Thursday, December 23, 2021

2 Samuel 6

2 Samuel 6: The Ark Brought to Jerusalem


David gets together “all the able young men of Israel” (verse 1), and brings them to Baalah (where the Ark of the LORD currently resides), so they can bring it back to Jerusalem. As a reminder of the Ark’s importance, this is…

… the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. (verse 2)

The part about the LORD being “enthroned between the cherubim” is important; it’s more than just rhetoric. As the ESV Study Bible notes say (they’re talking about 1 Samuel 4:3–4 here):

The ark was the visible sign of the holy presence of the Lord, whose real throne is on high, above the heavens. But it was more than just a sign, for the ark was also the focal point of God’s actual presence among his people (Ex. 25:22 says, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you …”; cf. Num. 7:89; also Ex. 29:42–43; 30:6, 36; 37:1–9; 40:34–38; Lev. 16:2; Num. 17:4). The conception of the ark as a visible sign of the Lord’s presence gave a military importance to the ark (as can be seen in Num. 10:33–36 and Joshua 3–4; 6); it functioned as a battle safeguard and showed that the Lord was present and fighting for Israel.

God is everywhere, but when the Ark existed God was more there than He was elsewhere, if I can put it like that. As the notes say above, it was the “focal point” of His Presence. (I’m sure this explanation is oversimplified to the point of being wrong, but the Old Testament does seem to indicate God being “more” there than elsewhere…) So bringing it back to Jerusalem, the city from which David is ruling the nation, is important.

Unfortunately, they don’t do it properly. The Ark is supposed to be carried via two poles (specifically made for the purpose), by a special group within the Levites called the Kohathites1. Instead they transport it on a cart2.

But they seem to be unaware that they’re doing anything wrong. As they go along, with the Ark on the cart, they’re really making a celebration of it:

David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals. (verse 5)

Unfortunately, celebrations or not, at a certain point the oxen pulling the cart stumble, and one of the men guiding the cart—a man named Uzzah—reaches out to grab the Ark. This has dire consequences:

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. (verse 7)

David has mixed reactions to this; verse 8 tells us that he gets angry, but then verse 9 tells us that he’s afraid. He decides that he can’t bring the Ark with him to Jerusalem, and instead sends it to the home of a man named Omed-Edom. However, despite David’s fear, it turns out that for the three months the Ark remains there the LORD blesses Omed-Edom and his family.

When David hears this, he decides to try again, but this time he does it right—by which I mean correctly. With just as much celebration as the first time—or even more, since sacrifices to the LORD are also being performed this time—David has the Ark carried properly to Jerusalem. And again, the entire nation is celebrating. They then arrive at Jerusalem:

They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the LORD. After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD Almighty. Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes. (verses 17–19)

There is one person in the nation who is not partaking in the celebrations, however: David’s wife Michal has been watching “from a window” (verse 16)—which indicates to me that she’s not interested in taking part in these celebrations at all—and when she saw David “leaping and dancing before the LORD” she despised him in her heart. To her, this is not how royalty should behave! So she confronts him when he returns home:

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.

(verses 20–23)


This is a passage that has always stuck in my mind from the Bible. David is “a man after God’s own heart” (as the Scriptures say, though I don’t have a reference handy), and is generally held up as a positive example for God’s people to follow, but that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of making errors—or even falling into pride, which is what I think is happening in the first part of this story. The passage doesn’t specifically say so, but it feels to me like David is feeling pretty powerful at this moment, and just feels like he can “go and get God.” To be clear, although Uzzah is struck down for touching the Ark, it’s really David who is to blame for not bringing the Ark to Jerusalem in the proper, prescribed way.

Celebrations and Holiness

What makes this even more interesting is that, although he neglects the details about how the Ark is supposed to be transported, David’s heart is mostly in the right place. In fact, the passage tells us that he and the rest of the nation are celebrating “with all their might!”

I think this passage (or at least the first part of it—as well as the version of the first half of this story that’s found in 1 Chronicles 13 ) is particularly jarring to modern-day Christians because we seem to have lost a sense of the holiness of God3. (The passage doesn’t even call out why the LORD is angry here! Without a good commentary, or hearing this passage preached, some might read this passage and not understand what David is doing wrong4.) We look at David and the nation celebrating with all their might before the LORD, and then see Uzzah being struck down, and it feels like overkill to us. Isn’t the LORD being a bit… nit-picky? They’re celebrating Him, aren’t they? They’re worshipping Him—so what if they’re not doing it 100% right?

But the fact is that we don’t have the right to decide which rules from God we want to obey and which ones we don’t. It’s not up to us to decide what’s important and what’s unimportant. The main takeaway we should get from this passage is that God is Holy; so Holy that humans can’t stand before Him without being destroyed by His Holiness!

