Moving the Ark of the Covenant
As Dave just told us we’re returning to our Legacy series and today we’ll be looking at the 6th chapter of 2nd Samuel (218). II Samuel is the story of the life King David. Chapter 6 tells us the story of David transforming Jerusalem into the religious capital of Israel. Now I know this doesn’t sound very exciting, but hang with me… trust me, this chapter isn’t a dry civics lesson. It’s a chapter filled with all sorts of interesting, earthy things. But first we need a bit of background: the first 5 chapters of 2nd Samuel tell us that after King Saul was killed in battle, David was chosen as Israel’s new king. And that once David was king he set out to rid Israel of two huge problems: the Jebusites and the Philistines. As odd as it may seem, even though the Israelites had conquered most of Palestine long ago they’d never driven a tribe called the Jebusites out of a heavily fortified city that was located right in the middle of Israel. And the Jebusites had been thumbing their noses at the Jews over this for centuries. Verse 6 of chapter 5 says, “The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, "You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off." David, it seems, was the first Jewish ruler to take on these people. And take them on he did… and once he’d conquered the city, Jerusalem’s name, “the place of peace” finally had some meaning to the Jews because with this city’s capture Israel was one step closer to actually having some peace. And then David tackled the Philistines.
The Philistines had been a constant source of trouble for the Jews for 150 years. It isn’t too far of a stretch to say that David’s overcoming and neutralizing the Philistines brought real peace to Israel. And this peace meant David could now focus on some other things. And one of the first things that David wanted to do was to move the Ark of the Covenant to his new capital city Jerusalem. The Ark of the Covenant was a wooden box about 3 ½ feet by 2 ½ feet by 2 ½ feet… not huge. It was covered with gold. It also had 4 big, gold rings, 2 on each side, for holding the poles used to carry the ark. And it had in it… oh, by the way, you might think that ‘ark’ is an odd name for this box; the word ark comes directly from the Latin arcon, which meant a treasure chest or a box for your valuables. Now, there is an even more famous ark in the Bible: Noah’s Ark. We often assume that an ark is a boat, but it isn’t. Noah’s Ark was also a treasure chest; it held God’s most valuable possessions: his people and his animals. But that’s another story. Today’s ark held Israel’s most valuable possessions: the 10 commandment tablets, a golden container filled with manna, and Aaron’s staff. This ark and its contents were so valuable that it was supposed to be kept in the holiest part of the tabernacle. But the ark had languished for 20 years in Baalah, a town about 9 miles from Jerusalem, in the home of a man named Abinadab. Now, why Saul had ignored the ark and left it with Abinadab is beyond me, but David was set on bringing the ark to Jerusalem.
Look at the first verse 5 verses of chapter 6. David again brought together out of Israel chosen men, thirty thousand in all. He and all his men set out from Baalah of Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark. They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals. This was quite a scene: 30,000 people dancing and playing instruments behind a new cart made to carry the ark and the two sons of Abinadab, young men that had cared for the ark pretty much all of their lives, escorting the ark. It was all very exciting and wonderful! But then we read this in verse 6: When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.
Yikes! What was this about! Now a lot of people have tried to explain away this event. Some say Uzzah was so worked up that he had a heart attack and as he fell he put his hand on the ark and everyone just thought he’d been killed by God for touching the ark. I don’t think so. I’ve even read where some scholars knowing that the word translated “stumble” in the NIV actually means ‘to drop’ claim that this really says the oxen ‘made droppings’ and Uzzah actually slipped in some oxen dung, hit his head on a rock and died from the blow. Again, I don’t think so. And here is why I think we can trust what 2nd Samuel tells us! Remember I said that the ark was made with 2 large rings on each side for holding poles. Well, these poles made it possible for 4 priests to lift the ark and carry it without touching it. And, God had been very clear in his instructions concerning the ark in the Book of Exodus that the only person who was supposed to touch the ark was the high priest… plus, and here is the bigger issue, moving the ark with a cart and oxen was a method philistine magicians had recommended earlier. And again, God had been very clear about how to move the ark in his instructions: 4 priests using 2 poles.
