At first glance, our Bible reading this morning is a very unpromising passage! It’s a passage that seems to include everything people dislike about the Old Testament.
- For a start it describes unusual events three thousand years ago and two thousand miles away. Events far distant from us in time and space.
- Our passage also includes unfamiliar places (places like Baalah, Nacon and Perez) and people with unpronounceable names – like Abinadab, Uzzah and Obed-Edom.
But worst of all, today’s chapter includes a display of God’s wrath. It describes the Lord striking down a man for apparently nothing more that touching a wooden box on an ox cart. Just the sort of event that atheists like Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins cite as evidence against God. Just the sort of thing that even many Christians want to edit out of their Bibles.
But instead of consigning 2 Samuel 6 to the dustbin, we should learn from it. Instead of dismissing today’s chapter as irrelevant, out-of-date or unjust, we should listen to it. Because 2 Samuel 6 is in the Bible for a reason. It is included in Scripture to tell us things we need to know today.
- For a start, this passage reminds us to seek God’s presence in our lives;
- Secondly, it warns us revere God and respect his words; and
- Thirdly, it encourages us to celebrate God’s many blessings.
Let’s look at these three lessons in turn.
- Seek God’s presence (v.1-5)
Everyone loves a party, don’t they? Almost everyone likes a good excuse for a good time. Whether it’s to celebrate someone’s birthday, mark an engagement, or rejoice at a graduation, most people enjoy a party. But a party can never really get underway until the key people come through the door. Without the birthday boy, the happy couple or the successful student, a party falls flat.
Our Bible passage today begins with a party! If you have been here over recent weeks you will know that all is going well for David and the nation of Israel. David has become king, the nation has been united, and a capital city has been conquered. And last week we saw David defeat the Philistines, his greatest enemies. There was lots for David and his people to celebrate. But the party could only begin once the honoured guest had arrived. Only when the hero of the hour arrived could celebrations enter full swing.
As we’ve looked at David’s life over recent weeks I hope you’ve realised God is the real hero of the story. David accomplished a lot, but only because God was with him all the way. It was God who had chosen David to become king, who had kept him from harm and who’d brought him safely to the throne. And it was God’s guidance that had helped David conquer Jerusalem and defeat the Philistines. God, not David, had been the true hero of the hour.
I hope we acknowledge God as the hero of our own lives today. I hope we appreciate that everything we have achieved is ultimately a testimony to God’s goodness and grace. Every talent we have, everything we possess, are gifts from God. We need to recognise our dependence on God, we need to express our thanks, and we should seek an ever-closer relationship with him.
David recognised that God was the secret of his success, and he knew that he needed God close at hand for the rest of his reign.
To get closer to God, David wanted to bring the Ark of the Covenant to his capital city. Because David believed that the Ark was a powerful symbol of God’s presence. That’s why we read in verse 1 today that David and his men set out to bring the Ark to Jerusalem.
If you’ve ever watched the Indiana Jones films, you will know what the Ark of the Covenant looked like. It was a wooden box about three-foot square, and covered with gold. It had two cherubim (angels) on its lid, and hoops on its side so that it could be carried on poles. Inside it contained the Ten Commandments.
The ark was constructed way back in the time of Moses and the exodus from Egypt. God had given detailed instructions to the Israelites on how the Ark was to be made and how it was to be used.
Above all, the ark was given to symbolise God’s presence with his people. As the Israelites travelled to the Promised Land, they were to take the Ark with them as a visible reminder that their God was close by.
In fact, the Ark was so intimately identified with God, that it could be addressed as if it were God himself. That’s what verse 2 means today, when it says that the ark of God was “called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim”. The Ark was considered God’s throne on earth, the place from which he ruled, and the place from which God had spoken to Moses in days gone by.
In more recent years the Ark had resided in the house of Abinadab, in Judah. But the time had come for King David to take it to his capital. So it was put on a cart and set on the road to Jerusalem. And that’s when the party started! Verse 5 of our passage today tells us that: “David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.”
You may know that optimistic England football fans sometimes sing Frank Skinner’s song: “It’s coming home, football’s coming home!” David and his people probably sang something similar on the road to Jerusalem: “Its coming home, its coming home, God’s Ark is coming home!”
For David, the route to an on-going relationship with God was clear. He needed to bring the Ark into his capital city. But what about us? Where can we seek God’s presence? Where can God be seen and heard?
