Lesson: The Philistines Defeat Israel, but God Defeats Dagon

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Use this children’s Sunday School lesson from the book of 1 Samuel to teach kids the power of the real God.

Needed: Bibles, pictures of various gods pasted to boxes or paper bags and one bag with no picture but a snack or other prize inside

Intro Game 1: What’s Under Box #? 

Before class, print out pictures of various gods and paste one picture onto each box or paper bag. Leave one box or bag blank but put a snack or other prize inside to share with the group.

Tell students that you’re going to ask for volunteers to come up. You’re going to ask them a question, and if they get the answer right, they’ll be able to choose one of the boxes or bags. Each of the boxes or bags represent a different god. There might be a prize in the box or bag that they choose.

The questions will be about what they’ve learned about the story of Samuel so far. Questions could include the following:

1. What was Samuel’s mother’s name? (Hannah)

2. What did Hannah do with Samuel after he was born? (She gave him back to God.)

3. Who did Samuel live with? (Eli the priest)

4. When was the first time God talked to Samuel? (One night when Samuel was sleeping, God woke him up.)

5. Why didn’t God want Eli’s sons to be priests? (They weren’t listening to God.)

If a student answers correctly, let them choose a box or bag. If they don’t answer correctly, have them sit down and repeat the question for the next volunteer. If the next volunteer doesn’t know the answer, review the information with the class and move onto the next question.

When students open all the boxes or bags and discover that only the blank one had anything in it, explain that the blank one represents the God of Israel. We don’t know what God looks like, so we can’t make a picture of Him. In fact, one of the Ten Commandments is that we should never try to make a picture of God.

But God is the only real God, so He’s the only that can give us anything good. That’s why only His box/bag had a prize in it.

Intro Game 2: Manipulating God? part 1 

Have the students sit in a circle and throw one of their shoes in the middle of the circle. Choose one student to be It. They pick a shoe and tell the owner to do something to get their shoe back. They can choose a simple task or something silly – anything appropriate for your play area. When the student completes the task, they get their shoe back and then, become It for the next student.


Ask students, How many gods are there? (Only one.)

God is the only God that there is, and God tells us that we are only allowed to worship Him. Why do you think God doesn’t want us to worship other gods? (Because God knows that those other gods aren’t real and that it won’t do us any good to worship them.)

Well, last time we learned a little more about Samuel and Eli and Eli’s sons. Does anyone remember what God said to Eli about his sons? (God said that He was going to kill Eli’s sons because they were doing wrong things and Eli wasn’t doing anything to stop them.)

But Samuel was doing the right things, and so God made Samuel a priest and a prophet.

Today, we’re going to read what happened to Eli and his sons and we’re going to see God fighting against the fake god, Dagon.

(Read 1 Samuel 4:2-7:2 with your students, or read the following story as a summary.)

Summary Story

A little later, the Israelites went to war against the Philistines. The Israelites were losing the war very badly. In one day, the Philistines killed over 4,000 Israelite soldiers. The leaders of Israel couldn’t figure out why they were losing. Then, they decided to send someone to the Tabernacle church to bring the Ark of the Covenant out to the battlefield. “Then, God will be fighting for us,” they said, “and we will win.”

What was the Ark of the Covenant?

The Ark was a special chest inside the Tabernacle church that held the tablets that God wrote the Ten Commandments on, some manna bread that God gave the Israelites to eat in the desert, and Aaron’s – the first priest’s- staff that God made to start growing flowers again even though it was a dead stick and not connected to the tree anymore.

God’s Presence rested on top of the Ark, so the Israelites thought that if they brought the Ark out to the battle, God would come too and fight for them.

Eli the priest sent his sons, Hophni and Phineas, with the Ark since they were priests too.

The Israelite soldiers were glad when Hophni and Phineas brought the Ark of the Covenant to them. They thought they would win the war for sure, and they started yelling because they were so happy.

The Philistines heard them yelling about how the Ark of the Covenant was with them now, and the Philistines were afraid. They knew that God was the one who sent the plagues on Egypt and brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. They said, “We can’t defeat the Israelites’ God.”

But the next day, Israel and the Philistines started fighting again.

Who do you think is going to win this time?

The Philistines won again. Even though the Israelites had the Ark of the Covenant with them, God wasn’t helping them win the war. During the battle, Hophni and Phineas died, just like God wanted them to as a punishment for their sins, and the Philistines stole the Ark of the Covenant from the Israelites.

After the battle, one of the Israelite soldiers ran to the Tabernacle church and told Eli the priest what had happened. When Eli heard that his two sons were dead and that the Ark of the Covenant had been stolen, he fell backward out of his chair and died.

Meanwhile, the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant and put in their temple.

Do you think the Philistines worshipped God in their temple?

The Philistines’ temple was for the fake god, Dagon. They put the Ark of the Covenant right beside their statue to the fake god, Dagon.

But the next morning, the statue of Dagon had fallen down. The Philistines put the statue back up, but the next morning, the same thing happened again. And this time, Dagon’s head and hands were broken off!

Why do you think the statue of the fake god, Dagon, kept falling over? (God was making it fall over to show that He is real and that He is stronger than the fake god, Dagon.)

And God made the Philistines in that city very sick. The leaders of the city sent the Ark to another Philistine city, but the people in that city got sick too. Finally, the Philistines decided that they had to send the Ark of the Covenant back to Israel. They also sent a lot of gold to Israel to apologize for stealing the Ark. When the Ark of the Covenant was back in Israel, God healed the Philistines from their disease.

Review Questions

Why did Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas die? (God killed them because of the bad things they were doing.)

Why did the statue of the fake god, Dagon, keep falling over? (God was making it fall over to show that He is real and that He is stronger than the fake god, Dagon.)

Why did God make the Philistines get sick? (Because they stole the Ark of the Covenant from Israel.)

And what happened when the Philistines returned the Ark of the Covenant? (God healed the Philistines from their disease.)

So remember, there is only real God and He has the power to punish people who do the wrong things, just like He punished Hophni and Phineas and the Philistines. But if we do the right things, then God won’t have to punish us.

Game: Manipulating God? part two 

Tell students that you’re going to play the intro game again, but that you’re going to be It the whole time and that you’re not going to tell them what they have to do to get their shoe back. They have to make something up, and then, you’ll decide to give their shoe back or not.

Randomly give some kids’ shoe back and refuse to give others’ back. When you refuse, put the shoe back in the pile and choose another.

When every student has had a chance to get their shoe back, ask, Why did I choose to give some of your shoes back but kept the others?

I was showing you that even though you were doing things, you couldn’t make me give your shoe back. I could decide to give your shoe back or not based on whether I wanted to give it back or not.

In the same way, we can’t make God do something. The Israelites thought they could make God fight for them if they brought the Ark of the Covenant to the battle. But people can’t make God do anything. God chooses what He wants to do. We can pray and ask God to do things, but He doesn’t have to do them. Nothing we do can make God do anything. We can’t control God. God is in control.

Now, I choose to give the rest of you back your shoes.

Closing Prayer

Lord, we pray that You’ll help us to follow You and do the right things. We know that You are the real God and that You are worth giving our love and obedience to. Amen.

You can also find this lesson for Kindle or in print in my book, Samuel and David: Children Sunday School Lessons on the Boy Prophet and the Shepherd King.

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