Let me pray as we stand.
Father, as we look at your Word this evening, please show yourself to us, that we might know you better and respond to you rightly. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Please take a seat. Well, after a four week break we're continuing with our series in 2 Samuel. Today we join the action in Chapter 6. My title for today is David and the Ark of God. After years on the run from Saul, David is now on the throne of Israel. In Chapter 5, he has just captured Jerusalem from Jebusites and also defeated the Philistines, the sworn enemy of Israel. And you would now perhaps expect a period and calm and peace as David consolidates his rule…. But far from that! This chapter is full of unexpected twists and turns, so let's get started.
1. The Lord is Dangerously Holy – So Take Him Seriously (6:1-10)
My first point is that the Lord is dangerously holy – so take him seriously. Verses 1-10.
Now, to understand 2 Samuel 6, we need to know a bit about the Ark, so three quick starter questions:
1. What is the Ark?
The first thing to say is that we're not talking about Noah's ark here! We're talking about the ancient box God commanded his people to make in Exodus 25. It was a box about the size of a large cardboard box, made of acacia wood, plated with gold, called the ark of the covenant. It contained, amongst other things, the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them.
2. What is the significance of the Ark?
It was the supreme visible symbol of God's presence among his people.
We read this in Numbers 10:35-36, for example:
And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, "Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you." And when it rested, he said, "Return, O LORD, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel."
The ark was a symbol which said in bold letters: "God lives with his people."
3. What is the significance of the Ark being moved to Jerusalem?
In 2 Samuel Chapter 5, David takes back Jerusalem from the Jebusites and it becomes his capital city. But Jerusalem is not just the city of David – it's the City of God. So moving the Ark into Jerusalem meant establishing God's presence in God's city where God's King ruled over God's people. It was one more important step forward in the jigsaw puzzle of the Old Testament model kingdom which pointed forward to Jesus Christ. OK. Thanks for your patience. We're good to go now.
We start with a joyful celebration. Let me read verses 1-5.
David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. (That's all the top civil servants and generals under David's command.) And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah (8 miles West/ North West of Jerusalem) to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio,the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark.
So the ark of God is transported in the ancient equivalent of a brand new Ferrari, expect pulled by oxen and driven by Uzzah and Ahio.
And everyone is celebrating!
And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD, with songs and lyres...
...and other kinds of delightful pre-organ instruments!
People are rejoicing before the Lord! Because the Ark was coming into Jerusalem – the visual picture of God dwelling with his people in his city! So far, so good. But what happens next? Well, verse 6,
And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.
Let's pause and think. Guess what happens next?
Option A – the party continues as before?
Option B – Uzzah gets a pat on the back from his brother Ahio because he grabbed the ark of God before it fell to the ground?
Or Option C – something unexpected happens…
Well this is what happened – verse 7.
And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.
What's your reaction to these verses? Shock? Anger? Why does God behave like this? I mean, is this not just totally unfair and arbitrary?! If you're here as someone who is not a Christian, maybe you're thinking: "What kind of crazy people would follow a God who does stuff like this? This God who uses his power to randomly obliterate people who made mistakes?" And if you are Christian, maybe you're thinking, "Did God really do that?! And wasn't Uzzah a believer?!" And David felt a similar way. Look at verse 8.
And David was angry because the LORD had burst forth against Uzzah.
The last time God's anger burst out was against the Philistines in 1 Samuel 5:20 when David defeated the Philistines and David is thinking:
"God, isn't your anger meant to be for your enemies – not your people?! And if not, what kind of God are you!"
Hands up if you have seen Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark! You see I'm afraid I couldn't read this passage without Indiana Jones pictures coming into my head – the bit where the German soldiers open up the Ark! But here's the thing, in Indiana Jones, it's the 'bad guys' who die – here in 2 Samuel 6, it's one of God's people! And in Indiana Jones, the German soldiers deliberately open up the ark – whereas here in 2 Samuel it's just a guy who wanted to stop the Ark falling off onto the dusty road! What is going on here?
I don't have all the answers, but let's step back and think. From Numbers Chapter 4, we learn that there were two big 'no nos' concerning the Ark, which David's men would have been fully aware of:
- Numbers 4 verses 4-6 said "No cart!" When the Ark was moved, it needed to be covered in goatskin and carried using poles. It needed to be carried on the shoulder using two wooden poles. Not on a cart!
- Numbers 4 verse 15 said "No touch!" God said that those carrying the ark must not touch the holy things, lest they die. Hands off!
So actually God had given very clear instructions about how the Ark should be transported!
And he had warned of the consequences of ignoring them! So verse 7 wasn't just an accident. The whole process of bringing the Ark into Jerusalem was not how God wanted it. God's people didn't listen to God and take him seriously. "OK" we might be thinking, "But that's Old Testament! What about the New Testament – surely God doesn't deal with New Testament believers in the same way?" Not so fast!
Think about Acts Chapter 5. Where Ananias and Sapphira lie to the church about the proportion of money from a house sale they have given to the church. And both of them die. Or think about Revelation 2 verses 19-23. These are Jesus' words to the church (i.e. Christians) in Thyatira. (A bit of background…)
I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practise sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.
(Now here's the key bit about God's judgement and discipline)
Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed...
(Fine, she's a false teacher who's not Christian, but look at what follows)
... and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead.
