By Lisa Loraine Baker, Crosswalk.com
What Was Dagon in the Bible?
Dagon in the Bible was a Philistine god of fertility and its representation consisted of having the face and hands of a man and the tail of a fish. Dagon in the Bible is noted in mythology as the father of Baal, another ancient god whose conjured presence wreaked havoc within the nations surrounding the Jewish habitats and within the Israelites themselves (because of the worship of false gods).
A god is an idol—a representation of a lie—something specifically forbidden by the Lord God in the first and second commandments (Exodus 20:3-4). Nations and individuals who did not call the Lord their God instead worshiped man-made gods fashioned from earthen materials (wood, stone, etc.). We can with surety say the creation and worship of these false gods were instituted by the father of lies—the devil (John 8:44).
In Exodus 34:14, God (through Moses) warned the people about what they would do. He said they would go after the other nations’ gods and sacrifice to them even after He told them not to do such a thing, “...for the Lord, whose name is jealous, is a jealous God.” To say He is jealous means He demands exclusive service and worship.
The Bible introduces the worship of a physical object as a god in the account of Jacob and Rachel in Genesis 31:9, “Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods (teraphim).” According to cultural tradition, the “gods” Rachel stole were those of a family setting alone. Relatives often carried on legacies due to many influences, including cultural norms, family values, and most heinously, lack of faith in God (Romans 1:18-32).
Each new household (the union of a newlywed husband and wife) formed house-god images. Rachel may have performed such an act to take an icon of family associations with her, as the fertility and good fortune of each family fell within the responsibility of these “family gods.” The Bible does give us further details, except it was not right for Rachel to bow to them nor to steal.
What Dagon in the Bible represents instead is a more organized, religious setting. By the time of the Exodus (after the Israelites’ exposure to the Egyptian culture), God’s people were influenced by the belief systems of that country. In turn, they adopted their idols and gods as well.
Where Is Dagon in the Bible?
The first mention of Dagon in the Bible is in the book of Joshua (15:41 and 19:27). In each context, Dagon is used with a town name (Beth-dagon), which identifies the locale as housing a temple (or house) of Dagon.
We gain further knowledge of Dagon in Judges 16:23 during the account of Samson. Samson, called to be a “Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death” (Judges 13:7), was, when young, “stirred by the Spirit of God” (Judges 13:25). Samson, however, fell slave to his lustful desires and wanted an uncircumcised Philistine woman. He dictated to his parents “Get her for me for she is right in my eyes.” But God, in His mighty power, used even that for what led to His glory through Samson’s life (Judges 14:4). At various times during his life, “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him” (see Judges 15:14). God’s power is evident, not Samson’s.
Throughout parries with the Philistines, Samson is led toward his finale after judging Israel for 20 years (Judges 15:20).
The main part of the story takes place in the area around Gaza, where a temple of Dagon was located. This location eventually trapped him into the arms of Delilah, whose love for the Philistines and their way of life eclipsed her “love” for Samson. Samson, formerly unable to be defeated by his foes, falls to her deception and is placed in slavery, where he ground mill for the Philistines. While there, they gouged out his eyes (Judges 16:23).
The Philistines decided to have a celebration to Dagon their god for having secured and subdued Samson. They called for him to entertain them and, Samson, bound between the two pillars on which their temple foundation lay, prayed to the Lord, “Oh, Lord God, please remember me and strengthen me only this once…Let me die with the Philistines” (Judges 16:23-30). God answered His prayer with a show of His strength as Samson pushed the pillars apart, allowing the temple to fall on and kill all the spectators and him.
What Happened between Dagon and the Ark of the Covenant?
Have you ever thought about God having a sense of humor? When reading the story of Dagon in the Bible, we can sense a bit of sarcasm—perfect sarcasm. Twice at least, here and in Isaiah when God spoke of a man who cuts wood for a fire and then bows down to worship it (Isaiah 44:9-20), we see how God deals with false worship. In the Isaiah passage, God said, “He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’”
The Philistines, ever it seemed at war with Israel, took the Ark of God from Ebenezer to Ashdod, where they set it up beside an idol made to represent Dagon. The next morning, the people of Ashdod rose only to find Dagon had fallen on its face on the ground before the Ark. Twice the people put Dagon back in “his” place and both times they found the same thing—Dagon on its face before the Ark. But the second time the hands and head of the idol were cut off and on the threshold of the heathen temple. “Only the trunk (stump) of Dagon was left to him” (1 Samuel 5:4).
Afterward, “the hand of the Lord was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and He terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory” (1 Samuel 5:6). They decided the Ark could not remain with them, but everywhere they took it, the same “curse” fell on the inhabitants with whom the Ark stayed, and those who were not afflicted with tumors died. In each instance, the Philistines referenced the ark as “The Ark of the God of the Israelites” (1 Samuel 5:7-12).
Finally, their priests and diviners told the leaders to return the Ark to Israel along with a guilt offering of tumors and images of their mice that ravaged the land and give glory to the God of Israel. They said perhaps He would lighten His hand off them, their gods, and their land (1 Samuel 6:5).
The ark is finally settled in Israel in the town of Kiriath-jearim under the charge of Eleazar. A lesson begun with the plunder of a holy vessel by the Philistines reaches into the nation of Israel, whom Samuel admonished to put away their Baals and Ashtaroth and serve the Lord only (1 Samuel 7:4).
What Can We Learn from This Story?
Nothing having to do with the holiness of God is to be taken for granted nor treated with anything but reverence. The Philistines learned this the hard way and are no longer in existence as a people.
Addressing the nations in Psalm 2:4, the psalmist says, “He who sits in heaven laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.”
Psalm 37:13 speaks of nations who hold idols above the Lord. He laughs at the wicked for He knows His day is coming.
No nation can rise above the power of God. Psalm 59:8 states the LORD laughs at them and holds all the nations in derision.
As we ponder how the image of Dagon fell over, that’s how God pushes all lies aside—lies created that “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal men and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:23). With a breath God created the heavens and the earth, and with a breath He will vanquish His foes.
If we remain unmoved and unwilling to surrender all to Him, God will give us up to dishonorable passions (author’s paraphrase of Romans 1:24, 26, 28). Idols, whatever they be (a spouse, wealth, status, a false god, etc.) will never, can never sustain us. It’s only in surrender to Jesus, the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6) that we will live a life free from lies.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/mel-nik
Lisa Loraine Baker is a rock & roll girl who loves Jesus. She and her husband, Stephen, inhabit their home as the “Newlyweds of Minerva” with crazy cat, Lewis. Lisa is co-author of the non-fiction narrative, “Someplace to be Somebody” (End Game Press, spring 2022). She has also written for Lighthouse Bible Studies and CBN.com.
This article is part of our People from the Bible Series featuring the most well-known historical names and figures from Scripture. We have compiled these articles to help you study those whom God chose to set before us as examples in His Word. May their lives and walks with God strengthen your faith and encourage your soul.
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