II Samuel 6:1-11
6 David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand.2 He and all his men went to Baalah in 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 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 all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals. 6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, 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 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.
When the ark was returned to Israel twenty years earlier after its capture by the Philistines, it was brought to the home of Abinadab. I Sam. 7:1-2 says, “So the men of Kirjath Jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord. They brought it to Abinadab’s house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the Lord. The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim a long time—twenty years in all.” Since then we have not heard a word of the ark except that, once, Saul called for it, (1 Sam. 14:18). That which in former days had made so great an impression on friends and enemies alike had now been thrown aside and neglected for many years.
If the ark was for so many years in a mere house, let it not seem strange that we find the church so long hidden in the wilderness in Rev. 12:14. Perpetual visibility is no mark of the true church. God is graciously present with the souls of his people even when they lack the physical structures for his presence. But now that David is settled in the throne, the honor of the ark began to revive, and so did Israel’s desire for it to flourish again. Quite possibly the good people among them had been concerned, but lacked occasion to change the situation. Phil. 4:10 says, “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.” They would now have a chance.
1. A Noble Desire Enthusiastically (but not wisely) Implemented 1-5
Here is honorable mention made of the ark. Because it had not been spoken of for a great while, now that it is talked about, observe how it is described (2) “which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark.” This is so that God was greatly magnified in the miracles done in relationship to the ark when it was present. We could learn here to think and speak highly of God. His is the name above every name, the Lord Almighty, that has all the creatures in heaven and earth at his command, and receives homage from them all, and yet is pleased to dwell between the cherubim, over the mercy-seat, graciously showing Himself to his people, reconciled in a Mediator, and ready to do them good.
The ark was a symbol of the presence of God. There was a close attachment between the ark, God’s presence, God’s name and God’s glory. Leviticus 24:11-16 describes a sad instance which helps us remember we are to reverence the name of the Lord: “The son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name with a curse; so they brought him to Moses. (His mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri the Danite.) They put him in custody until the will of the Lord should be made clear to them. Then the Lord said to Moses: “Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him. Say to the Israelites: ‘Anyone who curses their God will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.” The name of God is Holy and is to be honored; not used carelessly, as many people do in everyday happenings, just to register surprise or wonder at something.
We might also consider the value of thinking and speaking with dignity and honor of holy ordinances, such as water baptism and celebration of the Lord’s supper, since these are to us the symbols of God’s presence and the means of our communion with Him today. Psalms 27:4 says, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” It is the Lord we seek, not the ark, not the tabernacle, not a cup, or bread or water; we seek the Lord! Nevertheless, we can think reverently about these other material things that are symbols of spiritual things very meaningful to us.
Psalm 27:4 enables us to understand the value David placed on being in the Lord’s presence. No wonder he wanted the ark in Jerusalem. It must be brought to Jerusalem. It was the honor of the ark that it was the ark of God; He was jealous for it, is magnified in it, His name is called upon it. It was a great event to move it from obscurity to prominence, from secret to public and it put them into a transport of joy to see it done. The divine institution justifies a beauty and grandeur ascribed to holy ceremonies and ordinances. Christ is our ark. In and by him God manifests his favor and communicates his grace to us, and accepts our adoration and addresses.
In seeking to move the ark we see a deeper thing—that they wanted God and symbols of God near them. Now, after years of neglect, it is enquired after, David made the motion, and the heads of the congregation agreed to it (I Chron 13:1-4). All the chosen men of Israel are called together to grace the solemnity, to pay their respect to the ark, and to testify their joy in its restoration. The nobility and gentry, elders and officers, came to the number of 30,000 (1), and the generality of the common people besides (1 Chron. 13:5); for it may have been done at one of the three great festivals. This would make a noble cavalcade, an impressive parade, and would help to inspire the young people (specifically mentioned) who perhaps had scarcely heard of the ark to appreciate it and still stimulate the more mature people among them to value it and especially to treasure Yehovah, Who was honored by it.
The entire nation seemed very happy to move the ark. Verse 5 says, “David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets (pieces of wood clicked together to accompany dancing) , harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums (ancient Egyptian percussion instruments) and cymbals.” They made use of the instruments they had to excite and express their rejoicing. It would put them into a transport of joy to see the ark rise out of obscurity and move toward a public station. It is better to have the ark in a house than not at all, better in a house than a captive in Dagon’s temple; but it is even more desirable to have it in a tent pitched on purpose for it, so the people had access to it. As secret worship is better the more secret it is, so public worship is better the more public it is. We have reason to rejoice when restraints are removed and the symbols of God’s presence are welcome in the city. The celebration was intentional, it was “before the Lord.”
