2 Samuel 6:1-15 – Be Careful How You Celebrate

Ark of the Covenant by Isabel Piczek 1982, St. Norbert Catholic Church, Orange, California

David again assembled all the best men in Israel, 30,000 in number. David and all the men who were with him traveled to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who sits enthroned between the cherubim that are on it. They loaded the ark of God on a new cart and carried it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart. They brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab on the hill. Ahio was walking in front of the ark, while David and all Israel were energetically celebrating before the Lord, singing and playing various stringed instruments, tambourines, rattles, and cymbals.

When they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and grabbed hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord was so furious with Uzzah, he killed him on the spot for his negligence. He died right there beside the ark of God.

David was angry because the Lord attacked Uzzah; so, he called that place Perez Uzzah, which remains its name to this very day. David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How will the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” So, David was no longer willing to bring the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. David left it in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months.

The Lord blessed Obed-Edom and all his family.King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the family of Obed-Edom and everything he owns because of the ark of God.” So, David went and joyfully brought the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David. Those who carried the ark of the Lord took six steps and then David sacrificed an ox and a fatling calf. Now David, wearing a linen ephod, was dancing with all his strength before the Lord. David and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord, shouting and blowing trumpets. (New English Translation)

The Christian season of Eastertide is a grand celebration of Christ’s resurrection and the new life we enjoy in Jesus Christ. Since God is the center of all things, celebrations need to be mindful. Nothing in life is a matter of doing whatever the heck we want to do.

Even celebration has its boundaries and limits.

The narrator who originally compiled, told, and wrote the today’s Old Testament lesson wanted to communicate something significant about God and how to relate to the Lord.

God put the big kibosh on David’s hoedown. At that time in the history of Israel, the ark was the foremost symbol of God’s presence with the people. Within the ark contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments (the symbol of God’s Word); the staff of the first priest, Aaron, (the symbol of God’s choice); and a pot of manna (the symbol of God’s provision). Thus, the ark was a holy object, pointing to a holy God.

The ark of the Lord was built during the time of Moses, when the ritual laws were established concerning offerings and how to approach God in worship. There were detailed prescriptions for how to construct all the sacred articles for worship. (Exodus 35:30-40:33) 

The ark was at the center of worship, representing the presence of God among the people. For nearly five-hundred years before David, the ark had become a familiar object in the life of Israel, always there, continually the symbol of God to the people.

I’ve been a Christian for many decades. One reason I refer to the seasons of the Christian Year in the present tense, is so that it doesn’t become old hat to me. Although I just presided over yet another Easter Sunday in my long tenure as a pastor, I am still in awe of Christ’s resurrection and am eternally grateful and full of joy over new life in Jesus Christ. I always want it to be fresh, as if I’m stepping up to the empty tomb for the first time.

Stained glass in the First Lutheran Church of
Washburn, North Dakota

Yet, we have all likely had the experience of something becoming so familiar, that we begin to lose sight of how important and valuable it really is. Not until we lose it, or something traumatic happens, do we wake up and take stock of its true significance. 

The Israelites had become lethargic and apathetic toward the worship of God, and it led to some disheartening and tragic circumstances. The people of God throughout the ages have always needed to be vigilant against the opiate of familiarity, dulling the senses to the importance of worship.

Moving the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem was one of the first acts David did as the king of Israel and Judah.  God was with David and brought him success against his enemies. David enjoyed a close relationship with God.  Even though David’s heart was in the right place, he made a huge miscalculation, which ended up offending God. 

David had the best of intentions in bringing the ark to Jerusalem and giving it a prominent place in the center of Jewish life. This was an exceptionally good plan. The problem, however, came in the manner the ark was carried from one place to another. 

God’s law laid out in careful detail how the ark was to be transported. Uzzah and Ahio were Levites charged with the ark’s care. Only the Levites could handle the ark and the holy objects of worship that went along with it.

Since it was the job of the Levites for hundreds of years, they knew better than to carry the ark of the Lord on a cart. God clearly told Moses that the ark was to have two long poles of acacia wood overlaid with gold inserted into four gold rings of the ark. The ark was to always be carried on the shoulders of the Levites with the two poles.

