Bring Up the Ark
2 Samuel 6
Our principal design in this series of chapters is to emphasize the fact that the Old Testament is far, far more than a historical record of events which happened thousands of years ago, and to make it manifest that every part of Godís Word is full of important truth which is urgently needed by us today. The business of a Bible teacher is twofold: to give an accurate interpretation of the meaning of Holy Writ, and to make application of its contents to the hearts and lives of his hearers or readers. By "making application," we mean the pointing out and the pressing upon ourselves of the practical lessons which each passage contains, seeking to heed its warnings, appropriate its encouragements, obey its precepts, and put in a claim to its promises. Only thus does it become a living and profitable Word to us.
The first verses of 2 Samuel 6 record an incident which needs to be prayerfully laid to heart by every one whom God has separated unto His service. It chronicles a most blessed action on the part of David, who had in view naught but the honor and glory of the Lord. But alas, that action was sadly marred by permitting the fervency of his zeal to ignore the precepts of God. He was anxious that the long-neglected and dishonored Ark should be suitably housed in Zion. His desire was good and his motive was pure, but his execution of the same met with the open displeasure of the Lord. It is not sufficient to have a worthy purpose and a proper spirit: Godís work must be performed in the right way: that is, according to the rules of His prescribing; anything other than that is but a species of self-will.
There seem to be a great many in Christendom today who are desirous of doing good, but they are exceedingly lax and careless in the mode and manner in which their desires are carried out. They act as though the means used and the methods employed mattered little or nothing, so long as their aim and end is right. They are creatures of impulse, following the dictates of mere whim and sentiment, or imitating the example of others. They seem to have no concern for Godís standards study not His Word diligently to discover what laws and rules the Lord has given for the regulation of our conduct in His "service." Consequently, they are governed by the flesh, rather than the Spirit, so that it frequently happens that they do good things in a wrong way; yea, in a manner directly opposed to Godís way as revealed in His Word.
There are many who are anxious to see the pews occupied and their treasury well filled, and so, "socials," "ice-cream suppers," and other worldly attractions are employed to draw the crowd. There are many preachers who are anxious to hold the young people, and so "athletic clubs," social entertainments, are introduced to secure that end. There are many evangelists who are anxious to "make a good show," secure "results," and be able to herald so many hundreds of "converts" at the close of their "campaigns," and so fleshly means are used, high pressure methods are employed to bring this about: "decision cards," the "sawdust trail," the "penitent form" are called in to their aid. There are many Sunday school teachers who are anxious to hold the interest of their class, and so "prizes" are given, "picnics" are arranged, and other devices are resorted to.
Apparently it does not occur to these "leaders" to challenge their own actions, to weigh them in "the balances of the sanctuary," to inquire how near or how far they measure up to the divine standard: so long as such means and methods seem right to them, or are in general vogue in other "churches," and so long as they appear to "succeed," nothing else matters. But in a coming day, God is going to ask of them "who hath required this at your hand?" (Isa. 1:12)! None of the devices mentioned by us above have one particle of scriptural authority to warrant their use; and it is by the Scriptures that each of us will yet be judged! All things must be done "according to the pattern" (Heb. 8:5; Ex. 25:40) which God has furnished us; and woe will it yet be unto us if we have disregarded His "pattern" and substituted another of our own.
The terrible confusion which now prevails so extensively in Christendom is no excuse whatever for us falling into line with it: "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil" (Ex. 23:1). No matter how "peculiar" he may be thought, no matter how "unpopular" he may be because of it, faithfulness is what God requires from each of His servants (1 Cor. 4:2). And "faithfulness" means doing the work which God has appointed in the way which He has prescribed. Expediency may have grasped the helm; compromise may be the order of the day; principles may he valued because of their "practicability" rather than because of their scripturalness; but that alters not one whit the strict discharge of duty which the Lord requires from each of His servants. Unless that fact be clearly realized, we read in vain the solemn incident recorded in 2 Samuel 6.
The laxity which now obtains in so many professedly "Christian" circles is indeed appalling. Unconverted men are allowed to occupy positions which none but Christís true servants have any title to stand in. Human convenience is consulted when the Lordís death is to be remembered, and His "supper" is changed into the morning "breaking of bread." Leavened bread, rather than "this bread" (1 Cor. 11:26), is used to set forth the immaculate person of the Redeemer. And if one dares to raise a voice in protest against these innovationsóno matter how gently and lovinglyóhe is called "legalistic" and a "troubler in Israel," But even that must not move the one who covets his Masterís "Well done."
"And they set the ark of God upon a new cart" (2 Sam. 6:3). In so doing, David and his counselors (1 Chron. 13:1) committed a serious fault: they ignored the divinely appointed order and substituted their own arrangements. The Lord had given express commands in Numbers 4:5, 6, 15; 7:9 as to how the sacred ark was to be carried when it should be moved from one place to another; and He requires unquestioning obedience to all His regulations. It is true that David was moved on this occasion with a deep concern for Jehovahís honor and glory. It is true that it was the urgings of love for Him which prompted his noble action; but He has said, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15)ólove must flow in the appointed channels; it must be directed by the divine precepts, if it is to please its Object.
"God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24): among other things that means, God must be worshiped according to the pattern He has given us in His Word. There are many Protestants who can see clearly the human inventions, superstitious innovations and unscriptural practices of the Romanists, in their "elevation of the mass," the vestments of their "priests," the burning of incense, the worship of images, and the adoration of the mother of our Saviour. The unwarrantable introduction of such devices are patent to multitudes of Protestants, yet they are blind to their own unscriptural and antiscriptural ways! Listen, my reader: anything we introduce into "the service of the sanctuary," into the worship of God, for which we have no "thus saith the Lord," is nothing but a species of "will worship" (Col. 2:23) and must be abandoned by us.
