27 August – 2 September 2017.
In the Bible days, it was common for people to think that each country had their own gods. Israel had a god, but so did the Philistines and the Egyptians and all of their other neighbours too. When countries went to war, people believed that it wasn’t just the soldiers who fought, but that their gods fought as well. So when a country lost, not only were the people defeated and taken as slaves, so were their gods! This is the worldview we see in 1 Samuel 5–6.
The Israelites had carried God’s ark into battle with the Philistines, certain that God’s presence would help them win. But they were wrong. The Philistines won, killed 30,000 Israelites, and took the ark back to Philistine territory! So does that mean the god of the Philistines was the most powerful? No. Israel’s defeat was Israel’s fault, not God’s fault. In this example, God purposely lets Israel lose to punish them and teach them a lesson.
The Israelites learnt this lesson when the Philistines took the ark back home. Immediately disaster strikes. Over and over the Philistine god, Dagon, falls down to worship the ark until his idol is completely smashed. And then to make things worse, the Philistines are struck by plague. At the time, the Philistines thought it was a good idea to take the ark. But now they are desperate to get rid of it.
But why did the Philistines want the ark anyway? In ancient times, just like today, many people believed that the more gods you had the better protected you were. We see that in our Taiwanese temples today where we find many, many gods all collected together. But that seems so strange. Why not just choose the one greatest god of all and worship him? But for lots of people, having many gods, like having many friends, can make them feel less worried about life.
Sadly, even Christians fall for this temptation. Yes we choose God, but next to him we still often place other gods: the gods of wealth, power, and the nation. Why? Because we feel our lives will be better if we can worship them all. But this doesn’t work. We can’t worship all these different gods, because they all make different demands on our lives. One day we will need to choose: Which god is going to take center stage in the temple of my life? Which one am I going to follow? When that happens, I hope we will have the strength to choose the greatest God, the one true God, and devote our lives to following him alone.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis