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“O Dagon, Where Is Your Victory?”

1 Samuel 5:1 – 6:12

July 8, 2018

Faith Presbyterian Church – Morning Service

Pr. Nicoletti


We’ll be looking at 1 Samuel 5:1-6:12 this morning, but before we do, I want to put it into some context for us.


We live in an age of doubt … an age of religious uncertainty.


One of the points that Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor makes in his important work A Secular Age is that people today experience religious doubt and uncertainty in ways that are different than people 500 years ago … or even just a few generations ago might have experienced it.


Five hundred years ago, most people in the Western world naively believed in the Christian God. By saying that their belief was naïve, Taylor doesn’t mean that the content of what they believed was wrong – but he’s saying that the nature of their belief was such that they didn’t have to wrestle with it that much or work hard to arrive at it. It could, in a sense, be taken for granted. A European 500 years ago might know of rivals to the Christian God – the god of the Muslims, or the old pagan gods for example – but for most, those gods remained distant and abstract, and associated with people who seemed strange and “other” to them. In the life of the typical European 500 years ago, the Christian God had no real rivals. And so, belief in the Christian God was almost taken as a given. One could be not only a naïve theist, but a naïve Christian – a Christian who could live out the Christian faith without much critical reflection over why they believed what they believed. One who could go through life without their religious beliefs ever being seriously questioned or challenged. [Taylor, 12-14]


That is, of course, no longer what our culture is like. The era of naïve religious faith has come to an end. [Taylor, 19]


If the rivals to the Christian God were distant and abstract to the average person in the Western world 500 years ago, what are the relationships between those rivals like now?


Taylor puts it like this, he says: “We live in a condition where we cannot help but be aware that there are a number of different construals [of reality], views which intelligent, reasonably undeluded people, of good will, can and do disagree on. We cannot help looking over our shoulder from time to time, looking sideways, living our faith also in a condition of doubt and uncertainty.” [Taylor, 11]


He goes on: “I may find it inconceivable that I would abandon my faith, but there are others, including possibly some very close to me, whose way of living I cannot in all honesty just dismiss as depraved, or blind, or unworthy; who have no faith.” Or, we might add, who have faith in a very different God than mine. Taylor goes on: “Belief in God,” or we might say, in the Christian God, “is no longer [self-evident to people]. There are alternatives. And this will also likely mean that at least in certain milieu, it may be hard to sustain one’s faith. There will be people who feel bound to give it up, even though they mourn the loss. This has been a recognizable experience in our societies, at least since the mid-nineteenth century. There will be many others to whom faith never even seems an eligible possibility. There are certainly millions today of whom this is true.” [Taylor, 3]


Taylor’s point is that the Christian God has rivals in our culture. And for many, one of those rivals seems much stronger to them than the Christian God does. Of course, that also means that every perspective has rivals to it. The Christian must wrestle with doubts about the Christian God as he encounters that God’s rivals on a day-to-day basis, but the atheist must also wrestle with doubts about his atheism, as he encounters rival perspectives around him on a day-to-day basis. We no longer live in a culture in which there is a consensus about the ultimate questions of human life. Instead, we live in one that more resembles a chaotic market place … or maybe more accurately, an arena … in which rival gods and perspectives compete for our trust and belief. That is the world we live in.


What does that look like for you? How do you experience that reality in our world?


If you are a Christian, what rivals do you most often come face-to-face with: in your co-workers, in your friends, in your family members, in what you read, or watch, or listen to? Which rivals are you most often confronted with? And how do you tend to respond?


And for the non-Christian: What rivals do you most often encounter that oppose your beliefs, and how do you tend to respond to them? If you’re here this morning, you’ve clearly at least come into contact with the Christian God as a rival to your beliefs. How do you sort out that rivalry in your mind? Do you sometimes allow yourself to doubt your doubt?


For Christians, we might say that if we look at the lay of the land, if we look at our culture, whether here in the Pacific Northwest, or in our nation as a whole, the Christian God does not seem to be faring particularly well in the arena. It’s a general consensus that our culture has become and is becoming a post-Christian culture. And so, as we look at the arena, as different rival views of the universe face off there, as different gods and perspectives seem to go head-to-head, it can seem as if the Christian God is … well … losing. It can appear as if other gods, other perspectives, are more powerful. And we can feel that in a number of ways.


We can feel it socially, as the people and the culture around us seem to testify to the greater strength of a rival god or perspective.


We can feel it emotionally, when we struggle in some area of our lives and we hear that voice in our minds that asks if maybe some other perspective makes more sense of our experience, of our pain.


We can feel it intellectually, when, even when we do the hard work of thinking through our faith, we see so many people who are smarter than we are, believing something so different … and we ask “Have I deluded myself? … Maybe I am wrong …”


We live in a culture in which, for an increasing number of people, the Christian God looks like he’s being conquered … or like he’s already been conquered.


A non-Christian may draw from this observation further assurance that she is right in her unbelief in this God. Progress is moving us forward. The Christian God has had his day, but we are maturing past him. Like it or not, a new perspective will win out, and the Christian God will go the way of history.


And for Christians, we may look on wondering what to make of the pattern. If the Christian God is real, if he is the truth, why does he seem to be losing to his rivals? Why does he seem to be conquered?


This is, in many ways, the same question an Israelite might have been asking in our text this morning.


Because, unlike the Western Christians 500 years ago whom Taylor takes as his point of comparison for our condition today, it has not actually been the norm for God’s people to be able to be naïve believers, surrounded by a world that confirms their unexamined Christian faith. It has of course come close to that from time to time. But God’s people have spent much of their history in cultures that were arenas of rival gods, and in which their God appeared to be more the conquered than the conqueror.


And the situation in 1 Samuel 5 is one of those times.


If you remember what proceeded our text this morning, what we looked at last week, in 1 Samuel 4, Israel has gone to war with the Philistines.


But in their setting war was not understood as just a battle between two groups of people. It was understood as a battle between the rival gods of each of those people. Which is part of what led the Israelites to bring the ark of the covenant into battle, as the ark was considered the throne of their God – the God of the Israelites, Yahweh, the Christian God. They bring the ark, the throne of their God, into battle with them, so that their God might fight for them, and against both the Philistines and the Philistine’s rival god, Dagon. That is their strategy in 1 Samuel 4.


And for a variety of reasons, which we talked about last Lord’s Day, God, Yahweh, allowed Israel to be defeated, and he allowed his throne, and so in some sense his special presence, to be taken into captivity by the Philistines.


That is where our story picks up this morning.


When we rejoin the ark, we will see the Philistines taking it and placing it in the temple of Dagon, as a sort of “prisoner of war” of Dagon.


And as we get ready to hear our text, we should appreciate what this would have been like for the average Israelite. To the average Israelite, it must have looked as if Yahweh (the Hebrew name for the God of Israel), had been defeated by Dagon, the god of the Philistines. It must have looked to them as if Dagon was actually more powerful than Yahweh.


And so, the average Israelite must have had a lot of questions. His Scriptures had told him that Yahweh was the all-powerful God, the maker of heaven and earth. But now that God appeared to be defeated by Dagon and Dagon’s people. What did that mean? Was what he had been taught a lie? If Yahweh was the true God of the universe, how could he now appear to be defeated by his rival?


Those are the kind of questions an Israelite faced in our text in the Ancient Near East in the 11th century BC. And they’re not that different from the questions many of us find ourselves wrestling with today.


So, with that in mind, let’s turn to our text, 1 Samuel 5:1-6:12 …


5:1 When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and 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 Yahweh. So, they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of Yahweh, 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. 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.

The hand of Yahweh was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory.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.” 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. But after they had brought it around, the hand of Yahweh 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.

6:1 The ark of Yahweh was in the country of the Philistines seven months. And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of Yahweh? Tell us with what we shall send it to its place.” 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.” 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. 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. 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? 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. And take the ark of Yahweh 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 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 Yahweh 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.