We are not told why Uzzah and Ahio were pulling the ark on a cart with oxen instead of carrying it in the prescribed way. Perhaps it was because the ark was incredibly heavy and no easy task to carry.  Maybe they decided it would be easier and more expedient to have the much stronger oxen pull the ark on a nice new cart; it would save a lot of energy transporting it over a long distance.

Or it could be that they were tired of moving the ark in the same old way they had always done it. Maybe it was old hat to them, and they were ready for something different.

For pragmatic people, Uzzah and Ahio’s approach makes a lot of sense. However, God was not okay with this arrangement. When the oxen stumbled and the ark was in danger of falling off the cart, Uzzah reflexively reached out to steady it.  That was the last act Uzzah ever did on this earth. God immediately put him down for his “irreverent act.”

So, here is the not so good idea: Evaluating the worship of God by common sense pragmatism, what we think will work best, and how we feel it ought to be done. Everything about worship is to pay attention to the holiness of God through our obedience. 

Whenever we avoid the prescriptions of Holy Scripture, however best the intentions might be, is not a good thing and people will get hurt. One can never justify an action that goes against God’s Word because people are praising God. Just because the heart is in the right place does not mean what is being done is okay.

David’s first response was anger, then fear. He gave his best effort, and it resulted in God’s disfavor. Perhaps David took for granted that the ark could be moved any old way he wanted to move it. 

Trouble with God happens whenever we value efficiency and expediency over obedience and submission.

The great error of Uzzah, resulting in his death, was trying to manage God. We do not take care of God; God takes care of us. God does not bow to us. The Lord doesn’t allow the creature to manage the Creator.

God wants a pure, unadulterated, and obedient worship celebration from people in the way God wants it to be done, period. It is not up for negotiation.

Holy God, we confess that we have too often forgotten we are yours. Sometimes we carry on our lives as if there was no God and we fall short of being a credible witness to you. For these things we ask your forgiveness and for your strength. Give us clear minds and open hearts so we may bear witness to you in our world. Remind us to be who you would have us to be regardless of what we are doing or who we are with. Hold us close and build our relationship with you and with those you have given us on earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

2 Samuel 6:16-23 – Shameless Worship

As the Ark of the Lord came into the city, Saul’s daughter Michal looked out the window. When she saw David jumping and dancing in the presence of the Lord, she hated him.

David put up a tent for the Ark of the Lord, and then the Israelites put it in its place inside the tent. David offered whole burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. When David finished offering the whole burnt offerings and the fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord All-Powerful. David gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates, and a cake of raisins to every Israelite, both men and women. Then all the people went home.

David went back to bless the people in his home, but Saul’s daughter Michal came out to meet him. She said, “With what honor the king of Israel acted today! You took off your clothes in front of the servant girls of your officers like one who takes off his clothes without shame!”

Then David said to Michal, “I did it in the presence of the Lord. The Lord chose me, not your father or anyone from Saul’s family. The Lord appointed me to be over Israel. So, I will celebrate in the presence of the Lord. Maybe I will lose even more honor, and maybe I will be brought down in my own opinion, but the girls you talk about will honor me!”

And Saul’s daughter Michal had no children to the day she died. (New Century Version)

“God wants worshipers before workers; indeed the only acceptable workers are those who have learned the lost art of worship.”

A.W. Tozer

A true celebration of God was underway, enjoying the blessing of God. The sacrifices before God were sweet smelling because they were done in a spirit of obedience and humility, and according to the specifications of worship with the Ark of God’s Covenant.

However, David’s wife, Michal, the daughter of the former king, Saul, did not worship. She critically observed David and the others and evaluated the worship service by how it appeared to her. Michal was not with everyone else giving herself to the true worship of God. She did not like how her husband went about worship. 

The acceptable worship of God was not acceptable to her, and she gave David an earful about it. Yet, David was undaunted. He had his focus where it ought to be.

We get a cryptic last note on Michal, describing that she was barren to the day of her death – it is a note on her meant to convey both a physical reality of her body, and a spiritual reality of her soul.

