The Philistines were a pagan, war-like people who inhabited the southwestern section of land God intended his people to possess (Joshua 13:3). As Israel's longest and most implacable enemy, they regularly sought any opportunity to harass, oppress and dominate their territorially larger rival. To put in bluntly, the Philistines were simply not nice neighbors!
One day, during the time of Samuel the prophet, the Philistines carried out a bold incursion into Israel's land. They attacked God's people and won a decisive victory (see 1Samuel 4).
The Ark is captured!
Baffled as to why they were beaten, Israel's elders make the hasty and foolish decision to bring the Ark of the Covenant onto the battlefield (1Samuel 4:3 - 5). The Ark, which contained the Ten Commandments written by God's finger, was a national religious treasure. Israel's hopes, however, of its mere presence insuring a victory were quickly dashed. The Philistines defeated them yet again and captured the cherished Ark.
Israelite hopes that the mere presence of the Ark would insure a military victory quickly fell apart. The Philistines soundly defeated them, yet again, and captured their symbol of God's covenant as a spoil of war. Israel's hated and feared enemy, however, would soon learn a quite painful (and to us, humorous) lesson that the Lord is second to none and can creatively punish those who disrespect him!
The Ark is taken to the Philistine city of Ashdod. It is soon laid in front of a large idol of Dagon, the people's primary deity, as a symbol that it was mightier than the Eternal (1Samuel 5). God, however, causes the statue of Dagon to fall down in each of the first two nights it is in the presence of the Ark. The second time the idol falls it breaks into several pieces (verses 2 - 4).
A unique punishment
What proceeds next is perhaps the most humorous punishment in the Bible! Scripture states the Philistines were corrected with the following, "And the hand of the Lord was heavy upon the people of Ashdod, and He destroyed them and struck them with (painful) hemorrhoids . . ." (1Samuel 5:6, HBFV).
The pain in their rears drives those in Ashdod to transfer the Ark to another Philistine city named Gath (1Samuel 5:8). When it arrives, all the people are made to suffer the same punishment as Ashdod! As one would imagine, it did not take long for this prized war trophy to be hurried out of Gath to yet another city (Ekron).
The curse of the pain in the rear, however, also strikes all those in Ekron. They, too, demand the Ark be taken away. The Philistine leadership finally comes to its senses and decides to send the Ark back to Israel (1Samuel 6).
Philistine priests advise their leaders to leave the Ark in Israelite territory with some rather unique offerings (1Samuel 6:2 - 5) to appease the One who gave them a pain in the rear. What were these special guilt offerings? They were five pieces of gold shaped like mice and five other offerings of gold shaped like the hemorrhoids that greatly inflicted them (verses 4 - 5, 11)!