In my daily reading I have been in 1 Samuel and I love the story of in 1 Samuel 5. In chapter 2 we read about God's rejection of Eli's household. Eli's sons were shysters and he did not restrain them. In chapter 3 we read of the call of Samuel's call. Chapter 4 is where the story I love begins. Israel goes and fights against the Philistines who defeat them handily. The people think, "Ah, God wasn't with us in battle. We better go get the ark of the covenant and some priests to go with us next time. Then we'll win for sure." Things, however, do not go according to plan. Israel is routed, Hophni and Phinehas (Eli's sons) are killed and worse yet, the ark is captured. When a messenger brings news to Eli he is so overcome he falls out of his chair "and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy" (1 Sam 4:18).
In chapter 5 we are taken to Ashdod where the Philistines bring the captured ark and set it up in the house of Dagon. I'm not sure if they set it up as a trophy or as an object of worship alongside Dagon - doesn't really matter. Read 5:3, "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". Oops. Bring in the Dagon lifters! Grab some rope and pulleys, lets set our god back up - and someone, wipe off his face, its all dirty.
Read on, 5:4, "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." What now?! Send the ark to someone else. Get it the heck out of Dodge, that's what. (Does it strike you as odd that they would send the ark away. It does me. I mean Dagon was obviously an inferior god who was powerless before YHWH. Why keep worshiping him? Why not embrace the God of Israel - he's shown you he is superior to Dagon? Maybe because we like our safe domesticated gods?)Interestingly, no matter where it went it caused disease and pestilence. Finally the Philistines decide they better return it to Israel (chapter 6 has some very interesting points as well - 70 Israelites are 'struck down' for looking into the ark').
Reading this devotionaly, what do I take from it? First, it's an awesome (as in awe inspiring, fear provoking) reminder that God brooks no rivals. Second, it's a reminder that the LORD is no petty regional God. He's not the God of the Hebrews only but of all things and all peoples. Third, we learn that God is indeed to be feared and that we must approach God on his terms (the 70 Israelites were struck down because they forgot this and became to familiar with GOD). All of this together is an urgent reminder of utter necessity of approaching God through and only through Jesus Christ. No alternative ways are open to us. There are rival ways, but God demands we come on his terms - through Christ. And this isn't a truth that is limited to the Christian West (can we really even say that anymore?). Indeed, as the story shows God demands all people come on his terms. His sovereignty is not limited to a certain ethnic, geographic group - nor is his love and mercy. Throughout the Old Testament there are these hints that God is not merely the God of the Jews, he is the Lord of All. We see hints that he will one day be worshiped by all nations, judge all peoples, etc. This is another story that points us in that direction. It is a theme picked up on by NT writers and made even more explicit. It reaches it culmination in Revelation 7:9-12:
"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”