In the New Testament, these incidents of God intervening in this very direct way to discipline his people are extraordinary. They are not normal but it's precisely because they are not normal, that they cause God's people to gulp, take a deep breath and reconsider their ways. So, in Acts 5:11, this is the effect of Ananias and Sapphira's death on the early church:
And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
And in Revelation 2:23, this is the result of God's firm discipline on the church of Thyatira:
And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.
These extraordinary incidents remind God's people to start taking God seriously again. What about us here today? Well, I don't have all the answers about how God punishes and disciplines today – and I certainly want to steer well clear of making a direct link between sin and sickness or sin and death in any particular case. But let me say two things.
Firstly, it seems to me that God can act today in this way to restore a right respect of him in the church. And we should remember that.
Secondly, the main point for us to take away is that we need to take the Lord seriously.
We cannot think that God's holiness not is just an Old Testament thing. We cannot think that, because we're safe in Christ from God's future judgement, that we are immune from his sometimes firm discipline. No. We must take God seriously, because he is dangerously holy. And that's just what David did after the incident with Uzzah. Look at v.9-10.
And David was afraid of the LORD that day, and he said, "How can the ark of the LORD come to me?" So David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.
That's my first point. The Lord is dangerously holy, so take him seriously.
2. The Lord is Wonderfully Good – So Rejoice Unashamedly (6:11-23)
My second point is this. The Lord is wonderfully good – so rejoice unashamedly! Verses 11-23. Look at verses 11-12.
And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite for three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household.
And it was told to King David, "The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God."
David has a 90 day trial period with the ark. He leaves in Oded-edom's house and waits. The report comes back positive – The Lord is blessing him!
David starts to remember afresh that, yes, God is holy – and must be approached in the right way – but he is also a good God who blesses his people! So, Verse 12.
David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing.
So here we go again – the Ark into Jerusalem round 2! Except this time, it's being carried in correctly! So we have God's presence going into God's city with God's people – now that's worth celebrating! And David knows it. He dances before the Lord passionately, wearing a simple linen robe. And the whole party processes into Jerusalem with shouting and joy! What could be better? But in verse 16 the tone changes. We meet Michal again, one of David's wives, daughter of Saul. Verse 16:
As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, and she despised him in her heart.
Michal sees David rejoicing unashamedly before the Lord and she is disgusted by what she sees. It is as if she has just seen someone urinating in public. She finds David's actions revolting. And we sense from this point on that a confrontation between David and Michal is looming. And, fastforward to Verse 20 – after all the festivities have died down and David returns home, it all kicks off!
And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said (with biting sarcasm), "How the king of Israel honoured himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants' female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!"
It's the language of honour and shame here.
Michal is saying: "What a disgrace you are, David! You call yourself a King, but you behave like a commoner! Showing off to the female servants like that. How low can you go?!" But David doesn't let Michal's sarcasm suffocate his enthusiasm for the Lord. Look what he says in response:
And David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the LORD—and I will make merry before the LORD. I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honour." And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.
It's hard not to feel a deep sadness as you read this true story. It's such a painful anti-climax to a great chapter.You think of the context of the Ark coming joyfully into Jerusalem – God's presence in God's City where God's King ruled God's people – such a highlight in the model kingdom which pointed forward to Christ – and it's a tragedy that Chapter 6 should end like this! And the reason for the anti-climax is the difference in how David and Michal relate to the Lord. David's concern was to rejoice in the Lord, to praise God that the Ark was coming back to Jerusalem. His concern was about how he appeared before God. While Michal's concern was to show dignity, decorum. Her concern was about keeping appearances before others. And she thought David was out of his mind!
I wonder if that's a word for anyone here this evening. Maybe, like David you are really passionate about the Lord. You love him. He has done so much for you. But people close to you, maybe friends, colleagues, or family members (for students returning home to non-Christian families for the holidays) – perhaps even your husband/wife, don't share your passion for the Lord. And they look down on you. They pity you. They wish you'd snap out of it.
Well, take comfort. You are not alone in facing these trials. David did. And the Lord Jesus did too. In Mark 3:21, his family said of him: "He is out of his mind." And the sinful woman in Luke 7 faced these trials too. The Pharisees were embarrassed with her lavish display of devotion to Jesus, like David's dancing embarrassed Michal. And today our brothers and sisters all around the world face these trials.
I remember hearing the true story of a Turkish student who became a Christian in Turkey. When she shared her new faith with her parents, they said to her: "You would have brought less dishonour on our family if you had become a prostitute."
So, brothers and sisters, if you love Jesus and people around you are disgusted by it, or mock you, or exclude you, or pity you, take comfort – you are not the first to suffer for being enthusiastic about the Lord – and you won't be the last. You are not alone. And take comfort from Jesus' words in Matthew 5 verses 11-12. He says:
"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Lord is wonderfully good, so rejoice in him unashamedly – whatever other people might think. I want to finish with a quote from CS Lewis' well-known children's book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It's the scene where Mr and Mrs Beaver are trying to describe the lion Aslan (who represents God) to the children.
Mrs Beaver said: "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."
"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
That's our Lord God. Not safe. No! Dangerously holy. We need to take him seriously.
Good. Yes! Wonderfully good. We should rejoice in him unashamedly. That's what we've seen about our God in 2 Samuel Chapter 6 today. Let's pray.
Father, thank you for reminding us that you are holy and you are good. Please help us to take you seriously and rejoice in you unashamedly. In Jesus' name, Amen.