When the oxen stumbled and Uzzah, who wasn’t the high priest, put his hand on the ark, God’s anger burned against all of the things that were wrong about moving the ark this way. And look at David’s response. Then David was angry because the LORD's wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah (outbreak against Uzzah). David was afraid of the LORD that day and said, "How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me?" He was not willing to take the ark of the LORD to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it aside to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. There goes the party! David was angry with God and David was afraid of God. He was too dangerous. Well, after three months had passed, word reached David that Obed-Edom, the man caring for the ark, and his entire house hold were getting blessed like crazy… now, what this means exactly, I’m not sure, but something in this pushed David’s anger and fear back to a desire to finish the job… and boy did he finish it! Look again at second half of verse 12. So, David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, while the and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
We don’t know if this means every 6 steps they sacrificed a bull and a fatted calf… They were only traveling about ½ of a mile this time …but even so, it would have meant a lot of animals being sacrificed. Some say that all of this meat would have been used to provided a grand meal for the huge crowd gathered that day. That is a possibility. But it could also mean that the priests took 6 initial steps, they sacrificed the animals to make sure that everything was okay with God and then traveled the rest of the ½ mile journey without stopping. Either way it was a joyous occasion. And this linen ephod, think: short apron… think: boxer shorts… David was really celebrating. All seemed well. But what we learn next is that while this parade was making its way passed the palace, Michal, one of David’s wives was looking out a palace window. And she saw David dancing in his underwear and the whole scene disgusted her. The end of verse 16 says, “she despised David in her heart.” Now, we have to give Michal some slack; she’d had a pretty rough life. She was the daughter of King Saul and the day her father was killed in battle, she’d also lost two of her brothers. Plus, she had at one time been in love with David and had even been engaged to him but her father had given her to another man; then later, even though she seems to have been happily married, David demanded that she be taken from her husband and given back to him.
Plus, the truth was, kings weren’t supposed to dance… apparently they could sway and snap their fingers, but dancing was considered below them. Kings weren’t supposed to be seen in public without their royal robe either… royal robes identified them as, well, “royalty” And Michal was royalty. She’d been a princess and now she was a queen even if the king was the man who’d taken away her family’s throne. David dancing in his underwear didn’t look very kingly; it looked common and vulgar and very beneath her. And she was set on telling David so. When David returned from all of the festivities Michal found him and gave him a piece of her mind. In verse 20 she says, "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!" But David had an answer for Michal. Look at what he says in reply in verse 21. It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD's people Israel--I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor." In other words, “You don’t get it, Michal. Everyone should be humble before God.”And today’s passage ends this way in vs. 23. And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death. Whether God closed her womb or if David chose to never again have anything to do with her we don’t know, but what we do know is that she was a lot like her father Saul; her first concern was her own reputation and she had little concern for the things of God.
There we have it: Uzzah’s death coupled with David’s anger and fear of God, David publically dancing in his ephod, and Michal showing us how much she was just like her father; three very un-civic-lesson-like parts of the important story of Jerusalem receiving the Ark of the Covenant. Now, my first question is this: with all of the things that we could have been told about the ark being brought to Jerusalem why do we have these stories? Well, I believe we have them because they tell us a lot about God and they tell us a lot about God’s relationship with us. Let me explain. First, “What does this story tell us about God?” Well, it tells us that God is powerful… that he is mysterious… that he has high expectations… that at times he can be frightening… sometimes what happens in his world confuses us and He can be dangerous. Now, I know this isn’t a message we want to hear. We want to hear that God is loving and understanding and gentle and he is all of this and more. But sometimes it is good to be reminded, at least it is for me, that I will never be able to comprehend God; he will always be a mystery to me. This passage reminds me that I am not the center of the universe… not even close.
And this passage also shows us the kind of relationship that God wants to have with us. And here is what I mean by this. What was David’s response to something happening that he didn’t like at all? David was angry; he was so angry that he said something like, “Okay, God, you and the ark stay here; I’m going home.” I have to tell you a lot of people respond this way when things turn difficult and unexplainable. Now we don’t get all of the details of David’s thinking; we don’t know how he processed the event of that day when Uzzah died, but we are told that David was so angry that God had taken this man’s life that he walked away from moving the ark. I don’t know if you’ve ever been so angry with God that you walked away from him. I know that I have come pretty close. I was really angry with God when one of our daughters had practically everything she owned stolen and she was left with essentially nothing; I was pretty angry with God as I watched one of my best friends, someone who’d given his life in service to God, suffer through a terrible 3-year-long losing battle with cancer; I was really angry with God when I realized that there are people who will hate me for the rest of my life because of my commitment to what God is doing here at Grace. Yes, I’ve been pretty angry. I’ve said things like, “What were you thinking?” “Why didn’t you stop this?” “Why didn’t you do anything?”