This is God’s Word.


What we see in our text this morning is that Yahweh, the God of Israel, was victorious over his rivals through what looked at first like his defeat.


And that process takes three stages.


What is important to remember is that when our text begins, Yahweh already appeared conquered. Yahweh appeared to be conquered by Dagon, conquered by the Philistines, and then carried off as a captive slave into Philistia. What we see happen in our text is that Yahweh takes on Dagon, Yahweh takes on the Philistines, and then Yahweh rides out of a Philistia like a victorious conqueror. Let’s take those three movements in our text one at a time.


First, Yahweh faces off with Dagon. We see that in chapter five, verses one through five.


Yahweh, or the ark of Yahweh, which was associated with his presence, is taken into Dagon’s temple. Yahweh, through his ark, might be brought there to join their pantheon, as a sort of captive God, who is now expected to serve at Dagon and the Philistines’ direction, but more likely he is being taken there as an act of humiliation. Yahweh has been conquered by Dagon, and now he is led captive, to be held prisoner in the presence of Dagon, his conqueror. [Jordan; Leithart, 61; Alter, 27]


But that picture doesn’t last very long. When the Philistines return to the temple the next morning, Dagon has bowed down before Yahweh. William Tyndale creatively translates it that when they came in in the morning, Dagon “lay groveling upon the ground” before the Ark. [Alter, 27] Dagon appears to be bowing before the God of gods. [Leithart, 61] But, of course, maybe it’s all a mistake. There are plenty of natural reasons why Dagon’s statue might have fallen over. [Alter, 78] So the men lift Dagon up … though the fact that Dagon had to be lifted by them gives some reminder of what his strength really is. [Jordan]


But then they come back the next morning and Dagon is not just on the ground, his head and his hands are cut off and lying on the threshold of the temple. Besides the obvious destruction to the idol of Dagon, what is going on here? – what does this mean?


Well, it means a few things.


First, one commentator notes that the fact that Dagon’s head and hands were on the threshold of the temple give the appearance that he was trying to get out. The picture is of Yahweh’s rival not only bowing before him and recognizing his superiority as before, but now also trying to escape Yahweh’s presence, lest he be destroyed. [Jordan]


But if that is the appearance, no escape was made. Because the next piece of meaning in Dagon’s demise was that he was an executed prisoner of war. Robert Alter notes that cutting off the head and hands of condemned prisoners of war was a well-known practice in the ancient Near East. The message would have been clear to the Philistines who showed up at the temple that second morning: They thought Dagon had taken Yahweh prisoner. But in fact, Yahweh had captured Dagon in his own temple, had passed sentence on him, and had carried out his execution. While Dagon could not even stand himself up, Yahweh could capture, sentence, and execute his rival. [Alter, 28; Davis, 60]


So first, Yahweh conquers Dagon.


Second, Yahweh takes on the Philistines, the people of Dagon. That is described in chapter five, verses six through twelve. We don’t know for certain the nature of the plague God put on the Philistines. They suffered from some sort of lethal growths or swelling, and the land was also infested with mice. One interesting interpretation of this is that the mice are actually a reference to rats, and that what’s being described here is the bubonic plague. It’s interesting, but we don’t know for sure. [Alter, 28; Jordan. Finch, 98-100 argues for a non-bubonic-plague interpretation]


In any case, the Philistines were brought low. The Philistines, who a chapter earlier were confident that they could defeat the God of Israel if they just fought harder, are now sick and dying with some sort of illness, while their fields and land are infested with destructive rodents.


And even in this they would have been reminded of the defeat of Dagon. Dagon was likely considered a god of grain. And as mice infested their fields and destroyed their grain, they saw again Yahweh’s defeat of Dagon. [Firth, 98]


So, second, Yahweh defeats the Philistines.


And now third, Yahweh rides out of Philistia victorious. Remembering the lesson of the Egyptians, the Philistines decide to send Yahweh away. A few things are worth noting here. First, the Philistines know they are guilty before Yahweh, and so make a guilt offering [Leithart, 63]. The nature of the offerings might be strange to us, and foreign to the ceremonial law of Yahweh, but their intention seems relatively sincere. They are acknowledging their defeat by Yahweh, making images of how he defeated them, and asking for him to relent.