It’s true that the Christian has a much easier time approaching God than the Jew of David’s day. We don’t need to bring sacrifices; there isn’t a physical temple where we have to go; there is no longer an Ark that has to be carried in a particular way. We can just… pray! And He hears us! But I think it’s important to understand how Holy He is, too. By no means has God become less Holy since Jesus’ death! The God I worship is the same God who struck Uzzah down for “daring” to touch the Ark, even though touching it was necessary. The God I worship is still a God who would literally destroy me if I were to stand in front of Him (without protection). God is still God. We should never let New Testament teachings about Jesus’ work bring down the Holiness of God; we should let the Holiness of God inform our understanding of how much Jesus accomplished on the cross—how much He brought us up to a level where we could interact with God.

Uzzah’s “Irreverent Act”

When Uzzah reached out to save the Ark from falling, he committed what was, in my personal opinion, probably the most understandable sin in all of the Bible. I’m guessing it was more instinct than anything else: he saw it falling and his hand was probably on it before his mind even realized what was going on; that’s what happens when something is about to fall and you’re standing beside it. It’s instinct. If I had been Uzzah, in that time and place, I would have done the same thing, I’m sure of it. My soul would be standing before the LORD before I’d even completed the thought, “What happened?”

But take a look at the NIV translation of verse 7:

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. (verse 7)

An “irreverent act?” Kind of harsh! And the NIV seems to be alone in this translation; a quick spot check of a few other Bible translations all have them translating this as Uzzah’s “error,” as opposed to his “irreverent act.” But regardless of whether it’s translated as “error” or “irreverent act,” all translations agree that the LORD was angry with Uzzah for this act.

This is clearly a “straw that broke the camel’s back” scenario. Uzzah should never have been in this position in the first place: the entire situation was wrong. Debating whether or not Uzzah should have reached out to save the Ark is irrelevant; the question isn’t what Uzzah should have done, it’s whether David should have put Uzzah in that position. It’s not a matter of “Uzzah shouldn’t have touched the Ark,” it’s a matter of “by the time the oxen stumbled it was already too late to prevent the anger of the LORD from being demonstrated.” The sin had already been committed: David had allowed the Ark to be moved in a way that disregarded God’s rules for doing so, and, in so doing, disregarded God’s authority.

If there’s a young man on a city street outside of a strip club, he decides to go in, and he prays to God that he’ll be able to resist temptations to lust once he’s inside, is that a prayer that will be answered? No! The man is already committing a sin just by going in! By the time he’s inside, hoping not to be tempted, it’s way too late. What he should be doing is deciding not to go in in the first place! (If he needs to pray to resist that temptation, that’s a valid prayer.) That’s an extreme example, but it’s a kind of situation that we can all fall into: instead of stopping ourselves when we actually have the ability to do so, we let things go too far, we even push things too far, and then we ask God to help us.

In this situation, David should have listened to the LORD’s instruction in the first place, and transported the Ark properly. By the time the oxen stumbled, it was already past the point of no return.


After all of that, I don’t even have a lot to say about Michal. Except that I should probably view her as a warning from the Bible, because I can be very uptight and rigid, and there are probably things that I’d hesitate to do as being too “undignified,” and maybe I should get over myself.

  1. For reference, the ESV Study Bible notes pointed me to the following passages that mention transporting the Ark (I always like to quote my sources): Exodus 25:14–15, Numbers 4:15, Numbers 7:9, Deuteronomy 10:8, Deuteronomy 31:9, Deuteronomy 31:5, and, for comparison there is Joshua 3:15 which shows the Ark being transported properly. ↩︎

  2. Carrying the Ark on a cart like this is the same way the Philistines transported it, back in 1 Samuel 6–7:1, but I don’t know if that’s especially relevant or not. What I mean is, I don’t know if the Israelites were transporting the Ark on a cart because that was the most handy way to do it, or if they were using a cart because, “it was good enough for the Philistines, so it’s good enough for us!” Either way, of course, the Israelites should have been expected to know the right way to transport the Ark, whereas the Philistines shouldn’t (and weren’t) expected to know such things. ↩︎

  3. I know, I know. Saying that “Christians these days have lost a sense of the Holiness of God” is akin to saying “the kids these days have bad taste in music!” But there is still some validity to saying this (in my opinion), because the Holiness of God is something that’s not emphasized in the Western Church. We love to talk about how much He loves us, and that He’s saved us from our sins, and even (to a certain extent) how to live for Him, but I don’t think we talk very much (or have preached) how Holy He is. ↩︎

  4. We can even push this point a bit farther. Uzzah had to reach out to save the Ark from falling because the oxen stumbled. But… why did the oxen stumble? There’s no such thing as a “coincidence” in the Bible! The oxen stumbled because God caused the oxen to stumble. He wanted to demonstrate that David and the nation were ignoring His rules—ignoring His Holiness—and this was the way He chose to do it. ↩︎

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