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When God Fell On His Face

If God has a sense of humor, I can imagine He would have been chuckling over what occurred in the temple of the Philistines during the days of Samuel (1 Samuel 5:1-5). These enemies of God’s people had defeated the Israelites in battle, captured the ark of the covenant, and brought it to their temple in Ashdod. Flush with the arrogance of victory, they positioned the ark before Dagon, their half-man, half-fish idol. “Surely,” they must have reasoned, “Dagon is greater than Israel’s God, whose ark we have captured.” Thus, in Dagon’s strength they trusted and gloried while they presented to him a spoil of their victory. “Three cheers for Dagon!”

But “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The Lord shall hold them in derision” (Psalm 2:4). When the Philistines came into their temple the next morning, they found poor Dagon on his face in the dirt before the ark. Dutifully they set aright their chunk of carved wood or stone, but the next morning they again found Dagon on the ground, this time with his head and hands broken off. Over their own cries of anguish and fear, they could not hear the sound of God’s laughter.

The Philistines must have questioned and wondered what had happened. After the Lord ravaged them with boils—perhaps the bubonic plague—they concluded that the problem was the ark. And why not? The ark represented the presence of the Holy One of Israel and contained the cause of their great discomfort. For inside the ark were found the two tables of the Law, which began: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” In their spiritual blindness and rebellion, the Philistines had chosen instead to trust in an idol who could not walk, talk, or hear; who could not prevent himself from being pushed over and had no power to right himself when he was. Truly God would say, “I am the LORD . . . And My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:8). But instead of seeking the true God and repenting of their idolatry, the Philistines sank even deeper into their superstition, and so received the hand of God’s wrath. How very foolish of people to worship a god who falls helplessly on his face! Such a Humpty-Dumpty idol is worthless and deserving of ridicule.

How ironic that we have the gracious privilege to worship Him who voluntarily fell on His face for us. No one pushed the eternal Son of God off His throne in heaven and forced Him to come to earth. He came willingly as the Christ to bear and atone for our sins, and so redeem and reconcile us to God. The psalmist foresaw this great, dirt-eating humility, as he quoted the Messiah in Psalm 22: “But I am a worm, and no man . . .  All My bones are out of joint . . .  You have brought Me to the dust
of death.”

Then we read of the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane “poured out like water, with a heart melted like wax.” (Psalm 22:14). Artists have pictured the Lord as resting serenely against a huge rock as He prayed that the Father’s will be done. But Matthew reported that Jesus, in great agony, fell on His face to the ground. He was the eternal Son of God with all power, yet He dreaded the cup of suffering that was before Him, and required the strength of His Father to proceed on His mission of salvation.

After His crucifixion and burial, His own disciples acted somewhat like the ancient Philistines. Their Lord had been pushed to the dust of death. Their anguish was great, for they supposed God’s kingdom was lost and that they were without hope. Surely you know the rest of the story. This Savior-God picked Himself off the dust, arose from death, and now reigns forever on heaven’s throne. Never again will dirt touch His holy face; never again will He bow and suffer before His enemies, with sacred head and hands defiled. When we stand before Him in eternal joy, we will see Him high and lifted up, basking in eternal honor which is His due.

The one true God is still laughing in derision (and can we not join Him?) at the foolishness and arrogance of His enemies, and at their gods which He brings low to the dirt and broken before Him. By God’s grace we are laughing with joy and gladness over our forgiveness and the salvation won by our God who once fell on His face for us, but triumphantly arose again in great strength and wondrous glory.

David Fuerstenau is pastor of Holy Truth Lutheran Church in Ketchikan, Alaska.

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