But even so, they set up a difficult test to confirm that it really was Yahweh who had afflicted them, and that it wasn’t all a coincidence. First, they put the ark on a cart with no driver – no one to steer it back to Israel, making it very unlikely any team of oxen would bring it to the right place. Second, we read in chapter six, verse seven, that they chose two cows who had never worn a yoke before – they were completely untrained in pulling a cart like this, and so all we should expect them to do is just stand there. And third, they chose milking cows with young calves, whom they shut up at home. To abandon their calf would go strongly against the biological drives and instincts of these cows. [Alter, 31-32; Jordan]


We should expect the cart to go nowhere. But instead the cows bring that cart straight to the Levitical Israelite city of Beth-shemesh. While Dagon could not even stand himself up without help, Yahweh is able to return to Israel himself, driving his own cart rather than being directed by anyone else [Alter, 32-33], returning to his land “like a hero returning from war” [Leithart, 63-64]


What we see in our text is that the Yahweh, the God of Israel, was victorious over his rivals through what looked at first like his defeat.


And our text also gives us a hint – a detail to think about – that should remind us that this pattern was not a one-time thing.


We should pause at the fact that Dagon’s head was struck. Because that’s an indication that this event is a part of something much bigger. [Leithart, 62]


The first rival to the one true God shows up in the third chapter of the Bible – Genesis, chapter three. There Satan, speaking through a serpent, encourages our first parents to doubt God’s word, and to trust his instead – to trust the word of Satan, God’s true rival. And they do. Sin and death enter the world. Satan’s rivalry against God has gained a following. And every rival since that first rebellion has been just one more manifestation of that root rival, Satan.


God then stands in judgment on humanity, telling them what will come from their embracing of this rival. And after that, God curses Satan, and pronounces his downfall. But he does it in an unexpected way. God proclaims how, through the seed of the woman, Satan’s head will be crushed, even though Satan will bruise the heel of the one who defeats him.


In 1 Samuel 4-6 we see that pattern play out. Yahweh appears to be defeated. But in the end, it is Dagon, the rival, the follower of the First Rival, Satan, who ends up on the ground with his head struck. God’s apparent defeat, the bruising of his heel, is the means by which his rival’s head is crushed.


But in many ways God’s work in this pattern in 1 Samuel 4-6 was only a prelude to the real thing. Dagon of course was not the root rival of God – just one more manifestation.


Eleven centuries later, on a hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus Christ, Yahweh incarnate, crushed the head of Satan, his first rival.


To all who looked on, it was Christ who appeared to be defeated. Even to Satan he must have appeared to be conquered. But as Satan seemed to close in on Jesus in victory, as he inspired Judas to betray him, and orchestrated his arrest and sentence, as he and his servant death closed in on Jesus as Jesus hung on the cross, just as he was confident that this was his great moment of triumph, this was the moment he had worked for, this was the defeat of God, and the true victory of Satan … there, in the death of Jesus, Satan found himself, like Dagon, suddenly face-to-face with the maker of heaven and earth. And right in the moment that looked like his greatest triumph, he was suddenly cast down. His power was taken from him, just as Dagon’s hands were cut off [Leithart, 62] and his head was crushed. Satan had been defeated through the cross.


[For this pattern applied to Christ’s defeat of death, see Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation, § 19, 22, 24, 27, 29]


Through what looked like his defeat, Christ, the Son of God, had conquered his rivals.


And having conquered Satan, and sin, and death, he returned to his people victorious – miraculously rising from the dead, returning as a conquering king, just as he had returned to his people centuries earlier, driving the cart carrying the ark.


Jesus’s ultimate victory over his enemies, sin, death and Satan, came in his death and resurrection, when he left Satan crushed and defeated, just as he had left Dagon.


