Poole on 1 Samuel 5:1, 2: The Ark of God in the Hall of Dagon

Verse 1:[1] And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it (1 Sam. 4:1; 7:12) from Eben-ezer unto Ashdod.



[They took the Ark of God] I believe, with enormous joy (Mendoza). Question: Why did not the Philistines touching the Ark die, just like the Israelites? Reponse: Either, 1. Because, just as God bestows better things upon His familiars and domestics, so, if they offend, He inflicts greater punishment upon them. Hence Uzzah, allowing the Ark to be carried on a cart, was killed, 2 Samuel 6:7; not likewise the Philistines placing it on a cart, 1 Samuel 6:11. Peter killed sacrilegious Ananias, Acts 5:5; not likewise Simon, Acts 8:20. That is, little was expected from foreigners, but much from him as a domestic (Mendoza out of Theodoret and Procopius). Or rather, 2. That law concerning not touching the Ark had regard to Israelites alone. Whence the Philistines touching the Ark were not punished, because they did not contract guilt (Mendoza out of Tostatus).


The Philistines took the ark, etc.: Question: Why were not they immediately killed, who touched the ark, as afterwards Uzzah was? 2 Samuel 6:7. Answer: First, Because the sin of the Philistines was not so great, because the law forbidding this was not given, or at least was not known to them; whereas Uzzah’s fact was a transgression, and that of a known law. Secondly, Because God designed to reserve the Philistines for a more public and more shameful punishment, which had been prevented by this.



[From the rock of help] From Eben-ezer.[2] How was this done? For the camp was there, 1 Samuel 4:1, but the Ark had proceeded from the camp to the battle line. Response: Either the Ark remained in the camp, with the sons of Eli fearing to bring it into danger: or, with the risk of the battle growing, it was recalled by them to the camp; or rather the entire location of the battle was called the rock of help from its more well known boundary (Mendoza).


From Eben-ezer; where they found it in the camp of the Israelites, 1 Samuel 4:1.


[Unto Azotus] Why there? Response: Either because it was the first place to which those returning would come; or because it was the most powerful city; or because it was containing a famous temple of Dagon; with God permitting this, so that His triumph over idolatry might be all the more illustrious to faith (Mendoza). In this the fourth Venus or Astarte was worshipped in a singular manner (Masius on Joshua[3] 15:47).


Ashdod, called also Azotus; whither they brought it, either because it was the first city in their way, or rather because it was a great and famous city, and most eminent for the worship of their great god Dagon.


Verse 2:[4] When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of (Judg. 16:23) Dagon, and set it by Dagon.



[And they brought it into the temple of Dagon, and set it next to Dagon] To what end, it is not evident. Whether for an affront, as an accursed thing: or rather for worship (Piscator)? 1. Some maintain that this was done for the honor of Dagon (thus Lapide, Martyr, Tirinus, Lyra, Procopius and Josephus in Mendoza, Augustine in Lapide). They present the captive Ark to their Dagon, like the spolia opima[5] to Jupiter Feretrius[6] (Martyr). There is no doubt that they ascribed the victory to Dagon, as they did in Judges 16 (Menochius). [To others this is not satisfying.] That place does not appear suitable for spoils, or for a conquered enemy, because it was consecrated to the victor, and in it divine honor was paid by others (Sanchez). The Gentiles were fixing spoils to the doors of their Temples. Virgil’s Æneid 7:


And in addition there were many weapons on the sacred posts;

Captured chariots and curved axes hang.


