From Ebenezer to Ashdod


1Sam. 5:1   When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod; 2 then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and placed it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off upon the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. 5 This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not step on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.


The Israelites thought that if they took the presence of God with them in to war, they would be victorious. Therefore, they grabbed the ark of covenant and took this most precious container of God’s presence with them into battle. The Philistines captured the ark and it was moved from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 

The holiness of God was on full display in the ark of the covenant. The symbolism should not be lost on us, for God’s holiness is to be present when we live with a spirit of Ebenezer. Eben means stone, and ‘Ezer means help, and therefore this is a location where humanity is reminded of their complete and total dependence upon God. A stone is erected as a memorial to God’s intervention in the lives of God’s people — but only when God’s people recognize their complete and total dependence upon God as ‘Ezer. 

Losing the ark in battle is devastating to the Israelites and the Philistines take it from Ebenezer to their city of Ashdod. This is a city which has survived many battles and therefore is named “Ashdod,” meaning stronghold or fortress. There is no reference to any outside force bringing about strength, but it is a name that signifies the independence and self-security of the community. They were proud of themselves and the things that they had been able to do on their own, including erecting a site for their god Dagon. It was common to bring the god of another nation home and place it in such a way to show its worship of the local god. Therefore, the ark of the covenant was placed in the house of Dagon. 


God’s desire is for us to live in Ebenezer, a place where we relax in total dependence upon God who is our helper. That doesn’t mean that we get everything that we want. God’s presence doesn’t automatically result in victory, for we can abuse our relationship with the Lord. Just as the ark of the covenant did not make the temple of Dagon holy, so God’s holy presence must be seen in regard to a relationship. If I am entirely dependent upon God as my helper in all things, then my relationship to God’s presence will be entirely different than if I try to use God to simply supply my selfish needs and desires. 

God is our helper and no matter how skilled and capable we may be, we must live lives of complete dependence upon the Lord. Living into Ebenezer is transformational, and in the process, God’s holy presence permeates every part of our being. The result is a life that is focused on Christlikeness. 

Sadly, we are tempted to live in Ashdod. We create our own fortresses and barriers where and think that we will be safe. Instead of worshipping God, we simply try to put the Lord in a corner, having an appearance of religiosity. We go to church week after week, but refuse to open our eyes to real truth. Our time is spent on developing our own defenses and in the meantime we miss out on the holy love of God which is available to us. 

The invitation is to move from Ashdod to Ebenezer. This is complete newness of life where dependence upon God brings peace. Learning to rest in the sweet love of a holy God provides the strength necessary for the difficult journeys of life.


Lord, living in Ashdod can be so lonely. Please, help me to plant myself firmly and continually in Ebenezer. Amen. 


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