The answer is that the Ark is a signpost to Jesus Christ. All the functions that the Ark performed for David, Christ can do for us. The Ark of the Covenant was a prototype, a forerunner, to the person of Jesus.
If we want to encounter God we don’t need stand before an Ark, we just come to Christ. Jesus said that to see him was to see his Father. So as we pray to Jesus, as we read his words in the Bible, as we look at his life in the gospels, God comes fully into focus. The Ark of the Covenant was called God’s throne. But Jesus Christ is the king on God’s throne.
David and the Israelites got all excited that God came close with the Ark. We should be overjoyed that God has come even closer to us in his Son. If we are Christians our relationship with Jesus is something that should give real direction to our lives. Its something that should sustain us through even the darkest times. Its something that should give us sure hope for the future.
- Revere God and respect his words (v.6-10)
Unfortunately, in the midst of David’s party there was a tragedy. During the festivities on the road to Jerusalem, a life was lost. Here’s a reminder of what happened, from verses 6 to 10:
“When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, 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. David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite.”
Its tempting to share David’s sentiments, isn’t it? Why did God strike down Uzzah for his well-intentioned act? After all, he was only trying to stop the ark falling from the ox cart. Did he really have to die?
The death of Uzzah is a challenging reminder that we all need to revere God and respect his words. God invites us all to a relationship with him – but only on his terms. As David discovered, there is such a thing as a healthy fear of God.
God is totally holy, always just, and perfectly good. But we are far from perfect ourselves. The whole Bible (not just the Old Testament) is clear that sinful human beings can’t approach God on our own terms. Man-made religion won’t wash. Wishful thinking and good intentions can’t get us into a relationship with God.
We can only approach our Creator in the way he has commanded, in the way he has described for us in Scripture. True reverence for God requires careful obedience to his words.
In the case of Uzzah and the Israelites, they had disobeyed God’s commands about how the Ark was to be treated. God had said clearly in the past that it must be carried on poles by priests, not transported about on a cart. And as the holy symbol of God’s presence, the Ark was not to be touched by anyone apart from a priest. And even then only after the priest had offered an animal sacrifice for the forgiveness of his sin, and sprinkled its blood upon the lid of the ark. Uzzah and the Israelites knew all this, but tragically chose to ignore it.
So how do we avoid making the same mistake as them? How can we sinners safely approach a holy God? Once again, the answer is Jesus. If we respect what God has written in the New Testament, we will approach God through Jesus Christ alone. As Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me”. The only way anyone today can escape God’s just judgment is through faith in Jesus. The only way anyone can enjoy God’s forgiveness and friendship is by faith in Christ. Faith in the one who sacrificed his life for our sins and shed his blood for us upon the Cross.
- Celebrate God’s blessings! (v.11-15)
One of my duties as a dad is to read my children their bedtime stories each night. Over the past few weeks we’ve read Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels and Robin Hood. One good thing about children’s stories is that they always have a happy ending. The main characters usually live happily ever after!
Thankfully, todays Bible reading also has a happy ending. Because the Ark does eventually arrive in Jerusalem, and it brings God’s blessing with it. Look with me at verses 11 and 12: “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.”
We should not let the experience of Uzzah impair our portrait of God. Because God delights to bless those who enter a right relationship with him. God gives amazing grace to those who know and love him. Obed-Edom treated God’s Ark with the respect it deserved, and his whole household benefited as a result.
It seems that as soon as David heard the news, he resurrected his original plan to bring the Ark to his capital. He was reassured that it is a wonderful thing to be in a right relationship with the living God. And so he and his entourage carried the Ark into Jerusalem with much rejoicing, shouts and the sound of trumpets. The celebrations could really get going!
If we are Christians here this morning, I hope we want to rejoice in the relationship with God we have through Christ. I hope we rejoice in the many blessings we have been given because of Jesus. Think how the crowds celebrated on the first Palm Sunday, when Jesus, rather than the Ark, arrived in Jerusalem. King Jesus, and the salvation he brings, have always been worth shouting about!
But perhaps you are visiting today and not yet a follower of Jesus. If that’s you, welcome! I hope today’s challenging passage has made clear the importance of faith in Jesus. If we have faith in Christ we can enjoy God’s friendship and forgiveness for eternity. And that’s something well worth celebrating!