Bringing Up The Ark


2 Samuel 6

As we have seen in the preceding chapters, after his coming to the throne of Israel and his victories over the Philistines, David evidenced a godly concern for the holy ark, which had been so grievously and so long neglected. Zealous of the divine glory, he had resolved to establish a place where Jehovahís worship should be celebrated and where the symbol of His presence should be securely housed. Accordingly, he gathered all the leaders of Israel together to bring the sacred coffer to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:1). But, alas, instead of heeding the divinely given instructions for such an occasion and placing the ark upon the shoulders of the Levites, he followed the evil example of the heathen and placed it upon a new cart. In so doing he ignored the plainly revealed will of God, and substituted a human device. The work which David undertook was indeed a good one, his motive was pure, and his design was praiseworthy, but it was executed in a wrong way. He introduced into the divine worship that for which he had no "Thus saith the Lord."

David did not inquire whether God had any will in the matter and ask, Whereon shall the holy ark be placed? Rather did he confer with flesh and blood. It was at that point he made his fatal mistake, and it is this which we need to take carefully to heart. Instead of consulting the Holy Scriptures, he sought counsel of men. It is true that he "consulted with the captains of thousands and hundreds and with every leader" (1 Chron. 13:1), but as Job 32:9 tells us "great men are not always wise," and so it proved on this occasion. Instead of reminding David of the instructions which the Lord had given through Moses (Num. 4:5, 6; 15:7, 9), they apparently advised him to follow the way of the uncircumcised (1 Sam. 6:7, 8). By so doing, David spoiled his fair enterprise, and incurred the displeasure of God. A good beginning had a bad ending because of departure from the divinely prescribed rules of procedure.

The above incident has been recorded for our learning, especially for those of us who are engaged in the Lordís service. It points a solemn warning. It shows the imperative need for zeal to be rightly directed, for there is "a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge" (Rom. 10:2); this is a zeal to further the cause of God and bring glory unto His name, which is not regulated by that knowledge which His Word supplies. In our fervency to extend the kingdom of Christ, to spread His Gospel, to point souls unto Him, we are apt to forget His precepts, and do His work in our way. The danger is very real, and in this restless age of great activity not a few are being ensnared by this very evil. Many are so eager about the quantity of their service, they pay too little attention to the quality of it: they are anxious to be active in the Masterís vineyard, but they do not sufficiently consult His guide-book as to how their activities must be conducted.

Davidís well-meant effort turned out a failure. The Lord manifested His displeasure. David, accompanied by a large number of musicians, went before the ark, playing "on all manner of instruments" (2 Sam. 6:5). But when Nachonís threshingfloor was reached, the oxen drawing the cart on which the sacred chest reposed, stumbled, and Uzzah put forth his hand to steady it. "And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God" (v. 7). A tragic check was this unto the joyous processionóone which should have produced deep heart-searchings and penitential confession of failure. Has not God said, "Provoke Me not, and I will do you no harm" (Jer. 25:6)? Therefore, when He does afflict, ought we not to inquire as to wherein we have "provoked" Him!

Though the displeasure of God was plainly manifested, yet it did not at first produce the proper effect. "And David was displeased, because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzzah" (v. 8). Apparently a measure of self-complacency was at work in Davidís heart over the important service he was engaged inófor honoring the ark which had been neglected for so long. Now that things had gone contrary to his expectations, he was disconcerted, peeved, "displeased," or as the Hebrew word really signifies, "angry." His anger was not a righteous indignation against Uzzah for his affronting God, but because his own plans had gone awry. His own pride was wounded: the drastic cutting off of Uzzah by divine judgment would not advance him in the eyes of his subjects; rather was he now humiliated before them. But the fault was his own, and he ought to have manfully shouldered the blame, and not acted like a peeved child.

"And David was displeased (angry) because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzzah" (v. 8). When the rod of God descends upon us, we are but adding sin to sin if we become enraged thereby: this is "despising" the chastening of the Lord, which is expressly forbidden (Heb. 12:5). "And he called the name of the place Perezuzzah to this day" (v. 8), which, as the margin tells us, signifies "the breach of Uzzah." Thus did David memorialize the stroke of God as a warning for posterity to beware of rashness and irreverence. A solemn contrast may be seen here from what is recorded in 2 Samuel 5:20, where David changed the name of "the valley of Rephaim" unto "Baalperazim"ó"the place of breaches"óbecause "the Lord hath broken forth upon mine enemies." In the one he was celebrating Godís goodness, in the other he was solemnizing Godís judgment.

The conduct of David on this occasion was deplorable, for it is highly reprehensible to be angered by any of the Lordís dealings. But in the light of such warnings, our petulancy is far worse. David ought to have humbled himself beneath the mighty hand of God (1 Peter 5:6), confessed his failure and corrected his fault (Prov. 28: 13), and owned Godís righteousness in thus taking vengeance on his inventions (Ps. 99:8). By so doing he would have put the blame where it belonged, have set a good example before others, and vindicated the Lord. Instead, his pride was hurt, his temper was inflamed, and blessing was missed. Alas, how often has writer and reader failed in a similar manner. How rarely have we heeded that injunction, "Wherefore glorify ye the Lord in the fires" (Isa. 24:15): one way of doing which is to judge ourselves unsparingly and own the need of the flames to purge away our dross.

"And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and said, How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?" (v. 9). The transition is very easy from sudden zeal and joy to fretfulness and dejection. We are, naturally, creatures of extremes, and the pendulum quickly swings from earnestness to indolence, from jubilation to commiseration. He who dares one day to face singlehanded the four hundred prophets of Baal, next day flees from the threat of Jezebel. He who feared not to draw his sword in the presence of armed soldiers, trembled before a maid. They who sang so heartily at the Red Sea, murmured a little later when their food supplies gave out. Few maintain an even keel amid the varying tides of life. A measure of servile fear now possessed David, and he would not venture to bring the ark any nearer his own immediate residence, lest he too should be destroyed. That holy vessel of the tabernacle which had been the object of his veneration, now became an occasion of dread.

With the death of Uzzah a fear came upon David. This exemplifies an important principle: fear always follows where faith is not in exercise. Said the prophet, "I will trust and not be afraid" (Isa. 12:2). When the timorous disciples awoke the Saviour because of their storm-tossed ship, He said, "Why are ye fearful? O ye of little faith" (Matthew 8:26). When a spirit of trembling seizes the heart it is a sure sign that faith is at a low ebb. The promise is, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee" (Isa. 26:3). Thus, the fear of David on this occasion is easily accounted for: his faith was eclipsed. Learn this valuable lesson, dear reader: as soon as you are conscious of sinking of heart, uneasiness, or alarm, cry unto the Lord for a strengthening of your faith. Say with the Psalmist, "What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee" (Ps. 56:3).

There is another important principle exemplified by Davidís attitude on this occasion: his faith was inoperative because his walk was not according to the revealed will of the Lord. It is true that faith is the gift of God, and that, unaided, we cannot call it into operation after it is received. Every exercise of faith, every increase thereof, is to be ascribed unto the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit. But let it not be forgotten that He is the Holy Spirit, and will not put a premium upon wrong-doing. When our ways are contrary to the Rule which we are to walk by, the Spirit is grieved. When we act in self-will, and then refuse to judge ourselves under the mark of Godís displeasure, His blessed operations are withheld. Fearfulness is a sign that faith is inactive, and inactive faith is an evidence that the Spirit is grieved; and that, in turn, denotes that our walk is displeasing to God. Learn, then, dear reader, to "Consider your ways" (Hag. 1:5) when conscious that faith is at a low ebb: clean out the choked channel and the waters will flow freely again.

"And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and said, How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?" Does it not seem strange that David should ask such a question when the Lord had given dear and definite instructions as to how the ark should be conducted from place to place? Stranger still, sadder far, that he would not make right the wrong which he had committed. But alas, it is not easy to condemn ourselves when we have departed from Godís ways: even though the providential smile of the Lord be changed into a frown, we are loath to humble ourselves before Him. How this reveals the "desperate wickedness" which still remains in our hearts, and how the realization of this ought to remove pride far from us, cause us to marvel increasingly at Godís longsuffering with us, and make us more patient toward our erring brethren.

"So David would not remove the ark of the Lord unto him, into the city of David: but David carried it aside into the house of Obededom, the Gittite" (v. 10). Instead of correcting his fault, we now see David forsaking his own mercy (Jonah 2:8). The ark was the symbol of the Lordís manifest presence, and that should be the one thing above all others desired and cherished by the saint. Moses was deeply conscious of this when he said, "If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence" (Ex. 33:15). Ah, but to enjoy the manifest presence of God we must be in the path of obedience: "he that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me, and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him" (John 14:21). Was it not because he felt he was out of the way of subjection to Godís revealed will that caused David to now abandon his purpose of bringing up the ark to Jerusalem? It was a guilty conscience which made him "afraid of the Lord."

There is a fear of God which is becoming, spiritual, excellent; but there is also a fear of God which is hurtful, carnal, worthless: the one is servile, the other filial. There is a slavish fear which springs from hard thoughts of God, and there is a holy and laudable fear which issues from lofty thoughts of His majesty. The one is a terror produced in the mind by apprehensions of evil, the other is a reverential awe of God which proceeds from right views of His infinite perfections. The one is the fear of wrath, such as Adam had in Eden, when he was afraid and hid himself; and such as the demons have, who "believe and tremble" (James 2: 19). The other is a fear of displeasing One who is gracious, like children have to dear parents. The one is our treasure, the other our torment; the one drives from God, the other draws to God; the one leads to despair, the other to godly activities (Heb. 11:7). The one is the product of a guilty conscience, the other is the fruit of an enlightened understanding.

There is a natural fear and there is a spiritual fear of God. The one hates Him, like a slave his cruel master; the other loves God, as a child respects and reveres his father. The one dreads God because of His power and wrath; the other venerates God because of His holiness and sovereignty. The one engenders to bondage; the other conduces to worship. Perfect love casts out the former (1 John 4: 18); appropriating Godís promises leads to the furtherance of the latter (2 Cor. 7:1). When we are walking with God in the light of His Word, a filial fear directs our ways; but when we depart from His statutes and a guilty conscience torments us, then a servile fear possesses our hearts. Hard thoughts are entertained of God. and we dread His anger. The soul is no longer at ease in His presence, and instead of viewing Him as our loving Father, we shrink from Him and regard Him as a hard Master. Such was the condition of David at this time. Alarmed by the divine judgment upon Uzzah, he was afraid to have anything more to do with the ark.

"But David carried it aside into the house of Obededom the Gittite." That was Davidís loss; but, as we shall see, it was Obededomís gain. The ark was both the symbol of Godís manifested presence in the midst of Israel, and a notable type of the person of the Lord Jesus. In the placing of the ark in the house of Obededom, following the unbelief of David, there was a prophetic hint given of the Gentiles receiving what Israel failed to appreciateóso marvelously does God overrule even the failures of His people. Obededom was a Gittite, and the "Gittites" were Philistines (Josh. 13:3), the inhabitants of Gath (1 Chron. 20:5), yet many of them were devoted to the person and interests of David (2 Sam. 5:18-21). Thus it was dispensationally: "It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you (Jews): but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46).

"And the ark of the Lord continued in the house of Obededom the Gittite three months" (v. 11). After the awful death of Uzzah, and the fear of David to have anything further to do with the ark, it had scarcely been surprising had this Gittite refused to shelter the sacred coffer. As a Philistine, it is likely that he was acquainted with the trouble it had caused in the temple of Dagon (1 Sam. 5:2-4) and of the plague it brought upon the Ashdodites (1 Sam. 5:6). Anxious enough were they to get rid of the ark (1 Sam. 6), yet now we find one of their countrymen providing a home for it in his own house. Doubtless he had been truly converted unto the Lord, and therefore esteemed whatever pertained to His worship. It is beautifully significant that his name "Obed" means servant, and here we find him rendering a true service unto God.

"And the Lord blessed Obededom, and all his household" (v. 11). Need we be surprised at this? God will be no manís debtor: as He declared, "Them that honour Me, I will honour" (1 Sam. 2:30). It is ever so. After Laban had received the fugitive Jacob into his family, he acknowledged, "I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake" (Gen. 30:27). When His servant was befriended by Potiphar, we read, "The Lord blessed the Egyptianís house for Josephís sake" (Gen. 39:5). Through giving shelter unto Godís prophet the widow of Zarephath was rewarded by having her son restored to life (1 Kings 17:23). How much more may we be sure of receiving Godís rich blessing when His dear Sonóto whom the ark pointedóis given the throne of our hearts.

"And the Lord blessed Obededom, and all his household." By the indwelling Spirit the Lord has promised to manifest Himself to the believer. The presence of the Lord in our lives and in our homes is the limitless source, if we will, of divine blessing. The blessing will depend upon our servant attitude to that Presence or Spirit. If we take the place of a true "Obed," surrendering ourselves to His sway, the Lord will make our way prosperous. If in all things we give Christ the pre-eminence, so far from being the losers thereby, we shall be immeasurably the gainers, both now and hereafter. O may He who moved Obed to take in the ark, open our hearts to receive Christ in all His fulness.