Or, generally, they were suspended from the rotunda, that is, in the place of the middle of the dome, according to that in Æneid 9, I hung it in the rotunda, or fixed it to the sacred gables. But the Philistines put the Ark in neither place, but next to Dagon, in a place equally noble and sacred: Therefore, they wished to set a special honor upon it (Mendoza). 2. [Others, therefore, maintain that this was done to reverence the Ark (thus Sanchez, Tirinus, Piscator).] Therefore, they stationed it there for the sake of honor and religion; because they thought a great deity to lie hidden in the Ark (Tirinus). It is no objection that they had taken it in war: for, they were able to think that the God of the Israelites, being angry with them, had permitted it; because He was offended by them. They had certainly feared greatly for themselves because of it, 1 Samuel 4:7, 8 (Piscator). 3. [Others admit both opinions (thus Mendoza out of Cajetan and Tostatus).] The Philistines were willing that the Ark and Dagon might furnish for themselves and receive mutual honors. And some of those were venerating the Ark; others, Dagon (Mendoza). Question: Who and of what sort was Dagon? Response 1: He was recalling both a man and a fish: the former over, or above, the navel; the latter below (Mendoza, Hebrews in Munster, similarly Lyra, Tostatus, Sanchez, Lapide). Therefore, Dagon was after the likeness of the Nereids,[7] the Tritonides,[8] and the Sirens; which have the face of a woman, and the tail of a fish; concerning which Horace says, She, a beautiful woman above, has the tail of a fish[9] (Lapide, Sanchez). [The arguments for this position are:] 1. דָּב signifies fish (Malvenda, Lapide). 2. Since the Philistines lived on the sea, they gave themselves to fishing; and so they worshipped Dagon, the custodian of fish and fishing. 3. The Syrians and Palestinians worshipped fish as Gods, as testify Xenophon[10] in his The Expedition of Cyrus[11] 1; Cicero in his Concerning the Nature of the Gods[12] 3; Clement of Alexandria[13] in his Exhortation to the Gentiles.[14] Whence also the Syrians to the present time, abstaining from these fish, worship them as gods, says Diodorus Siculus in his Historical Library[15] 3:2. Josephus and others assert that Dagon is Derketo (whom others call Atargatis[16]) or the Syrian Goddess, who is believed by the Syrians to have turned into a fish; and so she is worshipped under the appearance of a fish. For which reason, Diodorus Siculus, Scaliger,[17] Serarius, Lyra, Tostatus, Nebrissensis[18] in On Fifty Passages of Sacred Scripture[19] 6, and others, think that Dagon, or Derketo, is Venus. For fish, after the likeness of Venus, frisk and proliferate marvelously. Whence Venus is said to have been born from the sea; and thence is called Aphrodite;[20] and she is feigned by the Poets to be transformed into a fish. This is supported by what Herodotus relates in Histories 1, that Venus is worshipped in a remarkable manner by the Askalonites in her most ancient temple; and that thereupon the Cyprians dedicated a similar Temple to her (Lapide). Moreover, the Phœnicians’ Astarte (thus they were calling Venus; others write Derko, Derketo, and Atargatis) had the upper body of a woman, and the lower body of a fish; as Lucian[21] testifies, as an αὐτόπτης/ eyewitness, in Concerning the Syrian Goddess;[22] and Diodorus in his Historical Library 2 (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals). The diversity of sexes in Dagon and Derketo is no hindrance; because the Heathen were attributing both equally to particular Gods, feigning them to be Hermaphrodites (Mendoza). [To others this opinion is not satisfying.] The Hebrews maintain that he was called Dagon after דָּג/dag/fish; but without authority, without example (Drusius’ Of Hebraic Inquiries[23] 82). Theodoret writes that Dagon was mutilated in all his extremities, that is, both his feet and his hands. And the Septuagint says that, not only the hands, the palms, but also the soles of the feet of the idol, had fallen upon the threshold; which indeed they added of themselves; but they would never have added it, if they had believed Dagon to be a fish from the waste down. For, in Greek fish are said to be νήποδες, without feet, because they are without the use of feet. And it is plain from the Theology of the Phœnicians that Dagon and Atargatis, or Asterte, were diverse deities. For, the Phœnicians assert, in Philo of Byblos,[24] that Dagon is Saturn’s brother, but Asterte his wife. In addition, this is particularly important, that among the Tyrians, in the time of Nehemiah, it was not taboo to carry fish for sale to Jerusalem.[25] Therefore, from whatever source this superstition of the Syrians, whereby they were esteeming it wicked to touch a fish, obtained its origin, it is more recent than Nehemiah; there is no one that does not know that the worship of the idol of Dagon is much more ancient than that (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:1:6:44). Response 2: Others think that Dagon was the grain-producing God, or the patron of grain; who would grant abundant harvests to his worshippers (thus Montanus and Pagnine in Lapide). In Greek Dagon is rendered Σίτων/Siton/grain-producing, and he is named after דָּגָן/ dagan/grain (Eusebius and Philo of Byblos in Drusius, thus Drusius in Of Hebraic Inquiries 82, Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:1:6:44). And a reason for the name is added, because he discovered grain, and aratrum, the plow; thence he was called Jupiter Aratrius. And so, he had his name, not from his form, but from the discovery of grain. Thus Philo out of Sanchuniathon, who, as Eusebius testifies, wrote his Phœnician history before the times of the Trojan War.[26] Why should I not lend more credence to one so ancient, writing of his own people, than to the masters of the Hebrews, born yesterday and today; and who do not agree very much among themselves? Rabbi Salomon attributes to him the form of a fish. Then how does he have hands? Rabbi Kimchi answers that his figure was part man, part fish. But Rabbi Levi attributes to him the figure of a man (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:1:6:44).


