There was a thinking in the day that said that the battle of nations was also a battle of the gods. It’s not too dissimilar to the thought that the Cold War of the second half of the 20th Century was about whose nation’s god/idea was greater capitalism or communism.
Thus when one nation conquered the other that was a declaration that the victor’s god was superior. Even as some thought that the fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall meant capitalism was clearly superior.
So having won such a crushing victory over the Israelites and taken the ark of the covenant, you can imagine how good the Philistines felt. It wasn’t just a victory over a people, they had defeated the same God that had crushed the Egyptian forces. Understandably their state of euphoria thought it fitting to put this representation of the defeated God in the presence of their conquering god Dagon.
What follows is a clear indication that the God of the Israelites is far greater than the defeat of the Israelites. Reading it now thousands of years later, it reads as rather humorous. Here is this ornamental ark set before this massive structure depicting Dagon. Then the next morning the statue has fallen down before the unmoved ark. That could be considered just an accident so they put Dagon back upright so the ark can rightly acknowledge which God is greater. Until the next morning when not only is the statue fallen but it’s literally disarmed.
As the Philistines can’t let this go, the city of its first location undergoes serious afflictions which they suddenly twig might be linked to what they have in their presence. So they pass the ark along, but wherever it goes in the Philistine area the same afflictions follow. So whose God is greater?
Even now the setbacks and failings of believers may bring the name into disrepute and others may feel their ideology is greater, but this always fails to take into account who it is they are engaging with. He is not just a god, He is not an idol or idea that can be captured, bound and defeated. When they killed Jesus Christ they thought they had won … until he emerged triumphant from death itself showing to His followers and detractors that there is none to be compared to the almighty God.
No one is greater.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden