A long time ago, in a city far, far away, I worked in the same department as a lady who didn’t make the best choices.  She was in a rough place – her husband was abusing her, causing physical injury.  Some of her lady friends advised her to get a divorce and declare bankruptcy, removing personal debt and allowing her to get a fresh start.  She declared bankruptcy, but only after she and her husband went out and loaded up on consumer purchases.  They stayed together, as far as I know, and avoided paying for the stuff.  They used something meant for good in the wrong way.

The Philistines were like that.  They could recognize truth, but make bad choices about what actions to take with it.  In I Samuel 4, the Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant from the Israelites.   Bad move for Israel, bad move for the Philistines.  The Philistines take the Ark to a city named Ashdod and set it up in a temple (good move) dedicated to the god Dagon (bad move).  They set the Ark up right next to Dagon.  Now realize that this is not an image of Dagon – this hand-carved wooden thing is their god.  So the Philistines are all happy and go home to celebrate in all their Dagonly ways.  Next morning they go to visit their god, but he’s fallen over.  Oooopsie!  They didn’t see the big fact here – Dagon had fallen on his face, in front of the Ark of the Covenant.  Nope – not them.  They’ll need a bigger lesson.

You’d have thought maybe when they had to set their own god back up on his stand that Dagon wasn’t a powerful god, but never mind that,  full speed ahead.  The next night something similar happened.  Dagon fell face-first before the Ark of the Covenant.  This time, though, he had his head and the palms of his hands cut off by the threshold.  To me, the message seems pretty clear.  Philistines, your “god” is nothing but a tree trunk.  They took away a different message: Let’s not step on the threshold.  Yo, Philistines.  Yes, changes are needed.  No, that’s not one of them.

God wasn’t happy about the Ark being in the hands of evil dudes.  He killed some of the men in the town and gave the rest of them tumors.  The obvious thing to do would be to return the Ark to the Israelites, so they sent it to the Philistine town of Gath.  Boom – Gath has a tumor outbreak.  So, in a startling display of what not to do, they keep the ark in their own country and send it over to Ekron.  Tumors and deaths result.  The Ekronites are no dummies – they see what’s happening, and they don’t want it in their town.  They also aren’t feeling real happy about the people of Gath:

They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.

They finally talk to some priests who understand more of the situation: we gotta get this Ark back to the Israelites.  So they load up some cows with the Ark and guilt offerings (golden tumors and golden mice – apparently both were bothering them).  The Philistine cows headed straight for Israel, a place they had not visited before.  The Philistine people followed right up to the border.  The Israelites broke up the cart for firewood, and offered the two cows up as a burnt offering to the Lord.  Good decision.

And so everybody lived happily ever after, right?  Well, no.  The Philistines did not turn from their wicked ways and recognize that God was God.  In fact, Goliath the giant came from Gath.  Now God didn’t need a human superman on his side, so God didn’t “need” the town of Gath to follow Him.  And young shepherd boy David showed that following God will overcome any human effort.

So what’s it going to be in your life?  What big obvious things are you trying to work out on your own instead of turning them over to God?  What places are you seeing some truth, and then applying bad decisions, when the right ones are so easy?

This is an open-book test.  The decision of the judges is final.