So, how are we to worship God? In the New Testament Gospels, Jesus said about worship: 

“Indeed, the time is coming, and it is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. The Father is looking for people like that to worship him. God is a spirit. Those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:4:23-24, GW) 

Neither good intentions alone (in spirit) nor appropriate actions alone (in truth) constitute acceptable worship.  We must possess both. The worship Jesus talked about was literally “to prostrate oneself before God.”  In other words, it is to embrace both the disposition and the attitude of submission and humility toward God, seeking to obey the Lord as rightful Ruler, rather than superimpose our desires on him. 

Furthermore, God is both near to us and far away from us, all at the same time. God is close to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ, and now in the person of the Holy Spirit. God exists supreme and far above us, calling the shots of how we ought to be living our lives.

We must appreciate both divine transcendence and divine immanence.

The presence of God is both comforting and dangerous. God’s holiness is like a fire, giving us light and warmth – get too close to the flame and you will get burned, even destroyed. We do not get to tell God what we are to be doing and how to go about it. We have collective promises and blessings given to us as God’s people. Yet, at the same time, we have a responsibility to know God’s will and to do it in God’s way.

God cares about worship. If we worship any old way we want without consideration of how God wants it done, or if we just critically watch worship without engaging in it, then we ought not to expect blessing. However, if pay attention to God and are careful to do what God wants in God’s way, then we will enjoy God’s approval.

The Church is first and foremost a worshiping community of redeemed persons through the blood of Christ, which are given to the world in order to glorify God:

Everyone on this earth,
    sing praises to the Lord.
Day after day announce,
    “The Lord has saved us!”
Tell every nation on earth,
“The Lord is wonderful
    and does marvelous things!
The Lord is great and deserves
    our greatest praise!
He is the only God
    worthy of our worship.
Other nations worship idols,
but the Lord created
    the heavens.
Give honor and praise
    to the Lord,
whose power and beauty
    fill his holy temple.”

Tell everyone of every nation,
“Praise the glorious power
    of the Lord.
He is wonderful! Praise him
and bring an offering
    into his temple.
Worship the Lord,
    majestic and holy. (1 Chronicles 16:23-29, CEV)

The text in 1 Chronicles, a restatement of our Old Testament lesson for today, goes on to say:

David left Asaph and his coworkers with the Chest of the Covenant of God and in charge of the work of worship; they were responsible for the needs of worship around the clock.

He also assigned Obed-Edom and his sixty-eight relatives to help them. Obed-Edom son of Jeduthun and Hosah were in charge of the security guards. The priest Zadok and his family of priests were assigned to the Tent of God at the sacred mound at Gibeon to make sure that the services of morning and evening worship were conducted daily, complete with Whole-Burnt-Offerings offered on the Altar of Burnt Offering, as ordered in the Law of God, which was the norm for Israel.

With them were Heman, Jeduthun, and others specifically named, with the job description: “Give thanks to God, for his love never quits!” Heman and Jeduthun were also well equipped with trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments for accompanying sacred songs. The sons of Jeduthun formed the security guard. (1 Chronicles 16:37-42, MSG)

David exerted his kingly authority by instituting that in Israel the worship of God was to take place every day – not just one day a week. He hired hundreds of musicians, singers, and worship leaders to minister before the Lord every single day, twice a day. 

“I must take time to worship the One whose name I bear.”

Oswald Chambers

Many believers bemoan the morality and lack of spirituality in our world. Yet, if God’s people are not first and foremost a worshiping community, then we have nowhere else to look to institute the change which is needed.

In addition, every conceivable instrument and voice was used to praise God in worship. New songs were written continually by David, and arranged by Asaph, the worship leader. 

While we make plans and conceive of ideas for our lives, God is waiting for us to worship. It would be good to spend some time each morning when we arise, and each evening at bedtime, in worship following the example of David: remembering God, and who we are; singing to the Lord; confessing sin; claiming forgiveness; reading Scripture; and, praying. 

If we all devoted ourselves to worship without shame, then we might begin to imagine God opening to us blessing upon blessing.

*Above sketches of King David dancing before the Lord, by Rebecca Brogan

2 Samuel 6:6-12 – Doing the Wrong Thing for the Right Reason Is Still the Wrong Thing

When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, 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.

Then David was angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez 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 to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 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.

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 to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. (New International Version)

“What you think is the right road may lead to death.”