They brought it into the house of Dagon, etc.: Either, first, Out of respect to it, that it might be worshipped together with Dagon. Or rather, secondly, By way of reproach and contempt of it, as a spoil and trophy set there to the honour of Dagon, to whom doubtless they ascribed this victory, as they did a former, Judges 16:23. And though they had some reverence for the ark before, 1 Samuel 4:7, etc.; yet that was certainly much diminished by their success against Israel, notwithstanding the presence and help of the ark.

[1] Hebrew: וּפְלִשְׁתִּים֙ לָֽקְח֔וּ אֵ֖ת אֲר֣וֹן הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וַיְבִאֻ֛הוּ מֵאֶ֥בֶן הָעֵ֖זֶר אַשְׁדּֽוֹדָה׃ [2]אֶבֶן/eben signifies rock; עֵזֶר, help. [3] Andrew Masius (1516-1573) was among the most learned Roman Catholic scholars of his age, and in no field is that more evident than in the field of Oriental languages, having received training in Hebrew, Arabic, and Syriac. He also served as Counselor to William, Duke of Cleves. He wrote a major commentary upon Joshua, Joshuæ Imperatoris Historia Illustrata atque Explicata. [4] Hebrew: וַיִּקְח֤וּ פְלִשְׁתִּים֙ אֶת־אֲר֣וֹן הָאֱלֹהִ֔ים וַיָּבִ֥יאוּ אֹת֖וֹ בֵּ֣ית דָּג֑וֹן וַיַּצִּ֥יגוּ אֹת֖וֹ אֵ֥צֶל דָּגֽוֹן׃ [5] That is, the armor of the defeated general taken by the conquering general. [6] It is said that Rome’s first temple was built to Jupiter Feretrius by Romulus. “Feretrius” may be derived from ferire, to strike, or from ferre, to bring, because the spolia opima was offered there. [7] In Greek mythology, the Nereids, the fifty daughters of Nereus and Doris, were sea nymphs, usually associated with the Ægean. [8] The Tritonides were daughters of Triton, son of Poseidon and Amphitrite, and the messenger of the sea. He is usually represented as a merman. [9]Ars Poetica. [10] Xenophon (c. 427-355 BC) was a mercenary soldier, who traveled extensively in the East. He was also an acquaintance and admirer of Socrates. [11]Anabasis. [12]De Natura Deorum. [13] Titus Flavius Clemens Alexandrinus (died c. 215) was the head of the Christian catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt. He was trained in pagan philosophy before his conversion to Christianity. [14]Exhortatio ad Gentes. [15] Diodorus Siculus (c. 90-c. 30 BC), a Greek historian, wrote the massive Bibliotheca Historica in forty books. Unhappily, only fifteen books have survived. [16] In classical antiquity, Atargatis was the chief goddess of northern Syria. She was associated with fertility; but, as the mistress of her people, she was responsible for their protection and care. She is sometimes portrayed as a mermaid. [17] Joseph Scaliger (1540-1609) was a classicist, chronologer, and skilled linguist, one of the most learned men of his age. During the course of his studies and travels, he became a Protestant and suffered exile with the Huguenots. He was offered a professorship at Leiden (1593), a position which he eventually accepted and in which he remained until his death. [18] Anthony Nebrissensis (1441-1552) was a Spanish Renaissance scholar and classicist. He employed his learning to further classical literature among his people, to produce the first grammar of the Spanish language, and to assist in the production of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible. [19]In Quinquaginta Sacræ Scripturæ Locos. [20] Ἀφρὸς/aphros signifies sea-foam. [21] Lucian of Samosata (c. 120-c. 180) was a trained rhetorician, particularly skilled in satire. [22]De Dea Syria. [23]Quæstionum Ebraicarum. [24] Philo of Byblos (c. 64-141 AD) composed works of Greek grammar and lexicography. His works survive only in fragments; Philo’s Phœnician History is frequently quoted by Eusebius. [25] See Nehemiah 13:16. [26] Sanchuniathon is a Phœnician author, almost as old as Moses. His works, including material on creation and the history of the gods, survive only in fragments. His history of Phœnicia was translated by Philo of Byblos circa 100 AD, fragments of which are preserved in Eusebius’ Preparation of the Gospel.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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