Now, of course, all Christ’s rivals did not vanish from the earth after his death, resurrection, and defeat of Satan. But at that moment, their end was sure. They had no power before him. And ever since then God has been working in history to take down his rivals. And at the last day, when Christ returns, they will all be done away with forever.


What then does this mean for us today?


Let me start with what it means for the non-Christian.


If you’re not a Christian I’d encourage you to meditate at some point today on the Philistines, both in our text, and beyond our text.


It’s worth noting that the Philistines saw all that they saw of Yahweh in this text and experienced all that they experienced. But we are given no indication that they rejected Dagon and turned instead to Yahweh. [Davis, 64] Instead, almost 20 years later, when Samson faces the Philistines again, he will find them gathered again in the temple of Dagon. [Leithart, 36]


Yahweh exposed for the Philistines how weak Dagon was and how misplaced their trust in him was. They had doubted Yahweh’s power and Yahweh had given them incredibly good reasons to doubt their former doubts. But Dagon was comfortable. Dagon was what they knew. Dagon would not challenge them. Continuing to follow Dagon would not cost them anything, whereas following Yahweh would require them to reorient their lives.


What we choose to believe is often not as much a matter of information, and reason, and well arrived at conclusions about the nature of the world, as it is a function of the fact that we believe what we want to believe.


At some point, if he hasn’t already, Jesus Christ, Yahweh incarnate, will expose the cracks in your view of the world. He will show you that your trust and belief is misplaced. And at some point, he will push you to see that your doubt of him is more based on preference than truth.


The question is what you will do when that time comes. Will you allow yourself to see the cracks in your beliefs – the broken head and hands of your alternative god? Will you allow yourself to doubt your doubts about Jesus Christ, the God of the Bible? Or will you, like the Philistines, brush it aside, pick up your fallen god, glue his head and hands back on, turn your back on Christ, and return to what is familiar? That is the question our text has for you.


Finally, then, what does this mean for the Christian?


As we look around us, in our post-Christian culture, other world-views, other gods (be they spiritual or secular), can seem to dominate. And as we see that, as we live in that, we struggle with doubt.


But as we’ve said, this is a familiar situation for God’s people to find themselves in. And every time they have, the outcome has been the same.


In the 11th century BC, it was Dagon who for a time seemed to dominate the world around God’s people.


In the 9th century BC, it was Baal who seemed to so many of God’s people to be superior to their own God.


In the 1st century AD it was the Roman gods, whom everyone around them worshipped, and who seemed to run the known Roman world.


In those ages, and in so many others, the God of Israel, the God of Jesus Christ seemed to be dominated, and even conquered by his rivals – rivals which had been embraced by the world.


But in every case, today virtually no one worships those gods any longer. Find a believer in Zeus. Find a worshipper of Baal. Find a devotee of Dagon.


All have fallen. All have been cast down. Their heads have been crushed and their power has been taken from them.


But the God of Israel remains.


We tend to act as if the rivals of our day are somehow different – the rival religions or the rival secular worldviews. We act as if they will endure forever – or at least until Christ returns. But such a view is both theologically and historically naïve.


Theologically, our God casts down his rivals again and again. Why would he make an exception for the rivals of our day? What makes them any more special than Dagon or Baal?


Historically, look over the graveyard of abandoned deities and worldviews. Do you think the rivals of our day will somehow manage to escape their day of burial there?


Today’s rivals can feel strong. But reflection leads to serious doubt that they can endure.


Consider, for example, the non-demanding non-opinionated non-intrusive god so many in our culture assume must be the true god, if any god exists at all.


A god who never asks anything of us. A god who has no opinions on what we do with our lives. A god who would never call us to account for our actions. A god who always agrees with us. The fragility of such a god becomes apparent with just a little inspection – which is why the best way to follow this god is to not inspect it too closely.


But the thing is that I know that what I need from the most important humans in my life are that they be real people, different from me: People who call me out when I am selfish. People who are willing to expect things from me, or even demand things of me. People who tell me when they think I am wrong and try to change my mind. That is true of a good parent, for example. It is true of a good spouse. It is true of a good friend. How much more, then, would it be true of a good God?


