When God Cuts Your Idol's Head Off

In 1 Samuel 5, nestled in between Samuel’s birth and Saul’s anointing as king, we find a weird little story. The Philistines (enemies of the people of God) captured the Ark of the Covenant. This was a low blow to God’s people, because the Ark represented the presence of God. It was a huge war win for the Philistines for sure, but they weren’t too concerned about the presence of Israel's God—at least, not at first.

Our natural bent is to put something, anything, on the throne in our hearts other than God.

Instead of worshiping the one true God, the Philistines worshiped many gods, one of whom was named Dagon. Dagon was a storm god, and the Philistines thought that of all their many gods, he was the best. (If you’re starting to feel like you’re in history class, sit tight. This story is about to get good!) The Philistines dragged the Ark into Dagon’s temple and set it up beside a statue of Dagon. The next morning, when worshipers entered the temple, they found something strange. Dagon was lying facedown next to the Ark. Maybe someone bumped him. Maybe a stiff breeze blew in. Maybe we forgot to set him on his altar, they reasoned. They made excuses for the fact that Dagon was facedown in the presence of God. Facedown is a posture of worship mentioned often in the Bible. The fake god of the Philistines was worshiping the one true God. Since they missed the memo, God upped the ante. Check out how they found their idol the next day:

But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him (v. 4).

Dagon was still worshiping Yahweh. (Maybe his name started to sound more like “Doggone!” at this point among the Philistines.) But this time, God cut his head off. The most powerful god of the Philistines had been made useless and powerless by our powerful God!

When God Cuts Your Idol’s Head Off

Maybe you’ve never found a headless, handless statue face down in your church, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t at war with your idols. We see this in the first of the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3), and in verses like:

“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” (Jonah 2:8). Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21). The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply (Ps. 16:4).

An idol is anything that claims your worship, affection, attention, and adoration more than God. We are all so prone to idol worship. Our natural bent is to put something, anything, on the throne in our hearts other than God. When that happens, He may cut our idol’s head off. That might look like. . .

  • A break-up with the boy you wanted to spend the rest of your life with.
  • An injury that sidelines you from the team you’re the star of.
  • A fight in the friendship you find all your worth from.
  • A rejection letter from the college you’ve always dreamed of attending.
  • A test that ruins your 4.0 GPA.

And suddenly, the thing or person or achievement that had more of you than God did is powerless.

God goes to war with our idols because He loves us so much.

It’s not fun when this happens. In fact, it’s gut wrenching. But it is a gift. The Philistines had to face the facts that their god could not save them. Dagon’s pitiful position in the cosmos was obvious. At that crossroads, they had the choice to turn to the all-powerful, all-knowing, loving, merciful God of the universe. (To find out if they did, keep reading 1 Samuel 5–7.) God goes to war with our idols because He loves us so much. He knows He’s the only One who can truly meet our deepest needs. (No sport or grade or boy will do.) Our “little g” gods can’t save us either. When God rips them from us, it’s an act of mercy and grace, because it gives us an opportunity to turn back to the One who can.

Joining God in the War Against Our Idols

Since God takes idolatry so seriously, so should we.

Since God takes idolatry so seriously, so should we. Let’s join Him in the war against anything that takes His place in our hearts. Here are a few ways to think through any possible idols in your life:

  1. Finish this sentence, “I can’t live without ________________________.”
  2. Take a hard look at your schedule. What gets the most of your time and attention?
  3. Is there something God is asking you to do, but you refuse? Why?.

About the Author

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is married to her high school sweetheart, Jason, and together they parent four energetic boys on their small farm in the midwest. She is the author of more than a dozen books and Bible studies, the content manager for Revive Our Hearts, and a host of the Grounded videocast. You can hear her teach on The Deep Well with Erin Davis podcast.