Fall Guy

When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. (1 Samuel 5:3)

So the Israelites are being jerks again and they get their butts kicked by the Philistines who nab the ark of the covenant as a trophy. The Philistines haul the God Box back home to the temple of their own god, Dagon. Dagon’s what you call a fish deity; think really ugly merman with a beard. Anyway, they set the ark in front of a statue of Dagon and head to the beer garden.

Now, back in the days when gods were gods, a victorious army would always carry away the god statue of the losers. This showed that the winner god was stronger than the loser god. It was a kind of religious “nya nya nya nya nya.” The winners put the losing god in the temple of their god so that the loser god would have to worship their obviously stronger god. It was a humiliating experience for any god to end up as a divine lackey, but especially so if that god just happened to be the one and only YHWH, maker of heaven and earth, lord of hosts, Mr. Mojo himself. Not a good situation.

YHWH has a well-deserved reputation for bluntness (not to mention a predilection for wholesale destruction), but sometimes he can be surprisingly funky. Instead of scorching the hell out of Dagon, his temple, and most of Philistine territory (which would have been my suggestion), God chooses understatement. During the night, when the Philistines are comatose in their fermented victory stupor, God gently tips Dagon over. When the Philistines arrive at the temple in the morning, they find their God face down before the God Box. But the funniest thing is that the devout Philistines haul up their fallen deity, stick him back on his little pedestal, and carry on with the business of worshiping him. I guess the Philistines weren’t all that into irony.

So the next night YHWH does the same trick again. This time, though, he breaks off Dagon’s head and hands and lays them at the door of the temple where the priests can’t miss the point. But, as you’d expect from priests of an ugly fish god, they’re still slow on the uptake. They clean up the mess and avoid stepping on thresholds, but that’s about it for metaphysical awakening.

At this point God reverts to the pain and death guy we know and love. He slams the Philistines with devastation and afflicts them with tumors. There’s nothing like a little devastation and a few tumors to get your attention. Besides, Dagon’s medical bills had skyrocketed. The Philistines conclude that the God Box is really ticked off and needs to be relocated as far away from them as possible. Done deal.

The lesson here is that people who understand irony are less likely to be at the receiving end of a divine bludgeoning. Had the Philistines recognized God’s wry humor right off the bat, they would have saved themselves a ton of grief, not to mention money spent on statue repair and zit cream. God loves irony. It’s what he does best. The whole death and destruction thing is only a communication tool of last resort. If more people recognized divine irony, there’d be a lot less religious stupidity out there.

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One Response

  1. Great “Our Daily Fred”!

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