The Ark is Restored

The hours of dark drew on, the multitudes dispersed, the brazen gates of the empty temple were shut, and the priests withdrew to their own sleeping quarters in the city. The crescent moon that had hung in the heavens in the brief twilight of evening sank down beyond the waters of the sea, and the faint rumour of the tide upon the shore could be heard in the silence of night.

Early next morning the priests returned to the temple. They opened its gates and entered in. But when they were come within, they stood motionless, for behold, their god was fallen upon his face upon the floor, and lay prone as if in obeisance before the Ark of the Lord. They were perturbed and questioned one another. But no sound had been heard in the night, and though they searched the temple, its gallery and precincts, they found nothing else amiss, and all avowed they had left their Dagon safe the evening before.

So the priests, having bound themselves by a solemn oath to secrecy, lifted up the image and restored it to its place upon its pedestal. All the next day the people of Ashdod came in throngs to visit the temple, countrymen and strangers also from distant parts, and darkness fell, and again the gates were close- shut and barred and bolted. That night, though none dared remain within its walls, a strong watch was set. The hours went by and the east lightened, and no danger had showed, nor had any man or shape of man come out from the temple or gone in.

Yet when the priests arose on the morrow morning and opened the gates, not only was their god fallen flat upon his face again upon the floor, but the palms of his ivory hands had been snapped off and lay on either side of him, and his carven head had rolled off his neck to the very threshold of the temple. Only the scaled and gilded tail of him and his defaced trunk or stump remained unbroken.

At this evil omen the priests forbore to meddle with him again. His pedestal was left empty, and none but they had access to the temple. They strove in vain to keep this matter concealed from the people, and rumour of it spread abroad. And while the Ark of God was still in the temple and in the keeping of the priests, a grievous and contagious plague or pestilence broke out in the city. In a few days it had swept across the country-side to the villages round about Ashdod on the coast and in the plain. So great were its ravages that the chief men of Ashdod and the priests of Dagon met together and resolved that the Ark should remain in their city no longer.

‘For of a truth,’ said they, ‘this pestilence that has come upon us is the vengeance of Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews, who in the darkness even of the first night that his Ark came hither struck down Dagon, our god, as if with a thunderbolt. Worse still is in store for us while the Ark remains in Ashdod.’

So they sent messengers; and the lords or tyrants of the five cities met together in council. They debated and argued, but he who was prince of Ashdod remained stubborn in his refusal to be responsible for the safety of the Ark a day longer.

‘From the hour it entered our gates, it has brought nothing but trouble on the city,’ he said. ‘The temple of Dagon is deserted; the priests shake with dread; the people die like flies; and I will have none of it.’

The lords of the other four cities scoffed at his faint-heartedness and refused to believe him. ‘When,’ they said, ‘this Ark of the Hebrew Jehovah was captured you clamoured to set it up as a trophy in the temple at Ashdod, and the people welcomed it as if their valour alone had given it into their keeping. What folly then is this? Surely if this God of Israel had power to avenge himself against us, he would have fought with them and given them the victory. Was that so? Take thy priests to the carcass-strown steeps of Eben-ezer and let them see for themselves!’

But the prince of Ashdod paid no heed to their mockery: only repeating yet again that he himself would not be answerable for the safe keeping of the Ark a day longer.

Since nought they said could persuade him otherwise, it was agreed by them at last that the Ark should be taken to Gath. But as it was with Ashdod, so it was with Gath. For immediately pestilence broke out

  By PanEris using Melati.

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