark of the Covenant in front of Dagon? What does this demonstrate about their worldview?

The question the Philistines would ask is not which god is true—they all are true—but which god is most powerful and most useful.

This explains what is happening in 1 Samuel 5:1-5. The Philistines wanted to demonstrate that Dagon was the more powerful god and so they placed the Ark of the Lord in front of Dagon to show the submissiveness of Yahweh before Dagon.

It’s important to understand this distinction. The Philistines never questioned the reality of Yahweh, the God of Israel, they just believed that in defeat, he was less powerful than Dagon, and they wanted to demonstrate that Yahweh was inferior to their god, Dagon.

  1. What does the destruction of Dagon’s statue tell us about the God of Israel?

First, false gods depend on mankind to survive. The Lord demonstrates to the Philistines that their god is not only powerless, but useless. When they discover the statue of Dagon lying on the floor in the morning, they must stand the statue up, it is powerless to help itself.

Second, God is fully capable of defending Himself. He doesn’t need the Israelites to do His fighting for Him. God is all-powerful and self-sufficient. This is a stark contrast to the false gods that surrounded the land of Israel.

  1. How do Christians God fall guilty of a pagan mindset similar to the Philistines?

As we noted last week, we can be guilty of presuming upon God the same mindset that the pagans are guilty of when they approach their gods. This is often communicated through thinking that says, “we are God’s hands… we are God’s feet.” In other words, God cannot accomplish His mission in this world without us. He is waiting off in the background somewhere for the church and for Christians to go and bring the gospel to the lost. This is pagan thinking. When we arrogantly assume that God is incapable of accomplishing His mission without us, we cast God in the image of Dagon.

  1. Why did God strike and kill 70 men in 1 Samuel 6:19?

The text tells us in plain language: “And he struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the LORD. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the LORD had struck the people with a great blow.”[1]

This tells us what God did, but doesn’t really touch on the why.

The Ark of the Covenant was a part of the tabernacle furniture that was created during the time of Moses. In constructing the tabernacle, the Lord gave clear, specific instructions about how the tabernacle and its furnishings were to be handled. These were sacred, holy artifacts.

Commentator Dale Ralph Davis explains what happened in 1 Samuel 6:19:

English versions that follow the Hebrew text almost uniformly render: “because they looked into the ark of Yahweh” (cf. NIV, TEV, RSV, NASB). But the grammatical combination (Hebrew verb plus following preposition) means to “look/gaze at,” not “look into.” The offense was not in lifting the lid of the ark and looking inside but in looking or gazing at—we might say inspecting—the ark. (Was it not appropriately covered when it arrived and/or did the Levites not cover it? We cannot know.) In any case, the activity flew in the face of the regulations Yahweh had given for the tabernacle furniture in Numbers 4:1-20. Not even the Kohathites (the Levite group entrusted with transporting the holy tabernacle furniture) were permitted to go in and look at the sacred furniture; Aaron and his sons must properly cover it (Num. 4:17-20). After covering the furniture, Aaron and his sons were to assign each of the Kohathites to his specific task. It was all a provision of mercy—Yahweh did not want the Kohathites to die. So (back to 1 Samuel 6) when the Beth-shemesh men violate the sanctity of the ark they suffer the penalty Yahweh had previously announced.[2]

  1. What does this tragic illustration of man and God’s holiness teach us?

Obviously, we are not confronted with chance meetings with the Ark of the Covenant today. There’s no need to caution our children to “not gaze at the Ark of the Covenant if you see it being pulled into Bondurant or Ankeny on a cart.”

Still, we can be guilty of the same sin for which God struck down the men of Beth-Shemesh: irreverence.

In many ways, Christians today have become too familiar with the holiness of God and too casual in their relationship with Him. This is symptomatic our culture, which has become much more casual in all areas of life, including our worship.

When I was a child growing up, I could expect to experience the wrath of my mother if I placed a glass or some other object on the Bible sitting on the table. This was God’s Word, and we did not set anything on top of it.

That is just a very simple example of how we have grown familiar with our Lord. Prohibitions against placing something on the Bible seem really out-of-fashion.

One of the characteristics of the Pharisees at the time of Jesus was that they had become calloused and irreverent to the things of God. Their pride had caused them to harden their hearts to the point that they no longer recognized God’s Word or God’s movement in their midst.

Jonathan Edwards observed that a people who display an absence of “godly fear” points to a people with a clear lack of knowledge of God.

In Deuteronomy 4:6, Moses said to the people of Israel, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—10 how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’” (Deut. 4:9-10).

The fear of the Lord is at the heart of worship. Sometimes, I think we confuse intimacy with familiarity, but they are different. We can strive for intimacy with our Holy God, but be cautious of familiarity and irreverence. Davis describes this balance: “Intimacy is able to call him “Father” and tremble at the same time–and as we tremble, we know we are loved!”

Concluding Thoughts

These questions are given to prompt both reflection and learning on a personal level, and should likely be completed individually and apart from your regular group time.

  1. Looking back at this week’s teaching and study, what’s the most important thing to remember?
  1. In what concrete ways can you show respect and reverence for God and His Word?
  1. What is one way you could model the fear of the Lord for your friends or children?





[1] There is a discrepancy in the number reported in verse 19. Davis explains, “the traditional Hebrew text records 50,070 (see NASB), or, literally, “seventy men, fifty thousand men.” However, since the “fifty thousand men” is missing in some Hebrew manuscripts and since the population of the village of Beth-shemesh could not have been so numerous, it is better to read “seventy men” as do most modern versions.” [Dale Ralph Davis, Focus on the Bible Commentary – 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 65.]

[2] Dale Ralph Davis, Focus on the Bible Commentary – 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 65.