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Life of David

The Awesome God

2 Samuel 6

Ever since Indiana Jones brought it to our attention in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Ark of the Covenant has held a fascination for modern readers. Much of this fascination comes from the power that seems to reside in the ark - a power which is clearly displayed in this text.

(2 Sam 6 NIV) David again brought together out of Israel chosen men, thirty thousand in all. {2} 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. {3} 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 {4} with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. {5} 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. {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. {7} 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. {8} Then David was angry because the Lord's wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah. {9} David was afraid of the LORD that day and said, "How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me?" {10} 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. {11} The ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the LORD blessed him and his entire household. {12} Now King David was told, "The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God." So David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. {13} When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. {14} David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, {15} while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets. {16} As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart. {17} They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the LORD. {18} After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD Almighty. {19} Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes. {20} When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, "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!" {21} David said to Michal, "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. {22} 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." {23} And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.

The Ark

History

It must be remembered that the ark is about 500 years old at this time. It's history is a bit unusual - it seems to go in and out of the memory of Israel.

  • It was made at the time of the exodus, at the direction of God. This was a time at which the Law was being given, and some of that law concerned the ark as well. But in the time of Moses and Joshua, the ordinances seem to have been followed strictly.
  • The ark was seen as the visible symbol of God's power. In its presence the Jordan stops flowing at flood stage; at its presence the walls of Jericho fall down flat. Whatever else might be thought, here is power.
  • Even the Philistines know this. They capture the ark (because of the evil of the sons of Eli, the priest.) Things immediately start going wrong for the Philistines. They put it in the temple of Dagon; Dagon falls flat on his face before the ark. The Philistines are smitten with a plague - of hemorrhoids. They shift it from city to city, and finally send it back to Israel on a newly made cart, with gold offerings for atonement. When the Israelites get it, some look into it - and are killed. This thing is dangerous.
  • It sits. For almost 75 years it is practically ignored by Samuel and Saul. It is not until David remembers the legendary power of the ark that it comes into the history of Israel again.
Rules

God seems to be rather strict about this piece of hardware.

·         While in transit, it is to be covered so that no irreverence may be done to it.

·         It is to be carried on poles - so that God will ride above the backs of the people, not behind them like a captive in a cart.

·         Only certain people - the descendants of Kohath - can carry it. God chooses, not us.

·         And - interestingly - when the High Priest went into it, he was to use so much incense (a symbol of prayer) that it clouded over the top of the ark, called the Mercy Seat.

Political Significance

David is an astute politician. He knows that he is ruling over a country of tribes, and the ark does two things for him:

  • By having it in his possession, he connects himself with the Moses and Joshua of legend - completing his image in the minds of the people as a man after God's own heart. Here is a symbol of power.
  • More than that, it is a symbol of the unity of the twelve tribes. There are twelve tribes, but only one ark. He who possesses it can legitimately claim to be the ruler of all Israel.
Spiritual Significance

Of far more importance to us, however, is its spiritual significance. There are three very important aspects:

  • It is the "ark of the Testimony." It, by its very existence, testifies both to the miraculous deliverance of the Jews from the land of Egypt (a type of sin) and their own sinful ways, which God dealt with in the wilderness.
  • It is said to carry the "name of the Lord." To a society in which a man's name was much more than a label, it was the one item which at this time could be said to represent God in physical form.
  • It is at the mercy seat that God met Moses. This was not unique; Samuel met him there also. This is the one spot on earth where God speaks to the prophets. This is, literally, the voice of God.

Lessons Learned, Part 1

So then, what can we learn from David's handling of the Ark?

Doing the right things the right way

It is important to do the right things. It is also important to do them in the right way - for the ends do not justify the means. David learns that here.

