(In the research I did on I Samuel, I found these comments by Robert Rayburn. He shows that idolatry is not much different than when it was practiced in I Samuel 5. There are different objects but the same philosophy. Let’s make sure we are not idolaters today.)
Idolatry, simply put, is “any substitution of what is created for the Creator.” [H. Scholossberg, Idols for Destruction, 6] It doesn’t have to be an image in wood, stone, or metal. It can be anything at all. Anything that replaces the living God and our Creator in the affection and loyalty of the heart. Ezekiel speaks of men, elders in Israel indeed, who had “set up idols in their hearts” (14:3).
In 1983 Herbert Schlossberg published his book, Idols for Destruction. It was a summary of the forms that idolatry takes in our day and our culture. There were, of course, the usual suspects: power, fame, pleasure, money. But there were also the intellectual idols: history, nature, man himself, even religion. In the years since 1983, there has been a good bit more reflection on the idolatrous character of modern Western life. Other idols have been identified and the nature of the worship of them explained.
Sex can now be seen as an idol in our culture, one of the idols in the pantheon of the life experiences and pleasures that modern Western man worships. Our experience is now our God. We worship it. And, of course, physical experiences are much easier to produce and to control than spiritual ones. Hence the preoccupation with the body in modern life. There are many ways, of course, in which modern people in our culture worship the body. As churches have emptied, health clubs have filled. Plastic surgery is a booming business. Fitness is the new path to immortality, such as it is. All of these idols have the same characteristics, at bottom, as Dagon in Ashdod. They are safe, predictable, subject to the worshipper’s control. “They offer nothing like the threat of a God who thunders from Sinai…” [David Wells, God in the Wasteland, 53]
We know that Dagon was worshipped in Ashdod until at least the middle of the first century B.C, a thousand years after the events reported in 1 Samuel 5. For a thousand years they still came to Dagon’s sanctuary, they stepped over the threshold, in recollection of Dagon’s humiliation long ages before, they still worshipped a god who hadn’t been able to protect his people from the bubonic plague or himself from the dust before the ark of the Living God!