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 7:18-29 – A Model Prayer

King David by Marc Chagall, 1962

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said:

“Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant—and this decree, Sovereign Lord, is for a mere human!

“What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, Sovereign Lord. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.

“How great you are, Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, Lord, have become their God.

“And now, Lord God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, so that your name will be great forever. Then people will say, ‘The Lord Almighty is God over Israel!’ And the house of your servant David will be established in your sight.

“Lord Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So, your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, Sovereign Lord, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed forever.” (New International Version)

“The whole reason why we pray is to be united into the vision and contemplation of God to whom we pray.”

Julian of Norwich (1343-1416)

Perhaps you wish you had a better prayer life. To pray, as with most things in life, requires both motivation and how to do it. So, it’s appropriate to find answers about prayer by observing the biblical models of prayer contained in Holy Scripture.

Today’s Old Testament lesson is King David’s prayer in response to God’s revelation to him about fulfilling covenant promises. Looking at David’s prayer, there is a three-fold division which models for us a good way to approach God.

The Present: Gratitude for God’s Grace

David began his prayer with an attitude, posture, and words of humility, recognizing and affirming the relationship between himself and God. Although David is the king over all Israel and Judah, he repeatedly refers to himself as a servant (10 times).

God didn’t have to communicate anything to David about the future. Yet, the Lord graciously made known that it would be through David’s descendants that all of God’s good promises will be fulfilled. And David is overwhelmed with such gracious words. It comes tumbling out of him in a heartfelt prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving.

It is good for us to think about the spiritual blessings we have received from God. Not only can prayers of thanksgiving be uttered at any time to the Lord, but we can also write our gratitude in a journal as a prayer offering to God.

It’s also good to be specific about the circumstances and the praises. In the future, whenever there are discouraging situations, we can look back to what we wrote and remember the ways in which God showed up and encouraged us with very great and precious promises.

The Past: Praise for God’s Actions

David affirms there is no one and no god which can compare to Yahweh, the great I Am. It is the Lord God almighty who displayed divine power and presence in redeeming the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery and into the Promised Land.

Any greatness which arises from humans is the direct result of God’s greatness. Apart from God, there is no distinctive way of living. God’s presence makes all the difference:

Then Moses said to him [Yahweh], “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16, NIV)

The Lord specializes in bending hopeless situations to divine purposes, transforming people to new life, and turning systemic evil on its head so that the humble, meek, and penitent will be first, not last.

The Future: Prayer for God to Fulfill Divine Promises

King David already knew God’s promises to the Israelites. Now, however, David understands how he personally fits into the Lord’s plan.

Courage arises whenever God’s people know God’s promises and then discern how to fit into God’s plan. Confident assurance and settled peace cannot simply be ginned-up through positive thinking; bold faith needs a foundation of truth – a rock solid base which cannot be moved and is always there.

King David found his ultimate motivation in life in God’s revelation. His basis of prayer was God’s Word. Biblical prayers, like David’s, are there for us to model our own prayers.

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love. We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side. We thank you for setting us at tasks that demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments that satisfy and delight us. We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he conquered death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom. Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.