It is possible that David wrote Ps 68 either at this time or later when the movement of the ark was successfully completed at Jerusalem. Verses 1-3 of that Psalm say, “May God arise, may his enemies be scattered; may his foes flee before him. May you blow them away like smoke—as wax melts before the fire, may the wicked perish before God. But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.” We suspect this because this Psalm begins with that ancient prayer Moses used when the ark was moved, as the Israelite camp began a journey to a new location in the wilderness. Moses prayer is recorded in Numbers 10:35-36, “Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, ‘Rise up, Lord! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you.’ Whenever it came to rest, he said, ‘Return, Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel.’”
Moses’ prayer and Psalms 68’s first verse are almost the same: “May God arise, may his enemies be scattered; may his foes flee before him.” If Ps. 68 was written with the movement of the ark in mind, it is not difficult to assume that other parts of Ps. 68 were also written with that procession in mind. Imagine this, “In front are the singers, after them the musicians; with them are the young women playing the timbrels” (Ps. 68:25). Envision this, “There is the little tribe of Benjamin, leading them, there the great throng of Judah’s princes, and there the princes of Zebulun and of Naphtali” (Ps. 68:27). And think about this, “You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God” (Ps. 68:35)! Placing Ps. 68 next to 2 Sam 6:1-11 gives us a more complete picture of this celebrative procession.
2. A Very Sober Lesson 6-7
For all its joyous overtones, there was a very sad incident with an important message in it for us today. They made a grave error in attempting to carry the ark of God on a cart instead of on the shoulders of the priests. The Kohathites that had the charge of the ark had no wagons assigned them, because their service was to bear it upon their shoulders, (Num. 7:9). The ark was not so heavy a burden but that they could have carried it as far as Mount Zion on their shoulders, they did not need to put it in a cart like a common thing. It was no excuse for them that the Philistines had done so and were not punished for it; they knew no better, nor had they any priests or Levites with them to undertake carrying it; better carry it in a cart than that any of Dagon’s priests should carry it. The Philistines may cart the ark if they like, but the Israelites needed to do it correctly, honoring the ark.
Secular organizations and institutions can use organization, personnel charts, administrative diagrams, flow charts, machinery, business means and human plans, but the Church of the living almighty God should consult with the living God. God may approve of the human system and even approve of our use of it, but we should not assume it without consulting Him. New or old cart, both were wrong. David loved the law of God, so how was it he did not remember this? If this mistake was made because of David’s zeal, that changes the picture some, but not entirely. Knowledge is more important than zeal as we learn from Rom 12:2 which says, “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.”
So Uzzah was struck dead for touching the ark. This stopped the procession and dispersed the assembly and all went home in a fright. It may seem that Uzzah’s offense was small. He and his brother Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, in whose house the ark had long been lodged, having been used to attend it, to show their willingness to prefer that everybody benefited from the ark rather than just their own family, decided to drive the cart in which the ark was carried, this being perhaps the last service they were likely to do for it since others would be employed about it when it came to the city of David. Ahio went before, to clear the way, and, if need were, to lead the oxen. Uzzah followed close to the side of the cart. It happened that the oxen shook it, “When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled” (6).
Whether the oxen stumbled or kicked or got stuck in the mud, by an accident the ark was in danger of being overthrown. Uzzah took hold of it, to save it from falling, probably with good intention, to preserve the ark and its reputation. His only crime was that he was not a priest though he was a Levite. Even for the Kohathite priests it was forbidden to touch any holy thing. Numbers 4:15 says, “After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, only then are the Kohathites to come and do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the tent of meeting.” Having served the ark for a long time we may understand his presumption, but should not excuse it. We each should ask the Holy Spirit to help us apply the principle we learn here to our lives and ministries. Lord, is there any way in which I am being presumptuous in carryout out my responsibilities as your servant to your people and to the Church of Jesus Christ? He will help us if we ask sincerely.
Right there and then at the time and place of the offense Uzzah received his punishment. “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” (7). We do not know the condition of Uzzah’s heart, but we do know that God is just. Apparently Uzzah felt too familiar with the holy things of God. David afterwards admitted that Uzzah died for an error they were all guilty of, which was carrying the ark in a cart. “It was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that the Lord our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of him about how to do it in the prescribed way” (I Chron 15:13).
