Poole on 1 Samuel 5:4, 5: Dagon Shattered before the Ark!

Verse 4:[1] 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 (Jer. 50:2; Ezek. 6:4, 6; Mic. 1:7) the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon (or, the fishy part) was left to him.



[And again in the morning, etc.] This was done twice, or even more often, as Josephus, Philo, Theodoret, and Chrysostom maintain. Scripture perhaps reported only the first and last instance, because they were differing; but not likewise the intermediate instances, because, after the likeness of the first, they happened without the mutilation of the body. But why would Dagon be raised so many times, and toppled so many times? Responses: 1. So that he might be thought to fall, not by accident, but by the determination of God. 2. For the greater ignominy of Dagon, and glory of the Ark; with men congregating there from day to day, etc. Question: Why was not Dagon, when he was first set up, immediately falling? Responses: 1. God is wont to ripen, not to rush, His judgments. 2. Thus God brought greater attention among the Philistines, watching the outcome of the matter (Mendoza).


[And the two palms of his hands, וּשְׁתֵּ֣י׀ כַּפּ֣וֹת יָדָ֗יו] And the two, or both, hollows, or palms, of his hands (Junius and Tremellius, Montanus, Munster, Tigurinus, Pagnine, Vatablus, Drusius). Dagon is mutilated more grievously on the second occasion; so that thus the men of Azotus might understand both the power of the true Deity, and the vanity of their idol (Estius). God willed Dagon thus to be mangled, lest his punishment be again hidden by the Priests (Mendoza). By the head wisdom is signified; but by the hands, the power of action: so that his worshippers might be taught that there remains to his no wisdom, no strength (Martyr). By his extended hands, Dagon was acknowledging himself overcome by the Ark (Lapide).


The head is the seat of wisdom; the hands, the instruments of action: both are cut off, to show that he had neither wisdom nor strength to defend himself nor his worshippers. This the priests, by concealing Dagon’s shame before, make it more evident and infamous.



[Upon the threshold, אֶל־הַמִּפְתָּן] Toward the threshold (Montanus); on the threshold (Pagnine, similarly the Syriac, Dieu). On that lower threshold (Junius and Tremellius, Drusius, similarly Munster, Tigurinus, Hebrews in Dieu). The upper threshold/lintel is called כַּפְתּוֹר.[2] Moreover, אֶל/to/toward is here put in the place of עַל/on/upon; as elsewhere אֶל־מֶצָח, on/upon the forehead[3] (Drusius).


[Moreover, only the trunk of Dagon had remained in its place,רַ֥ק דָּג֖וֹן נִשְׁאַ֥ר עָלָֽיו׃] [They render it variously.] Only the form of the fish was left on him (Munster, similarly Junius and Tremellius, English in the margin, Vatablus). This does not satisfy; because it appears that, besides that which was recalling a fish, both arms and chest remained (Piscator). Others: only the trunk of Dagon had remained (Septuagint, Syriac, Arabic, Mariana). In its place (Arabic, Mariana). Only the trunk…was left to him (English, Castalio). Or, upon that, that is, the threshold, while the head and hands were broken off (Dutch). Only Dagon was left on it (Tigurinus, Drusius), or, before himself (Tigurinus Notes). They ask, how is Dagon said both to lie prostrate, and afterwards to have remained in his place? They respond, 1. Dagon is said to lie prostrate by Synecdoche, namely, his head and arms. His remaining part, whereby he was resembling a fish, was left in its place (Estius). 2. He is said to have remained in his place, not indeed at the altar; but in that place, into which he had first fallen from his step; while his hands and arms were rolled far from that place, and cast all the way to the door of the temple (Sanchez, Tirinus).


Only the stump of Dagon; Hebrew, only Dagon, that is, that part of it from which it was called Dagon, to wit, the fishy part, for דָּג/dag in Hebrew signifies a fish. And hence their opinion seems most probable, that this idol of Dagon had in its upper parts a human shape, and in its lower parts the form of a fish; for such was the form of divers of the heathen gods, and particularly of a god of the Phœnicians, (under which name the Philistines are comprehended,) as Diodorus Siculus[4] and Lucian[5] both witness, though they call it by another name. Was left to him, or, upon it, that is, upon the threshold; there the trunk abode in the place where it fell, but the head and hands being violently cut off, were flung to distant and several places.


Verse 5:[6] Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon’s house, (see Zeph. 1:9) tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day.


Disturbing!

