1 Samuel 5:1-2 KJV

1 And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod. 2 When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.

We are told that the carrying of the ark was a preserve of the Kohathites

Numbers 4:15 KJV

15 And when Aaron and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary, and all the vessels of the sanctuary, as the camp is to set forward; after that, the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die.

There is no recorded death of the philistines after moving the ark into the temple of Dagon other than the affliction with sores to the people of Ashdod.Was God lenient with the philistines because he was angry with the Israelites.

In another record Uzzah died when he touched the ark.

2 Samuel 6:6 KJV

6 And when they came to Nachon's threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. 7 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.

Why then was no death recorded in Ashdod after moving the ark into the temple of Dagon?

  • 1
    Maybe God want them to see that Dagon bow down to God so he spared them.
    – A. Meshu
    Jul 10, 2018 at 11:56
  • They had the captured kohath descendants carry it
    – Kris
    Jul 10, 2018 at 15:43
  • The ark has been constantly transported by the Israelites during their four decades of pilgrimage under Moses in the desert. No one got struck. It was also being transported when Uzzah touched it (see the context of the quoted passage). But one does not need to (directly) touch an object (as Uzzah did) in order to transport it. The ark was equipped with gold-plated wooden beams for precisely this purpose (Exodus 25:13-15).
    – Lucian
    Jul 12, 2018 at 15:48
  • @Lucian,still it was a preserve of the kohathites to transport it .that is why you downvoted my question,is this personel? Jul 13, 2018 at 5:15
  • @Lucian,Why are you trolling me? Jul 13, 2018 at 5:18

2 Answers 2


Good question! The short answer is:
1) It is likely that the Philistines out of respect, fear, or pragmatism carried the ark the "proper" way.
2) Num 4:15 does not say that any Gentile touching the ark will die.
3) It is very possible that they did, in fact, die.

Long answer (read: loosely organized thoughts):

1) It is likely that the Philistines out of respect, fear, or pragmatism carried the ark the "proper" way.

1.1) Whereas the Israelites regarded the ark as a magic trinket to imbue luck, the Philistines realized that they ought to fear the God it represented:

Let us (Israel) bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies. (1Ki 4:3)

Woe to us (Philistines)! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness. (1Ki 4:8)

The Philistines brought the ark to a major temple, which also demonstrates their respect for it. They would likely have done their best to treat it according to what they knew of its religious rites. Consider also how they treated the ark afterwards, sending it away with gold.

1.2) The Israelites, seeing that they were being beaten, would doubtless have tried to save the ark, thus the Philistines would have seen how they carried it. Doubtless, when they captured the ark, the poles for carrying the ark were still in it. Either way, if they wanted information about how to carry the ark they would simply have to ask any injured Jew on the battlefield.

1.3) The ark was heavy and would have been impractical to carry. It was basically an exremely heavy box with holes to put poles through to carry it. Anyone who has ever carried anything would naturally carry it by its poles. The description is found in Ex 37:1-5, but any google image search will yield decent images. If any did touch it, it seems likely that they touched it after it had arrived at its destination and not as it was being transported.

2) Num 4:15 does not say that any Gentile touching the ark will die.

2.1) The law in Numbers 4:15 is written to Jews, not Gentiles. It says:

The sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. It is the sons of Kohath specifically that this law is for. To use another example, the law demands that anyone sacrificing an animal to anyone but God should die - this is not a death sentence to every Gentile outside of Israel, but to Jews (Ex 22:20).

2.2) The Hebrew of Num 4:15 translated "lest they die" is a single word and can be understood as a warning, "because in that case you might die," or as a future certainty, "because in that case you will die." Though I do think the latter is more likely.

3) It is very possible that they did, in fact, die. Num 4:15, if it does speak of definite death, does not promise immediate death. The case of Uzzah cannot necessarily be generalized. If any Philistine touched the ark they may well have died without the text telling us (because that's not the point of the text). Though God did kill many because Philistines because of the ark, and if anyone touched it they may well have been among them:

They have brought the ark of the God of Israel to us, to kill us and our people! (1Sam 5:10)

Conclusion: It is possible to interpret the threat of death in Num 4:15 as a possibility, not a certainty, and either way it does not apply to non-Israelites. Furthermore, it seems likely that the Philistines out of both pragmatism and reverence handled the ark by its proper handles, at least until it arrived at its destination. If any did touch it, they may well have died in the ensuing plague, but as Num 4:15 is written to Jews we cannot assume the certainty of death for Gentiles touching it.


Nothing in Bible report triggers us to jump to the conclusion that the Philistines were aware about Law’s details regarding the management of the Ark of the Covenant. In fact, when they – at last! - were going to leave away the Ark, the Philistines had need to pick their brain, asking about that matter to their priests and diviners (1Sam 6:2-9). Nevertheless, the instructions they performed weren’t exactly the correct rules God fixed for Israelites’ management of the Ark. However, God did not punish them for that incorrect transport. Why? The Bible teach us, about the men’s knowledge of His Law, that “God therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance” (Act 17:30, Darby). For this reason God did not kill the Philistines who moved the Ark into the Dagon’s temple.

When they decided to leave away the Ark, they did hasten to perform what their ‘sages’ counselled to do to the Ark.

It is instructive to compare this situation with what happened when the Ark arrived back in Israel (1 Sam 6:19). The men of Beth-shemesh weren’t excused because their were aware of what said the God’s Law, so they died.

In every case, the God reaction’s manner among the Philistines gave them a glance of the thought of God about that matter. So, little by little, their understanding of God’s rules increased, and, little by little, they became more and more accountable before Him. So, on the basis of this increasing knowledge about Him, God rightly punished the Philistines, too. For example, the Ashdodites did learn that IEUE was superior to Dagon (1 Sam 5:2-5), also with the use of a plague (hemorrhoids?) to the Ashdodites, and also the Ekronites (1 Sam 5:6-10).

We’ve to remember – always - the universal principle Paul declared: “Do not deceive yourselves. God is not to be scoffed at. For whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Gal 6:7, Weymouth).

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