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)

A Big Glorious Vision of Worship

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:1-8, NIV)

Uzziah was a king of Judah who reigned for fifty-two years. For most of his rule, he followed God faithfully. Under Uzziah the Jews had enjoyed the best political stability, economic security, and consistent worship of God since the days of King Solomon, hundreds of years before. 

Yet, if one were to look below the surface of Judah, it was also a time of spiritual complacency, apathy in worship, taking prosperity for granted, and self-centered – often oppressing others. The nation needed a fresh experience of God, and it came through the prophet Isaiah.

The essence of worship is a recognition and celebration of the triune God. Worship is a relational rhythm between God and humanity in which God self-reveals and people respond.

Worship is an experience of seeing and hearing divine revelation; repenting from wayward actions; and renewing missional service.

Worshiping the triune God ideally happens every day. It’s a lifestyle – not the result of one cleverly planned hour on Sunday. The people of Isaiah’s day were going through the ritual motions of worship without having their hearts in it. Worship was a kind of rabbit’s foot for them in which, if they had regular attendance within the temple, they believed they could do whatever they wanted with their lives outside the temple. 

As a result, the people did not see or hear God in their worship. Authentic worship of God does not have to do with the environment, the fellowship, or the music. True worship of the triune God is a heart desire to see and hear God. 

If worship does not happen in the sanctuary, that is because worship fails to occur daily life. Real worship is a life-changing encounter with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It experiences God’s revelation and changes our view of him. Bona fide worship leads to repentance and changes our view of self. True worship brings spiritual renewal and changes our view of mission and service.

Revelation: Worship Changes Our View of God

Isaiah saw a vision of God in the majestic divine throne room. It was a grand and transcendent vision of a God who dominates the entire setting. The train of God’s robe filled the temple. This is Isaiah’s way of saying the vision was incredibly large. If the train of his robe fills up the temple, then God is an immense Being. Gaining a vision of God’s hugeness is what causes our human problems to be seen as small. 

One time the Assyrian King Sennacherib invaded the land and approached Jerusalem during the reign of Uzziah’s great grandson, Hezekiah. The Assyrians were the dreaded horde of the ancient world, and it seemed no one could withstand them. So, the people prayed:

King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to heaven about this. And the Lord sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the commanders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king… So, the Lord saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all others. God took care of them on every side. (2 Chronicles 32:20-22, NIV)

Isaiah’s vision included seraphs – angels with the job description to glorify God with ceaseless praise. Their physical description symbolizes their function: covering their face symbolizes humility in God’s presence; covering their feet identifies it as holy ground; and flying symbolizes their work to do God’s will.

The seraphs have two-thirds wing power for worship, and one-third wing power for work. If this is any indication how God’s creatures are to conduct their lives, we as humans have a great deal of adjusting to do to accommodate the worship of God.

The sound of worship that came from the seraphs was proclaiming God’s holiness. Isaiah’s view of God changed as a result. As he saw God’s glory, Isaiah saw God as much bigger than he had before. For example, European visitors who come to the United States sometimes have no frame of reference as to how spacious the geography of our country is.

Some have a notion they can make day trips to places like San Francisco, Houston, or New York City because where they live is much more geographically compact. But once they get here, they experience the land in all its glory, and they gain an appreciation for the bigness of America. We all need to experience God’s glory and see God’s holiness because it will cause us to repent of old ways of seeing.

Repentance: Worship Changes Our View of Self

Isaiah was reduced to nothing after seeing a vision of the holy God. Humans cannot see God’s glory without also seeing their sinful selves. Isaiah’s response to God was not praise, but confession. Show me a proud, self-centered, and arrogant person and I will show you a person who has not seen God. Isaiah was unable to cleanse his own sin. Isaiah needed God to purge and purify his uncleanness. The New Testament says:

If we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. (1 John 1:7, 9, CEB)

Seeing God completely unravels us, for we see our depravity for what it truly is:

  • When the Apostle Peter saw the Lord’s immensity and power through a miraculous catch of fish he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8) 
  • When the Apostle John had a vision of Christ’s glory, and heard his voice, he fell at the Lord’s feet as though dead. (Revelation 1:12-17)
  • When the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of God and saw the appearance of God’s glory, he fell facedown. (Ezekiel 1:25-28)
  • Even Daniel, perhaps the most righteous prophet of all time, when seeing a vision of God’s glory, fell prostrate with his face to the ground, totally overwhelmed with God’s holiness and his own human sinfulness. (Daniel 8:15-18)

There is wickedness and indifference in the world. People do not see God’s glory and holiness. Because, if they did, they would be totally undone and see the foulness and degradation of hate and injustice. They would turn from apathetic and complacent ways of living. The world and the church need a vision of a holy God that comes from meeting with God. Isaiah saw the Lord. And because he repented, he was then able to hear the voice of God.

Renewal: Worship Changes Our View of Service

God is calling us. God’s voice has gone out. If we do not hear it, it’s because we have not experienced God’s self-revealing and have not responded with repentance. Apart from worship, we are unable to hear God. While Isaiah was worshiping God, he saw, responded, and heard the Lord. The early church heard the voice of God to service and mission:

The church at Antioch had several prophets and teachers…. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit told them, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul to do the work for which I have chosen them.” Everyone prayed and fasted for a while longer. Next, they placed their hands on Barnabas and Saul to show that they had been appointed to do this work. Then everyone sent them on their way. (Acts 13:1-3, CEV)

Isaiah was willing. He didn’t ask any clarifying questions. He neither inquired what the mission would be nor questioned God as to the plan. Isaiah plainly said, “Here I am, send me.”  It was an unconditional response to hearing God. Isaiah made no deals with God, did not try and negotiate terms of service. Isaiah simply told God he was willing to be sent. 