Actually, there were several problems. It was to be carried on the shoulders of Kohathites and the ark was to be covered by badger skins. A holy and righteous God wanted His people to know and respect His law. So the “judgment,” as many “judgments” in the Bible, was actually a mercy because it was a learning opportunity. God would in this event strike an awe upon the thousands of Israel, would convince them that the ark was no less venerable for its having been so long in common circumstances, and in this way He would teach them to rejoice with trembling, and always to treat holy things with reverence and holy fear.
We also learn here that a good intention will not justify a bad action; it will not be sufficient to say that we meant well even though something was done incorrectly. We also may learn that if it was wrong for Uzzah to lay hold of the ark without the right to do that, it would also be wrong for us to claim the privilege of being sons and daughters of God without conforming to the terms of such a relationship—if the ark is sacred and not to be touched, what about the blood of Jesus? Heb. 10:29 says, “How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?”
3. David’s First Reactions—Anger and Fear 8-9a
Was David embarrassed that the procession had to stop? Did he take this personally? Was he wrong to react emotionally instead introspectively? He might have humbled himself under God’s hand, confessed his error, acknowledged God’s righteousness, and then have gone on with the good work he was doing. But, no, he was displeased. It is not said because Uzzah had affronted God, but because God had made a breach upon Uzzah “Then David was angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah” (8). The word for anger in verse 8 is the same word as for displeasure in verse 7. Did David, a human, have the right to be displeased with God who was God, as though God might not display the honor of his ark, and frown upon one that touched it rudely, without asking David permission. Shall mortal man pretend to be more just than God, criticize his proceedings, or charge him with wrong-doing?
David did not now act like himself, like a man after God’s own heart. It is not for us to be displeased at anything God does, however unpleasing it is to us. The death of Uzzah was, for sure, a sad event, but instead of being angry, it would have been better if David had started sooner to find out what he did wrong. By being angry he seems to be trying to find the cause or implying the cause was somewhere else or someone else other than himself. We might learn here that when or if we are under God’s anger we must remain under our own too—control our emotions, and try to find out what we did wrong—since we know that God is just and if He is just and we are judged there must be a reason that He judged us.
His next emotion was that he was afraid as verse 9 tells us, “David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, ‘How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?’” 2 Sam. 6:9. As if God sought advantages against everyone and was so extremely tender toward His ark that there was no dealing with it; and therefore better for him to keep it at a distance. He might have said, “Let the ark come to me, and I will take warning by this to treat it with more reverence.” Or this may be considered a good use of this tremendous judgment. Ps 119:120 says, “My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws.” We may also observe that he did not say, “Surely Uzzah was a sinner above all, because he suffered like this.” David’s reactions may show us an underlying empathy for Uzzah’s case.
David simultaneously knew he was unworthy of God’s favour and yet was unhappy with God’s displeasure. He had cause to fear and so do we. “God might justly strike me dead as he just now did Uzzah. When God judges, He intends that others may hear and fear. David therefore will not bring the ark into his own city (2 Sam. 6:10) until he is better prepared, “He was not willing to take the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David.”
4. A Temporary Resolution 9b-11
doorman of whatever place the ark was housed. He is also repeatedly mentioned as a musician who ministered where the ark was located. A word study of the name, Obed-Edom, reveals that he and his descendants are repeatedly mentioned as serving in the places that the ark was located in I & II Kings and Chronicles.
Just as the ark as a symbol the presence of God had the power to bring a curse or a blessing depending on the reception it received, so the gospel has the same power. No one ever had, or ever will have, reason to say that it is in vain to serve God. Let the man of every house bring a blessing to his whole family by the way he receives, loves, lives and shares the gospel. Three months is not a very long time, but evidently the economical situation in Obed-Edom’s home changed significantly enough during that short time that the neighbors and eventually David too, knew of it.
When David heard about it he was immediately motivated to bring the ark to Jerusalem. Though he had failed once by using his own understanding, he still pursued his goal, changed his methods to those prescribed in Scripture and tried again. The second time he was successful. A successful leader is not one who always makes every decision and policy statement correct the first time. The one who can learn from his mistakes, correct them, do things Gods way and move forward is the one who succeeds. Don’t you want to be that kind of a leader?