[Neither the priests tread, etc.] Namely, for the honor and reverence of Dagon (Mendoza). That is, they were moved by religion, because they were thinking that the threshold was made holy by contact with the hands and head of their God (Piscator). Just as today, in mount Gargano, they say that footsteps of the the Archangel Michael are extant impressed in marble.[7] For which reason no one dares to tread upon that place. The superstition is the same in both instances (Martyr). Hence the Philistines are said to leap over the threshold, Zephaniah 1:9. Where, because of this superstition God threatens them with punishments (Mendoza). Neither ought a new bride to touch the threshold of her husband; lest, as Servius[8] says, she begin from sacrilege; if, being about to lay aside Virginity, she tread upon a thing belonging to Vesta,[9] that is, consecrated to an altogether chaste deity. See Isidore’s Etymologies 9:7, and Brissonius’[10] book Concerning the Rite of Marriage[11] 231 (Serarius). The Nations were believing, testifies Varro, that in the entrances of temples there was some Divinity; Juvenal,[12] in Satire 6, …reverence the Tarpeian[13] threshold. And Virgil, in Æneid 2, calls the Thresholds of the Gods Sacred (Mendoza). God will that a monument of the miracle wrought by Himself be extant in the very rites of idolaters (Grotius). But this new and ridiculous manner of entering, namely, by leaping, not by calm advance; they were not obscuring, or obliterating [which they were zealous to do], but rather augmenting, and perpetuating the eternal infamy of Dagon (Sanchez). It is amazing just how much at variance the Philistines are with God. God had cast down Dagon to the threshold; that he might be trodden under foot by those entering, and thus might be despised: but they did not want to tread upon so much as the place where Dagon’s head and members had been, much less upon his head and members themselves (Mendoza). Moreover, the threshold of Dagon is here put in the place of the threshold of the house of Dagon; as the mountain of the Lord is put in the place of the mountain of the house of the Lord;[14] and the key of David, in the place of the key of the house of David[15] (Drusius). If the Philistines had been paying attention, they would have understood that their God was rather to be trodden upon, than to be worshipped; since even his head, that is, which in him was worthy of greater reverence, was in the lowest place, which they all were walking upon. But Venus/lust is mad, as is ambition; which do not consider what the matter itself postulates or indicates; neither do they they allow themselves to be taught even by God Himself (Sanchez). No miracles are great enough to correct an impious soul apart from the Spirit of God (Martyr).


Neither the priests of Dagon, nor any…tread on the threshold of Dagon: Out of a religious reverence, supposing this place to be sanctified, by the touch of their god, who first fell here, and being broken here, touched it more thoroughly than he did other parts. This superstition of theirs was noted and censured long after, Zephaniah 1:9. Herein they manifested their stupendous folly, both in making a perpetual monument of their own and idol’s shame, which in all reason they should rather have buried in eternal oblivion; and in turning a plain and certain argument of contempt into an occasion of further veneration.


[Unto the present day] That is, in which the author of this book was writing this event (Mendoza). To the times of Samuel, by whom those things were committed to writing (Martyr). (Now, the space between Samuel beginning to judge, and committing this history to writing, is not able to be very great [Mendoza].) Or, to Ezra, who gathered those things anew and restored them (Martyr).


Unto this day; When this history was written, which if written by Samuel towards the end of his life, was a sufficient ground for this expression, this superstitious usage having then continued for many years.

[1] Hebrew: וַיַּשְׁכִּ֣מוּ בַבֹּקֶר֮ מִֽמָּחֳרָת֒ וְהִנֵּ֣ה דָג֗וֹן נֹפֵ֤ל לְפָנָיו֙ אַ֔רְצָה לִפְנֵ֖י אֲר֣וֹן יְהוָ֑ה וְרֹ֙אשׁ דָּג֜וֹן וּשְׁתֵּ֣י׀ כַּפּ֣וֹת יָדָ֗יו כְּרֻתוֹת֙ אֶל־הַמִּפְתָּ֔ן רַ֥ק דָּג֖וֹן נִשְׁאַ֥ר עָלָֽיו׃ [2] See Amos 9:1: “I saw the Lord standing upon the altar: and he said, Smite the lintel (הַכַּפְתּוֹר), that the posts may shake: and cut them in the head, all of them; and I will slay the last of them with the sword: he that fleeth of them shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered.” [3] 1 Samuel 17:49: “And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead (אֶל־מִצְחוֹ), that the stone sunk into his forehead (בְּמִצְחוֹ); and he fell upon his face to the earth.” [4]Historical Library 2; 3:2. [5]Concerning the Syrian Goddess. [6] Hebrew: עַל־כֵּ֡ן לֹֽא־יִדְרְכוּ֩ כֹהֲנֵ֙י דָג֜וֹן וְכָֽל־הַבָּאִ֧ים בֵּית־דָּג֛וֹן עַל־מִפְתַּ֥ן דָּג֖וֹן בְּאַשְׁדּ֑וֹד עַ֖ד הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה׃ [7] Mount Gargano is in southeastern Italy. There has been a sanctuary there since the late fifth century. [8] Maurus Servius Honoratius was a fourth century Roman commentator on Virgil. [9] In Roman mythology, Vesta is the virgin goddess of hearth, home, and family. [10] Barnabas Brissonius (1531-1591) was a French jurist, an expert in Greek and Roman jurisprudence. [11]De Veteri Ritu Nuptiarum et Jure Connubiorum. [12] Decimus Junius Juvenalis was a Roman poet, flourishing at the turn of the second century. [13] That is, pertaining to the Capitoline Hill. [14] See Micah 4:1, 2. [15] See Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7.

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