Proverbs 14:12, GNT

The narrator who originally told and wrote this story wanted to communicate something of God to us, as well as our relationship to the Lord. It’s important to understand why God rained on David’s hoedown. At that time in the history of Israel, the Ark of the Covenant was the foremost symbol that God was present with the people. 

Contained within the ark were the tablets of the Ten Commandments (the symbol of God’s Word); the staff of Aaron, the first priest (the symbol of God’s choice); and a pot of manna (the symbol of God’s provision). The ark was a holy object, pointing to a holy God.

The ark of the Lord was built at the time of Moses when all of the ritual laws of God were established. Those laws included details concerning the offerings people were to bring and how to approach God in worship. The latter part of the book of Exodus describes all the prescriptions of how to construct the sacred articles for worship. 

The ark was at the center of it all, representing the presence of God among his people. That was nearly five-hundred years before David. The ark had become a familiar object in the life of Israel, always there, continually being the symbol of God to the people.

We have all likely had the experience of something becoming so familiar to us that we begin to lose sight of how important and valuable it really is. And it is not until we lose it, or something traumatic happens, that we come back to our senses and again take stock of its true significance. 

The Israelites had become lethargic and apathetic toward the worship of God, and it led to some disheartening and tragic circumstances. God’s people need to continually be on guard against the opiate of familiarity dulling our senses to the importance of true worship.

Moving the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant to Jerusalem was one of the first acts David did as the king of Israel and Judah. God was with David and brought him success against his enemies. David enjoyed a close walk with the Lord. Yet, he could still make mistakes. Even though David’s heart was in the right place, he made a huge error which was an affront to God. 

The way in which we treat God, the things of God, and God’s word and worship, are of vital importance and value.

King David had the best of intentions, bringing up the ark to Jerusalem and giving it a prominent place in the center of Jewish life. This was a good thing, a good plan. The problem, however, came in the way the ark was carried from one place to another. The book of Exodus lays out in careful detail how the ark is to be transported. (Exodus 25:10-22; 37:1-9)

Two Levites, Uzzah and Ahio, were charged with taking care of the ark. Only the Levites could handle the ark and all the holy objects of worship that went along with it. Since it was their job, they should have known better than to carry the ark of the Lord on a cart. 

“If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you.”

Jesus (John 14:15, MSG)

God had clearly told Moses the ark was to always have two long poles of acacia wood overlaid with gold inserted into four gold rings of the ark. In fact, the ark itself was made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold.  The ark was to always be carried on the shoulders of the Levites with the two poles.

We are not told why Uzzah and Ahio are pulling the ark on a cart with oxen instead of carrying it in the prescribed way. Perhaps it was because the ark was very heavy. It was no cake walk carrying the ark around.  Maybe they decided it would be more expedient and easier to have some much stronger oxen pull the ark on a nice new cart; it would save a lot of energy bringing it over a long distance. 

Actually, when you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. It is quite pragmatic. However, God was not okay with this arrangement. When the oxen stumbled and the ark was in danger of falling off the cart, Uzzah reflexively reached out to steady it.  That was the last act Uzzah ever did on this earth. God put him down for his “irreverent act.”

We must neither decide nor evaluate the worship of God by common sense pragmatism, what we think will work best, or how we feel it ought to be done. Everything in the church is to pay attention to the holiness of God through our obedience. Whenever we avoid the prescriptions of God, however best those intentions might be, is not a good thing and people will get hurt. 

One can never justify an action which goes against God’s Word, just because people are praising God and their hearts are in the right place. It doesn’t necessarily mean what is being done is okay.

David’s first response was anger, then fear. Although he gave his best effort, it resulted in God’s disfavor. Upon reflection, David realized that he perhaps took for granted the ark could be moved any way they wanted to move it. 

Whenever we value efficiency and expediency over obedience and submission to God’s holiness, there will be trouble with God. The great sin of Uzzah, resulting in his death, was that he was managing God. 

We do not take care of God; God takes care of us. God will not bow to us and allow creatures to manage the Creator. The Lord wants pure unadulterated obedient worship from people in the way it is to be done.

Doing the wrong thing for the right reason is still the wrong thing to do. David had to learn that the hard way. Let’s learn from his mistake.