And like David I also know what it is to be afraid of God; my fear has always been that God might punish me for something I’ve done or said or thought by bringing terrible things into life of someone I love. I know that sounds crazy, but sometimes, when I read a passage like this where someone dies apparently because David got it wrong, God really scares me. I’m sure David thought something like, “Hey, I was doing my best here and look what it got me. You stay there and I’ll just live my life over here.” And I get that. But I don’t think that we were given this chapter to justify wallowing in our anger or to make us afraid of God. No, what I think we’re being told through this chapter of 2nd Samuel is this: If David, the man after God’s own heart, responded this way to God, then these responses are not uncommon; in fact, while they’re not the best way to respond to things in life that hurt us and confuse us, our anger and fear don’t surprise or confound God. I’m pretty sure that God would rather have us admitting our anger toward him so that at least we are talking to him about it… As I said, we don’t get the details of David’s deliberations with God but we do know that he reconsidered not wanting to have anything to do with God.
Some of this must have come from realizing that God’s presence was bringing blessing to Obed Edom. David looked around and saw the on-going goodness of God and that probably softened his heart. We also know that David went back to God’s word and looked at Exodus 25 to figure out what had been out of line in his first attempt at moving the ark… we know this because he sure got the details right the second time around. Exodus must have reminded David that God’s greatest desire was to have a relationship with him and that too, probably softened his heart. It’s my feeling that these things, evidence of God’s blessing and spending time in God’s word, helped David realize that this powerful, mysterious and often frightening dangerous God wasn’t out to get him; yes, much about God is difficult to understand… but something that isn’t a mystery is that God is loves us no matter the circumstances.
And what did we see David doing after he realized this? Worshiping God in joyous, out of his mind worship. Now, please don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying there is any sort of proscriptive pattern here, as in “If you get angry just count God’s blessings and read your Bible and everything will clear up. Not at all. All I’m saying is that there will be times in life when our response to our circumstances may be all over the map… they may initially result in anger toward God. And when we’re angry it’s best to admit that to God and continue to engage with him so we can work through our anger together. And there may also be times when we’re afraid of God; and again, it’s best to tell him straight up, “You’re scaring me.” When I’m afraid of God I tend to read the Psalms because so many of the Psalms reorient me to God’s love for me. Now, sometimes it takes a while, but what I’ve found is that if I let God speak into my life through his word eventually he always shows me that I don’t need to fear him. Now, I know that my saying this makes it all sound so simple… and I know it isn’t. There was one particular time in my life when I was really angry at God for an injustice that happened to our youngest daughter… I was so furious with God that it took about a year for me to find any confidence that God wasn’t punishing me by hurting her… it took a long time for me to rest in the reality of his love for me… but, like David, what I finally realized was this: when I’m angry with God or frightened by Him, that is exactly when I should be moving toward him and not away from him. Bottom line: I am not punishing God by not having anything to do with him. My silence only hurts me. I know it sounds counter intuitive but I’m confident it is the truth: when I’m the most frightened by God that is exactly when I should be moving toward him And you know what else, there will also be times when God’s presence, when his power, his majesty and his mystery will leave us breathless and our response will be worship. Maybe not in our underwear… maybe not with wild dancing… sometimes it might be very active and sometimes it might be in the still silence but always in joy… in the joy that God has chosen to make his home with us and within us because he love us.
II Samuel Chapter 6 shows us two kinds of relationships with God. We see David who has a relationship with God that in this chapter is characterized by anger, fear and unbridled celebration… David had a real, down-to-earth relationship with God. The kind I want. And we also see Michal whose relationship with God was one of simple indifference… she was so wrapped up in herself,and I’m sure angry with God for what had come into her life that she didn’t care about God one way or the other. 2nd Samuel 6 says, “Don’t be like Michal.” Be like David and move towards God. Now, God wants us to respect him… to recognize that he is God and that he is powerful beyond imagination. In fact moving toward God can be dangerous; the ark was dangerous, but the truth is, God wants to be so close to us that we will bring him our anger and fears and our worship.