Those were dark days in Israel. The ark of God had been captured and was in the hands of the enemy, and the high priest, Eli was dead, as were his two sons. For all practical purposes, God had left Israel.

We can all relate to this. It doesn't matter whether it is illness or relationship problems or loss of jobs or homes or feelings of loneliness and abandonment, whatever valley we are in right now will cause us to raise up our hands and cry, "Where are You, God? How can You allow this to happen?"

But there was another part of the story, one that Israel did not see. They did not see what was happening to those who had captured God's ark.

The statue of their god, Dagon, fell prostrate before the ark of God, and its hands and head were knocked off (see 1 Samuel 5:1-5). Then people of the city were then struck with illness: "But the hand of the LORD was heavy on the people of Ashdod, and He ravaged them and struck them with tumors, [both] Ashdod and its territory." (1Sam 5:6, NKJV)

The people of Ashdod sent the ark away, to Gath (see 1 Samuel 5:8), but the people of Gath were then struck with illness: "So it was, after they had carried it away, that the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction; and He struck the men of the city, both small and great, and tumors broke out on them." (1Sam 5:9, NKJV)

The ark of God was then banished from Gath and sent to Ekron, but its reputation preceded it, and even before it began wrecking its havoc, the people were up in arms: "Therefore they sent the ark of God to Ekron. So it was, as the ark of God came to Ekron, that the Ekronites cried out, saying, 'They have brought the ark of the God of Israel to us, to kill us and our people!'" (1 Samuel 5:10)

And they were right to be afraid, for: "...there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there. And the men who did not die were stricken with the tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven." (1 Sam 5:10-12, NKJV)

As we look at this story, let's especially note the words of the Ashdodites: "The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for His hand is harsh toward us and Dagon our god."

Wait a minute. Did you catch that? The people said that not only was God's hand harsh towards them, but also towards their god, Dagon! In other words, they recognized what Israel probably didn't even know, and what we, in the midst of our trials always seem to forget: God is stronger than any demon of hell! In the midst of our trials, behind the scenes, God's hand is harsh towards those demons who are trying to control us!

And herein lies the lesson for anyone who is going through difficulties: Our lives may be being ravaged by the demons of hell, but our God is stronger than any of these demons. Even if we don't recognize that it is happening, He is already at work to liberate us. In fact, that demon is already conquered, at the cross of Jesus! It has no choice but to bow before our God and submit to His will, for God's "hand is harsh" against the demons that try to bring us down.

It's true that the ark of God did not return to Israel right away, but it was finally returned (see 1 Samuel 6:1-12). In the same way, God is stronger than whatever ravages your life at the moment, and His hand is harsh against it. Don't look to the circumstances. Instead, look to God, for He is the victor and through Him, you will also be victorious.

But just what was God trying to teach the Philistines with the presence of His Ark? Join us on Thursday for "The Captivity of the Ark," Part 2: The Ark is Returned.

In His love,
Lyn

Lynona Gordon Chaffart, Speech-Language Pathologist, mother of two, Author -- "Aboard God's Train -- A Journey With God Through the Valley of Cancer", Author and Moderator for The Nugget, a tri-weekly internet newsletter, and Scriptural Nuggets, a website devoted to Christian devotionals and inspirational poems, with Answers2Prayer Ministries. Follow Lyn on Twitter @lynchaffart.

(To access the entire "The Captivity of the Ark" mini-series, please click here.)