Blessed Lord, who graciously provides us instruction for our good, give us faith to receive your word, understanding to know what it means, and the will to put it into practice, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Numbers 10:11-36 – The Center of Worship

On the twentieth day of the second month of that same year, the cloud over the sacred tent moved on. So, the Israelites broke camp and left the Sinai Desert. And sometime later, the cloud stopped in the Paran Desert. This was the first time the Lord had told Moses to command the people of Israel to move on.

Judah and the tribes that camped alongside it marched out first, carrying their banner. Nahshon son of Amminadab was the leader of the Judah tribe, Nethanel son of Zuar was the leader of the Issachar tribe, and Eliab son of Helon was the leader of the Zebulun tribe.

The sacred tent had been taken down, and the Gershonites and the Merarites carried it, marching behind the Judah camp.

Reuben and the tribes that camped alongside it marched out second, carrying their banner. Elizur son of Shedeur was the leader of the Reuben tribe, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai was the leader of the Simeon tribe, and Eliasaph son of Deuel was the leader of the Gad tribe.

Next were the Kohathites, carrying the objects for the sacred tent, which was to be set up before they arrived at the new camp.

Ephraim and the tribes that camped alongside it marched next, carrying their banner. Elishama son of Ammihud was the leader of the Ephraim tribe, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur was the leader of the Manasseh tribe,and Abidan son of Gideoni was the leader of the Benjamin tribe.

Dan and the tribes that camped alongside it were to protect the Israelites against an attack from behind, and so they marched last, carrying their banner. Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai was the leader of the tribe of Dan, Pagiel son of Ochran was the leader of the Asher tribe, and Ahira son of Enan was the leader of the Naphtali tribe.

This was the order in which the Israelites marched each time they moved their camp.

Hobab the Midianite, the father-in-law of Moses, was there. And Moses said to him, “We’re leaving for the place the Lord has promised us. He has said that all will go well for us. So come along, and we will make sure that all goes well for you.”

“No, I won’t go,” Hobab answered. “I’m returning home to be with my own people.”

“Please go with us!” Moses said. “You can be our guide because you know the places to camp in the desert. Besides that, if you go, we will give you a share of the good things the Lord gives us.”

The people of Israel began their journey from Mount Sinai. They traveled three days, and the Levites who carried the sacred chest led the way, so the Lord could show them where to camp. And the cloud always stayed with them.

Each day as the Israelites began their journey, Moses would pray, “Our Lord, defeat your enemies and make them run!” And when they stopped to set up camp, he would pray, “Our Lord, stay close to Israel’s thousands and thousands of people.” (Contemporary English Version)

“The most important feature of sacred space is found in what it is by definition: the place of God’s presence. The cosmic-temple idea recognizes that God is here and that all of this is his. It is this theology that becomes the basis for our respect of our world.”

John Walton

These verses from the book of Numbers might, at first glance, seem irrelevant to contemporary worshipers of God. The Old Testament book of Numbers matter-of-factly informs us of how the ancient Israelites set out in the desert by stages according to their respective tribes and how they proceeded when stopping their sojourns. Yet, if we take the time to engage in pilgrimage with the Israelites, we observe the heart of worship and life for God’s people.

The tabernacle, that is, the ark of the covenant with its accompanying tent and holy articles, was the primary symbol for Israel of God’s presence. As such, the tabernacle was at the actual center of Israelite life, both physically and spiritually. The tabernacle would leave first and be set up by the tribe of Levites before the other tribes came and encamped around it – completely encircling the tent housing the ark.

Observing this constant ancient ritual in the desert begs several questions for us today: 

Is God at the center of our life and worship? 

Or do we expect the Lord to come and bless our already camped-out thoughts, ideas, and practices? 

If God is truly at the center of all we do, what is the evidence this is so? 

Are we patient to wait for God’s leading to present itself? 

Or do we act and then seek God to give his stamp of approval over it? 

The wise believer will allow God to set the agenda and pace of our life journey, and not the other way around.

Sovereign God, you always lead in a way that is good, just, and right. Help me to slow down long enough to enter into the rest and connection with your will that I so desperately need through Jesus my Lord. Amen.

*Above painting: Israel Encamped Roundabout the Tabernacle in the Wilderness of Sinai
by John W. Kelchner (1866-1942)