As we pointed out in our last chapter, the counsel given to David by the "leaders" in Israel was patterned after the invention of the heathen. The "priests" of the Philistines had sent back the ark on "a new cart" drawn by oxen (1 Sam. 6). And history has repeated itself. If many of the means and methods which are now used in much so-called "divine worship" and "Christian work" were challenged, if a reason were demanded for their employment, the best that could be given would be, "Others are using them." But no Scriptural authority could be cited, The "leaders" in Israel might have argued that the device used by the Philistines "succeeded" and that God "blessed" their arrangements. Ah, but the Philistines had not Godís Word in their hands; but Israel had! In like manner, many now argue "God blesses" many things for which we have no "thus saith the Lord." But, as we shall see, God cursed Israelís flagrant violation of His commands!
The outstanding fact which concerns us as we seek to ponder and profit from this solemn incident in Davidís life is, that he acted without divine orders: he introduced something into the divine worship for which he had no "thus saith the Lord." And the lesson to be learned therefrom is to scrutinize rigidly our own actionsóthe things we do, the way in which we do them, the means we employóand ask, Are these appointed by God? There is much apparent reverence and devotion among the Papists, but is it acceptable to the Lord? Ah, my readers, if very much to the "Christian service" of earnest, zealous, enthusiastic Protestants was weighed in the balances of Holy Writ, it would be "found wanting": nor am I guiltless if found in association and fellowship with the sameóno, no matter how much I protest against it all. Individual loyalty to Christ, personal obedience to His commands, is what is demanded of each one of us.
It may be thought that David was ignorant of what was recorded in Numbers 4 and 7, and so was not so seriously to blame; but the validity of such a conclusion is more than doubtful as we shall show in the next chapter. Again; it may be supposed that David considered the regulations given in the days of Moses pertained only to Israel while they were on the march in the wilderness, and did not apply to his own case; but this defense of David also breaks down before a passage we hope to consider in our next chapter. Even were the case as just supposed, his bounden duty would have been to first "ask counsel of the Lord," and inquire "Whereon shall the ark be placed?" Instead he conferred with flesh and blood (1 Chron. 13:1) and followed their advice.
Davidís efforts proved a failure. And sooner or later all effort on the part of the "church," or of the individual Christian, which is not strictly according to the Word of the Lord will prove a failure: it will be but "wood, hay, stubble" (1 Cor. 3: 12) in the day of divine testing and reward. God has magnified His Word above all His name (Ps. 138:2), and He demands that His servants shall do all things according to the plan and manner which He has prescribed. When he commanded Moses to build the tabernacle, He bade him do so according to the "pattern" which He showed him in the mount (Ex, 25:40): there was no room for human opinion or preference. And if we would serve Him acceptably, then we must go according to His way, not ours. The right attitude for us was expressed by Peter when he said, "Nevertheless, at Thy word, I will let down the net" (Luke 5:5): he acted according to Christís instruction, and was blessed!
"And when they came to Nachonís threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it" (2 Sam. 6:6). Yes, as the marginal rendering tells us, "the oxen stumbled." And do you suppose that was an accident? No indeed, there are no "accidents" in a world which is presided over by the living God. Not even a hair can Fall from our head till the moment He decreed for it to happen. But not only is everything directed by God, but there is also a significance, a meaning, a message, in the smallest occurrences, had we but eyes to see and hearts to understand. "The oxen stumbled": of course they did; what else could be expected! There can be naught but "confusion" when the divine order is departed from. In the stumbling of those oxen the Lord was making manifest Davidís disorder.
"Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it." He feared it would be overthrown, and so he wished to avert such a disaster. Like Davidís design in seeking a honorable habitation for the ark, Uzzahís purpose was good, and his motive pure; but like David, he also disregarded Godís written law. See here one sin leading to another! See how Davidís conferring with flesh and blood, Following the counsel of the "leaders," and emulating the way of the heathen, was now succeeded by the priestís son committing an act of sacrilege. Alas, alas, how much will the present-day "leaders" in Christendom yet have to answer for, because of their setting such an evil example before others, and thus encouraging the "young people" to lightly esteem the holy and authoritative precepts of God.
"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), The Lord God will not be mocked. Plainly had He declared that, even the Kohathites, who were appointed to carry the ark by staves on their shoulders, "shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die" (Num. 4:15). God not only keeps His promises, but He also fulfills His threats! So Uzzah found, and so will every other disregarder of His commandments yet discover.
"He, whose name is Jealous, was greatly offended. The sincere, the well-meaning man, having no command, nor any example for what he did, fell under Jehovahís anger, and lost his life, as the reward of his officiousness. And as the Holy Spirit has recorded the fact so circumstantially, we have reason to consider it as a warning to all, of the danger there is in tampering with positive ordinances; and as a standing evidence that God will have His cause supported, and His appointments administered, in His own way. The case of Saul, and the language of Samuel to that disobedient monarch, inculcate the same thing: Ďthe people,í said Saul to the venerable prophet, Ďtook of the spoil, sheep and oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal. And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of ramsí: 1 Sam. 15:21-23" (A. Booth, 1813).
It is solemn to recall that no divine judgment fell upon the Philistines when they placed the holy ark upon a cart and sent it back to Israel: but "the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah"! How plainly this shows us that God will suffer from the world what He will not tolerate in His professing people, who bear His Holy name. That is why it will be "more tolerable" for Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of Judgment, than it will be for divinely-enlightened, highly-favored, and loud-boasting Capernaum. The same principle will obtain when Christendom comes to be judged. Better to have lived and died in the ignorance of darkest Africa, than to have had Godís Word in our hands and set at naught its laws!