What Made Dagon Bow?
While the Israelite army was defeated in battle, their God with no army brought the enemy to its knees.
But when they rose early on the next morning,
behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the
ground before the ark of the LORD.
(1 Samuel 5:4)
Though the Philistines had never seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, they knew enough about the God of their enemy to be afraid. After a sharp repulse, rather than retreating from the field of battle, the Israelites sent men to Shiloh to fetch back their secret weapon, the ark of the covenant. Inside this golden chest, a container so holy even the priests of the Almighty dared not touch it, were the stone tablets on which the fingertip of God had inscribed his law. Despite the recent defeat, when Hophni and Phineas, the unreliable sons of the high priest Eli, arrived in camp with the ark, a cry of triumph filled the air. It was loud enough to shake the earth, the story says, and to shake Philistine confidence, too.
They knew all about the Hebrew God, how he'd freed his people from Egyptian bondage through terrible plagues. Smiting the Israelites was one thing. Smiting them under the very nose of their God was something else entirely. Sensing fear in the ranks, the Philistine leaders admonished their soldiers to "be men and fight."
Fight they did, with disastrous results for Israel. Thirty thousand fell in the battle, including Hophni and Phineas. The Philistines captured the ark and took it back to Ashdod—one more trophy to deposit in the temple of their own god, Dagon.
When Eli heard, the high priest fell backward in his chair and broke his neck. The pregnant wife of slain Phineas named her newborn child Ichabod. "The glory," she said, "has departed from Israel!"