Many people fill their lives with stuff and activity. And they are unable to hear the voice of God. There’s just too much noise drowning out God. We have uncritically, without any discernment through prayer and worship, filled our lives to overflowing with never-ending things to do. And we have even sanctified it and called it holy, as if God’s will for us is to be constantly on the go.

Someday, we must give an account of our lives. God will ask why we did not take a risk, get involved, and go out into the world with a deep sense of mission. Too many people will say, “I never heard the call!” Yet, God was calling. “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” says the triune God.

Conclusion

God’s glory was revealed to Isaiah. Isaiah responded to that vision with confession and repentance. This brought a renewed sense of mission to his life. Isaiah was then able to hear God’s voice calling him to service. It is not our ability God cares about. Because God can equip anybody for any type of work. Instead, it is our availability God cares about.

We need to put ourselves in a position to see and hear God. The obstacles to visioning God’s glory and hearing God’s voice are legion: inattention to God’s Word and God’s creation; no mindfulness to the Holy Spirit; intense, constant, and prolonged preoccupations; lack of availability to the ways of Jesus; little sleep; unhealthy habits; a dull spiritual sense; lack of personal and divine awareness; a paucity of spiritual practices and disciplines; and a failure to be able to experience a vision of God.

God has graciously revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit. The Trinity is not so much a doctrine to believe as it is a powerful reality to live into. If we see and hear God today it will cause us to repent and be renewed in mission and service.

*Above painting of the prophet Isaiah by Marc Chagall, 1968

Psalm 115 – The Living God Is Both Far and Near

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
    for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.
Why should the nations say,
    “Where is their God?”

Our God is in the heavens;
    he does whatever he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
    the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
    eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
    noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
    feet, but do not walk;
    they make no sound in their throats.
Those who make them are like them;
    so are all who trust in them.

O Israel, trust in the Lord!
    He is their help and their shield.
O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord!
    He is their help and their shield.
You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord!
    He is their help and their shield.

The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us;
    he will bless the house of Israel;
    he will bless the house of Aaron;
he will bless those who fear the Lord,
    both small and great.

May the Lord give you increase,
    both you and your children.
May you be blessed by the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

The heavens are the Lord’s heavens,
    but the earth he has given to human beings.
The dead do not praise the Lord,
    nor do any that go down into silence.
But we will bless the Lord
    from this time on and forevermore.
Praise the Lord!
(New Revised Standard Version)

Theology 101 Syllabus:

  • The earth belongs to God, not us.
  • Humanity stewards the earth, not depletes it.
  • Glory belongs to God, not us.
  • Humanity gives glory, not seeks glory.
  • God is mindful of us with blessing, not cursing.
  • Humanity is mindful of God with praise, not idolatry.
  • God is eternal, not finite, alive, and not dead.
  • Humanity is finite, not infinite. Dead people don’t steward the earth and give glory and praise to God. Mortal humans have a privilege and responsibility on this earth while they are still alive.

Any questions?

When it comes to knowing God, we learn as much or more about Divine attributes and actions in the psalms as anywhere else in Holy Scripture. This is one reason why the Lectionary has a psalm for every day – and why the same psalm is repeated three days in a row. It is the consistent, repeated, and continual reading and recitation of the psalms which provides us with the robust theology we need for practical daily living.

God speaks. Idols do not. We have the privilege of God’s Word. There are no words from idols. People become like the objects of their worship. Worshiping a mute inanimate object leads to being silent on the great problems and issues of our day. Idol worship has nothing substantive to offer. It’s worthless.

Conversely, the worship of God (a deity who has words for the immense needs of the world) brings a sense and application of humility, justice, and mercy to the very real and present situations surrounding us.

“The believer trusts in the name of the Lord to show steadfast love – to put love where love is not.”

Mit Tdrahrhe

Evil will not be perpetrated with impunity. That is, the person of violent speech and/or actions will not be able to victimize continually and without consequence. Their wicked words and deeds are held accountable by a God who cares about such things. An idol is unable to hear the cries of victims. And an idol is neither able to proclaim justice nor words of assurance. Idolatry has no ability to stop the ravaging of the earth and its people.

The Lord is both far and near – far enough and high enough to see the big picture and act accordingly – yet near enough to bring true comfort and solace. I was once speaking with a friend about this, discussing the simultaneous transcendence and immanence of God. He listened and then said, “So, it sounds like God is a loving hard-ass!” Well, yes. Not quite the way I would frame it, but he certainly picked up on the spirit of what I was saying.

It is important to hold together and maintain both God’s intimacy and distance. Because they each work together to provide the worshiper with what is needed. The Lord both infinitely observes from afar as well as gets his hands dirty working on behalf of finite humanity. This is the view of God the psalms give us. A God who cares in the total sense of the word – caring with comforting words and confident action.

A vision of God in the psalms inevitably leads to prayer, trust, praise, and worship. The Lord might be invisible, yet the evidence of this immense deity is everywhere in the blessings we have, both big and small. Deep within our personhood is firm epistemic proof that we belong to God.

May the Lord who created heaven and earth give you divine blessing.

May all people everywhere praise the Lord now and forevermore! Amen.