When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 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. I Samuel 5:1-4 ESV
But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. I Corinthians 2:7-8 ESV
In ancient times, people sometimes had ideas about animals that seem a little strange to us today. For example, some people thought that an otter could kill a crocodile. The way the otter was supposed to do this was that he would coat himself with mud and let the mud dry. This would make a hard armor to protect him. Then he would let the crocodile swallow him. While he was inside the crocodile he would attack and kill the crocodile from the inside, protected by his hard armor!
This is only a legend, but it’s a little like what happened to the false Philistine god Dagon. The Philistines captured the ark of God, and they thought that meant that their god was more powerful than the true God. God allowed his ark to be captured because his people were using it as a good luck charm, but it was also a way for him to show his power over the Philistine’s false god Dagon. When they put the ark into the house of Dagon, Dagon fell on his face in front of the ark, and this happened twice. The second time Dagon’s hands were both cut off! This showed the Philistines that their god was powerless before the true God of Israel.
When Jesus was dying on the cross, Satan and the forces of evil in the world thought that they had defeated him. But Jesus showed power in what looked like weakness. His death on the cross destroyed death forever, and after his death Jesus went down into hell to show the devil that he had conquered and won the victory. Jesus rose from the dead the first Easter Sunday, and because of that we can be sure that Jesus is stronger than Satan, death, and any forces of evil in the world. He conquered them all for our sakes, so that we could be his forever. Some very old churches have pictures of a crocodile swallowing an otter to remind them of the way Jesus won his victory by surprise.
Dear Jesus, thank you for winning the victory over sin, death, and the devil for us. Amen.
Webber, F. R. Church Symbolism Cleveland: J. H. Jansen, 1938, p. 80.