First, we need to know and recognize that the ark of the covenant represented the presence of God and when they sat the ark next to Dagon, their god made of stone, Dagon kept getting knocked over and eventually decapitated. They started to recognize that the presence of the ark in their territory was not a good thing. The plague made them realize they needed to do something.
Apparently, the illness they were struck with was most likely the bubonic plague. This disease was caused by mice and it affected the lymp nodes. So of course they thought, if we turn these into little gold idols God will leave us alone.
Their diviners said,
"So you must make images of your tumors and make images of your mice that ravaged the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps He will lighten his hand from you and your gods in the land." (1 Sam 6:5)
This always makes me laugh, but this morning I realized that when you do not know the One True God or how to worship Him of course you would try to do something that would appease Him. When you don't know that He desires pure hearts not sacrifices, a golden object seems like a good offering.
It did work in that the presence of God was removed and they could go back to worshipping gods made by human hands. But they missed the opportunity to know and worship the one true God.
Then I thought, how often do I find myself trying to appease God rather than worshipping Him? How often do I try to do a ritual or focus on an object rather than my Savior hoping to find the magic bullet?
Truly, this is a crazy story with even more twists like a nursing cow wandering with the cart carrying the golden tumors, mice, and the ark of the covenant. Can you imagine them watching the cows lowing over the hills headed to the field of Joshua in Beth-shemesh? They figured the milking cows would go back to their locked up calves, but if they returned the ark to the Isrselites they would know the One True God was at work against them.
They removed the object that they thought was causing harm and did have relief from the removal, but they did not know the gift of a relationship with the One True God.
Did any believe that day? We don't know. Unlikely since we aren't told. What a sad thing to recognize the presence of God, but to settle for appeasement and not a relationship.
There are so many deeper lessons in this story, but the one that seems to resonante today is I need to keep the sacred, sacred by worshipping the One True God. This cannot be done through appeasement with idols fashioned by human hands or from tests to see if He is at work. It is done through the humbling of a human hearts and a desire to know Him, celebrate Him, and to worship Him alone.