The non-demanding god of our day is not a god who can help us. It’s not a god who can stand up to the trials, and the struggles, and the pain, and the evil of this world. And it is therefore not a god who will endure.


Or consider one other rival to the Christian God that seems strong in our day: The view that the physical world is all that really exists: Neo-Darwinian Materialism. It’s proponents, the New Atheists and others, proclaim its power. It seems to be assumed in so many parts of society. But its downfall is already in progress – and not only from the efforts of Christians, but even from the work of nonbelievers.


I’ve mentioned before that my favorite book on materialism is Thomas Nagal’s Mind and Cosmos. The subtitle is “Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.”


Nagal, a world-renowned philosopher at NYU, a non-Christian and a non-theist, argues philosophically against the materialistic worldview throughout the book. His arguments are powerful, though I don’t have time to get into them now.


But his conclusion is especially striking. After arguing for the rejection of the materialistic worldview, he makes a prediction in the last sentences of the book, writing “I would be willing to bet that the present […] consensus will come to seem laughable in a generation or two – though of course it may be replaced by a new consensus that is just as invalid. The human will to believe is inexhaustible.” [Nagel, 128]


Nagel thinks that the dominant materialistic worldview of our culture will come be seen as laughable in a generation or two. His arguments throughout his book could convince one that he is right. But even without reading his arguments, history should convince you that he is right, as dominant worldview after dominant worldview from the past now seem laughable to us today. But beyond even history, our theology should convince you that he is right. For we serve the God who throws down his rivals.


Of course this process doesn’t usually come in a straightforward way. It didn’t in the days of 1 Samuel, it didn’t in the days of Christ’s ministry, and it likely won’t today either. Our God conquers through his apparent defeat. So we should not be surprised if he appears to be losing. That is when his enemies should be most worried.


Most of you have seen it dozens, or even hundreds of times, but if you look at the symbol on the cover of your bulletin, you will see the Victor’s Cross. As the explanation in the bulletin says, the IC is an abbreviation for Jesus, the XC is an abbreviation for Christ, and the NIKA means “He Conquers”. The words are written around the cross, and the symbol is placed inside a circle, representing the world. It is a monthly reminder to us that “Jesus Christ Conquers the World Through the Cross.”


What does that mean for us as Christians? Well, of course there is work to be done for Christ’s kingdom. But that’s not really the focus of this text, and so maybe that shouldn’t be our focus right now either.


The focus of our text is that Yahweh, that Christ, that the God of the Bible will in fact conquer all his rivals. We may be soldiers in his army, but he doesn’t need us in order to throw down his enemies.


Our calling often is, as the calling of the faithful Israelite would have been in our text, to trust and persevere. To trust that even when he looks defeated, our God will be victorious. To trust, when we see Christ or Christ’s people walking in the pattern of the cross, that through it Christ will conquer the world.


We don’t know the timing of each action God will take. It was seven months in Philistia for the ark, three days in the tomb for Christ – who knows on what timeline he will work on in our culture. Our calling is to trust him, to persevere, and to look for his work. Our calling is that when the non-Christian world seems to have conquered our God – to have captured the ark or crucified the messiah – our calling then is to trust in his coming victory. To know that he is God. To remember that he conquers through the cross. Our calling is to stand at the edge of Beth-shemesh looking for his victorious arrival. Our calling is to wait near the tomb in Jerusalem, looking for his glorious resurrection.


Anticipating his victory – and anxious to see his triumph. That is the hopeful expectation we are called to, as servants of the God who conquers the world through the cross.



This sermon draws on material from:

Alter, Robert. The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999.

Athanasius, On the Incarnation. Translated by John Behr. Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001.

Davis, Dale Ralph. I Samuel: Looking on the Heart. Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2000.

Firth, David G. 1 & 2 Samuel. Apollos Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009.

Jordan, James B. Lecture 6 of the lecture series “Books of 1-2 Samuel.” ( )

Leithart, Peter J. A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003.

Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.