  • The Philistines - who knew no better - put the Ark on a cart. They try their best to please this powerful God. The cart is new; the oxen have never been yoked. The cart contains their atonement offerings - golden models of rats (representing the plague carriers) and hemorrhoids. They are each five in number, for the five cities of the Philistines. That's not bad for people who had no instructions whatever. But it's not good enough for the people of God - who should be reading the instructions given to them. God has a stricter standard for those of us who know the Scripture.
  • The Ark must come to Jerusalem, for it bears the name of the Lord, and that is the city where God will place his name, as prophesied. So the end of this quest is completely justified. David makes the mistake of assuming that he need think no further.
  • When God's wrath is revealed, David stops. He lets the matter sit for three months, and in that time inquires of the priests and Levites as to the Law. They enlighten him - and he now does it God's way.
The Wrath of God

The wrath of God is not a popular subject, but it is a necessary one. God's wrath is his permanent, fixed reaction to evil. We might look at this incident and say, "Why is God being so picky?" But consider:

  • God is completely pure and holy. If you will, his standards must be much higher than ours, for he can tolerate no sin in his presence.
  • Our reaction comes from the fact that we are sinners. We say, "Who are you to be so fussy? You're not perfect." But God is perfect.
  • Do you remember that Christ welcomed the tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners - but cleansed the Temple? He was zealous for the things of God. If this were somebody's hope chest, the reaction would be unreasonable. But this chest belongs to God. It is holy. To mistreat the possessions of another human being is one thing; we are all sinners. To mistreat the things of God is entirely another.
Joy in Worship

So often we find worship to be dull. It should not be; David sets us an example here. If God is worth worshiping, he's worth everything we can put into it.

  • As Athanasius taught, it's in such times of music that we are closest to God - for it is only then that we worship with all our heart, all our souls, all our minds and all our strength.
  • We, like Michal, might see this as undignified. But let me ask a question: does that dignity come from our respect for God - or from our own pride at being such righteous people? To "let go" and make a fool of yourself for God is to say that He is worthy - and I am not.

It would be convenient to end the matter here. There is one more thing to be learned, and that from David's wife Michal.

Michal - and the primacy of God

There is something utterly tragic about Michal. If ever a woman had a reason to complain of being ill-used and treated with a complete lack of respect, it is Michal.

  • When we first meet her, we see she is a woman in love. She has a crush on this young warrior David.
  • But she's already second fiddle. Saul was going to give his daughter in marriage to the man who defeated Goliath - but the daughter in question was her older sister Merab. Michal is the kid sister, and even her own father doesn't really respect her.
  • He respects her so little that he uses her as bait. David is to die at the hands of the Philistines collecting those hundred foreskins as a bride price for Michal. It doesn't work - but how would you like to be nothing but bait in your dad's trap for another man?
  • When David flees, Saul "marries" her off to Paltiel - this after she saves David's life. For the next ten years David evidently has no contact with her at all - he has abandoned her, evidently. She is now just a political pawn.
  • She is a pawn again when David comes into the kingship, for David tells Abner to bring her from her husband to him. She is the symbol of David's triumph and the unity of the house of Saul with the house of David - and she is now wife number seven instead of wife number one. David has acquired six other women.
  • Despite this, we see her waiting at her window. You might miss the significance of this. It is the pose of the wayward wife in Proverbs; it is the picture of the temple prostitute in ancient times; even today in Europe it is used by houses of prostitution to lure customers. The woman is waiting for her lover to come home, and she is letting him know of her passionate desire for him. After all this, she is still desperately in love with David, and wants him very much.

There is the sadness of it all. She wanted nothing more than to be his lover and wife; she got everything but that for most of her life. She dies childless. Why?

  • Perhaps it was God's doing, as we shall see below.
  • Perhaps it was David's anger at her.
  • Perhaps, even, it was her anger at David.

But there is one thing certain. She missed the point. No matter what has happened to her, God still comes first. If ever a woman was ill treated, Michal was that woman. If ever a woman should have had her husband's love - my gosh, she saved his life - Michal was that woman. She even has justification for her attitude in the Scripture, for the king was not to multiply to himself wives.[1] She had, by our standards, every reason to be angry. But she missed the point. David was dancing before the Lord, and the Lord comes before your marriage.

It is tragic. It is a high, holy moment, and Michal could have shared it with the man she loved. She forced him to choose between God and herself. She paid for it the rest of her days.

We do not often think of the God of Wrath, the God who must be worshiped, the God who is above all things. But perhaps we should, lest we put our own wrongs above his righteousness.


[1] Deuteronomy 17:17

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